The adventures of Sherlock Holmes – book review
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I quite enjoy reading whodunits, and when I saw this volume of short stories about Sherlock Holmes, I thought it might be interesting to read some early examples of the genre.
The narrator is Holmes’s friend Dr Watson, who says he is telling the stories to record the remarkable powers and abilities of his friend Sherlock Holmes, and I didn’t really enjoy the first couple of stories very much, as the adulation of the sycophantic Watson was jusdt too much. After that, however, it settled down, and by the end Watson was becoming more critical of Holmes. And as Holmes became more human, the stories seemed to become more interesting.
It is interesting to compare 21st century detective stories with those of 130 years ago, Most of the modern protagonists of detective fiction are part of what Holmes called “the official police”. He, however, was a private detective, working for a fee, and often solving mysteries and crimes that the police were too unobservant to see. The amateur detective, and the “private eye” seem to have faded from detective fiction after about 1960. Sherlock Holmes was followed by Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey, G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and juvenile equivalents like Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys. But since the 1960s most fictional detectives have been part of the official police.
Another difference is that, for the protagonists of current detective fiction, the only crime they have to deal with is murder. No detective mystery story is complete without a corpse, and preferably two or three, or even more. Sherlock Holmes, however, seems to deal with a much wider variety of crimes, including solving mysteries that aren’t really crimes at all.
Another, and more obvious difference is that Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have high-tech methods at his disposal. There are no DNA samples, not even fingerprints. Though Holmes is something of an amateur chemist, he doesn’t seem to spend any time examining blood or tissue or soil samples from the scene of the crime. His method is to make “deductions” from data.
And this is where things begin to be confusing, because Sherlock Holmes’s method is clearly inductive reasoning rather than deductive, yet Conan Doyle persistently refers to it as “deduction”.
I wonder how many philosophy students were confused as a result.