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