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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Late, Great Sherlock Holmes Stories

"Welcome to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry."
It has long been held by some readers that later Sherlock Holmes stories show a decline in quality from the early days.  


In his memoirs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quoted a Cornish boatman who told him, “I think, sir, when Holmes fell over that cliff, he may not have killed himself, but all the same he was never quite the same man afterwards.


To quote Nero Wolfe: “Pfui!”


Five out of the nine volumes of the Canon were written in the Twentieth Century. The first of those five was The Hound of the Baskervilles, the greatest, the most famous, and the most filmed Holmes adventure of them all.


Let’s look at just a few other standout stories of the post-Reichenbach period: 

  • “The Adventure of the Empty House” – Holmes’s account of his wanderings during The Great Hiatus is a little suspect, but the tale has a great mystery and wonderful drama.
  • “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – surely this is a classic cipher story.
  • “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” – a detective story and a spy story in one, plus we learn that Mycroft occasionally is the British government.
  • “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” – what a villain and what a denoument!
  • “His Last Bow” – my personal favorite Sherlock Holmes story because of the ending.
  • The Valley of Fear – no less a critic than John Dickson Carr considered this the best Holmes novel, with a first-rate puzzle in the first half and a hard-boiled detective in the second.    

Of course there are some clinkers among the later stories, notably “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.” But there are some weak stories among the first two dozen as well. Think of “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk.”


Conan Doyle himself argued that “the last one is as good as the first.” The last Holmes story published in The Strand was “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.” It’s a good mystery, highly underrated, and ends the 60-story series on a high note.  

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