The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Pages: 317
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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All hail, Holmes!

The Stories.

A Scandal in Bohemia. The King of Bohemia has come to Holmes in great distress. Unless Holmes is able to recover a compromising portrait from one, Irene Adler, not only will the King’s marriage be jeopardized, but all of Europe will suffer from the repercussions. Will Mr. Holmes take the case?

The Red-Headed League. Mr. Jabez Wilson is in some distress. He was accepted into the League of Red-Headed men and appointed a job in the club – with a tidy remuneration – only to receive word this morning that the club has been dissolved without a trace. What is this league all about, anyway?

A Case of Identity. Miss Mary Sutherland is entirely confused. Against her domineering step-father’s will she has become engaged to marry a Mr. Hosmer Angel. But on the morning on which they were to be married, Mr. Angel disappeared and has not been seen since. Where can he have got to?

The Boscombe Valley Mystery. A man, Charles McCarthy, has been found lying in a pool of his own blood. The obvious suspect – indeed the man the police have arrested – is McCarthy’s own son, James, who was engaged in a savage argument just minutes before McCarthy was killed. But Miss Turner, who has known James since he was a boy, is convinced that he could never commit murder. So Holmes is called in to sift the clues, to weigh the facts, to name the murderer…

The Five Orange Pips. John Openshaw is scared. Scared out of his wits. And the horror of it is, he doesn’t know exactly what he scared of. All he knows is that it exacts death – mysterious death – of its victims. See, his uncle died shortly after receiving an envelope containing five orange pips. The experience was repeated with his father. And now, he has received five orange pips of his own…

The Man With the Twisted Lip. Several days ago, Neville St Clair disappeared. His wife is frantic to find him and is certain that she saw him in the upper story of a shady business. But when she entered there, fully expecting to see him and demand an explanation from him, he wasn’t there. Instead, an old, decrepit beggar greeted her. Has St Clair been murdered? Or is he still alive?

The Blue Carbuncle. ‘Tis Christmas – the season of happiness and goodwill. But it’s also the season of mystery and robbery. For a shabby hat and goose have thrust upon Mr. Holmes – complimentary of a squirmish in which the owner of both took to his heels – and a priceless blue carbuncle has been stole from the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Will Holmes be able to draw any connection between the two?

The Speckled Band. Two years ago, Julia Stoner stumbled out of her bedroom and collapsed upon the floor writhing in pain. The only words she managed to utter before dying were these – “the speckled band!” All of her doors and windows had been locked from the inside at the time that she was seized, and the only clue to her mysterious death was her previous mention her hearing whistles in the night. Imagine then, her twin sister, Helen’s, horror when, after being moved to Julia’s now vacant room so that repairs may be done in her own room, she hears whistles in the night. What does it mean, Mr. Holmes?

The Engineer’s Thumb. It is not often that Watson is able to bring an interesting case to Holmes’ attention. But in this instance, the case is not only interesting, it is unforgettable! It involves a mysterious mansion, a gang of very clever forgers, and an engineer with a missing thumb…

The Noble Bachelor. Holmes never bothers to read the society papers. But this case comes straight out of society gossip. It seems that Lord Robert St. Simon has been deserted – jilted – by his wife just hours after their wedding ceremony was completed. She has completely disappeared! Can Mr. Holmes track her down?

The Beryl Coronet. Mr. Alexander Holder of the banking firm, Holder & Stevenson, is distraught. He was entrusted by an illustrious client with the invaluable beryl coronet as security for a loan. But several of the gems have been stolen from the coronet while in Mr. Holder’s possession – and the only suspect is his own son!

The Copper Beeches. A young lady, Miss Violet Hunter, wants to consult Mr. Holmes on a very important matter. She wants to know if she should accept a position as governess at the Copper Beeches. Although Holmes is initially disdainful – considering such a problem to be below him – he changes his mind when he hears what is troubling her. It seems that amongst her employer’s requirements are that she would cut her beautiful hair quite short and occasionally wear a dress of electric blue. Holmes foresees danger in Miss Hunter’s future!

Discussion.

I love Holmes. I love his world. I love his art. I love his cold calculation, his indefatigable spirit, and his mysterious languid spells. I love his sometimes snobbish but ever companionable relationship with Watson. And, of course, I love 221b Baker Street.

