Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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One of the best things about getting a Kindle is that Project Gutenberg has tons of classic works available for free! So I took the opportunity to read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It took me ten months, but I finally finished.

A Study in Scarlet (January 13, 2012 - January 20, 2012): Sherlock Holmes! It was great to see how similar A Study in Scarlet was to "A Study in Pink." This first book is very introductory, as it's basically Watson figuring out that Holmes is...Holmes. The mystery is intriguing and has a nice progression, but...I'm sorry, I can't give this four stars because halfway through the book it turns into some bizarre Mormon adventure. It's not irrelevant because it's the backstory for the case, but it's entirely unnecessary, and it kills the momentum. I look forward to more adventures with Watson and Holmes, though! Perhaps when Doyle has realized the reader does not care about things that do not involve Watson and Holmes solving mysteries. 3 stars

The Sign of the Four (January 20, 2012 - February 1, 2012): This is a more exciting tale than A Study in Scarlet, and although it does have some flaws—being hilariously racist (Doyle, have you ever MET an Indian person?) and once again providing an infodump of backstory at the end as if we were really that interested in an adventure that does not feature Holmes and/or Watson (it's far less boring and WTF-y than the one in the previous book, though)—it has strengths like Holmes being a coke fiend, Toby the dog tracking creosote, and Watson adorably crushing on Mary Morstan. The mystery may not be as intriguing, but I found the characters more interesting. I'm looking forward to the short stories, though, because those will by their very nature be more concise and concentrated with Holmesian awesomeness. 4 stars

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (February 1, 2012 - February 20, 2012): Aha, now here is the Sherlock Holmes we all know and love! This first collection has classic stories like "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," and "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." What impressed me was the variety of crimes Holmes investigates. It's not always a murder mystery! In fact, there are some stories where it turns out there's no crime at all. In some others, there is a crime, but Holmes anticlimactically fails to catch the criminal, though he's confident he knows who it is. Although the stories do tend to follow the general format of "Poor soul explains his or her plight for pages and pages, Holmes basically solves half the mystery right there, and then they go visit the scene and he solves the rest of it," there is some variation here and there, though I would have expected a bit more ADVENTURE in these adventures. I did really like the continuity, though, as Watson and Holmes frequently reference not only the two novels but previous stories in the collection, making it feel like a cohesive narrative rather than a series of isolated tales. 5 stars

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (February 22, 2012 - March 30, 2012): While The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes had a lot of the classic, popular stories, this collection seems to contain some of Holmes's more offbeat adventures. But then again, it seems all of his adventures are kind of offbeat, as those are the ones that most require his skills of deduction. But here we have an age-old ritual, a missing horse, mysterious coded messages, and a whole lot of brain fever. I grew to like Holmes a lot more, although he's kind of a hilarious ass sometimes with the way he tells people about themselves and then makes it seem like any old fool could have deduced all these very specific things. There's a lot in here to give Holmes a little more character depth, making him feel more like a real person than a mystery-solving machine. Although he didn't get high nearly enough.

The obvious highlights, however, are "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" and "The Final Problem." The former story introduces Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's more brilliant brother, who is basically too lazy to be awesome. And the latter, of course, introduces Moriarty, Holmes's nemesis. It's easily one of the best stories in the canon, forgoing the traditional formula to simply follow Holmes to his inevitable death, having met his match. And he leaves behind his best friend and faithful chronicler, John Watson. (One of my favorite aspects of these stories is the Watson conceit and how well Doyle commits to it, naming stories we've never heard of and hinting at other adventures Watson simply did not write about.) 5 stars

The Hound of the Baskervilles (May 21, 2012 - May 28, 2012): Holmes and Watson investigate a potentially supernatural canine curse! This is easily the best Sherlock Holmes novel because it features 100% fewer Mormons and a far less convoluted backstory to explain the mystery. It feels more like an expanded short story, and that's the general structure at which the Holmes stories have excelled. Plus, Watson gets to play detective for a lot of the book, we get pieces of the story through his letters and diaries (and that conceit is one of my favorite parts of the canon), and little mini-mysteries all end up feeding into the larger mystery. It's clear why this is the best-known and most popular book. 4 stars

