Iain's Leisure Reading


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Sherlock Holmes canon   






Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes are featured in Following the Detectives, real locations in crime fiction.

I guess Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is possibly the world's most famous detective. Just about everyone knows his address - 221B Baker Street. I remember reading lots of these stories when I was a schoolboy. At the same school there was a fellow pupil Ian Sutherland whose party trick was to answer obscure questions about Sherlock Holmes. We were never able to test him fully because he knew so much more about the subject than we did. He would ask himself obscure questions, and then answer them himself. Happy Days !

Sometimes when I research a new author, I have to admit that I have not been able to find out that much about the said author. But in the case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, there is an embarrassment of information.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859 of an English alcoholic father, and an Irish catholic mother. A wealthy uncle ensured that Doyle had a good Jesuit education, including a spell (1875 to 1876) at at a Jesuit College in Austria. Conan Doyle later rejected the catholic faith, became an agnostic, but dabbled in spiritualist mysticism. He studied medicine at Edinburgh Uni. 1876 to 1881, and practical botany at the famous Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. About this time he also started writing short stories, and also academic articles - eg "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the BMJ in 1879. Not surprisingly, Holmes was an expert on poisons. He worked as a doctor, as a ship's surgeon, and with a friend set up a medical practice in Plymouth in 1882, before, later the same year, striking out by himself in Southsea, Portsmouth. The practice was not a success, and so Doyle took to writing fiction. In 1890 he studied ophthalmology in Vienna, and then set up a practice in ophthalmology in Wimpole Street, London.

Doyle's first work "A Study in Scarlet" got good reviews. He based Sherlock Holmes on his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Surprisingly from the start, he had a love hate relationship with his creation. He just wanted time to do more important things. He told his mother in 1891 that he was thinking of slaying Sherlock Holmes, but she begged him not to. To deflect publisher's demands for more Holmes stories he raised the price to what he thought would be discourageing levels, but they paid, and he became one of the best paid authors of his time. In 1893, in "The Final Problem" he had Holmes plunge to his death in the Reichenbach Falls, locked in a struggle with Prof Moriarty. Later he had to resurrect Holmes - only Moriarty had perished, but to fool other enemies Helomes pretended also to have perished.

Conan Doyle published lots of other books, including a series of maritime themed works, and historical novels which many critics regarded as his finest work. He was an accomplished sportsman - at football and cricket ( he took the wicket of W G Grace !) In 1885 he married Mary Louise Hawkins, a sister of one of his patients. She died of TB in 1906. He then was free to marry Jean Leckie in 1907. Jean lived until 1940. He was the father of five children, the last of which died in 1997. He wrote a note justifying the Boer war, and was knighted, he thought, as a reward. He twice stood unsuccessfully for parliament as a Liberal. He campaigned to fight miscarriages of justice.

He suported mystical subjects. After the death of his first wife, and the early death of a son,and then many other deaths in the family he sank into depression, but found solace in spititualism, and its attempts to find proof of existence beyond the grave. He was apparently convinced of the veracity of the five Cottingley Fairy photographs - decades later exposed as a hoax. In 1919 a London magician staged a phoney seance that fooled Conan Doyle. Doyle later became a friend of the American Harry Houdini, who worked to debunk mysticism. Sadly Doyle thought Houdini had supernatural powers - Houdini was unable to convince his friend that they were only illusions !

Doyle died of a heart attack in 1930.






A Study in Scarlet,     (1887)


I read this book in March, 2016.

Sherlock Holmes is probably the most famous detective in the world. I am sure I had read Sherlock Holmes stories in my childhood, but recently I came across the Complete Works in a charity shop , an omnibus costing only 2.50. What a bargain - I had to give it a go !

The stories are set out in the correct squence, and so I started at page 13, with "A Study in Scarlet" Here we meet Dr Watson a retired military surgeon whose health was ruined by a spell in Afghanistan, and who had been send home to die in England. It was the 1880's, and Watson had to survive on a daily pension of 11 shillings and six pence. He needed to find decent lodgings , and was introduced to Sherlock Holmes by a mutual friend. Together, Holmes and Watson could pool resources, and afford keep and lodgings at 221 B Baker Street, London. They had a bedroom each, and a shared lounge, and were looked after by a landlady and her maid. It turns out that Holmes is a consulting detective, and is extraordinarly gifted.

