Continuing my way through the Sherlock Holmes canon, this is the first of the short story collections. After the previous two longer novels, the change of pace seems to suit Holmes as we race through twelve stories featuring some of the classic Holmes detectivism. Many of these stories seem to shy away from actual crimes, focussing more on mysteries – something even commented on by Watson in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
– with five of these stories being classed as non-crime stories (although Watson has a loose definition of non-crime, which includes blackmail, bigamy and fraud).
The first story, A Scandal in Bohemia
starts the collection. Watson is married by this point and has moved out – as he has for the majority of the following stories – but he somehow always manages to turn up at 221b Baker Street at just the right time to be there to document the next case. The scandal in this story is one of blackmail (the kind of blackmail that isn't really a crime) and is Holmes's (and our) introduction to Irene Adler. Although she is already dead when this story is published I was surprised to realise that this is her only appearance as the TV and movies had led me to the belief that she was a more regular feature. This was also Holmes's first documented failure – of sorts – in that he completely underestimates the woman in question.
Some common themes throughout the collection were early forms of identity fraud, with people pretending to be what they are not in A Case of Identity
, The Man With the Twisted Lip
and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
. The first, A Case of Identity
, was maybe laid on a little thick. As with so many of these shorter form detective stories, it doesn't seem to leave the author as much time to lay false clues, so the regular reader of detective fiction will normally be quick on the trail. A number of stories also seem to feature daughters with inheritances, which would add The Adventure of the Speckled Band
to the list of stories with repeated themes. Which is not to talk the Speckled Band down, it's another of the classics of Holmesian fiction and with good reason.A Scandal in Bohemia
introduces his use of cocaine, at least I don't recall it in either of the previous novels. Immediately following that, The Red-Headed League
starts to describe Holmes's manic mood swings: a strong suggestion that he also suffered from bipolar disorder?