Its been 120 years since Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced us to Sherlock Holmes. Since then, the great fictional detective has become synonymous with deductive skills. This book is a great chance to understand why. "The Complete Sherlock Holmes" incorporates all 56 of Sir Arthur's short stories, as well as the four novels, A Study in Scarlet, the Sign of Four, the Hound of the Baskervilles
and the Valley of Fear
The stories are written as first person accounts related by Holmes' loyal partner-in-crime Dr. Watson, who expresses his amazement and admiration of Holmes' skill as he describes each adventure to the reader, who also can't help but be impressed. Like Watson, we realize that the clues were all right there in front of us, but we don't have Holmes' powers of observation to highlight them for us.
It's interesting to follow the evolution of the Holmes canon, starting with the premier story, A Study in Scarlet
(1886) when we're first introduced to Holmes and Watson, and they are introduced to each other. We see them become roommates at 221-B Baker Street, and get a look into how Holmes began his "Private Consulting Detective" agency.
After that, we can track the changes and twists that the lives of our two heroes take. Some are major, like Holmes' apparent death in the Final Problem
and surprising return in the Empty House
. Others are more minor and mostly forgotten in modern times. Do many people remember that Watson got married to a woman named Mary Morstan and moved out of the Baker Street flat? Who remembers Billie the page boy? How about Toby, the hound who could track anything? Inspector Lestrade? The Baker Street Irregulars? And let's not forget Mrs. Hudson, Holmes' incredibly patient landlady.
And then there are the villains--too numerous to name here--some sympathetic, and some deliciously diabolical. The two standout antagonists would have to be Irene Adler (the woman who outwitted Holmes in "A Scandal in Bohemia") and the nefarious Professor Moriarty, Holmes' most famous foe. Many people don't realize that Holmes and Moriarty only crossed swords on one occasion (the Final Problem
) but Moriarty's formidable presence continued to echo throughout the Holmes canon, particularly in "the Empty House"
and "the Valley of Fear."
We get tantalizing glimpses into Holmes' early life in the Musgrave Ritual
and the Gloria Scott
. We meet his older and smarter brother (yes, you read that right. Smarter.) Mycroft Holmes, in the Greek Interpreter
" and the Bruce-Partington Plans
. Another interesting factoid was that the great detective was a cocaine addict. That would be a rather risque piece of characterization for a hero even today, let alone back in the Victorian era.
Another little known bit of Holmes trivia to be found in these pages is that our hero eventually retires from his life of adventure to become a Beekeeper (Believe it or not) in His Last Bow
. But even this is not the end of our iconic investigator. The stories continue as untold tales of Holmes' adventures written by an older Watson. The actual, final, this-is-it, Holmes adventure came out in 1926, and was entitled the Retired Colourman.
Sadly, Conan Doyle died soon after this, although he had just begun work on a 61st Holmes story. Alas, it was not to be.
Forty years and 60 stories. That was what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave of himself and gave to posterity. His legacy is the most legendary, most imitated, most often adapted (into film and TV) character in all of detective fiction, and arguably, in literature in general. If you want to know why, read "The Complete Sherlock Holmes." The evidence is there, if you look for it.