Nowdays, Holmes infallable powers of deduction are just beyond credence, but go with the flow, don't be too critical, and it all works surprisingly well.

We meet two Scotland Yard detectives, Gregson and Lestrade. They are rivals, both keen to consult Holmes, but both determined to keep all the glory to themselves. Dr Watson thinks this unfair, keeps notes, and is determined to make sure that the public get to hear of the genius that is Sherlock Holmes.

We start with the deaths of two Americans in London - Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson - killed by Jefferson Hope, also an American. It is Holmes who captures Jefferson with his incredible powers of deduction.

The story then switches to tell us about John Ferrier, the guide of an ill fated party of pioneers. They fail to find water in the barren lands as they head west, and all but Ferrier and a very young girl, Lucy are dead. John tells Lucy how hopeless their case is - we will be dead within hours. Lucy brightens up - why that is wonderful, I will meet my mother at Heavens door, and she will be waiting to greet me with a drink, and my favourite biscuits. This is the finest Victorian melodrama, as Lucy cuddles down at peace in John Ferrier' lap. Not a dry eye in the place. I don't mean to mock, its a good story indicative of the times.

Happily John Ferrier and Lucy do not die, but are saved by a wagon train band of Mormons, thousands strong, heading towards their promised land. They will save John and Lucy if John converts to become a morman - which of course he does. John and Lucy recover their strength, John proves to be a good guide and hard worker, and when they get to Utah, John is given land, and he resolves to bring up Lucy as his own. John observes all the Mormon practices, but will not take multiple wives. This is criticised, but nothing is done about it, yet ! Time passes, Lucy grows to beautiful womanhood, and by chance meets a young Jefferson Hope, who is not a morman. Soon they fall in love. And then the sons of two morman leaders call on John - they are Drebber and Stangerson, and each wants to add Lucy to their collection of wives. John resolves to flee with Lucy, and sends word to Jefferson of their plight.

And so the story unfolds, and I won't say any more to spoil it.

Queen Victoria lived from 1837 to 1901, and this was a time of get up and go attitudes, the empire, public works, new railway stations and grand new hotels, but also a time of great change in Victorian London. The old handsome cabs, candles, deference was making way for electric lights, the motor car, the gramaphone, etc. London, a world city is about to change - and old London is as much a star as Sherlock Holmes in these tales. Enjoy it while you can!

I liked the story on lots of levels. It was a good moral tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I liked Sherlock Holmes, and honest Dr Watson. And I really liked the social history. So I am sure I am going to enjoy these stories.






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The Sign of the Four,     (1890)


I read this book in May, 2016.

This is the second Sherlock Holmes story, book two in the Complete Stories that I am reading. It's quite a short story of only 77 pages - but it took me quite a while to read it, which is not a good sign. I wasn't really gripped by this tale, although it was interesting enough, and well told, but just a little dated. Of course a story published in 1890, 126 years ago as I write this, is bound to be of it's time (old fashioned). It's set in a London of fogs, handsome cabs, where most households have servants, but where extreme poverty makes life a mysery for so many. The writing style is also archaic - but it was interesting as social history.

We were introduced to Holmes and Dr Watson in book one. Now we learn more of Holmes's character, of his melancholy, of his love of cocaine, and of his strange views of the female of our species. He holds that they are not to be trusted as they are guided by emotion not reason ! The book opens with Holmes without an interesting case to occupy his formidable mind - and so resorting to cocaine. Watson lives rather in awe of Holmes, but eventually he must speak up, and caution Holmes about the danger of cocaine, and what it might do to his brain. Holmes ignores this advice. Happily an interesting case turns up to occupy the mind of the great detective, and the cocaine is set aside, but only until the end of the book.

The story starts off gently when Mrs Hudson, Holmes's housekeeper, shows Miss Mary Morstan into the Holmes / Watson parlour. Mary is a blond, young lady, small, dainty, well gloved, and dressed in the most perfect taste. Dr Watson describes Miss Morstan in great detail - she has clearly made a great impression on the good doctor. For the past few years, Mary has been sent a valuable diamond on each birthday from an unknown benefactor, and now that she and the benefactor are to meet for the first time, she wants two gentlemen to accompany her for safety. She has been warned not to contact the police - any sign of them, and the benefactor will not show up. The story then really takes off - it's a story set originally in the India of the Indian mutiny, and involves a fabulous treasure stolen by a gang of four, who in turn are cheated out of the treasure by a Major John Shalto and eventually the treasure passes down to the major's two sons - the two Shalto brothers, Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Thaddeus wants to do the right thing and give Miss Morstan her share - a share inherited from her father, a partner of the Major John Shalto. The mystery deepens when Bartholomew is discovered dead in a locked room - poisoned by a dart from a blow pipe, and the treasure has gone.

