This book is the proverbial mixed bag. There are some stories in the book that are essential reading for Holmes fans (The Problem at Thor Bridge and the Sussex Vampire), and then there are some of the weakest stories in the Canon (The Lion’s Mane, the Blanched Soldier, and the Veiled Lodger), and then others that range between average to fairly good.
“The Problem at Thor Bridge” is simply one of Holmes best cases. There’s so much in the story and the solution is classic. The same thing goes for the Sussex Vampire which presents Holmes a problem that’s evocative of the supernatural but with a surprising natural solution that is pretty emotional in its own right.
Most of the worst stories came towards the end of the book. Both “The Blanched Soldier” and “The Lion’s Mane” were attempts to tell Holmes’ adventures from Holmes own perspective. While “The Blanched Soldier” was slightly better of the two, both stories were somewhat dry and uninteresting tales that it was hard to care about. “The Veiled Lodgers” biggest failing is that Holmes really does nothing. He describes a mystery and then has one of the perpetrators tell him what happened. While Holmes did say something very wise in response to that, it wasn’t really a detective story.
Looking at the rest of the series:
“The Mazarin Stone”: Told in third person, I actually thought it was a pretty fun story showing Holmes cleverness. It was a similar story to the Dying Detective, but I liked this story better.
“The Creeping Man”: This is a bizarre story and I know some people really don’t like it because it’s almost into the realm of speculative fiction, but I thought it was carried off fine and is a classic mix of horror and the detective genre, though good luck trying to guess as to what’s happening.
“The Three Garidebs”: This is once again a story that calls to mind previous adventures. In it, a man with an unusual last name stands to make a fortune just for having his last name, but he brings in Holmes to discern the truth of the business. This story is not as good as “The Red Headed League” but is actually better than “The Stockbroker’s Clerk.”
“The Illustrious Client”: This isn’t a whodunit but a challenge for Holmes to stop the marriage of a naive woman to a scoundrel. This is a very well-executed story where Holmes is put to the test against a clever adversary who is a master at manipulating the sympathy of women.
“The Three Gables”: This story of a bereaved mother receiving mysterious offers to buy her house is a very good and enjoyable story with a satisfying solution.
“The Retired Colourman”: This is actually a pretty enjoyable story though Holmes doesn’t seem as warm towards Watson in a few places. The solution is a good change of pace, if perhaps a bit melodramatic.
“Shoscombe Old Place”: The last Holmes story by Doyle and its solid. Its clearly not at the high quality of Doyle’s prime but Holmes gets a pretty engaging case with a clever and unexpected solution revolving around a race horse and the odd behavior of the lady of the manor.
Overall, this is a must for mystery fans even if Doyle is clearly past his prime as a writer in this one.
Let me add that this Oxford edition I read really was splendid and added to the reading experience. The explanatory notes section was helpful to me reading this as an American in the 21st century, as it gave meaning to so many phrases that I’d have just glossed over or imagined what they meant otherwise. There’s also a copious amount of introductory information that provides some great background on the book and is a great resource if you can get a hold of it.
Rating 4.0 out of 5.0