Rose's Reviews > The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
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Aug 22, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: holmes, mysteries, favorites, acd
Read from January 05 to 27, 2012

"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" made me finally -- *finally*, after literally years of trying -- fall in love with the literary character of Sherlock Holmes. Which makes "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" pretty much the perfectly ideal follow-up read.

I've heard it debated that "Adventures" is the best book of short detective fiction to ever be written. And I have to admit that, in terms of sheer ingenuity, the plots of the "Adventures" stories may in fact be the best. But if I found the plotting of "Memoirs" mysteries to be generally more straightforward than that of the previous volume, "Memoirs" had something even better than that for me to compensate -- sheer character development for Sherlock Holmes.

It still seems kind of incredible to me, the amount of depth that the character of Sherlock Holmes really contains when for so long I'd been under the impression that he was an emotionless automaton. In "Memoirs," we get a whole new level of exploration and development, with real and fresh insights into the character of Holmes: Holmes's early adventures! Holmes's first-ever case! Holmes previously-unknown *brother*! There's internal revelations, too, as we get glimpses of Holmes's philosophical despairs and even religious reflections -- not to mention, in one or two cases, actual character development featuring an actual character arc, with Holmes emerging slightly differently at the end of a case than how he'd started it out.

We also get further evidence of his growing and stretching compassion (see "The Yellow Face") and even a new glimpse into his real motives for being a consulting detective. People love to talk about Holmes's passion lying not in justice but rather in puzzle-solving, and there's no denying that Holmes has a passion for following the threads to their conclusion. He's not in it for fame or fortune, but for fun. And yet, we get scenes such as someone demanding of Holmes to know what business it is of his as to whether or not an innocent woman is tried and probably executed for murder. And Holmes, intent as he is on freeing this woman, answers, "It's every man's business to see justice done." The paradox of the cold and clinical mind with the heart of gold is in full force again, and adding such extra layers to his personality with these fresh insights (early adventures, family members, and real character arcs) only makes the character more complex and richer and better. I loved the character by the end of "Adventures," but after reading "Memoirs" I'm able to place him at the top of the list of all-time favorite fictional characters ever. And that's a hard list to break into!

Best of all, knowing as I did that "The Final Problem" was the last story in the collection, and knowing what it is that goes down (literally) in that story, it infused the whole of "Memoirs" with an added dimension of tension and epicness, or at least it did for me. Which made for a great, great read. This is, in some ways, such a different collection from "Adventures" that I'm hard-pressed to say which volume I enjoyed reading more … but I will say that this one has the best character insight. I closed the book loving Holmes -- and Watson -- more than when I started it, so I can't think of a better recommendation than that!


- The Adventure of the Cardboard Box: I cheated to read this one, since in American editions of the Conan Doyle books, you find this story in "His Last Bow," not "The Memoirs." But I wanted to read this story (more or less) in its proper place, so I dug out my "Complete Sherlock Holmes" tome and read it that way. Definitely the gruesomest of the Holmes tales thus far (I couldn't read it while I was eating), it nonetheless makes my list of favorites pretty much for precisely that very reason. Not that I'm a fan of gruesomeness, but rather because throwing Holmes up against cases of true darkness are always going to resonate with me more deeply than simply giving him a complex puzzle to solve. The mystery itself is, indeed, clever -- but it's watching Holmes confront the "circle of misery and violence and fear," combating it with his own determined light, that draws me into the story. The final paragraph sinks your heart.

- The Adventure of the Yellow Face: By contrast to "Cardboard Box," this sweet and powerful little story is a remarkable beautiful about-face in tone -- and one of my most beloved of all Holmes stories, second only to "The Final Problem." Amazingly sympathetic treatment of a sensitive issue aside (although let us give credit to the story's theme, because it's *remarkable* for its time) -- and I do love it a good deal for that theme alone -- what really captures my heart is Holmes's own little personal lesson about patience and compassion for his apparently-less-than-fascinating clients. Holmes has a real character arc in this story, ending in a better place than where he began, and the lesson he learns is one that resonates particularly with me. Murmuring "Norbury" to myself under my breath has become a mantra for me to remind myself to always give proper attention and pains to even the smallest and "insignificant" of responsibilities.

- The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual: There are two back-to-back stories in this collection that feature Holmes's first-person narration, as he recounts for Watson two cases from his early days as a consulting detective. "The Adventure of the 'Gloria Scott'" is the first of these, as Holmes tells the story of his first case -- the case that inspired him to become a consulting detective. But of the two Young!Sherlock stories, "Musgrave Ritual" wins out as my favorite of the two. It has the richer insights and developments into Holmes's character (I *adore* the fact that he's telling Watson this story in order to distract his friend, who's been nagging Holmes to clean up his mess in their living room at Baker Street). And I adore hearing about Holmes as a struggling young man trying to build a life and a career for himself (ha ha can _I_ relate).

