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Published by Penguin Books

In 1881, fresh out of medical school at the University of Edinburgh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sat in his empty medical practice in Portsmouth and waited for new patients seeking his help. As few patients darkened his door Doyle had to find some way to bide the time. He began writing and publishing short stories and soon Sherlock Holmes was born. Holmes was inspired by Doyle’s teacher and mentor Joseph Bell who was known for his power of observational insight and deduction.

First published together in 1893, these stories chronicle the ever increasing fame and renown of Sherlock Holmes detective work throughout London and beyond as told through Holmes faithful friend Dr. Watson. It features stories like “The Silver Blaze,” “The Musgrave Ritual,” and my personal favorite “The Resident Patient.” Sherlock Holmes stories were by far Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and popular of all of his writings, much to Doyle’s resentment. For him passion and success were not often words found in the same sentence. He felt most passionate about his writings on the subject of Spiritualism yet his writings on the subject did not fare well with audiences. He was knighted for his work in the Boer War and also wrote a book on it called  The War in South Africa. Though few associate him with anything other than Sherlock Holmes.

From a literary stand point there is no wonder that this would be the case. The stories are fit exercises in minimalism and have influenced many a writer. John Le Carre remarks on this in the introduction to The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. “Peek up Conan Doyle’s literary sleeves and you will at first be disappointed: no fine turns of phrase, no clever adjectives that leap off the page, no arresting psychological insights. Instead, what you are looking at is a kind of narrative perfection: a perfect interplay between dialogue and description, perfect characterization and perfect timing.”

As brief and plot focused as these stories might be when read individually the cumulative effect of reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes reveals a more well rounded Holmes. Doyle noted that often stories in magazines of his time were islands unto themselves. Calling them “disconnected stories” he suggested that “a single character running through a series, if it only engaged the attention of the reader, would bind that reader to that particular magazine.” This certainly proved true of Sherlock Holmes and “The Strand Magazine.” In his article “The Story of the Strand” Chris Willis notes that “the combination of Sherlock Holmes and the Strand had made Conan Doyle one of the most popular authors of the age. Fifty-six Holmes stories appeared in the magazine from 1891 to 1927, many of them illustrated by Sidney Paget’s now famous drawings.” Sprinkled throughout the cases a complex and intriguing sense of who Holmes character emerges. These traits are often overshadowed by his intellect and deductive powers when reading a single Sherlock Holmes short story. He is not just brilliant and logical but also bizarre, playful, lazy, compassionate and eccentric. Frederick Dorr Steele says of Holmes “Beginning as a self-disciplined thinking machine who rigidly excluded from his mind all information not pertinent to the case at hand, knowing or caring nothing for the arts, Holmes developed within a few years into veritable encyclopedia of such knowledge.”

What makes The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes distinct from the other collections in terms of plot is the introduction of the villainous mastermind Dr. Moriarty. Moriarty appears to be Holmes intellectual match. But where Holmes uses his mind to see justice served Moriarty runs a syndicate of thieves throughout London. He chases Holmes to the edge of Reichenbach Falls in the dramatic conclusion of the memoirs “The Final Problem.”

Guy Ritchie’s sequel to the 2009 Sherlock Holmes is in theatre’s December 16th and is inspired by this collection of stories. The sequel will again feature Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams from the last film. Joining the cast are Stephen Fry as Holmes brother Mycroft, Noomi Rapace from the Stieg Larson trilogy and Jared Harris from Mad Men.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley.com. <http://www.netgalley.com> I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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