Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Final Verdict: 3.50 out of 4.0

YTD: 06

3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the third installment in the series and, unlike the first two installments – which are novels- this one is a collection of ten short stories.  The rating I apply here encompasses the collection as a unit, though some stories are naturally “better”/more effective or more entertaining than others.   The collection starts with “A Scandal in Bohemia,” a story that – to lovers of the series (be it in book, film, or television form)- is of utmost importance and excitement, because it is the introduction of Ms. Irene Adler, the one woman who gets the best of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  I was delighted with this story, although it – like many others in the collection- was rather easy to figure out.  Some other favorites in this set include “The Five Orange Pips,” which has the Ku Klux Klan as its villains; “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which is one of the few in this set that I actually misjudged a bit; and “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” which is just so creepy, one wonders if this is where a bit of Poe influenced Sir Doyle (even though Doyle openly derided Poe’s detective stories).   All-in-all, I enjoyed the set of stories quite a bit – they provide for interesting and entertaining glimpses of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in various cases, without necessarily needing to develop a single story over an extended period of time, as the novels do.  I believe the inclusion of the short stories in the timeline adds much to the Holmes Universe – I look forward to the next set (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) and following that up with the next novel in the series (The Hound of the Baskervilles).

3 – Characters well developed.

While the Sherlock Homes stories are almost assuredly interesting and entertaining (and even confusing or mysterious for some), and while Doyle’s writing is surprisingly engaging, particularly for a detective/crime genre, one thing that is usually “good” without being “great” is Doyle’s characterization.  Holmes and Watson are certainly identifiable, as are some of the regular minor characters, such as Inspector Lestrade.  Still, after two novels and 10 short stories, now, one would hope to see not just identifiable characters, but ones which are growing, changing, evolving, or surprising us in some way.  Although Holmes does get bested a few times in the short stories – and admits to it- this is the only minor growth in character throughout the collection.  Many of the stories follow the same format, thus Holmes and Watson react and quip in the same ways.  The antagonists and/or auxiliary characters in each story are interesting, too, but since the crimes are often easily solved, characterization suffers here as well.  Still, I am interested by these characters and I still enjoy following their stories and interactions – they are likeable (and not), which makes me want to spend more time with them again in the future.

4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

The one element of the Sherlock Holmes series which has yet to fail me, after three consecutive parts, is the writing itself.  Doyle is an incredibly talented writer – he crafts stories well and executes them even better.  Even when the mystery is not so mysterious – and when I have figured it all out by the mid-way point of the story, I still want to keep reading it, and I still enjoy finishing it, because the prose is just a joy to follow.  The dialogue is well-done, too. One of the most enjoyable parts of the series is witnessing the back-and-forth between Holmes and Watson (particularly when Holmes is chiding Watson for his “dramatic” way of retelling the cases in narrative form – Holmes believes the stories should reflect more on his methods, whereas Watson believes the stories should present the crimes/cases themselves, and the seemingly extraordinary way that Holmes manages to solve them).  There is also clearly a growing relationship between the two men – Watson writes into his narrative how disappointed he is whenever Holmes seems to overlook potential happiness (typically the presence and disappearance of a beautiful woman), for example – this relationship is demonstrated more in the prose and dialogue than in the actual characterization itself (as they grow more comfortable with and accustomed to one another, their way of speaking to and about the other also changes), which is intriguing.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

I was initially impressed by Doyle when I read the first installment of the Sherlock Holmes series, A Study in Scarlet.  This primary novel helped me to realize that Doyle knew much more about the world – history, politics, religion, etc. – than I ever realized.  He does it again here with the short stories, particularly in terms of American politics/sociology, as well as science and British colonization.  These stories are not just entertaining, but also instructive – and, to me, no story is better than one which is simultaneously enjoyable and educational.  In addition to examining larger, global issues, Doyle also exposes his readers to philosophical arguments about the nature of crime and punishment – there are many instances in this set of stories where Holmes, after solving the crime, lets the criminals go free, even when the crime committed was murder.  One might agree or not with Holmes’s reasoning for why he lets certain criminals go, and what he believes their ultimate punishment to be (or to be valued at), but that the question is raised in the first place is certainly daring and unique, particularly for a time and a culture where every crime has its punishment, and vigilante justice was not looked kindly upon.  Further, Doyle explores the human elements of friendship, marriage, family, and relationships.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest:  Detective Stories, Mystery, Crime, History, British Fiction, “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.”

