Fiction: “The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

To be clear: I did not just finish reading the entire Sherlock Holmes canon. Good lord! That would have driven me mad!

No – this was one of the compilations I picked up after reading Beekeeper’s Apprentice the first time. There are 22 stories in this version, ranging from the all-important “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “The Final Problem” and finally, “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.” [A complete list will follow]

As I’m sure everyone is aware, the Holmes mysteries are “written” by Dr. John Watson, Holmes’s sometimes roommate and partner in detecting crime. Watson is written to be in awe of Holmes’s majestic mind, and somewhat of a dullard when it comes to noticing details. Holmes, meanwhile, is a genius of the first degree (though given to odd bouts of depression when things don’t go his way). We don’t see too much of Holmes as a reader aside from his genius deductions, though occasionally, Watson does let some humanity (or lack thereof) peek through:

This reticence upon his part had increased the somewhat inhuman effect which he produced upon me, until sometimes I found myself regarding him as an isolated phenomenon, a brain without a heart, as deficient in human sympathy as he was pre-eminent in intelligence. His aversion to women and his disinclination to form new friendships were both typical of his unemotional character, but not more so than his complete suppression of every reference to his own people. [“The Greek Interpreter”] [220]

A flush of colour sprang to Holmes’s pale cheeks, and he bowed to us like the master dramatist who receives the homage of his audience. It was at such moments that for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and applause. The same singluarly proud and reserved nature which turned away with disdain from popular notoriety was capable of being moved to its depths by spontaneous wonder and praise from a friend. [“The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”] [402]

I’m not going to get into each mystery – that would take too long, and I seriously have to do the dishes before I go to work tonight. Instead, I’m going to tell you instead that out of the three Holmeses I’ve come into contact with (canon!Holmes, Beekeeper’s!Holmes, and Robert Downey Jr!Holmes), my favorite Holmes is from the Holmes & Russell series by Laurie R. King, followed by the Robert Downey Jr. version. (Clarification: I have never watched any of the earlier Holmeses, like Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone.) And because I especially love RDJ and went to see the movie Sherlock Holmes three times (yes, I really did – that movie kicked ass!), I was especially pleased to see that the movie used some quotes from various stories:

“It makes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely.” [“The Boscombe Valley Mystery”] (In the movie, said to Watson after Watson was going to leave Holmes to have lunch with Mary but decided to help Holmes instead) [67]

“Data! data! data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.” [“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”] [165] (in the movie, yelled to various bobbies to get them out of the room so he could examine it further)

One thing I didn’t understand, and I will totally be talking to my father about this (my father is a huge Sherlock Holmes fan — not in today’s Internets definition of the word fan, and certainly not in today’s Comic-Con sense of the word, but Dad still has a very old copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes and I still remember him asking me to read them when I was growing up but didn’t want to because the book had no pictures in it) ANYWAY, what’s with Moriarty?

Here’s why I ask: growing up, all I knew about Sherlock Holmes was that his archenemy was Professor Moriarty. I just asked myself how I knew that — I almost think that there was a villain on one of my Disney afternoon cartoons whose name was a variation of Moriarty … but anyway, Dad would tell me that Moriarty was Holmes’s nemesis, and he was the only person to truly match Holmes’s intellect. So I, being the product of serial television more than anything else, expected Moriarty to show up continually throughout the series of mysteries. Instead, he’s only in one freaking story, called “The Final Problem,” which is where Sir Doyle tried to kill Holmes off so he could write about fairies and shit instead.

Where was the buildup? Where were the intermittent appearances? Because it’s not believable to hear that Moriarty was Holmes’s nemesis and only see him in one story, and even then, not even in person! That’s like, if on Lost, all you heard about for five seasons was that Jack’s nemesis was the Man in Black (and I mean, you heard about it even before you started watching the show; the promo for the pilot episode had something to do with the Man in Black, and I’m not talking about the Smoke Monster), and Jack went and did other things and fought other people and cried a lot, but you still knew that the Man in Black was his true intelligence match (and boy, is that thought sad), and then in the season finale of the fifth season, Jack runs off into the jungle to fight the Man in Black and doesn’t return, and Vincent brings back Jack’s backpack and gives it to Sawyer (because if Jack is Holmes, than Sawyer has to be Watson, screw Kate), and Sawyer goes back to the beach and tells everyone that the Man in Black and Jack killed each other. And then, the season premiere of the sixth season comes along, and Jack shows up at Sawyer’s tent and tells that, oh yeah, he and the Man in Black fought at the top of the waterfall, but he was able to keep himself from going over, but the Man in Black has disciples on the island who would kill him if they thought that Jack had survived, which is why he had to pretend he was dead for a while.

So anyway. As one of the lamest skits on SNL this past year says, “What’s up with that?!”

Overall, I know I’ll continue to read the canon!Holmes. After all, I am a masochist. I haven’t read The Hound of the Baskervilles yet, at least. But I think I’ll stick with Robert Downey Jr.’s interpretation of the famous detective, and more than anything, continue to savor Laurie R. King’s continuation of Holmes’s life.

[The list of stories in the collection is under the cut]

Grade for The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries: 3 stars

“A Scandal in Bohemia” [the Irene Adler story, which is a whole ‘nother tangent I could get into]
“The Red-Headed League”
“The Boscome Valley Mystery”
“The Five Orange Pips”
“The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”
“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” [my father’s favorite story, involving terror — sheer terror!]
“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”
“The Crooked Man”
“The Resident Patient”
“The Greek Interpreter”
“The Naval Treaty”
“The Final Problem” [Moriarty’s sole ‘appearance,’ and the story where Conan Doyle ‘killed’ Holmes off]
“The Adventure of the Empty House” [the one where Holmes comes back from the dead, apparently]
“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”
“The Adventure of the Dancing Men” [this one was pretty cool]
“The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”
“The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”
“The Adventure of the Priory School”
“The Musgrave Ritual” [hint: it’s a geometry problem. A geometry problem.]
“The Man with the Twisted Lip”
“The Adventure of the Second Stain”
“The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”


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