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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

January 14, 2013

Good news, everybody! My move is complete, and went smoothly. And, most importantly, I have the internet again! So thanks for your patience while I’ve been gone; now I just need to catch up on writing reviews for things I read over a month ago…

137. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
Sherlock Holmes, Book 3

Read By: Ralph Cosham
Length: 9h 09m (104 pages)

Genre: Mysteries, Short stories

Started: 21 November 2012
Finished: 08 December 2012

Where did it come from? Free Audible download (a year ago).
Why do I have it? It was free? And it was a classic that I knew I should read at some point.

Did I like this book?
The answer, dear readers, is

Summary: Everyone’s favorite detective is back at work in this collection of short stories. Narrated by his companion John Watson, the twelve stories in this collection show Sherlock Holmes at his best; not always solving the crime, but always applying his unique blend of observation, deduction, and the application of an endless supply of seemingly trivial knowledge into catching criminals and solving the seemingly impossible problems that are brought to his door. The stories included are “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” “A Case of Identity,” “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” “The Five Orange Pips,” “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,” “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor”,” “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,” and “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.”

Review: Reading this book was a very interesting experience. I was familiar with the characters, and even with some of the stories, from their various derivative books, movies and TV incarnations, but I’d never actually read any of the original works. It was inevitable that some of my preconceptions based on those other works leaked into my experience of this book, but there were also aspects of the original that definitely surprised me.

To start with, I was surprised at how short a lot of the stories were. Had I been thinking about it, I would have realized that packing 12 stories into 9 hours of audiobook necessarily means that they’re going to average out to 45 minutes apiece. But I’d watched the BBC Benedict Cumberbatch version fairly recently, and each (90 minute) episode of that has, if not multiple mysteries per se, then at least multiple times when Sherlock is using his deductive powers, and typically a fair number of twists and turns. For example, the very first story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, I was enjoying drawing the connections to the episode “A Scandal in Belgravia,” and listening to the original and seeing what stayed and what got updated for the TV version. But then the story just… stopped, or so it seemed to me, and I was left wondering “where’s the rest?” Because of course the episode extrapolates and adds on to its source material, but I was still left feeling a little shortchanged. In several other of the stories as well, there’s sort of an abrupt feeling, without the same tension or excitement or mysteriousness that I was expecting. I realize that that’s not entirely fair to Doyle’s work, but it’s maybe an inevitable consequence of the order in which I experienced things.

At the same time, however, I did find these stories on the whole quite fun, in particular some of the ones with which I was less familiar. I thought “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League” was fun, and complex enough to keep me intrigued, and “The Man with the Twisted Lip” and “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” both had an excellent flavor of different aspects of Victorian London to them. I also liked hearing Watson speak for himself, and thought the language was more modern than I was expecting (although the phrase “knock you up” for “call upon you” – e.g. “Sorry to knock you up so early in the morning” – never failed to confuse/amuse me).

I did find that if I listened to more than one or two stories in a row, they quickly got to feel fairly formulaic. Holmes is presented with a crime (or a strange occurrence; not all of the cases involved crimes as such), he and Watson listen to the particulars of the case, Watson is perplexed, Holmes berates him for not observing properly, Holmes then points out the details that Watson missed and deduces the correct answer, the bad guy is caught (or occasionally not), the end. I had a much better time with this book listening to only a story at a time, then switching to something else for a few days. Even so, these aren’t the kind of mysteries where all the clues are available to the reader; Holmes typically only points out the details he’s noticed when he’s explaining what they mean. It’s left me very interested to read the novels, rather than the short stories, to see how Doyle develops the mystery over the longer scale. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely worth reading for anyone who likes the Sherlock Holmes adaptations, or mysteries in general, but they’re better when not read straight through.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Jules’s Book Reviews, The Literary Omnivore, Shelf Love, and many more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
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First Line: To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2013 10:10 am

    I read The Sign of Four recently and realized that I enjoy his short stories much more, with the exception of The Hound of the Baskervilles which I really liked. I do agree that the short stories can be formalistic but reading them in small does usually helps with that.

    • January 25, 2013 2:29 pm

      Amy – I wish I’d figured out the “one short story at a time” rule before I loaded up this audiobook for a road trip. That didn’t work so well.

  2. January 14, 2013 12:24 pm

    I think “A Scandal in Bohemia” may have fallen flat for you because modern adaptations of Irene Adler make her into either THE LOVE OF SHERLOCK’S LIFE or MORIARTY’S BACK-UP DANCER/PAWN or BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, so it can be a little odd to look back at the original story, where she’s “only” a smart, clever woman who outsmarts Holmes by exploiting his blind spots and ends married to someone else. io9 had a very good article about this phenomenon a few weeks ago.

    I’ll be interested to see what you think of the novels. Will you continue with the short stories? There are some good ones in your future if you do!

    • January 14, 2013 12:40 pm

      Yes, the io9 article does a good job of pointing out the strengths of the original Adler vs. the pseudo-strength of the modern versions.

      Like Amy, I prefer the short stories to the novels.

      And, yeah, it’s weird reading them in light of all their later adaptations. They’re short and have punch in and of themselves, but at the same time, they sometimes feel almost derivative simply because of all that has since been derived from them. Too, these days we expect much more layering and nuance and character growth in our serial detectives.

      • January 25, 2013 2:32 pm

        Bookwyrme – I had the same problem with Dracula when I read it; there’s just been So Much that’s come after it that the original feels pretty stale.

    • January 25, 2013 2:31 pm

      Omni – I think it was partly that, and partly because it’s the first story in the collection so I didn’t have a feel for the pacing and length of the originals yet, plus I’d recently seen the Benedict Cumberbatch version, which has multiple things going on besides the incriminating photos, so when the story ended I had a moment of “…that’s it?”

  3. January 14, 2013 2:05 pm

    I recently told my mother that I’ve never read Sherlock Holmes and she was appalled! She told me she loved these books when she was growing up. I definitely need to try one.

    • January 25, 2013 2:33 pm

      Kathy – I can’t really advise on where to start, since I’m a newbie myself, but I’ll be interested to see your reaction!

  4. January 14, 2013 2:58 pm

    “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is my favorite SH story BUT that’s only because of the wonderful Granada TV adaptation. The story version is weirdly boring when you compare it to the adaptation! Maybe because it’s more fun SEEING Holmes be bothered by the goose and whatnot instead of just hearing him talk about it.

  5. January 17, 2013 10:25 pm

    There must be a Holmes vibe in the air…I keep seeing references lately! Nice to hear you enjoyed the stories. It’s definitely odd coming to the source material after lots of adaptations! Lots of the most famous ones are in this first volume, so I wonder if that impacts impressions?

    If you’re thinking of reading more, Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite of the novels. ;)


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