I’ve never been a fan of short story collections. I find I can enjoy a single short story, but reading twelve of them in a row is just too much. By the end of the collection, I remember half of it and don’t care about the other half. So when I decided to read this book, the first collection of Sherlock stories, I thought I’d try a different tactic. Instead of reading it straight through in one go, I read one or two stories between each novel I read and jotted down a quick note about the story as soon as I finished. This worked so much better!
I know most of you are like ‘no shit, Sherlock’ (something I keep hoping Watson will eventually come out with – no luck as of yet), but this was a revelation for me. It let the story linger a bit on my mind instead of just being lost in the shuffle of plots, and now I’m looking forward to reading through more short fiction this coming year.
Here’s a list of the stories included in this collection:
- A Scandal in Bohemia – The first instance of Irene Adler, the woman to Sherlock Holmes. He’s tasked with retrieving a photo she has in her possession, one that could upset a potential marriage between the King of Bohemia and the daughter of the King of Scandinavia, but she ultimately outwits him. Really a fun story, and I was shocked to read that this is the only time Irene Adler appears in any Sherlock story. She’s always popping up in the film and television adaptations, so I thought she’d be a common character in his short stories.
- The Adventure of the Red-Headed League – A pawnbroker was recently accepted into the prestigious Red-Headed League for two months before it mysteriously dissolved with no trace. He comes to Sherlock for help, and we find that there were nefarious intentions behind this bizarre club. I found the premise hilarious and enjoyed seeing a lighter, carefree, side of Sherlock in this.
- A Case of Identity – This most ridiculous of the cases so far, skip this if you don’t want it spoiled. A woman’s step-father dresses up in a disguise and pretends to court her to keep her from marrying other men. As long as she lives at home, he has access to the interest from the bonds her rich uncle left her, so he put on a funny voice and some silly glasses, had her fall in love with him, and then broke her heart. He begins this story by explaining to Watson that life is stranger than fiction, so this is maybe a particularly wacky story to try to highlight that fact.
- The Boscombe Valley Mystery – This was one of the more straight-forward Sherlock stories I’ve read. A man has been killed in the country and Sherlock doesn’t believe the person in custody is the perpetrator. Our first encounter with Inspector Lestrade in this collection, and it was fun to see an irritated Sherlock get snarky with him.
- The Five Orange Pips – A man’s grandfather and father were both murdered days after receiving five orange pips in the mail, so he seeks out the help of Sherlock after receiving them himself. This one felt like it warranted a longer version. At one point Sherlock was angry and on a mission of vengeance, and it was evident that those guilty men were going down. That was a fun side of Sherlock to see.
- The Man with the Twisted Lip– A man goes missing, and it’s discovered that he’s not who his family thought he was. Full of action and intrigue in the night, and the man’s story was quite interesting.
- The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle– A stolen gem is discovered in an unlikely location and Sherlock lays a trap to find the culprit. In this, Sherlock reasons that the guilty man must be intelligent due to the size of his massive head, which was one of the first investigative ideas that he’s used that felt really dated.
- The Adventure of the Speckled Band – This is the only Sherlock short story that I remember from university. It’s a great one with high stakes, and we get to see Sherlock show off his macho side a bit, bending steel poker with his bare hands. Brawn and brains, the whole package.
- The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb– This was a particularly creepy one. An Engineer, after losing a thumb and having Watson patch him up, tells them the story of how he lost it. A creepy mansion in the night, and the earliest instance I’ve seen of the classic cinematic scene in which a rock ceiling slowly lowers to crush those trapped inside the room.
- The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor– This was probably my least favourite of the bunch. An American bride goes missing after her wedding ceremony to an upper class English man, and Sherlock is asked to find her. There was a lot of setup for a lacklustre explanation.
- The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet– A jewel goes missing again, and Sherlock is tasked with finding it. He also has doubts that the man in custody is really guilty. This one was fun, lots of family intrigue and good old-fashioned investigation. We get to follow some footprints in this.
- The Adventure of the Copper Beeches– A very creepy story about a woman hired as a governess. She’s offered much more money than most other governesses and is asked to cut her hair in a specific manner and wear someone else’s clothing. She’s worried that something is wrong, so she asked Sherlock to help her investigate. She’s a great character herself actually, taking initiative in her own investigations. There’s also an angry Mastiff, not quite as fearsome as the Hound of the Baskervilles, and Watson uses the phrase ‘blew his brains out’, which seemed weirdly out of place to me.
This was a great collection. Moriarty hasn’t arrived yet, but a few other known characters have made minor appearances, and it was a great mix of creepy and exciting stories. I almost think the short stories work better than the full length novels, but I really enjoy both.