The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Volume I), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This book took quite a while for me to read, and I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. To be sure, the Sherlock Holmes stories are noted as being fundamental in the development of the mystery short story, and these stories are considered classics. I happen to enjoy mystery novels , and yet these novels seemed to be missing something important. They were witty mysteries, to be sure, but very samey. Reading these novels once a month would not be any great problem, as they are enjoyable and short enough when taken on their own. Reading them in long and concentrated bursts, though, demonstrates just how repetitive the stories are, just how much the author was attempting to vary enough to keep the stories interesting enough to write, and it is therefore no great mystery that this book, which has all of the “early” Sherlock stories until his supposed death in a Swiss battle with Professor Moriarty, would contain enough stories for an author to wish to kill off such a flat character as Sherlock Holmes. I cannot blame the author for feeling the same way I do about the character, after all, who is certainly interesting enough for a few short stories and even a novel or two, but who in this collection clearly overstays his welcome.
The contents of this book are as follow. The book opens with a eulogy of Sherlock Holmes written by Christopher Morley that is clearly from someone who appreciates the character more than I do. After this the Table of Contents reveals that the stories open with the short novel A Study In Scarlet (in two parts, with 14 chapters total), then the short novel The Sign Of Four (with twelve chapters), and then two additional volumes of stories, namely the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (which contains “A Scandal In Bohemia” and “The Red-headed League,” among other stories) and Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes (of which “The Naval Treaty” was the most interesting story to me, with “The Yellow Face” getting an honorable mention). In most of these stories Sherlock Holmes shows brilliant skills in deduction and a certain amount of contempt for the police establishment, and in some of these stories he totally fails to understand the human dignity of the people he is dealing with largely because of his own limited emotional palette. After a while, one starts rooting for the criminals, which is never a good sign in stories like this.
What is it that makes these stories unsatisfying? To be sure, they are not bad stories. They are competent fiction, stories that taken one at a time would be enjoyable to read, but they are missing a certain something. Sherlock Holmes is a confirmed bachelor with no interest in women whatsoever, who delights in showing his intellectual superiority and yet who finds himself as a recreational cocaine user, surely not the most brilliant of decisions. Sherlock’s attitude is deeply grating, and not all the warmth that one finds in the everyman Dr. Watson can overcome just how irritating Sherlock Holmes is as a protagonist, with his emotional and spiritual voids and his generally smug attitude. In a story like this, one has to really grab with the protagonist, and here we have someone who fancies himself far better than he is, someone whose love of solving mysteries shows himself quite willing to bend and break laws to the point where following his example would likely lead to various felony charges, among the most benign being obstruction of justice. One wonders how this gentleman escaped transportation to Tasmania or some other similarly grim fate, or some years spent in Reading Gaol, except that he had a sympathetic author to make sure that everything ended up alright, at least until it didn’t.
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