Based on the inherent conflict of interests, I shouldn’t review About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story is the Best. But I’m going to do it anyway because the book is too good to ignore.
Christopher Redmond, the editor of the project, came up with the concept of a book of essays in which each author makes the case that a certain Sherlock Holmes story is the best. The book would have 60 essays – one for each Canonical tale, including the novels.
The idea was brilliant, and the execution beautiful. Redmond pulled together a great team of both veteran Sherlockian scholars and newcomers who are being published for the first time. Although I’ve been reading the Canon for more than 50 years, I found new insights and new appreciation for many of the stories as I read through this literary feast.
And by the way, the cover is also terrific!
My own contribution is about “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter.” Mounting an argument that this story is the best of the bunch was beyond my creative imagination, so I focused on the wonderful gallery of minor characters in the story.
Many of the other essayists, however, do argue that their subject is the best Holmes story. The reasons they give are impressive for their variety. For example, Susan Smith-Josephy calls A Study in Scarlet the “absolute epitome of a Holmes-Watson tale.” Sonia Fetherston catalogs in impressive detail the ways in which “A Case of Identity” predicts what was to follow in the Canon. Jaime N. Mahoney lauds “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” as “a study in understanding,” with Holmes compassionate and humane in a story in which he has nothing else to do.
Jack Arthur Winn is apparently dead serious when he hails “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” as “the brightest and most valuable jewel in our Sherlockian Canon.” That’s impressive!
Also impressive are the insights that will color my future readings of the stories – Al Shaw’s speculation that “The Red-Headed League” was the first use of “the long con” in a detective story, Julie McKuras’s observation that “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” is about two sets of brothers (Holmes and Valentine), etc.
This is a great book to read straight through, but also to keep handy for perusing again whenever you re-read one of the Sixty.
All royalties from the book will go the Beacon Society, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to introducing young people to Sherlock Holmes through schools and libraries.