Category: Arthur Conan Doyle

book review – A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

The book that introduces the most well known fictional detective is very much a story in two halves. The first is imaginative seizing you and taking you into a world where Sherlock Holmes is working in almost complete isolation trying out his detecting techniques.

Watson seeks him out as a flat mate and Holmes eventually brings the doctor into his world showing him the cases he works with. The case of A Study in Scarlet is one that has foxed the detectives from Scotland Yard but not one beyond Holmes. Like a great magician he keeps most of his secrets up his sleeve until the end.

But before you get to the end you get a long winded account of the background and explanation for the murderer’s actions. This drags a bit as the action switches from the crowded streets of London to the early days of the Mormons and the case of a man and his daughter hounded out of the community.

In a way a lot of that material could have been produced in a much more concise way and it does lose the rhythm and at points the interest of the reader. Of course the reason is that the reasoning of Holmes has to be shown to be so complete and thorough that all of the details come to bear at the conclusion of the story.

As a ripping yarn the first half hits the spot but the second is something that sadly undermines that experience. But as an introduction to one of the greatest literary characters it is impossible not to be drawn in by Holmes. His intelligence, which borders on arrogance, is so reassuring that you never once doubt that he knows what he is doing.

It is that trust in Holmes that is established from the start that probably makes him so well liked. Despite his quirky character you are completely on his side and want to read more of his adventures. No doubt the style of writing in bit-parts for a magazine helped build that page turning desire but it is also down to Conan Doyle’s ability that it works as well as it does.

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A Study in Scarlet – post II

A Study in Scarlet is very much a book of two halves with the second section detailing in rather unnecessary detail at times the background to the murders in London.

Just as you start to think the story has run out of steam and become an almost irrelevant monologue about the establishment of the Mormons and Salt Lake City it pulls back to London.

In a flurry the case is solved and Holmes shows off his powers of deduction and his skill at filling the numerous gaps left by the police. A great read that introduces one of the most famous crime characters of all time. Only criticism is the second half felt like padding and some sort of attempt to have a dig at the Mormons.

A review will follow soon…

A Study in Scarlet – post I

This book introduces Dr Watson and the legendary Sherlock Holmes. The later is of course an awkward man subject to great swings in mood that make him a difficult person to share accommodation with.

But Watson enters into the flat in Baker Street with a sense that if nothing else he might encounter adventure. That adventure doesn’t take too long to arrive with Holmes, who seems to spend his time focusing on the minutiae of different types of tobacco and dust inviting Watson to join him as he gets called by the police to help with a murder.

The methods of detection used by Holmes are so different from the police that he is almost seen as an eccentric figure of fun. Yet in his flashes of brilliance he reduces the police to idiotic mannequins. A room in a deserted house with a man lying dead on the floor is just the sort of puzzle that Holmes likes to sort out…

book of books- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes


Sherlock Holmes is one of the biggest characters around and when you pick up a collection of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle about the great detective you know that you are in for an enjoyable ride, which is why it is such a good choice for holiday reading. But there is also a connection that is still very much kept alive in Switzerland to commemorate the place where the fictional hero met his demise wrestling on a precipice with arch enemy Moriarty. Being able to go and visit the place where Holmes fell on holiday was special and certainly anyone who falls down the Reichenbach falls is not going to be getting back up.

Plot summary
This is a collection of tales told by Watson in the form of a memoir that is filling in the blanks trawling through the earliest cases of Holmes’s career introducing his brother Mycroft and some of his University background before moving to the finale. The Final Problem, where Holmes fights with Professor Moriarty, is notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is surprisingly short for such an emotional and critical tale in the Holmes history; and secondly it seems to come out of nowhere without any of the preceding stories acting as a springboard into the Moriarty storyline.

Up to that point the collection looks back over Holmes’s career revealing the way certain mysteries including the death of a man in a locked room, the twin brothers conning a bank clerk and the torture of a Greek translator are all solved. Without going into any great detail of the individual stories (previous posts will do that) it is safe to generalise that all of them are a mixture of suspense, darkness and Holmes amazing ability to solve the crime. The end comes with Holmes going out on a high ending the career of his opposite the criminal mastermind Moriarty. It is worth waiting for and delivered through the friendly pen of Watson who is the loyal narrator until the bitter end.

