Monday, December 23, 2013

A Farewell to Holmes

Holmes with carved elephant. Photo by Alli.

"I fear that Mr. Sherlock Holmes may become like one of those popular tenors who, having outlived their time, are still tempted to make repeated farewell bows to their indulgent audiences. This must cease and he must go the way of all flesh, material or imaginary. One likes to think that there is some fantastic limbo for the children of the imagination, some strange, impossible place where the beaux of Fielding may still make love to the belles of Richardson, where Scott's heroes still may strut, Dickens's delightful Cockneys still raise a laugh, and Thackeray's worldlings continue to carry on their reprehensible careers. Perhaps in some humble corner of such a Valhalla, Holmes and his Watson may for a time find a place, while some more astute sleuth with some even less astute comrade may fill the stage which they have vacated." - Arthur Conan Doyle from the Preface to The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client"
Holmes sends Watson out to confront a fiend who threatens a young girl of a good family by his hold over her - Detective, Doctor, and Dubious Baron find themselves subject to an intrigue beyond even the scheming of homes. A rousing story, and an exceptional case in which one of Holmes' helpers turns out to have some teeth.

"The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier"
The first story of a very few which Sherlock tells about himself - it's a funny little mystery and the insight into the preening character of Holmes through his own words and thoughts is hilarious and worthwhile all on its own.

"The Adventure of the Marazin Stone"
A cute little robbery of a famous gem which Holmes solves in his living room in a single sitting. Fast-paced, short, and somewhat ridiculous, this story is still well worth reading since it does so much in such a compact space.

"The Adventure of the Three Gables"
This story is only somewhat interesting and feels very incomplete; a man wronged, a woman scorned, Holmes drawling sardonically about the whole thing and so on and so forth. Startling evidence of turn-of-the-century attitudes about race are present in the first few pages of the story, and as much as I'd like to think it was because Doyle was trying to make his readers hate the character of whom the author was so thoroughly sick, I think the sad truth is that this book was written almost a hundred years ago, and back then even decent people could be just utterly awful about race.

"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"
Watson and Holmes get drawn into a mystery with supernatural overtones and a mundane solution - Holmes has a solution before he even arrives on scene and we are given a very interesting portrait of a very diverse family.

"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs"
A funny little problem with some interesting deductions and an eccentric client shows us one of the more moving moments between the Detective and the Doctor - Holmes does care for Watson, even if it takes a flesh wound for him to show it.

"The Problem of Thor Bridge"
An obnoxious millionaire calls Holmes to a cold scene hoping to exonerate an innocent girl. This story is fairly prosaic, but quick and inoffensive.

"The Adventure of the Creeping Man"
This is not a problem of a dog that didn't bark, but one that did bite. Holmes points out again and again that the smallest of signs may lead to a solution. Contains one of the best communiques from Sherlock to Watson: "Come at once if convenient - if not convenient come all the same."

"The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"
This is a wonderful little story for a number of reasons - Holmes is once again our narrator, the story takes place during his retirement, there is a sweet little love triangle, and the good detective faces a foe the likes of which he's never seen.

"The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger"
Sherlock plays father confessor to a maimed circus performer; there is no real mystery here, just the sad story of one woman's life, love, and losses told to a man who can not understand but who will not judge nonetheless.

"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"
What do a whining spaniel, an ignored horse, a charred bone, and an indebted playboy mean to Holmes? That the game is afoot! Holmes and Watson step on the shady side of the law to investigate the strange, changed behaviors of a disabled widow and her trouble-maker brother.

"The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"
A cunning criminal and irksome client irritate Watson as Holmes tries to solve the mystery of a missing bride and her chess-playing beau. Holmes is at his mischievous best and solid, stable Watson is left holding the short end of the stick with a miser in the countryside.

These little stories are fun and fast paced; they are frequently silly and infrequently serious, but when they are serious there is a maturity to them that was lacking in some of the earlier Holmes stories. "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," for instance, shows a sympathy in Holmes that is rarely evident and plucks at the heart-strings of dear old Watson. Sherlock is aware of his age and its failings in "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" and Watson is struck by the changes he shows to an old friend in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire." It's clear that Arthur Conan Doyle was tired of his original-becoming-stock characters by the time this collection was published, but it is also clear that he loved them no less for letting familiarity breed at least a little contempt.

This is now the fourth Holmes book I've read in as many weeks, and I don't mind saying that it's past time to leave him alone for a little while (in particular I'm quite excited not to have to photograph this cover again until I reread the series); so I'll wrap up with the final lines of Doyle's preface to his final writings on the Irregulars: "And so, reader, farewell to Sherlock Holmes! I thank you for your past constancy, and can but hope that some return has been made in the shape of that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingom of romance."

Doyle, Arthur Conan. "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes." Sherlock Holmes: The Complete  
     Novels And Stories, Volume II. Bantam Classics, a division of Random House. New York:
     New York. 2003. (Originally Published 1927).

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