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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Getting More Complete

My selection of The Complete Sherlock Holmes in my library is, well, more complete.

For research purposes in writing my new mystery, The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, I accidentally bought two different editions of The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes, one of which came from England.

This happy accident gave me a chance to compare the two. Interestingly, even though the 1981 edition is smaller and looks much different from the 2009 edition on the outside, all the inside pages of the Canon itself match exactly. That was my first discovery.

Since the older edition contains the great Christopher Morley preface from the one-volume Doubleday Complete that I grew up with, I pulled that out and compared it as well. Again, the page numbers are the same. The Penguin Complete is simply a paperback reprint of Doubleday's 1930 edition. I'm sure that all you real collectors knew that, but I didn't.

Of course you realize the implications of this: If you ever send a coded message based on the Doubleday book to your friend in England, she can decipher it using Penguin version.

The new Penguin edition comes with a foreword by Ruth Rendell that makes some good points but is filled with distracting errors. Sher refers to The Sign of Four as "his (Doyle's) first novella," says that "The Musgrave Ritual" and "The 'Gloria Scott'" are the only stories narrated by Holmes himself, and incorrectly asserts that Mycroft Holmes is introduced in "The Musgrave Ritual."

Still, despite her Watson-esque mangling of details, she writes with a love of the great detective that is quite unmistakeable. And there's no disputing her first sentence: "The ultimate in fame reaches an author and his creation when a character in his fiction is seen by readers as a real person."

Arthur Conan Doyle didn't seem to appreciate that, but I think most fiction writers would.

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