Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry

My wife was on a visit to her mother’s, and for a few days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker Street.

“Why,” said I, glancing up at my companion, “that was surely the bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?”

“Except yourself I have none,” he answered. “I do not encourage visitors.”

“A client, then?”

“If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady’s.”

Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door.

I’m not going to comment on every Holmes story – I left out The Boscombe Valley Mystery, for example – but will focus on the ones that have left me with thoughts, and The Five Orange Pips definitely has done so.

It is a relatively short story, but there were quite a few points that got my attention on this re-read / re-listen:

1. Forget Sherlock’s “mind-palace”. Sherlock is much more down to earth. ACD gave him a brain-attic. I am not kidding, here’s the textual proof (although I apparently missed its mention in A Study in Scarlet):

Holmes grinned at the last item. “Well,” he said, “I say now, as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.

I much prefer the brain-attic. It is much easier to relate to. 😉

2. Watson has obviously changed his mind a little about Holmes’ shortcomings with respect to general knowledge. In this story, Watson now laughs about his initial assessment of his friend’s intellectual capacity. In fact, both Watson and Holmes seem to find it funny in hindsight, which again tells me that some people get Holmes wrong when they say he belittles Watson all the time. Holmes clearly acknowledges his friend’s assessment, but instead of being offended by it, he just explains his reasons for not expanding his general knowledge.

It is this interaction between the two and the acceptance between the two make the stories so much fun for me.

3. There is a reference to Georges Cuvier, one of the forces that established the sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology. He’s much forgotten in today’s general knowledge but is mentioned in this story. It made me smile. It also brought home that this story was written only a few decades after the natural sciences were really taken seriously.

4. Without going into the plot of the story, I loved the acknowledgment that Holmes can fail, and that his sense of pride is not the only motivation in his attempt at make good, but that he is also driven by the senses of justice AND personal responsibility.

5. This is going to be a spoiler, so look away if you want to read this story untainted:

The way ACD describes the actual parts about the KKK was handled well. I loved that ACD does not explain them to the reader much. To explain the KKK would provide a platform to argue about their “cause” or their “justifications”. ACD cuts this out from the start by presenting them as the contemptible murderers they are.


6. This is also going to be a spoiler, so look away if you want to read this story untainted:

As my reading buddy points out, the ending is a bit disappointing because it is left to fate to bring about the end of the three murderers, and it would have been a stronger message to have a people stand up to bring about justice.
At the same time, tho, the sense of unresolvedness and denial of that delivery of justice also carries some power as a cautionary tale that these secret societies of evil exist in our midst and that people must keep vigilant about spotting their actions.
There is much to admire about this story. It definitely is another story in the Holmes canon that is underrated.
“I have come for advice.”
“That is easily got.”
“And help.”
“That is not always so easy.”


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