Arthur Conan Doyle: His Last Bow

important_noticeAnd now for the fourth volume of Sherlock Holmes short stories, 1917’s His Last Bow.

Not a high point in the Holmes canon, I feel.

The stories were written between 1908 and 1917 (although US editions include 1892’s ‘The Adventure of the Cardboard Box’, which was cut from the Memoirs), and most of them feel tired compared to the earlier collections. I find ‘Wisteria Lodge’, ‘The Bruce-Partington Plans’, ‘the Red Circle’, ‘The Dying Detective’ and ‘Lady Frances Carfax’ uninspiring (and in several places derivative of other stories in the collection).

But there are some high points. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’, even though the murder method is eminently guessable, for the almost Lovecraftian grotesquerie of the crime scene:

His two brothers and his sister were seated round the table exactly as he had left them, the cards still spread in front of them and the candles burned down to their sockets. The sister lay back stone-dead in her chair, while the two brothers sat on each side of her laughing, shouting, and singing, the senses stricken clean out of them. All three of them, the dead woman and the two demented men, retained upon their faces an expression of the utmost horror–a convulsion of terror which was dreadful to look upon.

And the Great War story, ‘His Last Bow’, in which Holmes outwits the German super-spy Von Bork, is full of foreboding and a sense of threat.

It was nine o’clock at night upon the second of August–the most terrible August in the history of the world. One might have thought already that God’s curse hung heavy over a degenerate world, for there was an awesome hush and a feeling of vague expectancy in the sultry and stagnant air.

Thinking about it, I enjoyed these for their style rather than their story – had Conan Doyle lost his verve by this point? Does anybody rate the other stories in the collection?

  • The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge (1908)
  • The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (1892)
  • The Adventure of the Red Circle (1911)
  • The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (1912)
  • The Adventure of the Dying Detective (1913)
  • The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1911)
  • The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot (1910)
  • His Last Bow. The War Service of Sherlock Holmes (1917)

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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7 Responses to Arthur Conan Doyle: His Last Bow

  1. Santosh Iyer says:

    There seems to be a contradiction in the story The Adventure of The Devil’s Foot.
    It is stated that the 2 brothers and the sister were found seated exactly as Mortimer had left them, with the 2 brothers on either side of the sister.
    Later Mortimer states that he was George’s partner and hence seated opposite him.
    How can this be ?

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  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    These were the first Holmes stories I read (in an aged old hardback edition I picked up in a junk shop when I was 12) so I *do* have a fondness for them, although I accept that the early works are better. Nevertheless, I do feel that substandard Holmes is still worth reading!

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  3. JJ says:

    I love love love ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’, it is one of my all-time favourite Holmes stories. No, there’s no realy surprise as such, but for my tastes it does what it sets out to do perfectly. If you can buy into the central thesis (which, given the existence of further stories, I’ll admit is hard to do) I feel Conan Doyle explores the idea in a way that I just totally lost myself in. If that had been the final ever tale of Sherlock Holmes, everyone would have been on the edges of their seats, I tell you!

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    • pastoffences says:

      Decent baddie as well: ‘A high bald head had a small velvet smoking-cap poised coquettishly upon one side of its pink curve. The skull was of enormous capacity, and yet as I looked down I saw to my amazement that the figure of the man was small and frail, twisted in the shoulders and back like one who has suffered from rickets in his childhood.’

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  4. dfordoom says:

    I was a bit disappointed by THE LAST BOW – I felt that Conan Doyle didn’t really understand how to do a real spy story. A spy story needs suspense and it didn’t really have it.

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  5. Pingback: Arthur Conan Doyle: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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