2017: my year with Sherlock Holmes
As part of the Classics Club, I had decided to read The Hound of the Baskervilles. Well, as I usually tend not to do things halfway, lol, I thought I might as well read all the works about Sherlock Holmes. I actually ended up LISTENING to them, as my experience is that most mysteries are actually much better as audiobooks. Thanks to my library, I was able to listen on Hoopla to all the novels and short stories narrated by the amazing Simon Prebble.
I decided to listen to them in their order of publication.
I have to say, it was a powerful experience, allowing me to notice recurrent themes or structure of the stories, as well as to discover an evolution as the books came along.
Influenced by the period, I imagine, many characters are handicapped or maimed. It could be due to life conditions and poverty, but also England has just fought its Second Boer War – Watson was there.
And in keeping with emigration, many stories are built on a former adventure that happened a long time ago, for instance in the United States or in Australia. Someone was ill treated, one way or another, and decades later, they seek revenge. It makes for more difficult mysteries to solve, but it also adds a very interesting dimension of historical fiction within the mystery. I actually had no idea I would find that element in these stories. It was a very nice surprise. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, is typical in that respect, with a long second part taking place in Mormon land.
As for the evolution between books, if you read them in order, you can’t but notice how darker they become, with another war, the big one, looming on the horizon.
I have the feeling one of you is going to ask me if I have a favorite story. I have, that’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men. It’s my favorite because it’s about a mysterious code made with “a series of 15 hieroglyphic-like doodles of matchstick men in various poses”. It’s not the only story with a code, but I found it the most successful.
I’m not giving you the clue, so you can read the story and see if you can decipher the message!
I accompanied my reading of each novel and short story with the extraordinary Sherlock Holmes Book (is there any non-extraordinary book published by DK??).
After introductions presenting the author and each of the main characters, each story is summed up, with some extra material on the context and relevant illustrations. I particularly enjoyed the last part on The World of Sherlock Holmes, the society of the time, an analysis on the art of deduction, a presentation on criminology and forensic science, on crime writing, and on detective fiction. It’s really remarkable to see how much Sherlock Holmes influenced forensics. He introduced many techniques still used today.
Then, they speak about adaptation for stage and screen.
Finally, we have a a whole list of Holmes presented by other authors, and of Conan Doyle’s other works. It’s ironic that we have totally forgotten all his historical novels, which he thought were best!
AND the graphics are fabulous!
And to make it a full Sherlock Holmes year, I also daily read a vignette from A Curious Collection of Dates. It’s a fun collection, for every day of the year, of events related closely or more loosely to Sherlock Holmes: it could be the day when a story is supposed to start (and boy, Sherlockians can have heated debates on the chronology of the stories!), or of course a day in the life of Conan Doyle, his marriage for instance, or the birthday of an actor who played the detective, or about people mentioned in a story, Wombwell and Stanger, for example, or the inventor of a weapon now named after him and who is mentioned also in a story.
Please come this way to Lucy’s blog to read a much more detailed presentation of this work, as well as a fascinating interview of its authors. Thanks again to Lucy, I won the book in a contest she organized!
VERDICT: If you love mysteries, you definitely need to read or listen to the complete Sherlock Holmes, to see the character of a detective in one of his first and most complete presentations. I highly encourage you to have the DK’s Sherlock Holmes Book near you, to better understand the bigger picture where Sherlock fits in. And finally, for fun and for all the possible trivia on Sherlock, you also need A Curious Collection of Dates.