Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 2

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Pages: 871
Warnings: Some Racism, Sexism, Murder and Kidnapping
Rating: 3.5/5

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Valley of Fear
His Last Bow
The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes

I suppose I started reading this collection for the same reason I watch regular TV shows every week. I wanted consistently interesting short stories, and that's exactly what I got. However I made a mistake reading them all straight through in this convenient collection, and the formulaic plots bothered me more than they would have otherwise.

One thing I cannot get over, and I think the whole Sherlock collection looses points for, is the lack of humor. There is just no comic relief in these tales, which made them difficult to read one after the other. I don't think this would have bothered me as much if I'd had another book to alternate between, but I was in a bit of a dry spell, literature-wise. Some might argue Sir Doyle attempts humor in those scenes where Holmes asks Watson what he thinks about such-and-such then corrects him, and the reader is supposed to laugh at the doctor's thick-headedness, but I just felt bad for him. Watson is a dear character, and when you that remember from the reader's point of view (based on the evidence the reader has) his guess is just as likely to be true as Holmes', the whole joke seems very mean-spirited.

I mentioned it in my review of Volume 1, and I will only bring it up briefly, but Sir Doyle's portrayal of minority characters (anyone not white, land-owning, and male) leaves a lot to be desired. If he can't write non-priveledge bodies as being anything but a stereotype, I'd rather he didn't write them at all. Less briefly: it bothers me even more after reading "The Case of the Three Students", where the Indian student is treated by Holmes exactly like the two other (rich, british, white) students in the context of the story, which proves Sir Doyle could have written much more humanistic characters.

I did notice an improvement in terms of the mystery complexity, which I appreciated. No where is this more evident than in "The Valley of Fear", which uses an extremely similar set-up to "A Study in Scarlet". Both stories have two parts, the first of which takes place in 1890's England and the second some years previous in America. However everything else about "The Valley of Fear" is a vast improvement! The murder mystery is much more clever, the action is better paced, and the second part was well-introduced as well as being a mystery story in it's own right! Clearly Sir. Doyle had come into his own as an author by this point, and his skills greatly improved with practice.

I also enjoyed the change in Watson's "voice" over time. Sir Doyle seems much more comfortable in his writing abilities by "The Valley of Fear", and I felt there was less awkward prose. I noticed Sir Doyle has a very fanciful way of describing the scene, which appeals to me greatly. I shall always imagine a foggy London day as John Watson saw it.

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