Throughout Mary Morstan behaves with great bravery and dignity, and Dr Watson falls deeply in love with this woman that he hardly knows. But he cannot tell Mary of his feelings for her firstly because she is in great distress, and Watson would be taking advantage of a defenceless woman. And then he cannot say anything because Mary stands to inherit a vast fortune, puting her beyond the reach of a somewhat impoverished Dr Watson.

It all builds to a fair climax, and at the end, Watson is free to tell Mary of his feelings, and Holmes to return to his cocaine pipe. As with book one, there is a story within a story again - that of the origin of the treasure - and I thought that that was almost the best part of the book.

Overall I preferred book one, but this story was interesting enough, and I will read on.






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The Hound of the Baskervilles,     (1901-1902)


I read this book in October, 2016.

This is the third Sherlock Holmes story, book three in the Complete Stories that I am reading. It's definitely the best story to date - a great story, well written, where the action takes place in London, but mostly on Dartmoor, in Devon. We know the area well.

This is a very famous story - I am sure I must have read it when I was a schoolboy, and probably seen one or some of the many films of the story. That said though, I had mostly forgotten the detail, and on reading it I was struck by how fresh the story was, what a puzzle it presented to Sherlock Holmes (and his readers), and apart from a few archaic expressions, the story nor the writing did not appear too dated. Also, apart from the final chapter -the Retrospection - we are spared the gigantic jumping to always correct conclusions by the observant Holmes.

The story opens in London, when a Dr Mortimer calls upon Holmes for advice. He is executor and friend of the late Sir Charles Baskerville, who has just died in horrible circumstances - perhaps frightened to death by a fearful hound "of the devil". He tells Holmes and Watson of the story behind the curse of the Baskervilles. All of that line are now dead, apart from the new Sir Henry Baskerville, whom Mortimer is to meet in London. The question is should he take Sir Henry back to Baskerville Hall on Dartmoor, and probably into terrible danger, or should he do all he can to tell Sir Henry never to come to Devon. Dr Mortimer is a man of science, but he fears he may be up against supernatural forces. Holmes concentrates on the problem, and recognises that here is a great puzzle, worthy of his talents. He sends Watson down to Devon with Sir Henry, telling him never to let Sir Henry out of his site. However this becomes easier said than done when Sir Henry meets and woos a Miss Stapleton, "sister" of one of his neighbours.

Mostly I read on, anxious to find out what happened next, and what was the rational explanation for all the strange events unfolding on Dartmoor, terrifying the natives, and testing Watson and Sir Henry. I worked out / guessed the identity of the strange man on the Tors, or perhaps it was just a fragment of the story that had re-emerged from my memory. That is the problem with reading such a well known story. All in all though, that did not spoil the story for me. The tale is famous and well loved story because it deserves to be.

As an aside, it is strange that although Sir Arthur Conan Doye believed in the supernatural, and spiritulism, his famous creation Sherlock Holmes certainly did not. There are all sorts of clues as to the true nature of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I did not get it at the time, but the theft of Sir Henry's boots, first his new ones, and then his old ones, was one such clue.

All in all, a good tale that has stood the test of time. I look forward to reading the next in the series.






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The Valley of Fear,     (1914-1915)


I read this book in April, 2017.

I have just realised that I am reading these stories in the order as presented in my omnibus edition of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. I guess I had better stick to this, but usually I far prefer to read a series in the order in which the various books were written. This usually allows us to better follow the personal life of the hero / heroine.

I'm not sure if I have read "Valley of Fear" before. If I have it was many, many years ago. This is the problem with reading something so famous as Sherlock Holmes - when you think you are slightly ahead of the author and are not greatly surprised at some of the plot twists, is this just because you have a distant memory of reading it all before ?

This is a story where we meet Holmes' arch enemy, the evil genius Professor Moriarty. I thought it was quite a good story, but once again there is a back story within the story, set in America, and so for a lot of the book Sherlock Holmes does not feature at all. I felt just a little cheated.