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (June 12, 2012 to September 8, 2012): Because it took me three months to get through this collection—thanks to lack of time, not lack of interest—I thought that it must not have been very good, but as I look back at the stories, I realize that I did enjoy quite a few of them. I continue to be impressed with the sheer variety of the types of cases Holmes and Watson investigate and annoyed that the majority of them do seem to follow the general formula of victim comes to Holmes, Holmes investigates and makes amazing deductions, Holmes makes a conclusion that it would be impossible for the reader to have made, and the culprit infodumps a motivation that would have been impossible to figure out.

One of my favorite aspects of the Holmes canon is the metanarrative of it all, the fact that Watson is actually publishing Holmes's exploits, which makes me wonder about the public reaction as well as the many unpublished stories Watson teases us with. The individual stories are good fun, but I cling to the various bits of them that play in to the larger tale of Holmes and Watson's career and relationship. 4 stars

The Valley of Fear (October 10, 2012 - October 12, 2012): The Valley of Fear is essentially A Study in Scarlet: Here We Go Again. The first half is an intriguing mystery, and it's quite a hoot to watch Holmes put together the clues. I also enjoyed the way he worked with MacDonald (why no Lestrade?) and the local authorities. And the second half is the long and involving backstory that takes place in America (last time it was Mormons, this time it's Freemasons). And this time, I said, fuck it, Doyle, I don't care about this shit, I want to read about Holmes and Watson, and I straight-up skimmed it. Turned out that it actually had a pretty nice payoff, but, still, that didn't all need to be in this book. 3 stars

His Last Bow (November 1, 2012 - November 7, 2012): The penultimate Holmes collection contains seven stories that are kind of a mixed bag. Most of the time the flaw is that the culprit is either completely out of left field or ends up being completely boring and then we spend several pages listening to his motivations. A couple are huge flops, like "The Adventure of the Red Circle," in which the mystery basically solves itself, and the titular "His Last Bow," which has no mention of Holmes and Watson for so long you start to think that there must be a mistake. What the collection does have going for it is the sheer diversity of tales; "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" is a highlight for breaking from the usual formula (a more successful attempt than "His Last Bow"). I daresay I am getting Holmes fatigue by this point; I never really feel connected to the victims and culprits and find their long, involved backstories and motivations a chore. I do still enjoy Holmes' deductive reasoning, however, although, man, is he ever an ass to Watson. 3 stars

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (November 7, 2012 - November 11, 2012): And so the Holmes saga comes to a close with this final collection of stories, which is probably the oddest and most offbeat of them all. Most reviews of this book mention that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was clearly tired of Holmes by this point (for the first time, he writes a preface, in which he basically bemoans the fact that fans kept wanting him to write more Holmes stories and no one cared about any of his non-Holmes work, which he thought was better), and that does somewhat show, although for the first time, we get a couple stories told from Holmes's POV, which is pretty neat, so maybe it was really Watson he was tired of. There is also one third-person story, which just feels completely wrong and seems to violate the canonical metafictional conceit. Many of the stories in this collection are somewhat banal, and one story doesn't even bother to have Holmes do any detective work at all: someone just tells him all the details of the crime, the end. There is a certain charm to the weirdness of this collection, however. I've spent a very long time with Holmes and Watson, and they've solved a great many bizarre cases, very few of them alike. I definitely had Holmes fatigue by this point; there's a reason the classic stories are the most popular and you've never heard of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" (spoiler warning: it's not an adventure). 3 stars

I feel like this was a worthy use of my time in this Holmes-saturated era. Now I want to rewatch Sherlock.
Tags: books
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