* This review contains spoilers concerning the overarching Sherlock Holmes plot and some single cases as well*
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is the second collection of short stories about the master sleuth Sherlock Holmes dutifully recorded by his best friend and fellow lodger Doctor John Watson. Again it’s an illustrious assortment of cases the consulting detective is working on and again it’s a great pleasure to read them. Being short stories they are fast paced and most of them show one or multiple of Holmes peculiar character traits and his unorthodox methods of catching criminals.
The second story collection contains 11 cases, one of them containing a narrative that’s crucial to Sherlock Holmes’ world overall. It is the case in which the famous detective allegedly dies, falling down the Reichenbach Falls locked in a struggle with his most formidable opponent – Professor Moriarty. I do find it strange to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was at this point already tired of his creation and decided to put such a (more or less) definite end to his detective’s exploits. He could simply have stopped writing, but he decided to kill his main character off. I haven’t read much about the backstory, but I do find it extraordinary. And more so still – he decided to bring Sherlock Holmes back in the end after many years and wrote more than double the material about him again (looking at my Complete Edition, I am not half-way through). It is amazing how he found the inspiration to take up his pen again and write so much more about his Baker Street sleuth after having already decided – “enough now, I will kill him in my last story to put an end to the series”. But I’m glad he did.
The last story of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Final Problem, is exactly that case in which Holmes allegedly loses his life. We don’t learn that he has survived until the next story collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes (the contemporary audience had to wait 10 years). The story introduces us to Holmes’ bitterest enemy, ex-professor Moriarty and in the same narrative stroke gets rid of him. There is a great sense of adventure in this case, as Holmes and Watson actually flee to the Continent and Moriarty is a constant threat. In the end, I think it doesn’t quite live up to that adventure, as it’s so short, and the whole affair would have been amazing as a full-length novel. As it stands, it’s a quick account of how Holmes challenged his most dangerous adversary and by sacrificing himself rid the world of this criminal. He lost his life and won the battle at the same time. Luckily, Doyle decided to revive the legend that is Sherlock Holmes and we do get to read more cases.
The case of The Reigate Puzzle is a great case in the collection as well. In it Holmes is recovering from an illness and pretends to make mistakes in his investigation of a crime only to lure out the criminals. In the end he is even attacked and Watson and the police have to come to his aid. I think this is a quintessential Holmes case – the consulting detecive demonstrates his strange methods and acting skills and in the end it comes to a dangerous exposure of the criminal resulting in an exciting struggle. It is a treat to read, I find.
In The “Gloria Scott” and The Greek Interpreter we get to know a little more about Sherlock’s past, but as ever only morsels. In The “Gloria Scott” he recounts his first case and how he got to decide on his profession. He doesn’t act actively in this case, but in terms of his background story it’s a nice narrative. The Greek Interpreter introduces us (out of the blue) to his older brother Mycroft, who might be called quite a character himself. Again, the case itself is in the end a little inconclusive and Holmes saves his client, but doesn’t catch the criminals, but the introduction of his brother makes it worth reading.
All in all, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is another great short story collection I would heartily recommend to anyone. As long as you are familiar with the set up of Holmes and Watson in Baker Street, there is nothing to stop you picking up the book and enjoying the 11 short and entertaining records of Holmes’ exploits. The standard is very high throughout and each case presents some more of the detecive’s eccentric behaviour and methods. A real treat.
My reading tips for Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
- The Final Problem
- The Reigate Puzzle
- The Naval Treaty
- The “Gloria Scott”
- The Greek Interpreter