The story opens in London when Sherlock manages to decipher a message sent to him by a mysterious spy Porlock close to Moriarty. Someone called Douglas in a place called Birlstone is in great danger. But at the same time inspector Alex McDonald of Scotland Yard calls on Holmes for assistance in a very strange case where an American John Douglas has been cruelly killed - his face blown away by a double barrelled shotgun. As an aside, when a murder victim is badly burned or shot in the face this is as often as not a trick - the murdered victim may not be the person we think it is. Anyway, "John/ Jack Douglas" seemed safe in a remote manor house protected by a moat and a drawbridge, but nevertheless someone got into the house and did the deed. Douglas's wife (his second wife) seems surprisingly calm, and is consoled by a family friend a Mr Barker. Apparently Jack Douglas had been suspicious of Mr Barker's friendship with his wife. There are now three detectives trying to solve the puzzle as to what really happened - Alex MacDonald, the local detective Mr White Mason ,and of course, Sherlock Holmes. It is Holmes who solves the puzzle, but then we switch to the back story to learn how Jack Douglas came to end up in England. We follow the story of an apparently corrupt union official McMurdo working for a very corrupt union gangmaster in a coal mining valley in California. McMurdo courts the beautiful Ettie - and to cut a long story short, Ettie and McMurdo are the first Mr and Mrs Douglas. Was McMurdo really a murdering union thug, or someone else ?

We have almost lost track of the Moriarty connection when all is revealed at the end of the book - Douglas really is dead, Moriarty has achieved what he set out to do, no matter how long it took. I thought this bit was not at all convincing - if Moriarty sought revenge, why did Douglas survive apparently safely for ten years until some fellows were released from jail. Surely Moriarty would have got at Andrews in some other way, and faster ?

Overall though, I thought it was a good story - especially when Sherlock Holmes was around. But I am sure there are better Sherlock Holmes stories.






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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,     (1891-1892)


I read this book in June, 2017.

This is book five in the series about that most famous of detectives of Baker Street, London - Sherlock Holmes. It's a collection of 12 short stories, each about 20 pages long.

I particularly liked :-

A Scandal in Bohemia where Sherlock Homes comes up against the remarkable Irene Adler who has a compromising picture of herself with her former lover, the King of Bohemia. The king employs Holmes to get the photo back, and Holmes uses an old trick to get Irene Adler to reveal where she has hidden the photo. But Irene is a worthy match, and the ending is not as planned by Holmes, winning Irene "the lady" his respect and and admiration.

The Red Headed League is a nice story where red headed Jebez Wilson is tricked into leaving his business for 4 hours each day to be overpaid to copy out an encyclopedia. I worked out the plot when we were told about a neighbouring bank.

I liked The Boscombe Valley Mystery where Sherlock Holmes was called in by the girlfriend of James McCarthy to help prove that James did not kill his father, although everything pointed that way. Holmes identifies the murderer (as good as), but the police (Lestrade) can't be bothered and so Sherlock can do what he considers to be the right thing.

I liked the variety of these 12 stories. In The Man with the Twisted Lip we have a story about a missing man, feared murdered, until Holmes solves the case with soap and water. And in The Blue Carbuncle we have a tale of a lost goose and a felt hat. Eventually Holmes restores a precious stone to its rightful owner.

All in all, I enjoyed reading these 12 assorted stories, and was impressed to Holmes's cold logic. But that said, I much prefer a proper full story to 12 little ones. Sadly the rest of the Sherlock stories also seem to be short stories. I should mention that the order I am following is as per the omnibus book.

The above stories seem to cover the period 1882 to 1890. Within this period Dr Watson gets married, and moves away from Baker Street, but still calls round to see his friend, and chronicle his adventures. Dr Watson's wife is very understanding, but she does have a lot of respect for Sherlock Holmes.

Finally, although I enjoy playing the game of trying to solve the mystery before Dr Watson, (and sometimes I seem remarkably good at this), I am never sure if I really am working it out from the clues, or if I am just half remembering the plot from some previous reading, perhaps even from my school days. I'm afraid I have no way of telling.






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The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,     (1901-1902)


I read this book in November, 2017.