Notable Quotes:

“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name.”

“There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace.”

“A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.”

18 Comments on “Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

  1. I’m glad you’re enjoying all the Holmes’ stories. I agree with you that some are stronger than other, but they all seem to balance out. I will say that Holmes and Watson continually strengthen their friendship, and they both grow by the last few stories/collections.


    • That’s good to hear. Like I said, I can see it in the prose – the language – but as far as the characters themselves, it’s not quite happening for me yet. I still love ’em, for sure, but they just seem a tad stagnant. I can’t wait to get to the next novel (after Memoirs) because I think that will be a real opportunity for growth again – short stories don’t really lend themselves to much development because, well, they’re short! Lol.


      • Lol, exactly. And Hound is probably the best of the bunch. I actually really liked the last two sets of stories (Case-Book and Last Bow) because they show a completely different side to Holmes. You’ll see when you get there. 🙂


    • Yes! I do, too – and I kept putting it off because I felt I would be disappointed; but, overall, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. I was only slightly disappointed with the second novel (The Sign of Four), but I think that’s partially because I thought the first novel (A Study in Scarlet) was so, so good.


  2. I read some Sherlock Holmes short stories in high school and I was never really a fan then. However, I do think I owe Doyle another chance to wow me now that I have some age under my belt (and some grey in my hair). Great review!


  3. I do think it’s funny that Doyle thoughts Poe was such a hack. I love in The Study in Scarlet there’a a section where Watson notes that Sherlock’s method of deduction reminds him of Poe’s fictional detective, Dupin. To which Sherlock says he thinks Dupin was a very inferior fellow. Hilarious. Glad you enjoyed this one.


  4. Is already on the list to read, now because of your review is got higher on list to read 🙂


  5. If you’re tempted by the “new” Sherlock novel, House of Silk, it’s very much in the syle of the originals and I really enjoyed it. I would like to go back and read all the stories properly and in order some time.


    • I’m looking forward to reading The Sherlocking by Graham Moore, but I need to get through the original series first… don’t think I’ll get it all done this year, but maybe in the next two years?

      I hadn’t heard of House of Silk, so thanks for the head’s-up on that one!


  6. Sherlock really surprised me by being one of those classic books that is incredibly easy to read. The novels are good, but the short story collections are just so much fun to whiz through. Like you said, they’re often predictable, but I love that they’re quintessential mystery novels, in that they give you enough information to figure it out, too.

    I hope you keep going with them, they never stop being fun. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, the BBC series Sherlock is by far the best movie/tv adaptation I’ve ever seen. They do fantastic things with Sherlock and Watson’s characters, and there are lots of fun twists for fans of the books. 🙂


  7. Great review! Makes me want to go back and read more Sherlock Holmes. (I’ve only read a few stories, and it was a long time ago.) Have you seen the new BBC series?


  8. Darn, I should have put this on my TBR Challenge list this year! Oh well, I’ll try to squeeze it in sometime–I’m always ready for a good mystery. After reading The Sign of Four last year, I really wanted to move on through the series, but somehow haven’t made it yet. Glad to hear you enjoyed The Adventure!


  9. Really enjoyed revisiting Sherlock this last month and looking forward to reading more. I was glad to read above that you were a little dissappointed with The Sign of Four and very impressed with A Study in Scarlet and these shorts. I just read Sign and felt similar, and I was a little worried that I’d already read his peak with Baskervilles.


  10. I liked the Holmes short stories well enough, but I loved The Hound of the Baskervilles — it was genuinely spooky and shocking. I’m hoping to find a copy of A Study in Scarlet as well as the other two novels.


  11. Great review! I just finished The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and loved it. I really agree with all your points. I don’t think Doyle is going for character development over time, since Holmes is a pretty fixed character, but he’s still fascinating. I was also struck by how many different global issues were raised in the stories, and even how often race is an issue. Most Victorian literature never mentions race at all but Holmes’ stories include a real breadth of races and nationalities. I also enjoyed the pace of the stories — each is a quick read but you don’t want to put it down.


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