Last night I finished reading Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection (Illustrated).
It is a collection of all four of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books, and 54 of the short story serials published in the papers of the time; supposedly everything Doyle wrote about Holmes.
I am not a Doyle nor Holmes scholar. As such, I cannot make any claims to the ‘ultimate’ or ‘definitive’ quality of this collection. I researched for quite some time before purchasing this collection. To the best of my knowledge everything Doyle-Holmes is in it, though there are so many collected works it can be a little hard to be sure. That said, there is more than enough Holmes to suit any reader.
As to the collection itself, it was as expected with this caveat: Not all of the illustrations showed up. This may have been due to a transfer problem during the download to my Kindle, or may be a publisher’s error. I cannot say which. For the most part this had little affect on the enjoyment of the work, though it did have some bearing on “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, as the illustrations bear directly on the story itself. But a quick Internet search resolved that issue.
As for Arthur Conan Doyle and his quintessential character, Sherlock Holmes; what can I say that hasn’t been said. I found the books, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and most notably The Valley of Fear, the most gripping.
The short story serials were, much like episodic television today, repetitive. That is the curse of a serial, where the public expects certain events; the show must start in a common place and must end with all things as they were when the story began. Of course, reading these stories back to back highlighted this shortcoming. I felt I was going to scream if another story started with Watson showing up at Baker Street, to then have some guest pop in, only to have Holmes request Watson’s assistance in the matter. But again, I read these back to back, not over the course of decades as they were published.
The books, however, were very enjoyable. They are of much greater depth, not just because they fall outside of the pattern, nor because of their length. In them Doyle explores secret societies and cultures. Doyle’s descriptions of place and character are brilliant. Strangely enough, 2 of these 4 books, A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, contain some of the best descriptions of early America, and that coming from this Scottish writer through his British detective.
Some interesting notes, at least from my perspective.
- A lot of to-do has been made over the years about Holmes’ cocaine addiction. Out of the 58 independent works, it figures in only 2.
- He says, “The game’s afoot,” only twice.
- We never see him box or use his “Bartitsu”. It is mentioned that he uses it during one battle, but there are no scenes of him going to some brawl house. There is one other mention of him being a pugilist, where he garners respect from a boxing champ, but we never see (read) about those kind of events.
- Watson does marry, and there is a bit of a separation between Watson and Holmes because of it. However, Watson’s wife quickly passes away with hardly any explanation by Doyle, not even within the character of Watson the chronicler. We don’t know how or why or when, and Watson seems totally unaffected. The whole affair is given little more than 1 sentence.
- Holmes’ arch nemesis, Moriarty, figures in only 4 of the 58 stories. Of those 4, he is only lightly hinted at in 2.
I had come to understand that Holmes’ death at the hand of Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls in, “The Final Problem” was Doyle’s attempt to off the character because he had become tired of writing the serial stories. HOWEVER, the return of Holmes is directly and deliberately hinted at in that very same story. Those hints and unique considerations (“air guns”) play figuratively in “The Adventure of the Empty House”, the next serial short that was written eight years later – after The Hound of the Baskervilles by the way. Doyle may have wanted to stop writing the shorts, but had no intention, and had clearly planned on continuing with the character.