Saturday, 17 January 2015

'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

Synopsis: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the third book in the Sherlock Holmes series and is a collection of 12 short stories that were originally published in The Strand magazine between July 1891 and July 1892. The stories were then put together into a book in October 1892. The 12 stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, A Case of Identity, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Five Orange Pips, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb, The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor, The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.

Now we're talking! The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a massive improvement on A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. The short story format forced Arthur Conan Doyle to use a faster pace and to significantly cut down on the lengthy flashbacks. With this book Arthur Conan Doyle really began to hit his stride. The only story in this book that I'm not particularly fond of is A Case of Identity because the villain doesn't get punished at the end and isn't even very remorseful for what he did to his poor stepdaughter. That one made me really sad actually. But the rest of the stories in this book? They're fantastic! The stories are all well-plotted, suspenseful and atmospheric - and Holmes and Watson are always very much present in them. If someone asked me which Sherlock Holmes book they should start off with I wouldn't advise them to read A Study in Scarlet. I'd tell them to start off with this book or The Hound of the Baskervilles.

On this re-read of the book I was particularly struck by Arthur Conan Doyle's female characters. Doyle sometimes gets a lot of criticism from modern feminists because of his anti-suffragette views but nevertheless he had a concern for women's rights. He was an advocate for divorce law reform and as two of his sisters worked as governesses he had a great deal of sympathy for the profession. There are several stories in this book that feature women being cheated out of their inheritances by greedy male relatives and there are some great female characters. Irene Adler from A Scandal in Bohemia is of course the most famous female character that Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote but my personal favourite of his female characters has to be Violet Hunter from The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. Helen Stoner and Mrs Toller are pretty cool as well.

My top three favourite stories in this book are:

The Adventure of the Red-Headed League
This story is sooo much fun and I love that it's about a bank robbery! I do love a great bank robbing/heist story. And John Clay is such an underrated and badass villain! He's managed to evade Holmes before and his scheme in this story is incredibly clever and creative. I find it really interesting that he's a young, well-educated, rich boy who turned to crime just for fun and is dialogue when he gets caught is extremely amusing. Mark Gatiss is a huge fan of The Red-Headed League and has said that he'd love to adapt it some day. Yes, I would love for BBC Sherlock to adapt it! The story would be really interesting to see in our age of computers and I think it would make for an interesting change of pace from the other stories that Sherlock has adapted. The fact that it's got a gang of villains tunnelling under a bank is really cool and it isn't even that unrealistic. Plenty of criminals have done it in real-life.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Speckled Band is both Arthur Conan Doyle and Steven Moffat's favourite Sherlock Holmes story. Edgar Allan Poe's influence on Arthur Conan Doyle is very apparent in this one. Don't let Holmes' disparaging comments about Dupin in A Study in Scarlet fool you. Arthur Conan Doyle was a huge fan of Dupin and Edgar Allan Poe. Speckled Band has a deliciously dark and gothic atmosphere and it's also a locked-room mystery. A locked-room mystery is a subgenre of crime fiction in which a crime gets committed in a locked room under almost impossible circumstances. Poe is credited with inventing the subgenre with his story The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Speckled Band is full of tension and creepiness but at the same time I also find it one of the funniest stories in this book. There's this extremely funny moment where the villain turns up at Baker Street and starts shouting and ranting at Holmes. But Holmes ignores him and keeps talking about the weather because he's kind of awesome like that. Then the villain gets really, really mad at Holmes and bends a fire-poker as a way of saying "Look how strong and dangerous I am!" Then he storms out and Holmes bends it back : D

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
This is another deliciously dark and gothic story where you can really see Edgar Allan Poe's influence on Arthur Conan Doyle. The Copper Beeches is quite possibly my favourite story in this entire book. Partly because of its gothic atmosphere and partly because Violet Hunter is so awesome. Violet is a terrific character and she isn't anywhere near as famous as she should be. Okay, I believe Violet is well-loved within the Sherlock Holmes fandom but she's nowhere near as famous to the general public as Irene Adler. Why?! I like Irene but she doesn't live up to Violet Hunter's level of awesomeness! Violet is independent, clever, inquisitive, practical, observant, resourceful and incredibly brave. Just consider her reaction when Holmes asks her to lock Mrs Toller up in the wine cellar. She basically says "Sure! No problem!" And this is coming from a girl who's in a house where someone is being kept prisoner and where there are people who could quite easily kill her with no questions asked because Violet has no family. And there's a dangerous dog roaming around. Even Holmes is deeply impressed by Violet, to the point where Watson even begins to think that Holmes has romantic feelings for her. But despite the fact that Violet has so many great qualities she doesn't strike me as being too perfect. This is another story that I would love for BBC Sherlock to adapt! I don't think Sherlock managed to get A Scandal in Bohemia or Irene Adler right but with all of its creepiness and suspense The Copper Beeches would be great to see on screen and I'm sure it could work brilliantly in the modern-day. And it would be so funny and cute to see fans who haven't read the books suddenly start to ship "Hunterlock".

Honourable Mentions: The Adventure of the Blue CarbuncleThe Boscombe Valley Mystery and A Scandal in Bohemia

Rating: 5/5


Hayden said...

I really love all three of your top favorites. The Red-Headed League and the Speckled Band were the first two Holmes stories that I ever read, and of course I share your admiration of Violet Hunter ;) I really hope Sherlock does do some adaptations of these!

samara said...

Sophie Hunterlock??? :D

Couldn't resist :P

Hannah said...

Hayden - Ooh, you started off with some great ones! I'm glad that we have the same favourites :)

Samara - The similarities between "Hunterbatch" and "Hunterlock" did not escape my notice :)