Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Complete Sherlock HolmesThe Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The complete canon detailing the fictional exploits of "London's only consulting detective" and his "friend and colleague, Dr Watson".

Well, it took me nearly a month, but I finished it! All 1122 pages of ridiculously small print. Now, to reflect, and try to come up with something coherent to say after all that...

First, I must say that I obviously loved this book, since I dedicated a month to it, and there were times I couldn't stop reading. I read these separately as a youth, and also enjoyed it when my mother read me some of the individual stories as a child, so it was enjoyable to revisit them now with better understanding. They have an addictive quality to them, even.

This book feels like an old friend. Naturally, these stories, and certainly the immortal Holmes and Watson, are quite familiar to most of us, so even if you haven't read the stories directly, many of the plots, characters, and details will be familiar to you. So, reading this book was, in some ways, a comforting, timeless R&R period very well spent.

However, I cannot encourage people strongly enough to read the originals. Aside from some of the more famous stories, many of these gems were surprising to me. Holmes is much more interesting in print than he is in hearsay and folklore, or in most of the film/TV representations.

Nonetheless, there were moments where some stories felt cliche, even though they were new and original when written. But, I can't blame Doyle because so many people have recycled his ideas since he wrote them!

One thing that strikes me now, upon finishing this complete omnibus edition, is how unlikely I am to ever read all of these works in one go again. To be honest, I'd rather enjoy them piecemeal in the future, since the stories taken in one giant chunk kind of blend into a swirl in my brain. They were written to be read in a serial fashion, so I think they are likely best enjoyed that way. Now, even with the volume just freshly completed, I can't always match the exact plot/outcome with each title, because some of the less memorable ones have turned into a jumble in my "memory attic" (to borrow an image from Holmes). However, this would be a wonderful book to keep in a bedroom case, to be taken down for short bursts when the mood strikes, and I think that's how it will remain in my house now.

In addition, as a piece of Victoriana, this collection is amazing. Alternatively creepy and genteel, they are very evocative or the era, so I highly recommend them to anyone interested in this period.

No writer can knock every story out of the park, and there were a few less-than-stellar stories, some forgettable ones, and even a few dogs. However, there were a number of truly superior stories, and the overall collection is, of course, brilliant. My favourite stories included The Blue Carbuncle, The Sussex Vampire, The Five Orange Pips, The Illustrious Client, and The Red Headed League, as well as several others. For some reason, though, The Copper Beeches was the one that grabbed me the most, and was legitimately terrifying as a psychological drama. Most of the stories are not to be missed, and the whole canon is a classic well worth reading.

Finally, a word about the physical edition might be in order. I read the B&N hardcover edition, printed in 1992. According to the receipt I found in the back (!), I bought this in 2000, for $14.99 CDN. It's wonderful that such rich omnibus editions are available for affordable prices! It's incredibly durable and handsome, and survived many a park trip this past month, as well as three moves since I originally purchased it. However, this collection might be a bit too large for one hardcover, and I found it unwieldy for reading in bed (often my preferred reading spot). The print was also painfully small, which became a problem when I tried to read in low light or for too long at a time. I didn't penalize the book's rating for these details, but I did want to mention them. While Holmes claimed he was a mind, not a body, it is awfully hard to know the mind of a book if the body of it is awkward! Thus, it might behoove readers to find this in separate volumes, or on ereader, rather than a giant omnibus.

All in all, a wonderful experience, and I'm glad I can now say with certainty I have read the whole Sherlock Holmes canon! I have to note that I am both very pleased and kind of sad that I'm finished this book. I will miss Holmes, Watson, and Mrs Hudson. Of course, now I can search out the old Jeremy Brett series, and indulge a bit, without the small print!

Recommended to almost everyone!

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