It was so good getting back into the Holmes canon. I’ve watched so many adaptions of his character in the past few years that I’d somehow lost sight of the real Holmes. Because every adaption only presents a facet of the true Holmes – the full complexity of his character somehow eludes the screen.

This particular collection of short stories – one of five – is, I think, the happiest of them all. It occurs before Conan Doyle kills Holmes, and presumably while he still likes him. Holmes isn’t quite as light-hearted as he was in A Study in Scarlet, but neither is he so brooding as in the later stories (His Last Bow, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes). And the stories themselves are fine.

I don’t mean fine as in ‘okay’. I mean fine as one means ‘fine china’. These stories are finely crafted and populated with believable characters. One thing that I love about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon is that it proves that a mystery need not be based around a murder to be intensely fascinating. Of the twelve mysteries contained in The Adventures, only three deal directly with murder.

In fact, the whole book is remarkably clean. Really the only story of the lot which parents need be concerned with is the first, which concerns the indiscretions of a king. But even here, the word mistress is used only once – the relationship is referred to as an ‘entanglement’, not an affair. It is, considering the topic itself, clean.

Various forms of God’s name are used a total of eighteen times, most in serious situations which could be considered forms of prayer.

Conclusion. Excellent! Buy it – read it.

Great Detective Stories

Title: Great Detective Stories
Author: Various
Pages: 124
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Mysteries! Yay!

The Stories.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery – Arthur Conan Doyle. A man, one Charles McCarthy, has been found murdered at Boscombe Pool. All of the circumstantial evidence points towards his son, James McCarthy, which whom he had a violent quarrel just minutes before being murdered. But the son denies the charge. Can Sherlock Holmes ferret out the truth with his deductive powers?

Mr. Bovey’s Unexpected Will – L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace. Mr. Bovey has left a singular will. It seems that there are three claimants to his estate – Mr. Wimbourne, Mr. Graham, and Mr. Tyndall – and the will states that whichever amongst these three men’s body weight is nearest to the weight of Mr. Bovey’s fortune shall inherit the lot. It’s a queer proceeding, but Miss Florence Cusack, the most acute lady detective in the whole of London, is there to see that proceedings are fair!

A Bracelet at Bruges – Arnold Bennett. Kitty Sartorius’ beautiful little gold and diamond bracelet has been lost – accidentally dropped into the river by Madame Lawrence, Kitty’s friend and a maker of Belguan lace. Kitty immediately calls the police and they agree to drag the river first thing in the morning. But after a thorough search, no bracelet appears. Where could it possibly be?

Who Stole the Black Diamonds? – Baroness Orczy. The magnificent Black Diamonds have been stolen from their owners – stolen out of a house which was swarming with dinner guests at the only time that they could possibly have been stolen. So who stole them? And how was the theft accomplished so that no one saw the thief?

The Blue Sequin – R. Austin Freeman. Edith Grant is dead. She was violently struck on board a train while traveling from London to Worthing. The only person who had opportunity – or motive – to kill her is Harold Stopford, an artist, who disembarked from the train only minutes before Miss Grant was found dead. But Harold’s brother, Edward, is determined that Harold is not guilty, so he calls in Mr. Thorndyke to see if he can free Harold from these ghastly accusations…

Discussion.

Great Detective Stories was a remarkably clean book. Out of the five stories, only two of them concerned a murder, and these were non-violent.

Obviously, I knew the outcome of The Boscombe Valley Mystery, but I enjoyed refreshing myself as to the details of the case. Also, I was delighted to find this little nugget.

“We have got to the deductions and the inferences,” said Lestrade, winking at me. “I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies.”

“You are right,” said Holmes demurely; “you do find it very hard to tackle the facts.” [pg. 21]

I had read Who Stole the Black Diamonds? from Baroness Orczy’s collection of short stories The Old Man in the Corner. However, it has been such a time since I read it, that I didn’t remember the outcome, although I remembered it being extraordinary.

The Blue Sequin seemed very familiar to me as I read it, and, looking back on my archives, I find that I did read it in June of 2011. It was probably my least favorite of the lot – I felt a little cheated by its conclusion – but I enjoyed Dr. Thorndyke’s shenanigans.

