The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle Another series of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes as reported by his faithful biographer Dr. Watson and it becomes clearer than ever that the real draw of these stories is the fascinating character of Holmes himself. The mysteries are secondary to the enjoyment, though many of them do prove to have distinct elements of interest (otherwise why would the great detective have bothered himself about them?), but it really is in observing the fascinating character of Holmes himself that the reader is immersed in them. Indeed, this collection provides a rare treat for the reader in that we learn more about the detective and his early life and connections than has previously been the case. Thus it was that some of the most interesting stories here, for me at least, were those that hearkened back to Holmes’ youth and showed us the man he was and in which we can see the seeds of the man he would come to be.

The first of these in this book is “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” – The primary interest in this tale comes from the glimpse it gives us to Holmes’ first ‘case’ (though the following tale, “The Musgrave Ritual” is really better classified as his first actual case, since the Gloria Scott comes across more as an intriguing mystery to which Holmes is largely a spectator) and the impetus for his decision to become a detective. We also get a glimpse at Holmes’ college days and of the only friend he made there (and thus far in the stories the only friend at all that he seems to have ever had aside from Watson). Finally this tale gives us a glimpse of a young Holmes still capable of emotion and surprise to the point that he cries out in horror at certain circumstances that, in later tales, would have left little other than a wry smile and remark of interest on his lips.

As noted above “The Musgrave Ritual” provides us with a look at what could probably be considered Holmes’ first real case in which another University acquaintance of Holmes’ comes to him, based on his youthful reputation, with an apparently insoluble puzzle that revolves around the man’s lothario butler and a bizarre family tradition. Holmes of course breaks the case and takes no small relish in recounting the strange tale of an event “done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me” to his friend Watson.

“The Greek Interpreter” continues in our discovery of the details of the mysterious past of Sherlock Holmes as we discover he actually does have a family and did not, as might seem more likely, spring from the brow of Zeus full grown. We in fact meet his older brother Mycroft, a man even more withdrawn from normal human society than his brother, but who also seems to possess even greater observational powers (a fact that leaves both Watson and the reader shocked to say the least). It was indeed quite amusing to see the two siblings spar with each other, each vying to outdo the other’s seemingly gnomic observations upon two strangers viewed from a window, and each gently chiding and correcting the other. This scene, nothing more a game of one-upmanship between brothers, does an excellent job at both making Sherlock seem more human at the same time that it exemplifies the peculiarity of his abilities and his subsequent estrangement from other ‘normal’ people. I also wondered in passing whether the germ for Nero Wolfe was planted in the mind of Rex Stout upon reading Sherlock’s comment about his brother: “If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived.” All that is needed is Archie Goodwin to do the foot work, a brownstone in New York and we’re off to the races.

The Memoirs even show a bizarrely puckish aspect to Holmes’ personality when, in the second to last tale “The Naval Treaty”, Holmes plays a practical joke for his own amusement at the expense of the nerves of his already rattled client…something strange indeed (though perhaps not altogether out of character given Holmes’ obvious desire to showboat and his distinct streak of misanthropy).

Other tales in the volume that were of interest: “The Crooked Man” which I found to be a rather affecting tale of retribution in the face of personal tragedy and “The Yellow Face” which, at the same time that it displayed some squicky elements of racism and abandonment, still managed to rise above them and display a story of ultimate familial devotion and personal love.

Of course one can’t leave off discussion of this volume without making mention of “The Final Problem” the story in which Holmes’ greatest adversary Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, is born. Doyle had grown weary of the public clamour for more tales of his peerless sleuth and decided it was time to end it so that he could concentrate on other characters and stories. Well, as it turns out this was not to be, but what resulted was an exciting tale in which Holmes finds himself pitted against the greatest adversary of his voluminous career. After months of playing cat-and-mouse with Moriarty and his insidious league of crime Holmes finally has gathered the pieces he needs to crush the vast criminal organization and its most dangerous leader. Moriarty, of course, is not likely to take such a possibility lying down and thus we have a final chase across London and Switzerland that ends in an off-screen (and thus retcon-able) death for both Holmes and his adversary. Watson’s final realization of what has happened to his friend is moving, as is the typically dry (though sincere) letter which Holmes leaves for him on the edge of Reichenbach Falls.

All in all, while some of the tales may have been weaker than others, I can’t do anything other than give this collection a five-star rating due to the great interest of the many tales of Holmes’ early life, as well as the singular event of his “death”.