Saturday, 18 July 2015

'The Return of Sherlock Holmes' by Arthur Conan Doyle (1905)

Synopsis: The Return of Sherlock Holmes is the sixth book in the Sherlock Holmes series and is a collection of thirteen short stories that were serialised from September 1903 to December 1904. The stories were then put together into a book in February 1905. The first story in this collection is called The Adventure of the Empty House and is set three years after the death of Sherlock Holmes. John Watson has now settled into a regular routine as a doctor but he then becomes interested in the murder of a man called Ronald Adair who was killed in a locked-room. Then one day a strange old man walks into Watson's office and reveals himself to be none other than Sherlock Holmes. Watson then faints from the shock. When he wakes up, Holmes reveals that he has spent the past few years travelling around the world and having various adventures in order to avoid Moriarty's criminal associates. Before Holmes can return to Baker Street and resume his old life the two of them must catch the last of these men - who may be responsible for Adair's death. The other stories in this book are The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, The Adventure of the Dancing Men, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, The Adventure of the Priory School, The Adventure of Black Peter, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, The Adventure of the Three Students, The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez, The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange and The Adventure of the Second Stain.

In 1893 Arthur Conan Doyle famously attempted to kill off his beloved detective Sherlock Holmes by having the character plunge to his death from the top of the Reichenbach Falls in the story The Final Problem. Doyle had grown rather resentful of the Sherlock Holmes stories because he felt that they were taking up far too much of his time and were distracting him from writing his more serious, self-consciously literary novels. He felt that killing off Holmes was the only way of getting his career back on track. However the Victorian public were outraged. Doyle received many angry letters, thousands cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand and there are accounts of people walking the streets of London wearing black armbands to express their mourning for Holmes. Doyle resisted the pressure from his fans and publishers to write more Sherlock Holmes stories for quite a few years until he finally decided to write a kind of prequel story called The Hound of the Baskervilles which was set before Holmes' death. Two years later Doyle would then bring Holmes back for good.

via my Pinterest board

I know many fans think that the Sherlock Holmes stories that were published post-Reichenbach Falls are nowhere near as good as the stories that came before them though and I'm inclined to agree with them to a certain extent. Most of the short stories in this particular book simply aren't as gripping and engaging as the stories that you'll find in the Adventures and Memoirs collections. The plots are weaker and there's some obvious story recycling going on. In The Norwood Builder Holmes catches the criminal by re-using a trick from A Scandal in Bohemia, The Six Napoleons is similar to The Blue CarbuncleThe Second Stain is very reminiscent of The Naval Treaty and The Solitary Cyclist is very reminiscent of The Copper Beeches (it's even got a character called Violet in it!) In fact the only story in this book that I feel truly confident about putting in "My Top 10 Sherlock Holmes Stories" list would be The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. But having said that the stories in this book are still well-written, charming and enjoyable to read. The mysteries in this book might not be as good as the mysteries in the previous collections but it's always a pleasure to read about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson's friendship and in one of the stories - I can't remember which one sadly - it's even revealed that Watson eventually managed to get Holmes to stop taking drugs.

I certainly didn't enjoy The Return of Sherlock Holmes as much as the earlier short story collections or The Hound of the Baskervilles but I still liked it a lot more than the novels A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. And now I'm going to pick my top three favourites from this book:

The Adventure of the Empty House - The one where Sherlock Holmes comes back! The plot itself might not be particularly gripping or even very logical (a noiseless gun?) but I love the touching scenes between Holmes and Watson in this one. I find Holmes' slight bemusement at Watson and Mrs Hudson's emotional reactions to his return pretty funny too. Somehow I don't think Holmes had quite grasped the fact that they thought he was DEAD! Speaking of Mrs Hudson this is the first story in the canon that I've come across where she actually gets a very important role in the story and I thought that was quite lovely. And another reason why I really enjoy this story is because of its very interesting villain Sebastian Moran. He seems to be an evil version of John Watson in the same way that Moriarty is an evil version of Sherlock Holmes.

