The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

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By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

First published: UK, George Newnes, 1892


A Scandal in Bohemia

A good story, with its aristocratic client (the King of Bohemia, no less!—Prince Florizel’s father?) and the dramatic nature of the case. The first of the short stories, it is also the one in which Holmes falls in love—with the villainness, Irene Adler, who outwits him.

The Red-Headed League

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One of the best stories in the Canon—a hilarious and perplexing tale told by the pawnbroker Jabez Wilson leads Holmes to discover a particularly ingenious and novel plan. Note the midnight vigil at the end; this is how tension should be handled.

 

A Case of Identity

Mary Sutherland asks Holmes to discover her vanished bridegroom. Well thought-out, but not exciting.

 

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

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This short story shows that Doyle is really getting into the swing of short-story writing, and can construct a story along the lines of the first two novels. Lestrade calls in Holmes to investigate the murder of the unpleasant Charles McCarthy, for which his son has been arrested. Holmes shines as detective, Doyle as fair-play writer, and the murderer’s account of his past history and the reasons for the murder is satisfying.

 

The Five Orange Pips

This grimly melodramatic tale, with its omniscient and omnipotent secret society, would be one of the best Holmes tales were it not for one thing: having worked out that his client stands in imminent danger of death, Holmes blithely sends him out into the night alone. Result: Holmes loses his client. This is nothing short of sheer criminal stupidity.

 

The Man with the Twisted Lip

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This Dickensian tale, with its opium den (Princess Puffer?) and celebrity beggar, has a very ingenious solution. However, Holmes does not explain how he reached his solution.

Note that Watson is called “James” by his wife.

 

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

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This Christmas tale is a delight—no gore, no superhuman criminal masterminds, merely a fabulous jewel “cropping” up in a Christmas goose, sending Holmes and Watson out into the cold of a December night to trace the thief. Holmes does not do much, but his deductions from a hat are highly ingenious. Having found the snivelling villain, Holmes “commutes a felony to save a soul”. Obviously Doyle has been reading A Christmas Carol.

 

The Speckled Band

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The gem of The Adventures, a story rivalled only by The Devil’s Foot as the best tale in the canon. It is splendid melodrama, with one of the most memorable lines in the canon, “It is not cold which makes me shiver…it is fear”; a perfect atmosphere of haunting tension, and one of the best villains in the canon: the murderous Dr. Grimesby Roylott, who meets his end in a particularly apt way.

 

The Engineer’s Thumb

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Distinctly below par. Holmes does little, except listen to the story of a murderous attack upon a young engineer, brought to him by the (medically incompetent) Watson, and to deduce the whereabouts of the criminal’s lair. Said criminals, led by a sinister German, escape justice.

 

The Noble Bachelor

One of the lesser Adventures, and indicating that Doyle was running out of ideas. The story is, in fact, a rehash of elements from earlier stories: the vanished bride is a reversal of “A Case of Identity”; the vanished person’s clothes found in the river come from “The Man with the Twisted Lip”; and the solution reworks elements from both these tales.

 

The Beryl Coronet

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A rather hackneyed melodrama, in which a bold, bad baronet manoeuvres his lover into stealing a piece of jewellery the Crown Prince entrusted to her uncle. The uncle calls in Holmes, who saves the nation from scandal. Note a good scene where Holmes reads footprints.

 

The Copper Beeches

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One of the best Holmes stories: a good, old-fashioned melodrama, with a suitably wicked villain, a damsel in distress, a plucky heroine, and “a giant dog, as large as a calf”—the mastiff of the Rucastles! Seemingly harmless events cause the tension to mount in an excellent manner.