My journey through Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlockian shorts has come to an end with The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes – just in time for the new episode of Sherlock.
The stories in this final collection were originally published in the Strand between October 1921 and April 1927 before being collected together as the Case-book (Case Book in the US). After being largely underwhelmed by His Last Bow, I’m glad to report that the final Holmes stories recaptured some of the old magic.
The modernity of the stories is striking, with telegrams aplenty, telephones playing a part, and even a microscope scene.
Sherlock Holmes had been bending for a long time over a low-power microscope. Now he straightened himself up and looked round at me in triumph.
“It is glue, Watson,” said he. “Unquestionably it is glue. Have a look at these scattered objects in the field!”
“Is it one of your cases?”
“No; my friend, Merivale, of the Yard, asked me to look into the case. Since I ran down that coiner by the zinc and copper filings in the seam of his cuff they have begun to realize the importance of the microscope.”
Alongside the science stuff, though, are some of the spookier Holmes stories.
‘The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire’ is pretty hard-hitting stuff, as unremittingly bleak as one of those ITV mini-series I tend to avoid. Why would the pretty wife of Big Bob Ferguson be attacking their son in such a horrible way?
Imagine his feelings, Mr. Holmes, as he saw his wife rise from a kneeling position beside the cot and saw blood upon the child’s exposed neck and upon the sheet. With a cry of horror, he turned his wife’s face to the light and saw blood all round her lips. It was she–she beyond all question–who had drunk the poor baby’s blood.
‘The Creeping Man’ is perhaps even creepier. I’m surprised the curiously changed Professor Presbury hasn’t had a second career in Steampunk comics.
‘Those knuckles, how could I have passed those knuckles?’
And of course there are some wonderful characters. ‘The Adventure of the Three Garridebs’, although another retread of the trickery theme in the ‘Red-Headed League’, is entertaining for its portrayal of the eccentric collector Nathan Garrideb:
He had a cadaverous face, with the dull dead skin of a man to whom exercise was unknown. Large round spectacles and a small projecting goat’s beard combined with his stooping attitude to give him an expression of peering curiosity. […] As he stood in front of us now, he held a piece of chamois leather in his right hand with which he was polishing a coin.
‘Syracusan – of the best period,’ he explained, holding it up. ‘They degenerated greatly towards the end. At their best I hold them supreme, though some prefer the Alexandrian school. You will find a chair here, Mr. Holmes. Pray allow me to clear these bones.’
All told, a lively collection, and ample reward for committing to reading all of the stories in order. Do you have any favourites? Feel free to link to reviews 🙂
- The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
- The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
- The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone
- The Adventure of the Three Gables
- The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
- The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
- The Problem of Thor Bridge
- The Adventure of the Creeping Man
- The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane
- The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
- The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
- The Adventure of the Retired Colourman
And so, reader, farewell to Sherlock Holmes! I thank you for your past constancy, and can but hope that some return has been made in the shape of that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingdom of romance.
I’ve always been fond of “Lion’s Mane” as it’s one of those few narrated by Holmes!
Sussex Vampire is awesome, it’s easily one of the best realisations of that kind of plot device, and Thor Bridge is also a lot of fun (ahemselfpromotion https://theinvisibleevent.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/36-the-impossible-crimes-of-sherlock-holmes-iii-the-problem-of-thor-bridge/). There is some unbearable nonsense in here – I for one couldn’t abide Lion’s Mane or Veiled Client – but then Three Gables andothers are harmlessly enjoyable enough. It’s certainly a stronger final collection than we had any right to expect, given how disinterested Doyle became with the characters.
And well done on finishing them so quickly, an excellent effort.
My favourite is The Sussex Vampire. I regard it as a brilliant story.