Mr. Bovey’s Unexpected Will and A Bracelet at Bruges were new to me. I enjoyed them, even though they had more levity and felt more light-hearted than Holmes’ and Thorndyke’s cases.

Cautions.

In A Bracelet at Bruges, characters consult a planchette to determine if the bracelet will be recovered. Its response was accurate.

‘Good God’, ‘Lord’ and ‘heavens’ are each used once.

Conclusion. Exciting, clean stories, Great Detective Stories reacquainted me with old friends and introduced me to new ones.

The World of Mystery Fiction

Title: The World of Mystery Fiction
Author: Various
Pages: 441
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I was super-excited when I found The World of Mystery Fiction at a Goodwill. I grew up reading children’s mystery series and started in on Sherlock Holmes when I was thirteen. Of late my expeditions into classic detective fiction have expanded to greater realms – Sayers, Christie, Chesterton, etc. – and my enjoyment has been amply multiplied.

The World of Mystery Fiction, then, was a treasure indeed when I found it. For it is exactly what it calls itself – a world. And it introduces its readers to a world – a world of mysteries and their architects.

The World of Mystery Fiction begins with one of the earliest stories in the detective genre – Victims of My Craft, written in the early eighteen hundreds by Francois Eugene Vidocq, and moves forward from there. It includes stories by Dickens, Poe, Doyle, Chesterton and others as it moves into the 20th century. Commenting on the stylistic progressions and differences between each epoch of mystery writing, The World of Mystery Fiction winds its way through murders and puzzles, each written by a master of crime, and ends with the most modern detective writers, such as Agatha Christie and Jorge Luis Borges.

Cautions.

The World of Mystery Fiction deals with many murders. They are described at various lengths; some barely at all, while others are replete with gory details. The relationships between the murderer and victim often lent to the horror of the crime – for example, one man murders his nephew because the boy makes him nervous. This story is told in the first person. Another story, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, also told in the first person, includes the pointless murder and dismemberment of an old man by an insane murderer.  Another story – Murders in the Rue Morgue, also by Poe, outlines the gruesome murder of two defenseless women. Not pretty.

Others among the collection were brilliant. Of course, Holmes was there (though not in what I consider to be his best cases), and Poirot made an appearance. But the highlight of The World of Mystery Fiction for me was being introduced to Jacques Futrelle’s detective, ‘The Thinking Machine’. He appears in a story called The Problem of Cell 13 in which he lays a bet that he can escape from any prison cell simply by applying his brain to the situation. In a hilarious adventure, the bet is taken and he completely befuddles his jailor with his shenanigans. If you ever get the chance to, read it.

As far as romance goes… It’s the typical stuff. It’s actually a little less than what usually happens in classic literature. There are a few references to mistresses, one to seduction. In a brief bio, it is said of Poe that “he became involved in a number of more or less unhappy love affairs”. That sort of thing.

This is the worst (and only) scene of a romantic sort. It occurs at the end of an Alice-in-Wonderland themed mystery and is when the detective is explaining the case to a young woman.

“She regarded him for so long and in such silence and with such supple twisting of her boyish figure that he stirred uncomfortably. “And what, if I may ask,” he said lightly, “brings that positively lewd expression to your Peter Pannish face? You must be feeling –“

“As Alice would say,” she said softly, leaning a little toward him, “curiouser and curiouser.” [pg. 290]

There were several cultural observations/religious statements that I disagreed with, but nothing that older students couldn’t take in stride.

A woman tries to kill a man by making a wax figurine of him and sticking it with needles. The man does die, but it is proven that she was not involved in his death.

God’s name is used in vain thirteen times, while ‘Mon Dieu’ was used twice and ‘by Jove’ once. ‘Damn’ is used eleven times, ‘hell’ four, and ‘what the devil’ two.  The word ‘ass’ is used six times to refer to stupid people.

Conclusion. From reading the above cautions, you may wonder why I am still giving The World of Mystery Fiction three stars. Although the cautions are serious, they occupy less than a quarter of the book, and as such, are not pervasive. I consider The World of Mystery Fiction to be excellent as a cursory introduction to the history, development, and style of detective fiction, but I would recommend it only to fellow fanatics who are willing to wade through a little mud, not to those who are just looking for a good mystery to enjoy.