This is book six in Conan Doyles' historical, continuing stories about master detective Sherlock Holmes. I am reading my way through these stories as per the order of my omnibus edition. "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" is a collection of 11 short stories, each about 20 pages long, and the last story is the one that is probably the most famous of all. Usually I pride myself in not writing spoilers, but aim just to say enough to whet the appetite. However I think everyone knows that Conan Doyle had a love / hate relationship with his creation and was driven to kill him off in "The Final Problem" . I think also that everyone knows that Holmes did not die grappling with Professor Moriary in a death plunge into the Reichenbach Falls, but we will come to that later.

Usually I don't care much for short stories - I find myself reading a few at one sitting, and they can get repetitive. I found the same with these stories. I enjoyed them, liked the historical setting, liked the true friendship between Watson and Holmes, etc, etc, but I would have preferred one long story instead of 11 little ones.

I liked the story of Silver Blade where a racehorse apparently disappeared on Dartmoor, and its trainer was killed by an unknown assassin. The explanation was clever, and it would never occur to most people. There are some famous lines where Holmes draws Inspector Gregory's attention to "the curious incident of the dog in the night time". "The dog did nothing in the night time". "That is the curious incident." That I suggest is brilliant ! The dog didn't bark because he knew the "stranger".

The Yellow Face was a story to show that Holmes didn't get it right 100% of the time. I favoured someone else as the yellow face at the window - the more obvious explanation, I think. It was a bit artificial making Holmes chose then wrong person just to show he wasn't always right.

The Stockbroker's Clerk reminded me of a story in a previous book where a man was given a false job to keep him out of the way, and so allow the crooks to do their stealing undisturbed. The Gloria Scott was interesting in that it was billed as Holmes's first case, and this was followed by The Musgrave Ritual , another case from before Watson met Holmes. Watson is still sharing digs with Holmes in Baker Street, and complains that the room is very untidy. Sherlock starts to do some filing, comes across some old cases in a storage box, and reminisces to Watson.

The Greek Interpreter could have been a great story, but it had a sort of non ending several months later in which Holmes did not participate. The real interest is that we are introduced to Sherlock's older brother Mycroft who is apparently Sherlock's intellectual superior, but he never gets out and about to follow things through, nor search for clues. Sherlock of course is the complete package. The Naval Treaty is a good typical Sherlock Holmes story where crucial state documents are stolen from a diplomat who now faces disgrace and ruin. The diplomat had been at school with Watson, and so gets in touch with Watson and his famous friend. Who and how the documents got stolen doesn't seem possible, but Holmes teases out a solution, makes sense of it all, and even gets the documents back before any harm is done.

And so we come to what is possibly the most famous Sherlock Holmes story of all - The Final Problem. Here we meet former professor, gifted mathematician, criminal mastermind Moriarty - the evil genius behind so many crimes at home and abroad. Holmes thinks that if he can just get Moriarty and his gangs convicted, then he will feel his life has had some meaning. But Moriarty appears to be Holmes's equal. The story has a brilliant introduction written by a heart broken Watson - "It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these, the last words in which I shall ever ..........." The events leading up to the final fateful struggle on a cliff path high above the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland happened some two years previously. Moriarty's brother has now written a version of what happened to criticise Holmes and defend his brother, and so reluctantly Watson must explain what really happened. Although Holmes was closing in on Moriarty, so too was Moriarty closing in on Holmes. There were several attempts on Sherlock's life. Sherlock got in touch with Watson to bring him up to date, but throughout took great care not to endanger his dear friend Watson. And so Sherlock refused to stay overnight with Watson, and in Switzerland told Watson he must return to the inn urgently and answer the call for help - received in a note apparently from the innkeeper which didn't really fool Sherlock. Finally, on 4th May, 1891 Holmes faces Moriarty alone above the Reichenbach Falls ......

I cannot let matters end there. I am sure I am giving nothing away when I point out that the next book is called "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," and there are two further books called "His Last Bow" and "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes."

In conclusion I like the Sherlock Holmes stories as social history, and good detective puzzles. We are in a time of gas lamps, and servants, monarchies in Europe, landed gentry, pronounced social classes, etc, etc. The stories have not 100% stood the test of time, but perhaps 99%. What I think comes strongest from these tales is the story of a true friendship between the brilliant Holmes and his faithful biographer and companion Dr Watson.






