Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)

     The most recent Sherlock Holmes to which I had been exposed was the nightmare conjured by Guy Ritchie in his 2009 film.  I liked Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, respectively, but the entire films seemed antithetical to what I remembered about the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I just couldn't get excited about the idea of a modern day Holmes to even give Sherlock (2010) a chance.  But how much did I really remember about Conan Doyle's writing?
     The answer, it would seem, would turn out to be, almost nothing.
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
     Maybe my memories had absorbed too much of the image of Basil Rathbone as the famous detective – and I wouldn't wager that I remember his many Sherlock Holmes films any better than I did the original material.  Maybe it was that I hadn't read any Conan Doyle since 1988; my general rule is that if I haven't read it since 1995, I can treat the material as though it is new to me.
     What struck me most when reading the Dover Thrift Edition reprint of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (2010 for Dover; 1894 for the original) was that I did not care much for Conan Doyle's style of writing.  Endless quoting within quotes and descriptions that seem to go on for days dominate most of the tales.  Seldom is the information presented to the reader to give any idea of how Holmes will solve the puzzle at hand.  While this collection of short stories is a pretty poor choice of where to jump back into the exploits Conan Doyle's legendary detective – A Study in Scarlet (1887) or The Sign of Four (1890) would have been much better choices – I was still disappointed that there was so little development of the principle characters: Holmes and Watson.  Instead, Conan Doyle offers brief descriptions of the men and their activities, deciding instead to spend endless paragraphs to vague depictions of late 19th Century London and its surrounding villages and neighborhoods.
Holmes and Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls
     There are some good stories within the collection (the only one I remembered was "The Crooked Man", and I read that back in 1986), and it does have two important events in the Holmes mythos.  First, it introduces the character of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother.  Second, and much more importantly, it introduces Professor Moriarty – then kills both he and Holmes at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.  The rest of the tales seem a little small for the skills and feats of legendary Sherlock Holmes, but are still miles ahead of the screenplay penned by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg (for the Ritchie disaster).
     For the price – $3.50 – the book is fine.  It is a little odd to have physician Conan Doyle make repeated references to brain fever (a malady that can have one bedridden for weeks at a time) which is anything from being in shock to encephalitis or meningitis, and never having either Holmes or Watson clarify the matter.  But I have seen much worse at much higher prices, and even when I was frustrated with Conan Doyle's style I still found some enjoyment in the stories.
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (DTE) includes the following tales:
▸    “Silver Blaze”
▸    “The Yellow Face”
▸    “The Stock-broker’s Clerk”
▸     “The ‘Gloria Scot’”
▸    “The Musgrave Ritual”
▸    “The Reigate Puzzle”
▸    “The Crooked Man”
▸    “The Resident Patient”
▸    “The Greek Interpreter”
▸    “The Naval Treaty”
▸    “The Final Problem”

1 comment:

  1. This is a well put together post. I enjoyed reading this.