The Best and the Wisest: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892-1893) Review

It may seem like I have reviewed this collection of Holmes stories before, but I assure you I have not. This second collection of Holmes “Adventures” is also published independently as “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.” In my complete fascimile ‘Strand’ edition, these twelve stories are numbered 13-24, as a continuation of the first twelve “Adventures” (which I reviewed here).

Featured are some of the more well-known Holmes stories, like “Silver Blaze” and “The Musgrave Ritual,” as well as the purported conclusion to Holmes’ career, “The Final Problem,” which only later proves to be the “Not-Quite-Final Problem.”

In this collection we first meet the other Holmes brother, Mycroft, semi-permanent fixture of the Diogenes Club, who gets Sherlock into “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter,” and makes a brief cameo appearance as an unrecognized cab-driver in “The Final Problem.” In “The Cardboard Box,” there is a passing reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s work, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), which may be a grudging acknowledgement on Doyle’s part that he owed some inspiration for his detective to the American writer’s mystery stories from fifty years prior.

There is an entire story which is one of the few insights we get into Holmes’ past, when he was at college and embarked on the first case which convinced him to take up the detecting career. He made one friend in his two years at college, Victor Trevor, whose father’s history is the subject of “The Gloria Scott.” Another story in which we get a close look at Holmes playing a character to suss out the truth of a robbery-cum-murder, “The Reigate Squire,” showcases his devious nature, quick-thinking, and, most poignantly, the implicit faith he has in Watson to participate in his schemes, and Watson’s faith in his Holmes’ intentions to go along with them unasked.

In various of the other stories there are also added insights into Holmes’ manner and lifestyle, such as “The Musgrave Ritual” when Holmes is described as being “in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction,” as well as of course the infamous account of Holmes shooting the intials of Queen Victoria into the wall of their flat. There is long-suffering and martyrdom in some of Watson’s dry narration that really adds to the air of humour about the more mundane moments and humanizes Holmes because it invites us to laugh at his oddities as much as it compels us to respect his powers.

[W]hen Holmes in one of his queer humours would sit in an arm-chair, with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.

“The Musgrave Ritual” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

There are also several tales that partake of the themes of some stories from the first collection. One of these themes is that a job that offers you an obscene amount of money for a ridiculously easy task is probably a front for racketeering, robbery, extortion, or murder: “The Stockbroker’s Clerk” and “The Greek Interpreter.”

Another of the themes from some of the other stories is that past sins will come back to haunt you, as shown in “The Resident Patient” and “The Gloria Scott.” Other connected themes are not necessarily that sins will catch up with you, but past connections will, some more benignly, like in “The Yellow Face,” and some more sinisterly, as in “The Crooked Man.” These two stories also deal with the precarious position of the women in this era when entering into marriages which were not only to ensure their personal happiness, but critical to maintain their welfare and place in society.

And, of course, the stories that tend to stand out as particularly unique in their puzzles and solving are the aforementioned “Silver Blaze” and “The Musgrave Ritual,” as well as the two-part, double-locked room problem, “The Naval Treaty.” I would also class “The Cardboard Box” as unique among the cases, as it deals with crimes of purely amorous passion rather than the usual gamut of money-grubbing or revenge, and is one of the gorier cases Holmes ever deals with. It was apparently so scandalous that it was omitted from the first edition of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in Britain, and remains absent from some editions to this day.

I have to say, much like the other times I’ve read it, “The Final Problem” never fails to disappoint. I’m not sure why. It seems to start in the middle of a case, in which Holmes never fully gives Watson a satisfactory account of what has happened heretofore. Unlike other carefully narrated and detailed cases, this one consists mainly of summary and vague declamations of exploits that are spoken of but never seen. But it does introduce the shadowy nemesis Moriarty, albeit retroactively, so I guess that’s something. I’ll have to review my opinion of it when I get to the stories in which an explanation for Holmes’ survival (spoiler) is provided.

This was a re-read for me as I’ve been working slowly through re-reading the entire Sherlock Holmes stories and novels off and on for the past several years. Mainly, I found this collection to be a very strong addition to the Holmesian annals and it made for some very enjoyable evenings unwinding with a mysterious tale.

This has been my fifth Classics Club book review! Check out the rest of my list here.

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