MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is, I think, a much stronger volume than Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, even though it was meant to wrap up the series (art by Sidney Paget) Among the noteworthy stories:
•”The Gloria Scott,” in which Holmes tells Watson about the events that set him to becoming a private detective. A subsequent story, “The Musgrave Ritual,” details Holmes’ first big case.
•”The Greek Interpreter,” which introduces Mycroft Holmes. It’s one of his only two appearances in the canon (he’s backstage in a couple more) but he would become far more important to later writers, for example the current BBC Sherlock.
•And of course “The Final Problem,” which introduces Professor Moriarty — who again, appears only once more in the stories. The story which was supposed to write the finish to Holmes’ legend is worth discussing in detail, so I’ll do that in a subsequent post.
Reading over the collection as a whole, I think part of what made Holmes a success is that for all his genius and his personal presence, he’s very fallible. In “The Yellow Face,” for instance, he gets everything wrong. In “The Greek Interpreter” the bad guys get away (though as with “Five Orange Pips” in the previous collection, it’s implied they paid for their crimes down the road).
In other stories, Holmes is simply inconsequential. In “The Stockbroker’s Clerk,” Holmes’ involvement changes nothing. It just gives readers an explanation for what’s been going on, and Watson to narrate the events. “The Cardboard Box” isn’t quite that extreme but it’s close. At the same time I never felt like Holmes and Watson were ever shoehorned into the narrative.
On the other hand, Watson’s ability to drop his practice or leave his wife’s side at the drop of a hat does feel ridiculous. It’s easy to see why when Holmes returned from the dead in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Mrs. Watson had passed on so Watson could return to Baker Street. It makes more sense that way.
And Doyle, as I’ve noted before, was a sloppy writer. “Silver Blaze,” as Doyle admitted after readers wrote to him about it, would have gotten most of the people involved banned from horse-racing for life for their conduct. Doyle simply knew nothing about the sport. At the same time the story does provide one of those classic lines when Holmes refers Watson to “the curious incident of the dog in the night time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night time.”
“That was the curious incident.”
Happily this was not the finish of Holmes’ career. I’ll discuss Doyle’s intentions when I talk about “The Final Problem.”