The world’s most revered and famous fictional detective first appeared from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle almost a 130 years ago, but the author did not finish with his greatest creation until almost 40 years later even after unsuccessfully killing him off. In this second volume of all the collected works that feature Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson, the reader gets reacquainted with the great detective and his friend through 33 short stories and a short novella with the added bonus of two Doyle written parodies as well as two essays by the author.
The second volume of the original works of Conan Doyle, in the American publication order, begins with Holmes return to life in “The Empty House”. The opening story of The Return of Sherlock Holmes is just an okay start to the detective return to practice before the story quality through most of the collection improves—“Priory School”, “Three Students”, “Solitary Cyclist”, and “Dancing Men” being the best—until the final three stories. The novella The Valley of Fear begins a noticeable drop in quality throughout the rest of the works, the first half the novella is Holmes at his best but then Conan Doyle repeats his great since with his first Holmes novella Study in Scarlett in which the second half is all flashback of dubious narration or not.
In the collections His Last Bow and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, only four of the 20 stories could be considered close to the same quality of the earlier Holmes stories. In “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge”, Holmes finds competing with a county Inspector who’s methods of deduction gain Holmes’ respect while “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” is a well-written twist of an earlier Holmes story. The Holmes narrated “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” is the better of the two Holmes ‘written’ stories while “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” was Conan Doyle writing a wonderful counter-formulaic story.
Yet while those four stories stood out as the best of the late Holmes stories, the others were of subpar quality and included two of the worst. The third person narrative of “Mazarin Stone” doomed the story from the start and details within the study defied the reader’s suspicion of disbelief. The very next story was in my opinion the worst of all Holmes stories, “The Adventure of the Three Gables”, mainly due to the fact that the Sherlock Holmes presented in that story was not the Holmes in all previous stories and all those that followed.
Although the majority of the volume saw for the most part the quality of Conan Doyle’s storytelling fall, one cannot fail to notice that the author who at one time loathed his creation would do ensure that his—both Sherlock’s and his own—legacy endure with as best writing as he could produce. Within the collected 34 original works, there are many diamonds in the rough that any reader will enjoy reading whether they have read other Holmes works or not.