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The Return of Sherlock Holmes,     (1903-1904)


I read this book in January, 2018.

This is book seven in the continuing stories about masterful detective Sherlock Holmes. It is set in foggy London about 1894 to 1901, and is a series of 13 short stories each told by Dr Watson, extracted from his extensive journals. Yes, Holmes survived Reichenbach Falls, but his life was still in danger, and he had to lie low until he could deal with the problem. Then when he returned he wanted to keep a low profile, and forbad Watson from publishing. Eventually he did allow some tales to be released - i.e. this book - but then we are told that Holmes retired to the Sussex Coast "to study and keep bees", and Dr Watson was again forbidden to publish anything as Holmes wanted a quiet life. So what we are seeing is the well known reluctance of the author to have to keep up with an insatiable public demand for more and more tales.

Usually I don't like short stories - too many similar introductions, not enough character development, not enough meat, etc. However I quite liked these short stories.

The most famous of these stories is "The Empty House" which features the return of Sherlock Holmes. He did not plunge into the Reichenbach Falls with Moriarty, but climbed up onto a ledge where he lay hidden until the way was clear. But he was then under attack from Moriarty's deputy Col Moran. It took him three years before he could return to London, and trap Moran as Moran was launching an attack against Holmes. So Holmes and Dr Watson were back, but Holmes wants his return kept secret - so no more published stories yet. As an aside we are told that Holmes offers Watson his condolences for some loss Watson has suffered. Did Watson's wife die ? Were we told, and did I misss it ? I thought this bit was a bit strange.

I liked "The Norwood Builder" where an innocent man was arrested by Inspector Lestrade for the murder of a builder, whose body perished in a fire. It's an old theme familiar to crime fiction readers - no body, so did the man really die? Dr Watson is now back living in Baker Street - his wife must have died. I guess these stories are Dr Watson writing about his friend Holmes, not about himself.

"The Dancing Men" is a gem of a story brilliantly solved by Holmes, but being too late in getting there is what the story is all about. The client was a retired, respectable Norfolk landowner who met an American lady. She said she had a terrible past which must be hidden for ever. He solemnly promised never to ask her about it, and so she then agreed to marry him. Her past did catch up with her, and the dancing men were coded blackmail messages. It could all have been avoided had he broken his promise to his wife.

"The Solitary Cyclist" is Violet Smith who cycles along a lonely country lane and is followed by a bearded, hooded cyclist - is she in danger ? There is more to the story than this. She tells Holmes the full story, and he is sufficiently intrigued to help - but once again he is too late.

"The Priory School" is an elete boarding school to which young Arthur, the 10 year old heir of the Duke of Holdernesse is sent. The boy disappears one night - as does the German master. Three days later, and no progress, the school headmaster calls in Holmes. Sherlock puzzles it out, there is quite a climax, and Holmes achieves justice, preserves the Holdernesse family name, and earns a 6,000 cheque.

"Black Peter" was a scoundral of a retired sea captain who was killed with a harpoon.

Holmes had always thought that he would make an excellent criminal, and in "Charles August Milverton" he gets his chance. He turns robber to retrieve letters from a blackmailer, and is on the spot to save even more reputations when things do not go wholly to plan.

"The Six Napoleons" was set up well when Lestrade visited Baker Street to tell about a queer case where some lunatic who hated Napoleon was breaking into places and destroyings cheap busts of the frenchman. But, when Holmes found out that these were not random busts, but members of a batch of six, I thought the story then became obvious.

Of "The Three Students," one had sneaked a look at exam papers , and made a copy - but which student ? It was brilliantly solved by Holmes - if you can enter the Sherlock Holmes world, and go with the flow.

"The Golden Pince-Nez" is an extraordinary story with a brilliant twist that I did not see coming. The motiveless murder that had attracted Holmes, did have a motive linked to Russia, and just why Holmes chain smoked so many cigarettes had an engaging explanation.

I thought "The Missing Three Quarter" was the weakest story in this book - not dire, but not special either.

In "The Abbey Grange" Holmes acts once again as judge and jury, decides a murder was justified, and sends the murderer on his way. He will only reveal the truth if someone else is falsely accused, or if the murderer ever does it again ! We must always remember that Holmes is a private citizen, not a policeman.

