One of my reading projects this summer was to read all of the Sherlock Holmes short stories (56) and novels (4). I enjoyed reading these classics and here are a few thoughts about the well-known detective and his sidekick Watson:
1. I don’t read a lot of mysteries but I can see that more recent detectives (books, TV, movies) have hints of Holmes. Holmes is the classic scientific detective, reasoning his way through tough cases. There has to be a line from Holmes to Hercule Poirot to Adrian Monk. Of course, Holmes’ emphasis on science also emerges as the larger society moves more toward a belief of science and progress.
2. I’m not sure that I like Sherlock Holmes in the end and I’m not sure Doyle wanted people to like him but rather wanted people to be impressed by him. Holmes certainly has a sharp mind but he is given to mood swings, using opium, and rarely shows a non-scientific side. For example, there are a few points in the later stories where Watson seems thrilled that Holmes reveals some warm feelings for his companion. Holmes is a sort of modern renaissance man but is a limited person.
3. Even with the presence of Professor Moriarty, there was one big difference with recent stories: there is a lack of a major villain. Indeed, Holmes does a lot of one-off cases and there are a few recurring characters.
4. After reading all of these stories, I’m not sure I could remember the details of many of them. I liked the four novels the most as there was room to develop the cases and have more twists and turns.
5. I had the opportunity to read most of these stories in the Oxford annotated editions (see an example here). At first, I thought this would be a hindrance (that long introduction, the extensive footnotes) but I really grew to enjoy this. This particularly came in handy with the novels The Gang of Four and A Study in Scarlet as the footnotes described how Doyle built the stories around interesting true events. I didn’t read all of the footnotes (and they truly seemed to be extensive – and occasionally esoteric) but the introductions were helpful.
6. I wish I had read these all in chronological order.
7. I suspect it would have been very different to read these all in the serial form in which they were released.