"The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Penguin, 259 pp., $14 (trade paperback)
Reviewed by David Marshall James
"I don't know how you manage this, Mr. Holmes, but it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and of fancy would be children in your hands."
Thus spake the father of one of Sherlock Holmes's school chums in Holmes's first case, "The 'Gloria Scott'."
Ten other stories are included in this sampling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short fiction, tied to coincide with the recent film and its upcoming sequel, starring Robert Downey, Jr., as history's most famous detective, either "of fact" or "of fancy."
All Holmesian accounts are presented as the memoirs of Dr. John Watson (portrayed on film most recently by Jude Law), Holmes's closest friend and his frequent assistant in detection.
Watson-- in later years married, and in private medical practice in London at a time when physicians' offices were located in their residences-- served as an army doctor in India.
And Afghanistan. The more things change ... .
Watson accompanies Holmes in all these adventures, except in "The 'Gloria Scott'" and Holmes's third case-- the one that puts him on the map-- solving a centuries-old riddle for a college friend in "The Musgrave Ritual."
Holmes's older brother (by seven years), Mycroft, is introduced in "The Greek Interpreter." As corpulent and unmotivated as Holmes is lean and driven, Mycroft is even more brilliantly gifted in the deductive arts than his younger brother.
However, he lacks the motivation to ferret out facts and otherwise test his theories, and is content to work as a government accountant when he isn't devouring the latest periodicals at the Diogenes Club on the Pall Mall.
As for the remaining pieces in this collection, "The Yellow Face" and "The Crooked Man" are downright eerie, particularly the former, which includes an American twist.
Only Holmes himself-- and no mere mortal-- could have solved the mystery in "Silver Blaze," involving a murder and a missing racehorse.
"The Stockbroker's Clerk" and "The Resident Patient" are literary first cousins, if you will, featuring criminals incognito attempting fresh mayhem.
"The Reigate Squires" bears similarities to "The Naval Treaty." The reader ought to be able to solve these two cases along with the master.
The close of this volume brings the fabled Holmes finale at Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, in "The Final Problem."
Herein, Holmes has at last met a villain whose abilities are on a par with his. Professor Moriarty, however, has directed his powers toward evil rather than good. Equally determined, they ultimately cancel out one another.
Readers will enjoy encountering references to Holmes's personal habits (yes, he does cocaine, though infrequently).
Judging from the descriptions of the characters' physical features and their general miens, Mr. Law would seem much more in line with acting the part of Holmes, while Mr. Downey would be more in keeping with the author's depiction of Dr. Watson.
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