Friday, September 9th, 2011

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading the Sherlock Holmes canon in the order given by Wikipedia when I started (although it’s since split the reading order up by novel vs. short story collection). So, in my reading order, this collection of stories follows after The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (although it was directly preceded by *The Hound of the Baskervilles*). It’s entirely possible that its predecessor made me like this book more than it technically deserves.

At the very worst, this book warrants three stars out of five. It’s an amusing collection of Sherlock Holmes stories that features all of the wit and deductions that the detective is celebrated for. There are strong reasons that this character and these stories have been so beloved for so long: and those reasons are once again on display in this collection. But I’ve talked about Sherlock before and to sing such praises again would simply be a retreading.

Instead, I can’t help but compare this to Memoirs. Those stories come across as Doyle attempting to make a quick buck, satisfy whatever fan and publisher commitments he’d made, and kill the character so he could stop writing him. Memoirs is clearly the product of a bored author who wasn’t really trying.

So it’s with great pleasure that I can conclude that the stories currently under discussion are a return of more than the character. It seems as though Doyle himself has made a return to form here. He isn’t just rehashing the same old formula over and over (though Sherlock Holmes stories by their nature are very formulaic; but there’s a difference between stories that are defined by the formula vs. stories that break free of their formulas). Instead, he’s found the fun again. These stories are simply fun.

There are a couple of odd choices that hint to a somewhat anarchist side to Holmes. At one point, he becomes a criminal himself (though in the service of the greater good). In another, he literally appoints himself and Watson and judge and jury over a case. Watson goes along with this without a word of complaint, but I found it more than a little disturbing. I’m not sure that Holmes declaring himself above democratic Justice is really the right tone for a heroic character. But, I’m sure there have been many papers written on this aspect of Sherlock and the canon, so there’s no need for me to rehash it here. But it seemed worth noticing as easily being the low-point of the book.

Still, as with all of the Sherlock Holmes I’ve read so far, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this. As I’ve already noted, there are good reasons for Holmes to have remained so popular for so many decades. And, with the strength of collections like this one, I suspect he will remain popular for many more decades to come.

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