- The Adventure of the Reigate Squire: Gawd, I love this one. I ended up reading a lot of this one on my iPod while waiting in various lines and doctor's offices and such, and the story was so positively delightful that I got swept up in it every time I stopped to read a few more pages. The premise immediately had my attention -- of a weary Holmes, recovering from an illness brought on by stress and strain, being drug off by Watson to a country estate for a vacation. Luckily, despite being drawn into a case involving murderous neighbors, a few cunning distractions (on Holmes's part; I loved the bit with the oranges), and some action set-pieces cumulating in the bad guys attempting to throttle Holmes -- a reinvigorating case turns out to be exactly what Holmes needs to get back on his feet. "Give me problems, give me work," indeed. And I should also note that this story is one of the most memorable examples, to me, of exactly why Holmes hangs out with Watson when working on cases. The scene with the oranges is funny, but it's also a good window into how sharp and quick Watson is at following his friend's lead, willing to go along with a plan he doesn't understand yet because he trusts Holmes enough to do it. Not to mention the fact that we get Watson bursting in to save his friend's life at the end!

- The Greek Interpreter: Four words. "The introduction of Mycroft."

- The Adventure of the Naval Treaty: Twice as long as any of the other stories (it was published over a two-installment series in the 'Strand Magazine'), this allows for a deeper, more in-depth mystery than we're sometimes treated to. I liked this one for its length as well as its stakes (Holmes either recovers the lost naval treaty or much of Europe goes to war); I cared about the client characters and got drawn into the "thriller" feeling of it all. I get a kick out of Holmes's burst of the dramatic at the breakfast table, to boot.

- The Final Problem: I read this one in bed over a two-night period, trying to balance savoring the story I'd been waiting to read since seeing the new "Game of Shadows" film with my own excitement to finally read this story. I knew I'd either have the story become among my all-time favorite, or be let down -- and while I'm ecstatic to report the former, I'd been fully expecting the latter.

Indeed, in many ways this story is so unusual I'm not sure *why* I wasn't let down. We're introduced to Professor Moriarty, Holmes's now-infamous arch-nemesis and intellectual equal -- and yet we'll have to take Holmes's word on that, since Conan Doyle doesn't tell us precisely what Moriarty's plans have been, nor how Holmes has laid a trap of evidence to catch him. (We know that Moriarty's been spinning a criminal web that encases pretty much all of the crime and criminals in London, allowing the professor to have a hand in just about every illegal goings-on in the city -- but we have no details about his crimes, and certainly none about Holmes's plan to stop him with the evidence that will be presented to the police "Monday.")

And yet … I just didn't care. I was too busy drinking in the epicness of it, the verbal face-off between Holmes and Morarity at 221-B that Holmes later recounts for Watson, the pale and worn Holmes who nonetheless is ready to "cheerfully accept" whatever dangerous consequences may come his way if only he can free society from the professor (I nearly flew out of the bed when I found some of my favorite dialogue from the "Game of Shadows" film appearing in the story itself) -- the flight by Watson and Holmes across Europe as they try to escape a vengeful professor. Moriarty remains a shadowy figure throughout the story (Watson only ever catches glimpses of him), and yet it was precisely that which upped the creepiness factor of his character -- or at least it did for me. The story had a completely different kind of epicness to it than that of "Game of Shadows," and yet the tugs at my heartstrings were coming out of the same place. My stomach lurched when Watson turns to leave the falls and catches his final glimpse of Holmes, leaning against the cliffside and calmly waiting for the man he knows is coming; I was misty-eyed while reading Holmes's note left behind for my poor Watson. And I was not very surprised to see that the closing paragraph had been pulled straight from the story for Watson to type out on his typewriter at the end of "Game of Shadows," because, well, how else would they end the film narration?

"No possible conclusion could be more congenial to me than this," writes Holmes to Watson in his last letter, another line that will later be echoed in "Game of Shadows." In both cases, Holmes is referencing his eventual plunge down the Reichenbach Falls (although I understand that said plunge may in fact be less literal in the canon stories than it was in the film version). And that sort of sums up the beauty of the story, for me. Much as I love the sinister feel of the story's villain, the raised stakes and building tension, the friendship between Holmes and Watson, and the undeniable *epicness* … what I really fell in love with in this story is the unbridled cheerfulness of our hero, even when he's facing off against an enemy who not only means to kill him, but who Holmes believes (in the context of this story, at least) will succeed. Any character who chooses not to succumb to fear while in the face of it is a character that'll win me over, and here is Sherlock Holmes doing just that at his most epic.

Knowing that the character returns in a future installment makes this a story more of regeneration than extermination -- and yet of course when it was written, it was intended to be permanent. It creates a weirdly wonderful dichotomy while you're reading the story -- not "The End" but "The End?" -- and left me more than a little misty-eyed when I shut the book and turned in for the night. "Weirdly wonderful" sums it up quite nicely, I think -- and I'll be unsurprised if this remains my favorite story of the Conan Doyle canon.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Gina (new) - added it

Gina Boyd I have these on my Kindle, just waiting to be read...I need to move them up in the priority list!

Rose Every so often, I get a craving for Conan-Doyle-written Holmes stories (where even well-written Sherlock Holmes pastiches can't quite satisfy the craving). I had a big Sherlock Holmes movie-marathon over the weekend that's given me exactly that, so a reread seemed in order. :) This is one of my very favorite collections!!

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