I didn’t know exactly where this collection fell in the general mythos of Sherlock Holmes when I started it. It was next up in my huge collection of classics on my Nook. Being particularly chronologically occupied when getting into a new series of stories, I was initially very put off after realizing that I was perusing the middle of the man’s career. The good news is, though, that this collection is imminently accessible. Outside of a very few references to prior adventures, which are peripheral and have little to no bearing on the case currently at hand, you can dive right in with this particular book.
Each of the stories is written from the point of view of Watson as he reminisces or combs through case files collected over his long association with Mr. Holmes himself. And I have to admit, Watson shocked me somewhat. He’s not the bumbling fatty that generations of visual versions have bequeathed to us. He is Sherlock Holmes’ dearest (and arguably only) friend, which is what makes him so much more infuriating. He is a veteran of the Afghan campaign, a successful medical doctor, brilliant in his own right, and a happily married man. And yet Sherlock Holmes shits all over him. Seriously, the detective is a dick.
Watson is startling well-spoken, intelligent, and loyal to a fault. And how does Holmes thank, nay, reward him? By constantly showboating and sniping at Watson’s failure to pick up on some apparently insignificant detail that no one without the inherent wealth or time of leisure and total lack of society of Sherlock Holmes could ever be bothered to master the noticing of. And Watson just keeps taking it. He falls for Holmes’ bait every damn time.
“Well Watson, this certainly does seem to be a difficult case. Do you notice anything useful?” Holmes may mutter disinterestedly as he hides his prick grin.
“Well, the client is wealthy, and I can medically diagnose him with my eyes closed in the other room. But no, as usual, nothing helpful,” Watson might reply.
“Well, Watson, if you have half a brain, a single functioning eye, and can tell right from left then you must have noticed that this man is not, in fact, a Bulgarian merchant but is, in fact, a horse. See his teeth? Anyways, I’m bored now since I’ve already solved the case.”
“Really? Wow, then where is the cache of diamonds?”
“Oh, I don’t want to tell you yet. First I’m going to throw on some black-face, go slumming, have a sandwich, synthesize a new element, and then you can meet me at the bank at half-five on Thursday next. And bring your gun?”
“My gun! Is there to be danger?”
“Could be. You’ll take point,” said Holmes as he snorted a mountain of cocaine and disappeared into his boudoir to hide from the womenfolk afoot.
Yes, it seems like I’m lambasting a classic character of English literature. Mostly because I kind of am. But I loved it. Honest! The reason I am so hard on it is because it promised so much that it failed to deliver on. Most of the stories have little to know drama. The stakes are so low they’re under the table. And whenever something genuinely sinister happens and it shakes Holmes out of his ennui he gears up to be some badass avenging angel, prepared to cross seas and mountains to bring the felons into swift and terrible secret karate justice. And then they die in a tragic ice-cream cart accident. Or a cat sneezes on them and they fall permanently comatose in an allergic fit. Some of these stories just finish up right as they get genuinely interesting and the stakes come out of the basement. I can only imagine that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle realized he’d taken too long being clever and was out of paper and had his own mountain of cocaine that needed snorting and so couldn’t be bothered giving the thing an actual ending.
Doyle is clearly brilliant! He’s got a great concept, a great set of characters (if they would just shape up a little more often), an pleasant style, and (in spite of some clearly pulled-it-out-of-his-butt moments) is an immensely creative and clever man. So yes, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was awesome. And that’s what made it so damn frustrating.
I’d recommend it. I intend to pick up the rest and fill in the blanks (in order this time) and I think you’d be doing fine by yourself if you did the same. You’ll be impressed. And then you’ll tear your hair out and punch a wall and beg Watson to just pistol-whip Holmes in the ear before reaching up out of the page and cocking Doyle in the nose until he finishes the story up big and proper like he promised eight pages back.