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton - I love this one! It makes for a very refreshing change of pace from the typical Sherlock Holmes story. Its villain is a despicable blackmailer who Doyle actually based on someone from real-life: a man called Charles Augustus Howell who once preyed on Dante Gabriel Rossetti and was eventually found in the gutter with his throat slit and a coin in his mouth. Another very interesting thing about this story of course is that Holmes is morally questionable in it. Since he has a client who can't afford to meet Charles Augustus Milverton's ransom, Holmes decides that he'll have to break into Milverton's house and steal the letter back. To find out how to do this he then emotionally manipulates one of Milverton's maids by first wooing her and then becoming engaged to her! Holmes insists to Watson that it's no big deal since the maid has an adoring suitor who'll make a move as soon as the engagement is called off but it's still pretty iffy. Holmes' announcement of his engagement and Watson's reaction to it is really funny though! After that we then get the part where Holmes and Watson break into Milverton's house, which is really suspenseful, and then a shocking scene (even more shocking for the time) where Milverton is gunned down by one of his previous female blackmail victims. Then we get another really suspenseful scene where Holmes and Watson have to make a run for it and then a really funny scene with Holmes, Watson and Lestrade :D

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange - I'm not sure if I like this story enough for it to be in my Sherlock Holmes top 10 but it's certainly a very interesting one. Eustace Brackenstell is one of my most hated fictional characters ever! He's so much worse than Moriarty and Milverton! He repeatedly punched his wife in the face and stabbed her with hatpins! And just to provide some historical context: hatpins were almost a foot long and could be used to kill people. And Brackenstall even set his wife's dog on fire after dousing it with petroleum! What a sick evil b******! I guess the only reason why I like this story is because of Lady Brackenstall. Considering the horrific abuse that she's had to endure from her husband she's still managed to get through it with her spirits and her sanity intact. She's a victim who triumphs over her abuser and she's a badass - another woman in the canon who I'd class as more awesome than Irene Adler. In my head canon she totally married that "fine specimen of manhood" Captain Crocker (Watson's words not mine!) Then they sailed off into the sunset and had epic adventures on the high seas!

Rating: 4/5


Mònica said...

Ooh, I've been meaning to read the Sherlock Holmes books, I read A Study in Scarlet last year and I really liked it (The wild western part was a bit random at first, but it tied in well enough I suppose), but I never got around to reading any others. Even though we have this HUGE black volume of the complete stories. After reading your reviews and such, I think I'll give it a whirl when I'm done with Crime and Punishment. :D
(Sorry for hardly ever commenting, I'm trying to work with my introversion and talk to people a bit more :)

Hayden said...

Oooh, I need to reread some of these, especially The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, since you can obviously see how the finale of Sherlock series three was influenced by it....down to the whole engagement fiasco. ;)

I wish Mrs. Hudson was in more of the stories. I always did like her.

Hamlette said...

The mysteries in this book might not be as good as the mysteries in the previous collections but it's always a pleasure to read about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson's friendship

My sentiments precisely! They're not As Good, but they're still enjoyable. And some of them are quite good too :-)

I didn't know that Charles Augustus Milverton was based on a real person. That's both horrifying and fascinating.

I like your observation that Col. Moran is kind of the evil version of Watson, just like Moriarty is the evil version of Holmes. I hadn't thought of that, but yes! Totally.

Hannah said...

Monica - Hi! Don't worry about it, I'm terrible at commenting on other people's blogs! I tend to think "Ooh, that's a really good post, I'll have to leave a comment" but then I don't get round to it.

Yeah, that whole wild west bit in that book is just WEIRD! I suppose it did tie in well enough but hmm I still didn't like it. Anyway, I'm so glad that I've inspired you to read more of the stories!

Hayden - Yes, I was really glad that they adapted the Milverton story even though I wouldn't say that it's one of my favourite episodes that they've ever done. Even the weaker episodes of the BBC version are still pretty awesome I find!

And I like Mrs Hudson too :)

Hamlette - Thanks!

I'm very intrigued by Sebastian Moran's character and his relationship with Moriarty. I'd love to see an adaptation that focused on the two of them. It would be like 'Sherlock meets The Godfather Trilogy' and so very, very awesome :D