The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
So… I had a lot of feelings about Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. (I just weep about the latest season of Sherlock.) But it did inspire me to take The Return of Sherlock Holmes along with me to Ireland, so I could start on it when I had a chance. And so I did, but it took me into the first proper week of February to finish it, although that wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it. …You know, I often feel like the introductions to my reviews of the Holmes canon can’t really be anything but “so, yeah, I’m still reading this and I’m still loving it”, so let’s just dive in.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes collects thirteen short stories featuring the famous detective, all supposedly written and published by John Watson, his best friend, roommate, and confidante. (With a disappearing wife.) After the events of “The Adventure of the Final Problem”, Holmes returns, in dramatic fashion, and the two set out to solve crimes all over London, from theft to blackmail to international espionage.
While I have plenty more to say about the “I Believe in Sherlock” movement (I may have participated?), I’ll just say here that it amazes and humbles me that Holmes’ “death” has always affected fans to the point of action. And I was wondering how Doyle would actually bring him back. “The Adventure of the Empty House” does not disappoint. While the stories are ultimately adventure pieces, Holmes and Watson’s reunion is actually touching and the two do communicate how much they mean to each other—in fact, Holmes underestimated the affect his disappearance would have on Watson. They fall back into their familiar rhythm over the course of the story; they’re even a little handsy with each other as they readjust. I mean, more than usual. And at the end, all returns to status quo. (Holmes buys Watson’s practice in a roundabout manner and Mary seems to have vanished into thin air, so now they’re just living solely on Holmes’ paycheck, I assume. Oh, boys.)
The key ingredients to a good Sherlock Holmes story is the chemistry between Holmes and Watson, a good, weird mystery, interesting clients, and the wonderfully Gothic setting of London and industrial Victorian England. And most of the stories collected here succeed wildly here. Of particular note is “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”, one of the few cases that Holmes doesn’t actually solve; it also contains what I think is the most graphic violent act committed by a woman in the Holmes canon. (True, it’s tame by our modern standards, but I was still shocked by it.) The villain is honestly threatening, the boys do some interesting moral bending in order to do their job, and, of course, there’s banter. (And handholding behind a curtain. What?) In a similar vein is “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter”; while they ultimately solve this case, we get to see Holmes’ generosity, especially in the face of a case that humbles him. I really love stories like these, because they show that Holmes is human without falling into the trap of giving him someone to treat “normally” in order to do so. (Although Holmes does get engaged in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”. It might be my favorite Holmes story so far, come to think of it…)
The crimes collected here are all a lot darker; there are more moments of actual horror here, such as when Holmes and Watson inspect the dwelling of a seaman who has been murdered via harpoon. (And I thought that was a throwaway gag in “A Scandal in Belgravia”!) I don’t know why this is—perhaps Doyle felt obligated, or he was ripping more stories from headlines and history or something. I’m not sure. But it is delightful to see Doyle try to put the detective to rest again in “The Adventure of the Second Stain”, which starts off with Watson telling the audience that Holmes has now retired (and apparently is now a beekeeper!) and doesn’t want him to publish his adventures any more. Oh, that’s adorable, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, tell me another one.
I can’t believe I’m more than halfway done with the Sherlock Holmes canon! I’ve got two more short story collections and a novel, and then I’m done. I’ll probably be done with them by the end of the year—perhaps even by the time the first The Hobbit film comes out. How incredibly startling…
Bottom line: More rollicking adventures with Holmes and Watson, all with heart, banter, and increasingly dark crimes. “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”, it could be argued, is the quintessential Holmes story…