Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: The Best in the Bunch

I mentioned in my New Year's post that I want to read all the Sherlock Holmes stories by the end of this year, going by the order in which they were published. I've read till The Hound of the Baskervilles and "The Adventure of the Empty House" from The Return of Sherlock Holmes so far, and I'm starting to shape the opinion that I prefer the short stories to the novels – with the exception of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In my opinion, the Adventures and Memoirs collections are better than A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four at containing the adventure and mystery elements in the Sherlock Holmes stories and keeping the pace enjoyable. I liked both of these compilations of short stories very much, and rather than going for a traditional book review I thought I'd experiment a little and simply list my ten favorite stories from Adventures and Memoirs, and of course the reasons why I liked them particularly – as I'm always a huge why? person! I've listed the stories in the order in which they appear in the books because I think I need to get a bit more familiar with the canon and re-read all of these at least once in order to place them in an order of preference.

So, this is my Top Ten list out of the short stories in The Adventures and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes!

A Case of Identity

Sherlock Holmes' adventures introduce us to clients and criminals of diverse walks of life and Holmes uncovers relevant character history from as far as the Australian gold rush and the Sepoy Rebellion in India. A Case of Identity shows the other end of the spectrum as it's a decidedly domestic affair, but no less crooked and appalling for it. Even if the subject of evil stepmothers has been endlessly explored in fairy tales and all kinds of fiction besides, I find Mr Windibanks a most intriguing villain in his terrible pursuit of psychologically destroying his stepdaughter.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

And here we have another "Best Victorian Stepdad" candidate. Grimesby Roylott is an even darker character than Mr Windibank, and he has an awesome name. The part where Holmes and Watson sit in the dark for hours gives me the veritable creeps.

The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor

I fell in love with this story right at the beginning when Mr Holmes' conversation with his noble client Lord Robert St. Simon had me laughing my head off. Also, the little business with the F.M. initials completely fooled me.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Reading the other participants' tag answers for Hamlette's blog party serves as proof that Miss Violet Hunter has many admirers. She deserves them, too, smart and adventurous as she is (I think you have to be quite adventurous to agree to move in with such a crazy household as the Rucastles'!) I only question her action of carrying around her cut-off hair... What's the point? There are plenty of utterly confusing clues along the story, and I was especially freaked out by the coil of red hair that Miss Hunter finds locked up in her room. This story also holds for me the golden memory of when I managed to deduce at least part of the mystery correctly – the part that Violet was hired to impersonate another red-headed woman! Jephro Rucastle is another great name for another diabolical character.

Silver Blaze

As a long-time horse lover, I'll never object to following Holmes and Watson to a horse stable, especially if it's located on Dartmoor. Dr Watson gets to show off his knowledge of surgical instruments, and we encounter the famous phrase "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" which now has a life of its own as a successful novel and stage play.

The Adventure of the Yellow Face

I was completely lost with what the meaning of that yellow mask could be, and the final resolution was not even remotely close to anything I could possibly have imagined. I never expected to be moved to tears while reading a Sherlock Holmes adventure, but now I have experienced that as well. Sadly, our society is still not done with finding fault in multi-racial families.

The Adventure of the Gloria Scott

Basically, I like this one because it was The First and because part of it happens on a ship. Something about a mutiny in a confined space in the middle of nowhere sets my mind reeling...

The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual

When I was a child, there were few things I loved more than a proper riddle in poetic form. The Musgrave Ritual totally wakes the child in me. I love watching Holmes running around the Musgrave estate, measuring imaginary trees.

The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter

I confess, the main appeal for me in this story is just that it's so hideously dark. Oh, and I met Mycroft Holmes for the first time! Hearing a character's voice and intonation in my head while reading is essential for me in order to have a perfect reading experience and not knowing what Mr Melas' Greek accent would sound like bothered me so much that I had to consult some Youtube videos to get a proper idea and continue reading.

The Final Problem

I had huge expectations for the original Moriarty after seeing Andrew Scott play him, and I wasn't disappointed. I was thrilled to find out that the fantastic "tea party for geniuses" scene in The Reichenback Fall has its roots in this story, and that Sherlock used a lot of the best original dialogue between Holmes and Moriarty!

What are your favorite short stories in the Holmes canon? Do you find them generally better than the novels or not? How do Adventures and Memoirs measure up against the later compilations that I haven't read yet?


  1. I like the stories better than the novels too, except for Hound. I love so many of them! "Blue Carbuncle" and "Copper Beeches" and "Speckled Band" and "Scandal in Bohemia" and "Red-Headed League" and and and and :-D

    I think Adventures and Memoirs are the best of the lot -- the others are good, but they're a mix of great stories and some frankly mediocre ones. However, time spent with Holmes and Watson is never wasted, IMHO, so I enjoy them all :-)

  2. Apart from 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' I'm not a very big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels. Those tedious flashbacks! When I last read 'A Study in Scarlet' all I could think during the second half of the book was "Doyle? I'm getting the strong impression that you would have really liked to have written a Western so why couldn't you have actually written a proper Western novel instead of trying to shove one into a Sherlock Holmes story?"

    I really like most of your picks :) I've just re-read 'The Adventures of...' so those stories are very fresh in my mind. In that collection I love, love, love 'Speckled Band' and 'Copper Beeches'. I love 'Blue Carbuncle' and I really hope that this year's episode of Sherlock will be based on that one. I'm extremely fond of 'The Red-Headed League'. I love that it's a bank-robbing story and I think John Clay is a seriously underrated villain. I'm not much of a fan of 'A Case of Identity' though. I find that one really depressing. That poor, poor girl! :(

    It's been quite a while since I last read 'Memoirs of...' so I'll let you know at another time what my favourites from that book are. The only other short story collection I've read is 'The Return of Sherlock Holmes'. Hamlette's right in that the stories aren't as consistently enjoyable as the earlier short story collections but there are still some great stories in that one. It's got the Charles Milverton story which is one of my favourites and I remember really liking 'The Adventure of the Priory School' and The Abbey Grange story.

  3. I must say that I much prefer the short-stories than the novels, as well.

    You chose quite a number of my own favourite Holmes stories here and I am happy to see that I'm not the only one to enjoy them. I can't comment on every one of them but I just want to share memories and thoughts on 2 of them.

    I feel exactly the same way as you do about The Musgrave Ritual. I was very fond of scavenger hunts when I was a kid (well, I still am very fond of them) and thus found this story incredibly thrilling. I literally wanted to be there and take part in Holmes' investigation.

    As for The Final Problem, I read it for the first time when I was about 13. I was so sure Holmes couldn't die (he is the hero after all) and I didn't know about the Empty House and following stories that the end of this story came as a great shock to me. It was late at night and I literally cried myself to sleep.