I’ve been going through the Sherlock Holmes books by publication date, but I was tempted to skip The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which is another collection of short stories, and go on ahead to The Hounds of the Baskervilles, which I really wanted to get to. Then I remembered that Memoirs was the book where Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, was introduced and where (slight spoiler here though it is well known and the title suggests it) the author seems to have killed off Holmes. According to Wikipedia he did so in order to spend more time on historical novels, but public pressure was evidently enough for him to bring Holmes back in a later book, saying that he had faked his death.
So I embarked on this collection of stories and was delighted to find that in addition to the above, this set introduced Holmes’ brother Mycroft (portrayed as smarter than Holmes but less energetic), shows Holmes as completely depleted physically due to one case, and shared one case where he totally missed the mark. Of the last, he told Watson, “If it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.” Holmes also shared with Watson the case that got him started investigating crime (I had wondered, with Watson, how a mind such as Holmes’ had gotten started on this particular career path.)
Holmes’ statement about having only one friend in college seems to conform his introversion: “I was never a very sociable fellow, Watson, always rather fond of moping in my rooms and working out my own little methods of thought, so that I never mixed much with the men of my year. Bar fencing and boxing I had few athletic tastes, and then my line of study was quite distinct from that of the other fellows, so that we had no points of contact at all.”
There is a story titled “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” which was originally published in the American version of this book but later removed because two characters in it were adulterous. It was not in the version I listened to.
Overall I enjoyed this collection of stories. Doyle continued to avoid a formulaic approach, with each story and case showcasing Holmes’ skills without becoming repetitive. One of the best of any of his stories that I have read so far is “The Final Problem,” the last story in the book which introduces Moriarty and deals with Holmes’ apparent death. There is an intensity about it that is different from the others. I thought at first perhaps that was just my impression because I knew what the end would be, but then I read this is one of Doyle’s favorite stories as well.
I listened to the audiobook read by Simon Prebble. I had avoided his narrations up until now because I am used to his voice in the Jeeves books by P. D. Wodehouse, which are a completely different tone and feel than Holmes’ stories. But he adapted to the tone very well and soon I had completely forgotten that this was also the voice in my head for Jeeves and Wooster.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)