Is it well written?
Some stories work better than others with some lacking a great deal of depth – a one-dimensional problem that is impressive until Holmes has shown how it was solved. But in terms of mood this is a great collection of stories that would have kept readers gripped when they first appeared and still have the ability to keep you wanting to read more. The combination of maverick detective, dark crimes that appear to be unsolvable by the police and some seedy characters might be lifted from Poe’s Murder in the Rue Morgue but to be able to deliver again and again at this level is an achievement that is Conan Doyle’s own.

Should it be read?
You have to read the Final problem at some point because it is one of the most famous Holmes stories after The Hound of the Baskervilles. Even people relatively unfamiliar with the actual contents of Sherlock Holmes books know about the fight with Moriarty. But there is another reason to pick this collection of stories up, the simple benefit of pure enjoyment. These are puzzles delivered by an expert storyteller who knows that he has you as a reader in the palm of his hand waiting for the moment when Holmes finally shares all of the secrets with Watson.

Summary
A collection of victories over crime that ends with the greatest of them all requiring the greatest sacrifice

Version read – Penguin paperback

book of books- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes


Sherlock Holmes is one of the biggest characters around and when you pick up a collection of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle about the great detective you know that you are in for an enjoyable ride, which is why it is such a good choice for holiday reading. But there is also a connection that is still very much kept alive in Switzerland to commemorate the place where the fictional hero met his demise wrestling on a precipice with arch enemy Moriarty. Being able to go and visit the place where Holmes fell on holiday was special and certainly anyone who falls down the Reichenbach falls is not going to be getting back up.

Plot summary
This is a collection of tales told by Watson in the form of a memoir that is filling in the blanks trawling through the earliest cases of Holmes’s career introducing his brother Mycroft and some of his University background before moving to the finale. The Final Problem, where Holmes fights with Professor Moriarty, is notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is surprisingly short for such an emotional and critical tale in the Holmes history; and secondly it seems to come out of nowhere without any of the preceding stories acting as a springboard into the Moriarty storyline.

Up to that point the collection looks back over Holmes’s career revealing the way certain mysteries including the death of a man in a locked room, the twin brothers conning a bank clerk and the torture of a Greek translator are all solved. Without going into any great detail of the individual stories (previous posts will do that) it is safe to generalise that all of them are a mixture of suspense, darkness and Holmes amazing ability to solve the crime. The end comes with Holmes going out on a high ending the career of his opposite the criminal mastermind Moriarty. It is worth waiting for and delivered through the friendly pen of Watson who is the loyal narrator until the bitter end.

Is it well written?
Some stories work better than others with some lacking a great deal of depth – a one-dimensional problem that is impressive until Holmes has shown how it was solved. But in terms of mood this is a great collection of stories that would have kept readers gripped when they first appeared and still have the ability to keep you wanting to read more. The combination of maverick detective, dark crimes that appear to be unsolvable by the police and some seedy characters might be lifted from Poe’s Murder in the Rue Morgue but to be able to deliver again and again at this level is an achievement that is Conan Doyle’s own.

Should it be read?
You have to read the Final problem at some point because it is one of the most famous Holmes stories after The Hound of the Baskervilles. Even people relatively unfamiliar with the actual contents of Sherlock Holmes books know about the fight with Moriarty. But there is another reason to pick this collection of stories up, the simple benefit of pure enjoyment. These are puzzles delivered by an expert storyteller who knows that he has you as a reader in the palm of his hand waiting for the moment when Holmes finally shares all of the secrets with Watson.

Summary
A collection of victories over crime that ends with the greatest of them all requiring the greatest sacrifice

Version read – Penguin paperback

Holiday read: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

And so we come to the end and you can sense the upset that original readers must have felt when they realised Holmes had gone forever. The end is left to Watson to deduce and describe with the footprints and scuffle in the mud on the edge of the waterfall all that remains to indicate what happened between Holmes and Moriarty. But before then there are a couple of stories to enjoy.

Highlights from The Greek Interpreter
A Greek specialising in helping the courts and businesses translate Greek is taken by cab to translate for a man whose face is covered in plasters. By asking some additional questions the translator discovers that the man is being held against his will and is being starved until he signs some papers agreeing to handing over his sister’s estate to a man who has had a whirlwind romance with her. He refuses to sign and the translator makes the mistake of telling the police and Holmes, who is introduced to the case by his brother Mycroft, and the criminals take him hostage. Holmes tracks them down and manages to find him in a room with the man with a plaster covered face but it is too late for him and the interpreter only just manages to survive. Months later in the paper there is a report of two Englishmen killed while in the Balkans and Holmes surmises that the woman finally got her revenge.

