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Thursday, February 01, 2007

cover of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is one of those iconic characters that everyone is familiar with-- but perhaps not so many know him very well. I thought I had read some Sherlock Holmes before, but all of these stories were new to me-- and the description of Holmes' character and personage was a little different than I expected. I suspect my mental image of Holmes has been more formed by TV versions of his character than by the original stories. In spite of my mild surprise at finding a different man than I expected, I found both the stories and the character quite engaging and interesting.

I've discovered about myself that, while I enjoy mystery stories (whether in book or video form), I dislike the death and gore that is so often associated with them (particularly in so many TV series these days)-- so the fact that Holmes' cases in this book are much more varied was a pleasant surprise. A few have to do with death, but in many other cases Holmes stops a crime before it happens, or by solving the mystery of one death prevents another. In at least one case, there was no actual crime committed-- although still a terrible, unkind act. After I finished the book, it occurred to me that at least three of the different stories (out of twelve total) had to do with fathers or step-fathers who, by death, imprisonment, or more subtle means, were doing their best to keep their daughters fortunes under their own control. They are all different cases and interesting on their own-- but the parallel struck me as interesting; perhaps because it is so much less likely to happen in our society now.

I love that Holmes cares so little for rank. He works for the high and noble, Kings and Lords, but is just as willing to work for the poor commoners-- he cares more about whether or not the case is interesting and challenging than anything else. A while back I read that the character of Gregory House on the TV show "House, M.D." was based partly on Sherlock Holmes (which I found both intriguing and explanatory as to why I liked the show so well). When I read these stories and found Holmes so much concerned that his case be "interesting" or unique (rather than any kind of payoff or importance in the eyes of the world), it resonated with the character of House. Watson also notes Holmes' arrogance and (probably pretty just) assessment of his own brilliance and skill-- sometimes even showing off what he can deduce about people's profession or means of travel by the tiny indicators on their clothing and the like-- an arrogance that is also discernible in House.

This collection includes an afterword from Fred Strebeigh excerpted from "The Greatest Detective Who Never Lived" on Holmes fans, especially American ones. What struck me as most interesting (and a little bizarre) is the insistence that Holmes be treated as and spoken about as a real, and not a fictional, person.

Title:The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Readers Digest edition)
Author:Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Date published:1987
Genre:Mystery Short Stories
Series:Sherlock Holmes
Number of pages:270


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