Saturday, May 22, 1999

The Return Of Sherlock Holmes

by Arthur Conan Doyle

1. "The Adventure Of the Empty House."  In which Sherlock Holmes, supposedly having gone over Reichenbach Falls, reveals in melodramatic fashion that he is alive and sets a trap that catches one of Moriarty’s most ruthless henchmen, solving a puzzling recent murder at the same time. A ripping yarn, though the conceit of the noiseless air gun is really a deus ex machina.

2. "The Adventure Of the Norwood Builder." In which Holmes solves an apparent murder, saving an innocent man, who stood to inherit the supposed dead man’s wealth, from the gallows. Well written, with a firm sense of drama, although I have to say I suspected a faked death all along.

3. “The Adventure Of the Dancing Men." In which Holmes solves the mystery of a woman being stalked by a former admirer from America simply by breaking a code composed of stick figures. Of course the instant I saw the figures I supposed they were some sort of representative semaphoric cipher. It seemed fairly obvious, although it occurred to no one else in the story. As always, a fun tale to read, but Holmes needs more challenging mysteries, I feel. Interestingly, the ending is rather tragic.

4. "The Adventure Of the Solitary Cyclist." In which Holmes comes to the aid of a woman being stalked by apparently more than one too-tenacious “admirer.” The least interesting of these stories, this mystery really resolves itself in a bizarre scene of forced marriage, and then Holmes simply fills in the details of why it all happened with some broad (but of course correct) assumptions.

5. “The Adventure Of the Priory School." In which Holmes solves the kidnapping of the Duke of Holdernesse’s son from the Priory School. An excellent detective story, with a few questionable bits here and there (as when Holmes asserts it’s in the "interests" of a murderer to be silent about the Duke’s illegitimate son’s involvement, though the murderer is heading for the gallows) but on the whole highly enjoyable and intelligent.

6. "The Adventure Of Black Peter." In which Holmes solves the murder of a sea captain through reasonable deduction, saving the life of the police’s suspect. Since the captain was pinned to the wall with a harpoon, his murderer must be an old harpooner. Etc. It’s not a bad tale at all; there’s nothing outstanding about it, but it’s well done and enjoyable.

7. “The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton." A rather different Holmes story, in which he is hired by a woman to prevent her from being blackmailed. At the first meeting, Holmes acts like rather a fool, assuming that the blackmailer (the Milverton of the title) would have the papers on his person, and so forth. Then Holmes decides to burgle Milverton’s house. Then Milverton is killed by another woman while the dynamic duo are present. The detectives flee the scene, and the next day Holmes flat out refuses to investigate the murder. Juicy, entertaining stuff, and an excellent departure from the typical solving of cases.

8. "The Adventure Of the Six Napoleons." In which Holmes solves the case of a “madman” who is smashing busts of Napoleon. A bit of a bust, this story — heh heh — as the police would have to be colossal morons not to guess that the man was not a madman at all, but obviously looking for something buried in one of the identical busts. Nice try, Doyle, but we must do better than this.

9. "The Adventure Of the Three Students." An excellent, old fashioned detective story, in which Holmes solves the problem of Who Took An Advance Look At the Test Answers. The only flaw here is in the premise, which seems forced (why can’t the professor just issue a new test, claiming he lost the old one?). The rest is pure logical deduction, and it’s well done. Holmes gets in a good snide line here, when the professor is slow to grasp his reasoning: "Watson, I have always done you an injustice. There are others."

10. "The Adventure Of the Golden Pince-Nez." In which Holmes solves the murder of an invalid professor’s research assistant. The motives behind the actual crime are a little too contrived, impossible to guess at, but the reasoning leading to the culprit is good, as is Doyle’s usual, well-paced prose.

11. "The Adventure Of the Missing Three-Quarter." In which Holmes solves the mystery of where the star football player has gone to under suspicious circumstances just before the big match. Not that Holmes’ powers of deduction get all that much of an exercise in this tale; his intellectual opponent, Dr. Armstrong, merely eludes Holmes in a coach until Homes gets a bloodhound and tracks the coach to the player. Wow!

12. “The Adventure Of the Abbey Grange." In which Holmes discovers that the murder of a drunken wife-beater was not done by a gang of robbers, but by the lover of the wife. I suspected her from the start; the story is disappointing in that Inspector Hopkins is rendered a total buffoon for not suspecting it, despite all the clues that the burglary was faked. Not the best Holmes tale.

13. "The Adventure Of the Second Stain." In which Holmes recovers a lost letter between heads of state, so sensitive it could bring war if made public. A fun, well thought out story. I enjoyed the pace of the detection, as well as how the events of the story showed Holmes’ almost maniacal desire to know the details of every case.

four stars

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