Mysteries and detective fiction are one of my favourite genres to read (you may have noticed :P), and so, of course, the quintessential detective, Sherlock Holmes would have to be among my favourites too, and he is. I love the setting in early twentieth-century England, the puzzles he solves, and his powers of observation, which has everyone of even average intelligence feeling a lot like Watson. I realised, I haven’t really written a post about Holmes or stories featuring him on this blog, so decided to start with a few of my favourite short stories. Oddly enough, though so many of the Holmes stories are surrounded around murders, the ones I’m including in this list are mostly not!
The Red-Headed League: One of my very favourite short stories which I’ve read countless times and also watched the adaptation of (with Jeremy Brett) many times is the ‘Red-Headed League’. One Jabez Wilson comes to visit Holmes with an extraordinary problem. A pawn-broker not doing too well, he saw in the newspapers an unusual opportunity to make a good sum, being offered to only those with red hair. Since Mr Wilson has red hair, his assistant Vincent Spaulding encourages him to apply, and he finds himself selected and given a rather odd task–to copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica for a few hours each morning during which he cannot leave the League’s offices. He takes the assignment up until one fine day, he arrives to find a notice that the League is dissolved. Holmes must find out the meaning of this trick that was played on Wilson, and of course, it turns out that there was far more to it than the ridiculous joke being played on Wilson. I love this one for how funny the whole scheme is (one can’t help but burst into laughter along with Holmes and Watson) but also for how Holmes works out the real reason behind it.
The Adventure Blue Carbuncle: This one I love for both the puzzle and the lovely Christmassy atmosphere of the whole story (the latter probably came through more strongly in the adaptation). Watson visits Holmes to find him examining a hat which was dropped by a man who was being harassed by some ruffians. With the hat was also a goose–the goose Holmes gives to the Commissionaire who found it, but when he cooks it he finds it has laid a rather expensive egg–the Blue Carbuncle, a priceless jewel stolen from the Countess of Morcar, for which theft John Horner, a former convict and now a plumber has been arrested. But how did the jewel get into the goose? Holmes looks into the case, beginning with tracing down Mr Henry Baker, the man who lost the hat and goose, and whose character he deduces rather perfectly from the hat alone (this is one of the scenes I enjoy most in the story). With that begins a chase after the origins of the goose and how the stone came to be in it!
Fun fact: The carbuncle is supposed to have been found in the goose’s ‘crop’, something geese don’t have; this is considered Conan Doyle’s greatest blunder (via wikipedia).
The Naval Treaty: In this one Percy Phelps, an old schoolmate of Watson gets in touch about a serious problem. He has been ill with brain fever as a result of what happened, and his career is nearly finished. He was a good student at school and through his uncle’s influence has a good position at the Foreign Office, often being entrusted by his uncle, Lord Holdhurst with delicate and confidential tasks. One such was to copy a naval treaty, which is to be kept completely confidential. Percy stays after work to complete his task, and when he leaves his desk for a few moments to see about some coffee he’d ordered, the treaty disappears. There was no one in the office but the Commissionaire, and the charwoman, his wife. But when they are investigated, no leads are found. Now it is up to Holmes to see who could possibly have stolen the treaty, and why the obvious consequences, had the treaty been leaked, haven’t played out yet. Again, I loved this for the way Holmes works out the puzzle which is in some ways very simple, and yet quite twisted at the same time.
The Man with the Twisted Lip: This case is about one Mr Neville St Clair who has gone missing when on business in London. Mrs St Clair who was also visiting London separately notices his face on the upper floor of an opium den, but when after some difficulty she manages to enter the place, the only person there is a beggar with a twisted face, Hugh Boone. The police thinks she may have made a mistake, but soon wooden bricks which her husband had promised to buy for their son and some of his clothes are found. The beggar is arrested and charged with the murder of Neville St Clair, but he refuses to say anything except denying his involvement, and also interestingly refuses to be washed. Holmes who is investigating finds a rather surprising answer. Once again, not a story involving murder but still a pretty interesting puzzle of which I loved the solution.
The Adventure of the Dancing Men: One Hilton Cubitt from Norfolk visits Holmes with mysterious pieces of paper which have figures of dancing men on it. He has recently married an American woman, Elsie Patrick, who refuses speak about her past which had some disagreeable memories and people though she personally has done nothing wrong. They have had a happy marriage so far but messages with these dancing men began to arrive making Elsie very fearful. When Holmes cracks the code that these dancing men represent, he realises Cubitt’s life is in danger but by the time he arrives at his home, Cubitt has been shot. He now uses the code that he has cracked to trace the killer. This is only one of the stories I picked in this set that has a murder, and is a little more sinister in tone than the others, as well as is more tragic. But what I enjoy about it is the codes and code-breaking element which is great fun.
So there are some of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories. There are more that I really like and I will write a separate post about them sometime.
Do you like Sherlock Holmes? Which are some of your favourite stories? Looking forward to reading about them!