Book Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Continuing on the success of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs offers up some more fantastic classic mysteries but also a few signs of Doyle burning out on the Holmes series.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is available for free download on Amazon and other sites.

The American version of the Memoirs includes eleven stories:

“Silver Blaze”
“The Adventure of the Yellow Face”
“The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk”
“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”
“The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual”
“The Adventure of the Reigate Squire”
“The Adventure of the Crooked Man”
“The Adventure of the Resident Patient”
“The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”
“The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”
“The Final Problem”

On the positive side there’s “The Silver Blaze” which was one of G.K. Chesterton’s favorite Holmes stories which is perfectly constructed.  “The Reigate Squire” shows Holmes at his craftiest as he has to solve the murder of a country while ailing. The “Resident Patient” allowed Holmes to show his cleverness even if a freak storm was called in to actually take care of justice. “The Navel Treaty” is the longest story in the collection and a completely satisfying story as we’re presented with a fascinating whodunit and a startling conclusion. “The Crooked Man” is a classic case of a false charge brought about by confusion and reminded me a little bit of “The Sign of Four.”

On the down side, I had to admit some disappointment with the end to “The Greek Interpreter.” Of course, this may have been because I saw the Grenada TV version first which “fixed” the ending. The “Yellow Face” was a somewhat slow story that’s been rarely adapted.

Beyond that, there s also a sense that Doyle was beginning to tire of the character.  “The Stockbroker’s Clerk” would have been a fine story had it not been a basic rehashing of “The Red Headed League.” Two stories were told to Watson by Holmes entirely without any actual action occurring in both “The Gloria Scott” and “The Musgrave Ritual.” While both stories were good, I missed Watson in them.

Of course, the styling of these entries with fits with the title and it brought home to me one of the appeals of Sherlock Holmes.  The story was not written in traditional fiction style but as Memoirs of Doctor Watson. It’s a point that can be missed because this device has been used so many times since and often not very well, but Watson’s writings sounded so true to life that we really don’t treat Holmes as a fictional character at all, if you see the way Holmes is quoted, it is rarely quoted as coming from a novel. No wonder that 58% of Britons believe Sherlock Holmes was a real historical character.

That brings us to “The Final Problem” a story that has never adapted well to other media without serious tweaks.  Even Grenada Television’s version looked absolutely silly when Holmes and Moriarty fought over the falls. A production may borrow from parts of Final Problem particularly as it relates to Moriarty, but the plot itself has serious problems not the least of which is the difficulty of making the fight look convincing.

Holmes flees London and then across the Continent to get away from Moriarty. The story rubs me as  simply wrong as you have a detective fleeing a criminal. While Holmes’ justification for the chase the first three days was to avoid messing up the prosecution of Moriarty’s gang. After the gang was apprehended and Holmes remained free, continuing to run from Moriarty into the heart of Switzerland was unnecessary.

Of course, this was Doyle’s attempt to free himself from demands for more Holmes’ stories by killing the character off.  What surprised me was that Doyle manages a remarkably poignant ending to the story with Watson, in effect, eulogizing Holmes,  and bringing out aspects of his character that are often overlooked. It was actually quite beautiful writing with which Watson bid farewell to his dear friend.

Overall, while it’s not quite as good as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Memoirs holds its own as a great classic short story collection.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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