"The Second Stain" is the final story only added because Holmes had agreed that the tale must be told one day. Holmes is now retired to the Sussex coast "to study, and keep bees" - see footnote. The story involves the loss of a letter by "the foreign" secretary" who visits Holmes with the "prime minister". The letter must be discovered to prevent the probable outbreak of war. High stakes indeed, and who else would they turn to than the famous Sherlock Holmes. Holmes saves the day, and fools the "foreign secretary," but not the "prime minister."
Footnote :- I have a series of books on my "waiting to be read shelf" written by Laurie R King featuring a 15 year old young girl orphan, Mary Russell, who in 1915 walks across the Sussex Downs and stumbles upon the famous Sherlock Holmes, and becomes his "apprentice". The first book is "The Bee Keepers's Apprentice."

All in all, a good read. I like the Holmes / Dr Watson set up - two faithful friends - with Holmes shunning publicity, and Watson only allowed to reveal some of the many exploits. Holmes has a massive intellect, and must be continuously stimulated with new, queer cases. In boredom Holmes takes to opium - a constant worry for Dr Watson. I would like to know more about Dr Watson - presumably he is living on his army pension, but if he still reads medical journals why does he not have a modest practice ?






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His Last Bow,     (1908-1917)


I finished reading this book in April, 2018.

This is book eight in the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle. Like book seven it ends with a story where Holmes is persuaded by the PM to come out of retirement - he is keeping bees in the South Downs - to save the country. Like book seven we have a collection of short stories - eight in total - where Dr Watson helps his famous friend, and only writes of those exploits that Holmes allows him to. Holmes is notoriously publicity averse - often solving crimes, and standing back whilst others enjoy the credit.

I liked the "Wisteria Cottage" story that took place in 1892. It's a typical 19th century tale at root of a cruel South American dictator who tortures, kills and steals, and then escapes justice by escaping to Europe with his treasures. Relatives of the abused swear revenge. It has a very gentle beginning when honest conservative John Eales contacts Holmes with a strange tale. He was invited to the country (to Wisteria Cottage) by a host who disappeared in the night with all his servants, and the host was later found murdered. The local policeman is Inspector Baynes who proves to be a remarkably able, astute detective.

"The Cardboard Box" started well. A spinster is sent two ears in a box. Initially she thinks it's a joke, but it isn't. The the end of the story is told by way of the murderer's confession.

"The Red Circle," is nice little story. Holmes enters the tale when a landlady calls on him. She is worried about a new lodger who is paying double rent to ensure he is not disturbed, and then she never sees him again - but she hears him walking about his lodgings. Eventually Holmes rushes to another house to rescue someone in great danger, and finds Gregson of Scotland Yard there, and also someone from the American Pinkerton Detective Agency.

"The Bruce Partington" plans are those of a secret submarine, stolen apparently by a young clerk whose body was later found on a railway track. Three of the stolen plans were missing, and Holmes's brother Mycroft calls in Holmes (and Watson) to save the nation. We are told that Mycroft has the superior intellect, but Holmes is better at ferreting out clues. It's a very clever story, and of course Holmes saves the day.

In "The Dying Detective" Mrs Hudson rushes round to Dr Watson's (in the days when Watson was married) to say that her famous lodger Holmes is on his death bed, and had been failing for three days. Mrs Hudson had been told to fetch no doctor, but now she felt she must. Watson rushes round and finds Holmes in a pitiful state , but still barking out orders. I've now read enough Sherlock Holmes stories not to be fooled, but it's a good story.

In "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" Holmes leaves it to the very , very last minute to rescue the missing lady.

I liked "The Devils Foot" which it turns out is the name of a terrible poison that causes hallucinations and in effect frightens people to death. On medical advice, Holmes was supposed to be resting on holiday in Cornwall - not much of a rest as it turns out. Once again Holmes let's a murderer walk away, judging this to best serve some sort of rough justice.

"His Last Bow" is a fitting end to book eight, and has similarities to "The Second Stain" - the final story of book seven -"The Return of Sherlock Holmes" . Its just before the outbreak of the first world war, and Holmes had been persuaded by the PM to come out of retirement and save the country - Holmes famously had been keeping bees on the South Downs. A german master spy must be unearthed. Holmes not only does this but has been feeding the spy misleading "secrets" for two years. Just before the final capture of the spy, Holmes sends for his old friend and assistant Dr Watson to help him with his final case, and so an old and treasured friendship is rekindled.
Footnote :- As I wrote in January, I still have a series of books on my "waiting to be read shelf" written by Laurie R. King. The first book is "The Bee Keeper's Apprentice." This is set in 1915 and features a 15 year old young girl orphan, Mary Russell, who walks across the Sussex Downs, stumbles upon the famous Sherlock Holmes, and becomes his "apprentice".






