I’ve neglected my little feature called Reading Around My Area. So I thought I should put this first outing to bed and think about who to write about next. Realistically I probably won’t get around to writing the next installment until next year – which gives me the Autumn to do the research.
To round off the first author featured in Reading Around My Area, Arthur Conan-Doyle, I thought I’d write a little summary of the other 3 Sherlock Holmes novellas to go with The Hound of the Baskervilles. I would love to write about the short stories, but there are 56 of them so you have to content yourselves with the following!
If you are new to Sherlock Holmes and you want to start at the beginning, then A Study in Scarlet is the one. I read this a long time before my most recent fascination with the super sleuth and was engrossed. The book is in two parts. In the first part we learn how Holmes and Watson first meet and come to share the flat at 221B Baker street. Watson tags along as Holmes attends the murder scene of a body found at an empty house. Holmes unravels the mystery with his signature ease. In part 2 we learn the back story of the murderer and victims. The story flashes back to the USA and focuses on a Mormon community in Salt Lake City. The whole thing is completely fascinating and an amazing feat in storytelling. As this is the first Holmes story we also meet well-known characters such as Mrs Hudson, Lestrade and the Baker Street Irregulars.
The Sign of (the) Four is the second of the novellas. It has a complex plot, with lots of characters and twists and turns. Miss Morstan goes to Holmes for help with an unusual case relating to the disappearance of her father 6 years previously. The story involves stolen treasure, and man with a wooden leg, exotic locations and people. Like in A Study in Scarlet the back story is told in flashback and anecdote by the characters involved, some of it taking place in India and the Andaman Islands. The other notable point in this story is Dr Watson’s romance with Miss Morstan, who eventually becomes his wife. We also witness Holmes taking cocaine at the beginning of this book, which apparently stimulates and clarifies his mind.
After The Sign of Four came The Hound of the Baskervilles. Conan-Doyle concentrated on other things for some years and then came The Valley of Fear. Similar to A Study in Scarlet this is a book in two parts with the mystery in part 1 and the back story in part 2. In part 1, Holmes has to decipher a coded message leading him to a country house and a dead body. The dead man has a brand on his arm. But is the man who everyone thinks he is? In part 2 the story shifts to the USA and a coal/iron ore mining region. There we learn of a secret order bringing fear to the community. The story is complex again and makes you wonder at Conan Doyle’s ability to create intricate tales.
There you go then; short summaries to whet your appetite for Sherlock Holmes and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle. I hope you’ve enjoyed this feature. But now to my next author. Who should I choose next? I look forward to hearing your preferences. The options are:
- Aldous Huxley
- HG Wells
- Jane Austen
- Flora Thompson
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Lewis Carroll
- Edward Thomas
PS Don’t you love the covers on these Penguin Pocket Classics? So kitsch and dramatic, but very effective.