As a student, I always found myself getting stronger grades in my history classes as the semester went along. In studying for the first test of the grading period, I was never entirely certain what to expect. But after that first test, I got a feel for the kinds of things the instructor felt was important, and I was able to study more efficiently, noting those facts that seemed likely to appear on the exam.
Reading the Sherlock Holmes books has been similar. THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is fifth Sherlock Holmes collection I’ve read, and so far I think it’s my favorite. I don’t know whether that’s because Doyle has grown more comfortable with the duo of Sherlock and Watson, which I believe he has at this point in the series, or simply because I’ve gotten better at reading the clues along with Sherlock and making my own predictions as to where the story will go.
I thought Doyle’s explanation for Holmes’ survival at the end of THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES was OK, given the fact that Holmes never intended to bring the detective back, and the story of them capturing the assassin who was after Holmes was entertaining. After that story concluded, Doyle was able to return to the more traditional Sherlock stories, where he continued to build upon his previous creativity and actually weren’t all that traditional. I especially liked the story CHARLES AUGUSTUS MILVERTON, in which Doyle breaks from what could easily become an overused and dull formula.
This particular collection shows Holmes and Watson operating outside the law a bit more often then they have in the past. In CHARLES AUGUSTUS MILVERTON, they actually break into a man’s house and witness a murder. In THE ABBEY GRANGE, they solve the case but decline to tell the police because they decide it was self-defense and/or justified. In THE SECOND STAIN, they are working on the case for the government and must keep facts away from Lestrade and the police. On several occasions, Holmes notes that as a private citizen he isn’t restricted by the same regulations that policemen must follow. I like that, in addition to some of his minor character flaws, Holmes and Watson make some questionable decisions and put themselves at some degree of risk in working at odds with the police. Especially in CHARLES AUGUSTUS MILVERTON, it was fun to see them working on the opposite side of the law (though they have good reason to do so), almost as though Doyle was tempted to make them antiheroes.
Of course, in the end, Holmes and Watson are so enjoyable because they do look at the character of those involved in their cases, and they are earnest defenders of innocent women and the downtrodden. Doyle may have grown tired of writing these stories by this point in his career, but I continue to enjoy these tales more and more. They certainly don’t read like stories written by a man who’s writing simply to sate the appetites of an audience that clamored for more Sherlock Holmes for a decade.
TOP FIVE BOOKS I’VE READ IN 2012:
3. THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle