Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A_Case_of_IdentityIn my bid to read the CWA top 100 crime books, I’m obviously going to be touching on some classics that I expect almost everyone has read. The collected Sherlock Holmes short stories are a case in point. I’m guessing most visitors here will have read Holmes and have fond memories of at least the more famous stories.

So what I am going to do is highlight an often overlooked story from each of the volumes, beginning with the Adventures, published in 1892 and written after The Sign of the Four and A Study in Scarlet.

Incredibly, the twelve stories in Adventures were published at the rate of one per month, between July 1891 and June 1892 in The Strand Magazine, before being collected in book form. They include such barnstormers as ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, ‘The Adventure of the Red-Headed League’, and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, but I am going to pick a story I think is probably less known.

‘A Case of Identity’ concerns the disappearance of one Mr Hosmer Angel.

Angel was the passionate lover of the typist Miss Mary Sutherland (illustrated by Sidney Paget above), who met him at the local Gasfitters’ Ball. Theirs was a whirlwind romance, and Angel put immense pressure on Miss Sutherland to agree to marry him before her stepfather Mr Windibank can intervene. When she eventually agreed, he vanished on the way to the church, leaving behind him only a broken heart, some typewritten notes, and a memory of his weak voice and dark glasses.

So far: some great names; I love the idea of a Gasfitters’ Ball (a name since adopted for a Sherlockian event in Los Angeles); and a mysterious (although non-fatal) situation. Over to our detectives…

Holmes finds the story of interest, although nothing new:

‘You will find parallel cases, if you consult my index, in Andover in ’77, and there was something of the sort at The Hague last year.’

He has only to prove his theory to solve the mystery. Another feature worth noting: Angel’s notes to Miss Sutherland are Holmes’s only physical clue – is this the first use of analysing typewritten script in detection?

‘A typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting.’

Once they have found him, Holmes and Watson cannot touch the culprit, although they can give him a scare in a great final confrontation. Miss Sutherland is left with Holmes’ advice: ‘Try to let Mr. Hosmer Angel vanish from your memory, as he has done from your life.’

All told, a story probably worth more as a little slice of Victorian life than as a mystery, but it felt fresh when I read it.

So what do you think of The Adventures? What’s your favourite? Any stories you think should be highlighted? Any you think are overrated?


The full list:

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
The Adventure of the Copper Beeches


 

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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12 Responses to Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

  1. Great overview, Rich. I won’t argue that this collection includes all the finest Conan Doyle ever wrote; too many fantastic stories elsewhere. But I do have quite a soft spot for The Red-Headed League. It was my first Conan Doyle story, and basically got me reading crime fiction.

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  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    You forget how good the Holmes stories are till you go back and re-read them and realise what a marvellous storyteller Conan Doyle was. I was always fond of Speckled Band – very dark and very clever and I guess an early locked room mystery.

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  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    My 3 favourites are The Speckled Band, The Copper Beeches and The Red-Headed League.

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  4. Bradstreet says:

    THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE was the story that made me a fan of mystery fiction in general, many, many years ago. BLUE CARBUNCLE, SPECKLED BAND and TWISTED LIP are also great favourites, but all of the stories have a certain something. Doyle was a natural storyteller, and even the lesser mysteries are fascinating as stories.

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  5. dfordoom says:

    THE COPPER BEECHES has always been a favourite of mine. I’ve been re-reading the Holmes stories recently, including A CASE OF IDENTITY and I agree it’s a nifty little story. I think the Sherlock Holmes stories still stand up remarkably well, but then I’m a fan of Victorian and Edwardian detective fiction in general (Arthur Morrison’s Martin Hewitt stories are almost as good as the Holmes stories).

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  9. Jason says:

    To me “The Speckled Band” is overrated. It’s one of several stories that have the exact same motive, a male guardian trying to keep a woman from marrying because he depends on their stipend. And it came within a year of, or in the same book if you’re reading The Adventures, as the earlier story A Case Of Identity. Only this time there’s murder, and because it’s so predictable/similar, the only mystery is the method. And it wouldn’t be that much of a mystery if it weren’t for ACD’s poor understanding of snakes. I cut him some slack because of the times it was written, but most of the clues actually work as an accidental misdirection because of this incorrect information about snakes. It still seemed pretty obvious that was where he was going though given the speckled band clue, but I remember thinking when I first read it that if it did turn out to be a snake it was going to be pretty silly. I can suspend disbelief though, but aside from the mistakes I just didn’t think it was very well written. ACD gives up too much way too early, I’ve seen Scooby Doo episodes with more mystery/suspense.

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