Reviewed by Karen Langley
There can be very few people in the reading world who haven’t heard of Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated detective, Sherlock Holmes; in fact, his fame has transcended books in the English language to embrace translations into multiple languages, many TV series, films, graphic novels and computer games. He’s arguably become the quintessential detective and so you might be forgiven for wondering why a publisher would want to bring out new editions of his stories when the market is so flooded. However Alma Classics, as part of their Alma Junior range, have begun issuing the stories in lovely new versions and there is indeed justification for the reissue.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the first collection of short stories to be published featuring the escapades of the great detective, and it hit the shelves in 1892. The tales themselves had initially appeared in the Strand Magazine, where they had been well received, and the collection contains stories which are regarded as classics of the oeuvre. They were the ones which really established Holmes in the public mind and they’re a wonderful selection.
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen…. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
The book opens with ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, a tale of blackmail in high places which contains Holmes’s fateful encounter with ‘the woman’, Irene Adler. Then there is ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’, in which a man is feared murdered, but all is not as it seems. ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ is a wonderful story set at Christmas time where Holmes investigates a missing jewel and dispenses his own kind of justice. In ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ the great detective encounters a really nasty villain planning an evil crime. And ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches’ contains one of my favourite Holmes quotes, where he ponders on the evil that may lurk in quiet country dwellings:
It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.
These are just a few of the twelve stories, and it’s hard to pick favourites as there isn’t a dud among them. Reading them, you’re immediately whisked back to the gaslit streets of London, with its fogs and pickpockets; or on a steam train out into the country to chase down some extraordinary villainy in a remote country house.
Revisiting these stories and going back to source with Holmes is such a rewarding experience; because of all the layers of reinterpretation, reworking and spin-off, it’s easy to forget just what good reads Conan Doyle produced. Holmes and Watson are such a wonderful duo, the classic combination of detective and sidekick, and the stories are gripping. And all the things which make up a Holmes story are present; including the Scotland Yard ‘professional’ detective Lestrade, who can’t bear to admit Holmes is right; Baker Street landlady Mrs. Hudson, who keeps a watchful, slightly motherly eye on her tenants; the regular consulting of a Bradshaw to find out train times; and of course all of the great detective’s individual characteristics, from his pipes, his logic, his terrible violin playing and his wonderful powers of deduction. Of course, Holmes had already appeared in two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four before the stories appeared, but in some ways the short stories are better, really capturing the essential qualities of the detective in tales which never lag.
‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot.’
But there are additional elements built into this particular edition, as Alma are cleverly aiming their Holmes reissues at younger readers. So each story opens with a striking black and white illustration by David Mackintosh (e.g. right), and as well as these there is a whole slew of additional material at the back of the book. There is a biography of the author; the story of the publication of the book; information on the characters and a few paragraphs on other Golden Age detectives; plus a quiz on the stories and a glossary of words and terms which might be unfamiliar to the modern young reader.
All of these elements make this a very appealing new edition, and one that’s definitely worth spending the reasonable cover price on. Because of the Benedict Cumberbatch TV series, interest in Sherlock is high, so anything that can tempt new younger readers away from gadgets and back to reading the original books has to be good; and certainly this lovely new edition is ideally placed to do that!
Karen Langley blogs at kaggsysbookishramblings and rather regrets having never witnessed a London fog.
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Alma Classics, 2016). 9781847496164, 371pp, paperback.
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