Highlights from The Naval Treaty
A Home Office official given the responsibility of copying a very contentious document finds it stolen as he leaves his room to get some coffee and falls into a brain fever for ten weeks. Holmes is his final resource to try and clear his name but as he waits for the great detective seems to make the waters murkier. The diplomat is attacked at his fiance’s house and Holmes gets him away to London while he waits for the attacker to make his next move. It turns out to be the diplomatist’s future brother-in-law who has some debts who has taken the treaty and hidden it in the floorboards of his room, which was used for all the weeks by the sick man who needed a place to recover.

Highlights from The Final Problem
Watson starts the story by explaining that following some letters published by Moriarty’s brother he wants to set the record straight. He tells the story of how Holmes had realised that most criminal activity in London was being masterminded by Professor Moriarty, a former maths teacher, who he had now tracked down and got into a position where he could smash the ring. The only problem was that he needed more time and so was being chased by his arch enemy, who intended to kill him. He goes away with Watson to the continent and while he is away the news comes through the Moriarty’s criminal ring has been smashed but the leader has escaped and is pursuing Holmes.

The end comes in Meiringen (which I managed to visit a couple of days ago) by the Reichenbach falls. Watson is called back to the hotel on some medical emergency but no sooner has he got there than he discovers it is a ruse and rushes back up the mountain to find footprints leading to the edge of the abyss and a note from Holmes explaining that his career will end on a high by removing Moriarty. No sign of the bodies are ever found and Watson ends by declaring that he has written his account to clear the name of the man “I shall regard as the best and the wisest man I have ever known”.

Fantastic stuff and a review will follow probably early next week when my holiday is over…

Holiday read: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

And so we come to the end and you can sense the upset that original readers must have felt when they realised Holmes had gone forever. The end is left to Watson to deduce and describe with the footprints and scuffle in the mud on the edge of the waterfall all that remains to indicate what happened between Holmes and Moriarty. But before then there are a couple of stories to enjoy.

Highlights from The Greek Interpreter
A Greek specialising in helping the courts and businesses translate Greek is taken by cab to translate for a man whose face is covered in plasters. By asking some additional questions the translator discovers that the man is being held against his will and is being starved until he signs some papers agreeing to handing over his sister’s estate to a man who has had a whirlwind romance with her. He refuses to sign and the translator makes the mistake of telling the police and Holmes, who is introduced to the case by his brother Mycroft, and the criminals take him hostage. Holmes tracks them down and manages to find him in a room with the man with a plaster covered face but it is too late for him and the interpreter only just manages to survive. Months later in the paper there is a report of two Englishmen killed while in the Balkans and Holmes surmises that the woman finally got her revenge.

Highlights from The Naval Treaty
A Home Office official given the responsibility of copying a very contentious document finds it stolen as he leaves his room to get some coffee and falls into a brain fever for ten weeks. Holmes is his final resource to try and clear his name but as he waits for the great detective seems to make the waters murkier. The diplomat is attacked at his fiance’s house and Holmes gets him away to London while he waits for the attacker to make his next move. It turns out to be the diplomatist’s future brother-in-law who has some debts who has taken the treaty and hidden it in the floorboards of his room, which was used for all the weeks by the sick man who needed a place to recover.

Highlights from The Final Problem
Watson starts the story by explaining that following some letters published by Moriarty’s brother he wants to set the record straight. He tells the story of how Holmes had realised that most criminal activity in London was being masterminded by Professor Moriarty, a former maths teacher, who he had now tracked down and got into a position where he could smash the ring. The only problem was that he needed more time and so was being chased by his arch enemy, who intended to kill him. He goes away with Watson to the continent and while he is away the news comes through the Moriarty’s criminal ring has been smashed but the leader has escaped and is pursuing Holmes.

The end comes in Meiringen (which I managed to visit a couple of days ago) by the Reichenbach falls. Watson is called back to the hotel on some medical emergency but no sooner has he got there than he discovers it is a ruse and rushes back up the mountain to find footprints leading to the edge of the abyss and a note from Holmes explaining that his career will end on a high by removing Moriarty. No sign of the bodies are ever found and Watson ends by declaring that he has written his account to clear the name of the man “I shall regard as the best and the wisest man I have ever known”.

Fantastic stuff and a review will follow probably early next week when my holiday is over…