Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(mystery, classic)

The main reason I picked up this book (one of the collections of short stories, rather than any of the longer works) is because I am writing a novella set in Victorian London, and wanted to get in the mood. The secondary reason is because I had just watched “Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law when I placed the hold at the library. Either reason was a good one, and I’m glad to have returned to the stories. (Though… One book was enough. I don’t think I could have comfortably kept reading more Holmes stories without a break for something else in between.)

Of this batch of stories, there was only one I can recall having read before: the one about the Speckled Band. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that of these stories, there was only one I guessed correctly before Holmes revealed the answer to Watson. Yes, there were parts I got right and parts I suspected even though I couldn’t give any reason why. But there was only one I actually knew.

On the other hand, this was a good reminder of what makes a mystery story interesting to the reader. There have to be enough clues that the reader thinks he had a chance to figure it out. There can’t be too many things left out so that there’s no possible way for a reader to guess the correct answer. And yet the story must always be just one teeny step away from the obvious answer in order to keep the reader’s interest.

Doyle did this well. Part of the reason he was able to is because Watson is the POV character, and not Holmes. Another part of why is because the clues which point obviously to the true culprit are often the ones that Holmes notices but doesn’t point out until later. Regardless, however, the reader is left feeling like there was a chance he could have solved the mystery… though, in truth, there wasn’t.

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