Hello, everyone. Welcome to another issue of Carol’s Comments. I’m a volunteer at the River Park Branch. On March 31, the St Joseph County Public Library launches its third annual One Book, One Michiana campaign. Although I rarely read mysteries, I am a very avid TV murder mystery fan. I’ve watched almost every Columbo, Murder She Wrote and Mystery Woman episode and never miss Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Miss Marple on Masterpiece Mystery. So when the library chose The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as this year’s selection, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to further explore the mystery genre.
Published in 1892, the book consists of twelve unique stories which originally appeared separately in the Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1892. Set primarily in 1880’s Victorian England, the tales are narrated by Holmes’ friend and colleague Dr Watson. Using his superior powers of deduction, Holmes solves various crimes such as preventing a bank robbery, thwarting gruesome murders and revealing people’s true identities and motives.
Despite his successes, Holmes is almost outwitted by the clever and seductive Irene Adler in the first case, A Scandal in Bohemia. Although all twelve stories can be enjoyed separately, Conan Doyle has Holmes and Watson refer back to previous cases in succeeding ones. This provides a continuity that makes the book seem like a complete novel instead of a short story collection.
Since I adore gothic fiction, my three favorite tales all include key elements of this genre: family mysteries and secrets, creepy mansions and innocent young women threatened by sinister forces. The first case, The Boscombe Valley Mystery concerns a son unjustly accused of murdering his father due to circumstantial evidence. After unraveling the murder victim’s true relationship with a local landowner, Holmes discovers the real killer.
My favorite case, The Speckled Band reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s grisly stories. Holmes and Dr Watson are able to save a young woman from the same gruesome death which befell her twin sister while spending the night in the same bedroom where the first murder occurred.
The third and most gothic story, The Copper Beeches focuses on Violet Hunter, a young woman employed as a governess for a rather weird family. When Miss Hunter grows more uneasy after working a month there, she writes Holmes to come and investigate. When he arrives with Watson, within a few days he exposes ghastly family secrets the despicable employer desperately tries to hide. Ultimately, Conan Doyle’s imaginative storylines and multidimensional characters are so compelling that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
After reading these appealing mysteries, I wanted to revisit some of my favorite Sherlock Holmes films. Although I appreciate and greatly admire many of the recent reinterpretations like Robert Downey Jr’s action hero Sherlock Holmes or the BBC’s marvelous series Sherlock which transforms Holmes into a 21st century sleuth, I still prefer the traditional Sherlock Holmes.
The first movie I watched was the 1939 classic, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson. This film doesn’t feature any cases from Conan Doyle’s book but instead revolves around Holmes’ efforts to stop his nemesis, criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty from stealing the Star of Delhi from the Crown Jewels while also simultaneously solving a seemingly unrelated murder. While Rathbone portrays Holmes brilliantly, Nigel Bruce plays Watson as a comic sidekick rather than the intelligent crime solving partner depicted in Conan Doyle’s original stories. Despite this flaw, this entertaining mystery is a pleasant diversion anytime.
Next I saw the terrific TV version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes produced by Great Britain’s Granada Television in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Originally telecast on PBS’ Mystery, the program stars Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke (and later Edward Hardwicke) as Watson. Available in a multi-disc DVD set, the series includes several cases from the original book as well as its companion piece, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
In the episode A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes uses his powerful deductive skills to avert an international incident by retrieving a compromising photograph before the wily and alluring Irene Adler nearly foils him. Brett’s performance is so realistic and remarkable that no other actor’s portrayal can compare to his. He IS the quintessential Sherlock Holmes.
From March 31through April 30, the St Joseph County Public Library will be sponsoring a variety of activities related to this book that include teen and adult book discussion groups and movie showings.
See you next time and thanks for reading!