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The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes,     (1921-1927)


I finished reading this book in May, 2018.

We now come to the final Sherlock Holmes book - a collection of 12 short stories.

In "The Illustrious Client" a young woman has become infatuated with a serial wife killer and refuses to listen to all arguments against him. Holmes solves the problem with his friend Dr Watson providing a distraction, but a previous victim gets her revenge faster.

"The Blanched Soldier" is told by Holmes himself. Watson was then married, and living elsewhere. A retired soldier seeks out an old friend who doesn't answer his letters. Everyone says he is off on a world tour, not at his parent's house, but his friend spots the missing chum. He is chased away. Why ? He asks Holmes for advice and explanations.

"The Mazarin Stone" , part of the Crown Jewels, has been stolen, and Holmes is engaged to get it back. In great danger, he again leaves a dummy of himself in his window, and then cleverly uses the dummy again in a different way to recover the stone. As in the above story, Watson is no longer living in Baker Street, but a young page Billy is keeping Holmes company - this was a different age, different times, people had servants, children worked, etc.

"The Three Gables" is a strange story at the back of which is a rich, beautiful woman determined to protect her reputation at any cost. She has Holmes attacked by a gang of ruffians. Holmes prevails, and again deals out instant justice - he lets the woman go after she makes a handsome financial contribution to someone deserving a helping hand.

"The Sussex Vampire" was a good story where a loving wife changed suddenly , attacked her stepson, and apparently was caught drinking blood from her baby's neck. Holmes is brought in, things are not as they seem, and eventually love is restored between husband and wife, but the husband has to bear a bitter truth.

I remembered reading "The Three Garridebs" before in The Television Detectives Omnibus . It's a wild story, concocted round an unusual surname, in a trick to get someone out of the way.

"Thor Bridge" is an interesting story of a husband, his wife, and their attractive children's governess. The husband falls out of love with his wife, treats her very badly, and makes unwelcome advances to the governess. Later. the wife is found shot, and the governess is charged with her murder.

"The Creeping Man" is Professor Presbury who starts acting quite out of character in lots of odd ways. He next tries to court a young lady, but of course, she thinks he is too old. And so the professor takes an extraordinary step to make himself more virile and attractive. The story shows it's age - we no longer believe in elixirs of youth, or do we ? Interestingly, this is suposed to be a story from when Sherlock was nearing retirement. Again Watson is living elsewhere, and has a large medical practice to maintain. Although "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" is the last book, there are surprisingly few acknowledgemnts of this. One acknowledgment is in the foillowing short story .

The Lion's Mane" is another story told by Holmes himself, of something that happened just after Holmes retired to his solitary cottage on the Sussex Downs. He hadn't seen Watson for some time. A teacher at a nearby school, who liked swimming in the sea, or rather in a salt water lagoon on the sea shore, scrambled up a steep path to the cliff top and died. His back was covered by terrible wealds - had he been flogged by a cat o' nine tails ? The shore line seemed deserted. I sort of worked it out because of something similar, but a lot, lot milder, that happened to us on a beach in Australia.

"The Veiled Woman" was a weak story about a woman who had been horribly disfigured by a lion - not much of a mystery really.

"Shoscombe Old Place" is a strange story about Sir Robert Norberton who lives there with his sister, is hideously in debt, and bets it all on one of his race horses, at very good odds. But he is acting very strangely, and his assistant calls in Holmes. The real claim to fame of this story is that it is the last ever published Sherlock Holmes story (published in 1927).

And so to the last story in this book, "The Retired Colourman" - but published in 1926, it is not the last Sherlock Holmes story. Here Josiah Amberley calls in Holmes to find his young wife who has run off with his best friend, and stolen cash and securities. But Josiah is not really a wronged husband, and it was stupid of him to call in Holmes and Watson who soon get to the truth of the matter. Once again Holmes prefers to let the police take the credit.

Amazingly this is just a typical story - why have it as the last story in this book ? I thought we might end with something special.






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