It was Sherlock Holmes’ birthday yesterday. If he’d been alive today, and more importantly if he’d been real, he would have turned an impressive 161. That shows just how long ago these stories were written.
Yet the detective himself is so well known among people of today. I bet that even my nephew knows that when someone turns up to a fancy dress party with a magnifying glass and a tweed hat that they’ve come dressed as Sherlock.
But Conan Doyle, the author himself, didn’t seem that keen on the adventures of Sherlock. He even tried to kill him off at one stage in a case called The Final Problem, but due to public outcry he resurrected the detective in later books. Sometimes characters just want to write themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it.
And I can understand the public outcry. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, from the detective’s quirky manner, to the bizarre characters he meets, to the grand manors in which his stories are set. I got small thrills from working out the case just before the reveal (that perfect balance that writers of crime novels all hope to achieve) and the short, easy to read stories meant it wasn’t as emotionally draining as some of the previous books I’ve read in this 100 book challenge.
Like Catcher in the Rye, this book gave a snapshot of what life was like in those times, in this case the 1880s, especially at the higher end of society (although the memorable scene in the London opium den in ‘The man with the twisted lip’ certainly showed another aspect of life in those times too). The stories are so well written that it’s hard to believe that Sherlock Holmes was an entirely fictional character.
The stories are written from the point of view of Watson, Holmes’ good friend. It’s an interesting point of view, where the first person narrator is not the main character, and it isn’t used much in short stories or novels. Watson talks about his interactions with Holmes and the cases that he observes and this becomes the book’s narrative.
By using this technique Conan Doyle makes the stories seem real (try telling a lie by saying ‘I did this amazing thing…’ then re-word it as ‘A friend of mine did this amazing thing…’ – for some reason the latter seems much more believable). In ‘The Copper Beeches’, Sherlock Holmes questions the way Watson records the detective’s cases, i.e. whether the book you are reading is well-written; this interesting and rather humorous interjection that makes the characters seem so very real. I mean, why would Arthur Conan Doyle have a fictional character point out the flaws in his own writing, if he obviously didn’t need to?
Ahhh, now that just shows the talent needed to be a writer of brilliant fiction.
In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.