The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is the third in the Sherlock Holmes series, following two novels (A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four) and a collection of short stories (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). It contains eleven stories, in total, which, much like the previous titles in this series, tackle a range of social, political, and ethnic topics, all the while entertaining the reader with witty narrative and engaging, sometimes surprising mysteries and detective work.
My edition is, unfortunately, true to the revised original American edition of the collection, which edited out a story called “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.” The story is now printed in American editions of the collection titled “His Last Bow,” which I do have, so I’ll get to it eventually. Of course, I’m a purist, though, so it irks me very much to have to read stories out of the order of original publication or author intention.
That being said, the collection is a good one. I particularly enjoyed “The Yellow Face,” which was a story of ahead of its time, in my opinion. This one tells of a young American woman who meets a young British man, they marry and move to England together. Soon enough, the woman’s secret history is uncovered, and the revelations are (for the time) shocking. As a modern reader, however, there is a certain delight and admiration for the risk Doyle took, here, and for the stance that the narrative takes on issues of equality and human decency. It was a pleasant surprise.
Others in the collection which I rather enjoyed include “The Gloria Scott” and “The Musgrave Ritual,” both of which had interesting elements of darker, Poe-esque mystery; also, “The Reigate Puzzle” and “The Naval Treaty,” both of which had elements of heightened daring, danger, and suspense. Finally, of course, there is “The Final Problem,” which is not only a wonderful short story, but, knowing the history of the series, a moving read. It adds a very deep, personal element to the character of Sherlock Holmes, a human side which his character sometimes (intentionally) lacks. Even knowing that the series continues, it was a difficult read and a sad ending!
All this taken into consideration, I still prefer, over all, the first collection in the Holmes series. I was bothered by the very close similarity of “The Stock-broker’s Clerk” to an earlier Sherlock Holmes story (“The Red-headed League”). The two stories seemed like the reworking of a very similar plot. Of course, Doyle wrote from a standardized formula of sorts, but even still, it felt to me much too similar, in this case. Perhaps to Doyle, too, considering where he tried to go with “The Final Problem.”
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collection is an interesting piece to the overall Holmes collection. As in the previous works, this one is narrated by Watson, but many of the stories find Watson specifically trying to point out just how unremarkable Sherlock Holmes is – how lucky he sometimes gets, how even he can be stumped, at times. The purpose of this is probably two-fold; first, to set up readers’ expectations for the last story in the collection and second, to round out and make more realistic the Sherlock Holmes character in general. Perhaps there had been some instance that Doyle make Sherlock Holmes seem less of a superhero – how interesting can a character with no flaws be, after all?
Ultimately, I continue to be pleased with these stories and every time I revisit the next book in the collection, I find myself wondering what took me so long to get back to it. These are always some of the most fun, entertaining, and engaging reading experiences, and it rarely takes me more than a few days to get through the entire book. Doyle’s writing, in Memoirs, remains fresh and accessible, and he continues to push certain boundaries, which adds depth and intrigue to books which might otherwise be simply light, “pleasure” reading.
One final note: I may or may not have known this (though I certainly didn’t remember), but the title from another favorite book of mine, by Mark Haddon, actually seems to have come from one of these stories! In “The Silver Blaze,” Colonel Ross asks Sherlock Holmes, “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” and Holmes replies: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” Wow!
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: 13+
Interest: Mystery, Detective Stories, 19th Century Britain, Social Justice, Crime, British Fiction, Short Stories, 1,001 Books.
“Of all ghosts, the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.” (“The Gloria Scott”)
“Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.” (“The Yellow Face”)
“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” (“A Case of Identity”)
“It is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger when it is close upon you.” (“The Final Problem”)
“I never can resist a touch of the dramatic.” (“The Naval Treaty”)
“It’s every man’s business to see justice done.” (“The Crooked Man”)
I read this collection a year or so ago after a long hiatus from SH stories and enjoyed it. They do provide pure reading pleasure, and I thought your comment that they still manage to push boundaries (of the day) to be interesting.
Good, thoughtful review. I shared the same little thrill when I came across the curious incident line.
I read The Adventures this year and loved it. I am ready to read more Holmes!
I had no idea that Haddon title was from Sherlock! I’m such a sucker for these stories, even the ones that are a bit formulaic are still satisfying.
p.s. If you are a fan of the BBC Sherlock show, they just announced season 3 is going to air in January!
I still haven’t managed to get to this book, but reading your review makes me hungry for more adventures with Holmes and Watson. I heard there was a Sherlock Holmes and Mark Haddon connection, but I didn’t know what specifically, so thanks for sharing that little tidbit! BTW, I love the new look of your blog.
I had a lot of fun reading this collection earlier this year, but I think I still prefer the longer novellas to the short stories. So far at least. I too was pleasantly surprised by “The Yellow Face”. That must have taken some daring to write!
I must, I must , I must read some SH soon!
Love the quotes and the Haddon reference 🙂
Read “Adventures” recently and the “Memoirs” is on my short-list TBR pile. I admit to preferring the long form mystery better, but Holmes is always an attraction. I like the concept of Watson trying to show that Holmes sometimes just has good luck. I thought that more than once when reading the “Adventures.”