THE PENGUIN COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
Publisher: Penguin Books (2009 reissue)
Bought from: Borders, Parade Parkway

Introduction

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Scotland to Irish parents and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He began writing seriously while he was running a medical practice. His first major work to be published was A Study in Scarlet (1886), which introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson.

What are the stories about?

Sherlock Holmes describes himself as a “consulting detective”, solving crimes in late Victorian England. He is a master of disguise and a pioneer in forensic science. When the occasion calls for it, he is not above using firearms. But first and foremost, Holmes is a master in using logical reasoning. He described his method as follows:

“From a drop of water … a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it. Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems. Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for. By a man’s finger-nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his short-cuffs – by each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable.”
A Study in Scarlet

Holmes says he practises the science of deduction. Actually, his methodology is more correctly called inductive reasoning. Inductive logic reasons from particular instances to general theories. Holmes carefully observes the situation, then generalises from his prior experience using analogy and probability. He is actually using inductive logic. Deductive logic, on the other hand, reasons from the general to the particular, eg All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. See: Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar … by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein.

Dr. Watson, Holmes’ sidekick, occasional house-mate and chronicler, is a medical doctor (just like Arthur Conan Doyle himself). Dr Watson narrates all the stories in the Holmes canon, except for The Blanched Soldier and The Lion’s Mane (narrated by Holmes) and The Mazarin Stone and His Last Bow (written in third person narrative).

How is the book?

This book is a complete collection of the Sherlock Holmes canon. It includes the four novels: A Study in Scarlet (published 1887), The Sign of the Four (1890), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901–1902) and The Valley of Fear (1914–1915). It also includes the 56 short stories, originally serialised in the Strand magazine, organised under 5 books: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891–1892), The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1892–1893), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903–1905), His Last Bow (1908–1917) and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1921–1927).

This is a convenient way to get the entire canon in one volume. Unfortunately, it does not have any of Sydney Paget’s famous illustrations for the Strand serialisation.

Finally …

The 4 novels and the short stories (especially those in the first two books) are truly timeless and worth reading and rereading. Holmes, who may have been inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, have himself influenced generations of fictional mystery solvers, ranging from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to television’s Adrian Monk and Dr Gregory House.

GREAT TALES AND POEMS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE

Author: Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks (2009 Edition)
Bought from: Book Depository

Introduction

Edgar Poe was born in Boston, Massachussets. His father abandoned his family and his mother died while he was still very young. He lived with foster parents John and Francis Allan, who added Allan to his name. His first publication, a collection of poems credited to A Bostonian, in 1827 was a commerical failure. He continued writing poetry, short stories and essays for a living while moving around before finally settling down in New York in 1831. His young bride, Virginia Clemm, died in 1847 from tuberculosis contracted about 5 years before. Virginia’s affliction and death, coupled with continuing financial difficulties, took their toll on Poe.

Poe died in mysterious circumstances in Baltimore, Maryland.

Today, Edgar Allan Poe is regarded as a pioneer in detective fiction. The Murder in the Rue Morgue (1841) is one of the first detective stories in English (anticipating Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (1868) which is considered the first full-length detective novel in English). The protagonist of Rue Morgue, C. Auguste Lupin is considered the model for Sherlock Holmes and later detectives. The awards presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America for mystery and crime writing are known as the Edgars in honour of Poe.

Poe is also one of the most important figures in the Gothic genre although strictly speaking he was active in what was technically the Victorian, and hence post-Gothic, era. Poe’s contemporaries across the Atlantic included the Brontë sisters – Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights were both published in 1847.

What are the stories about?

The Tell-tale Heart (1843), The Cask of Amontillado (1846) and The Black Cat (1843) are classic gothic stories told in first person narrative by a murderer.  The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) is an unsettling story the title of which signals the end of the Usher family line as well as the crumbling of the Usher family home. The Masque of the Red Death (1842), which has been frequently alluded to in popular culture, can be read literally as a tale of revenge or as an allegory of the futility of trying to escape death.

In The Murder in the Rue Morgue (1841), Poe introduced the French detective C. Auguste Lupin and may have invented the modern detective genre. Poe described Lupin’s method of solving crime as “ratiocination”. Lupin also appears in The Purloined Letter (1845) (included in this volume) and The Mystery of Mary Rogêt (not included in this volume).

In William Wilson (1839), one of his less well known stories, Poe used the device of a doppelgänger but, in a rather clever twist, the narrator is the antagonist and his double the protagonist.

Poe popularised cryptography after the publication of The Gold Bug (1843) in which the characters had to decipher a coded message in order to find a lost treasure.

During his lifetime, Poe was best known for his poem The Raven (1845). In this narrative poem, the narrator, pining for his love Lenore, was visited (or was it all in his mind?) by a raven with possibly supernatural powers which appeared to mock him and ultimately drove him mad. This poem has been frequently referenced and parodied in popular culture.

How is the book?

This is part of The Enriched Classic Edition series published by Simon & Schuster. It collects 13 short stories and 25 poems, unabridged. It comes with introductory materials and very brief explanatory notes. The book is attractively priced. However at about 11 cm by 17 cm, it is very small and the binding does not allow the book to be opened properly. This is my major complaint about books in the Simon & Schuster series.

Finally …

The gothic stories, including The Raven, are timeless.