This book is another recommendation from my father, who used to work in a bookshop in his youth and so owns a fairly large collection of classics from all over the world. I had meant to read Arthur Conan Doyle for a while, as I enjoyed Agatha Christie and had heard that Doyle had a similar style, and because the Sherlock Holmes mysteries are famous, and I was curious to see if I would enjoy them. I read a collection of his short stories, and loved them all, finding them fascinating and Doyle’s writing style satisfying and easy to understand. The short story I will be discussing is the first in “Sherlock Holmes Selected Short Stories”, “Silver Blaze”.
The overarching theme of all Sherlock Holmes short stories, in my opinion, is to reveal how facts, logical deductions, a heightened perception of the environment and the use of the elimination process can solve any case, no matter how mysterious it seems at first. This is conveyed through the character of the intelligent and analytical Sherlock Holmes, who is the protagonist in all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. To better show the process in which cases are solved, Conan Doyle uses a permanent secondary character, Dr. Watson, to narrate the stories using a first person perspective which allows readers to experience the solving journey vicariously. Dr. Watson is Holmes’ partner, and while he does offer insights from time to time, his purpose in the Sherlock Holmes volumes is to act as an audience through which Holmes’ brilliant and sometimes extravagant deductions are clarified and explained for the readers. Dr. Watson exists for readers to empathise with, and this is one of the primary functions of Conan Doyle’s use of first person, as readers feel a connection to him because they experience events and acquire knowledge from his point of view, not Sherlock Holmes’.
In “Silver Blaze”, for example, the story in which Holmes and Watson go to Dartmoor to uncover what happened to the ‘favourite’ for the Wessex Cup, owned by Colonel Ross, and who murdered his trainer, Mr. John Straker, after the case has baffled the local Inspector, Holmes questions Mrs. Straker about the nature of the dress she wore at a garden party she did not attend. By doing so, it is explained later in the story, Holmes ascertained that the purchase of such a dress was unknown to Mrs. Straker, which led him to believe that the deceased Mr. Straker carried out a double life under an alias, as he was found with the receipt for it under the name of ‘Darbyshire’ in his pocket on the night he died (Holmes promptly investigated the matter by visiting the milliner’s shop and using a photograph of Mr. Straker to identify him as Mr Darbyshire). At the time, Holmes’ companions are bemused by his seemingly unrelated questions, but by the end of the story, after Holmes has explained the reasoning behind his deductions, Dr. Watson and readers alike realise the significance of his observation ad following questions. Another such example that can be found within “Silver Blaze” is when Holmes, just before leaving to London, asks if there is “anything amiss” with the sheep that Colonel Ross owns. This comment seems completely unrelated to the case, and yet proves to be a vital part of Holmes’ process of deduction.
The way Holmes, and also Watson, to a lesser degree, uses logic, facts and simple observations to solve cases which, at the beginning of each story, seem to have no answer to, is a technique which stood out to me very much whilst I read “Silver Blaze”, as well as Doyle’s other Sherlock Holmes mysteries. To me, Holmes’ way of thinking and exceptional observation skills seem to be the suggestions of Doyle, as he writes high praise of Sherlock Holmes, and the narrator he uses, Dr. Watson, holds Holmes in high regards. I believe that if we were all to strive to see half as much as Holmes does, not only will individual lives be enriched by details and heightened experiences, but the world will also slowly improve, as people notice injustice and try to correct it, as governments realise that the paths they are taking should be revised, and as people gain insights and stop simply looking, but begin to ‘see’.
In conclusion, I can say that reading Arthur Conan Doyle has broadened my horizons and that I have taken something other than enjoyment from his works, although I did derive that too, and I once again urge you to try a Sherlock Holmes story. While a classic, Doyle writes in an accessible and easily comprehensible style that is modern enough not to be a deterrent, while keeping a fresh tone of language that reveals the era in which he wrote in.
As always, I look forward to any comments or thoughts you may wish to post,
Let’s call me Lily