Here's how I would describe The Return of Sherlock Holmes:
Take a spoon full of the joy of Sherlock Holmes' return - after he's been presumed dead.
Add in two teaspoons of adventure, two teaspoons of drama and a couple of twists.
Mix in a bowl full of Holmesian deductions.
Blend everything well - and savour the aroma of - The Return... ;-)
In simpler words, I'll just say it's a very nice book. Almost all the stories are good, and some are breathtakingly wonderful. I loved it.
Before I talk about the actual stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes though, let me tell you some interesting titbits I've unearthed about the book...
Did you know that The Return of Sherlock Holmes was penned almost a bit reluctantly by Conan Doyle?
He wrote these stories because people were really hungry for more Holmes stories and because he was offered loads of money to write these stories.
People in Britain and the USA had always wanted more of Holmes after The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in 1894. When Doyle whetted their appetite by giving them The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901, they were like: it's now time for the main course dude! Gives us more!
And that's how The Return of Sherlock Holmes appeared in 1903 - story by story in two famous magazines in the US and the UK.
Here's a note about Sherlock Holmes coming up in the next issue in the September, 1903 issue of The Strand magazine in Great Britain.
And - here's an interesting paragraph that appeared in August 1903, in The Collier's Weekly in the USA.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes appeared in these two magazines first - with each story appearing first in The Collier's Weekly and then in The Strand Magazine the next month.
Can you guess how much Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was paid for each story in The Return of Sherlock Holmes?
According to KM Wisser, Collier's Weekly offered $5000 for each story to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while the Strand Magazine offered around $2500 per story!
OK - I'll wait for you to absorb that because this was in 1903. ;-)
If you are curious, $5000 in 1903 would be around...hold your breath - $130,000 today. Hmm.
No wonder that Conan Doyle was tempted to write The Return... despite not being really kicked up about it.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes is the largest of all Sherlock Holmes Books!
Take a peek at this picture that shows the approximate word count of all of Conan Doyle's books. At 112, 610 The Return of Sherlock Holmes is the most voluminous Holmes book. Interesting!
Let's move on and take a peek at each of the stories in the book.
Just in case - you haven't read The Return of Sherlock Holmes yet, there's good news for you: there are no spoilers on this page!
The Empty House has many typical Holmes story elements like a cozy mystery and some twists, but - the star attraction is...the return of Sherlock Holmes.
How did Holmes survive his encounter with that master criminal Moriarty at the end of The Memoirs...? And what did Holmes do before his return? All that is the more interesting part of the story - more interesting than the mystery itself...
It's one of the rare stories where the mystery is the sidekick and Holmes' life is the main thing.
And, what's the mystery?
A rich guy called Ronald Adair has been murdered in his room. The question is: how on earth? I mean, he'd locked the door from inside. The window was open but - there are no traces of anyone climbing up. In fact, it's not possible to climb up. AND - no one - absolutely no one around - heard a gunshot.
And...did I mention - that Ronald Adair didn't have any known enemy at all?
The Empty House combines Holmes' return with the fascinating solution to this story.
That's its summary in one line. ;-)
"Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson; and I have a piece of work for us both tonight which, if we can bring it to a successful conclusion, will in itself justify a man's life on this planet."
A young lawyer named John Hector McFarlane rushes into Sherlock Holmes and Watson's apartment in a frenzy. His problem is that the police is after him and he wants Holmes to save him!
This guy was last seen with a rich man who has supposedly died in a fire. There is loads of evidence at the fire scene that makes it look like this John Hector McFarlane guy caused the fire...
There is even a motive for the murder: that rich man had bequeathed his entire property to our John Hector dude!
So the crux of the matter is: everyone thinks this young lawyer - John Hector McFarlene - has murdered the rich man. But - this man says something like, "No, I haven't done it and I have no freaking idea who did it!"
The question is - is he speaking the truth? And even if he is, how can Sherlock Holmes save him if all the evidence is against him?
"All my instincts are one way, and all the facts are the other, and I much fear that British juries have not yet attained that pitch of intelligence when they will give the preference to my theories over Lestrade's facts."
A young squire (a nobleman basically) from Norwood has a fascinating problem: a drawing that has dancing men keeps appearing at different places near his house!
What is even more intriguing is that this squire's wife is terrified and nervous about these dancing figures. Does this have something to do with her past?
Here's one of the sets of dancing men that appear...
What do these men mean? Are they just a child's prank or something dangerous...a matter of life and death?
It is up to Sherlock Holmes to crack the mystery of these dancing men!
“By George!" cried the inspector. "How did you ever see that?"
"Because I looked for it.”
Thanks Sidney Paget, for the original picture!
There's this woman called Violet Smith and she's being followed by a guy on a bicycle.
Now this guy is pretty harmless but...who is he? Also, why is he so not willing to show himself? When Violet stops, he stops. When Violet starts cycling, he starts cycling!
And then there's the other fact that Violet's concerned about: her new job. This job just sprung up one day - a bit too suddenly. And now - her employer has a crush on her.
Is there any link between the first incident and the second?
This story definitely isn't like the typical murder mystery at all - in fact, the case looks like it's too mundane for Holmes.
But then, appearances are deceptive...
"Who are you, then?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes."
The Duke of Holdernesse has lost his son!
This son apparently ran away from his hostel room in The Priory School on a bicycle with a German teacher. Of course the simple question is: why?
The Duke has some issues with his wife - they live separately - so did the little boy run away to his mother? Or, just maybe, there is something darker hidden here?
I'll have to confess that The Priory School has some mind blowing deductions by Sherlock Holmes. I loved the deduction scenes in the story.
Another interesting titbit about the story is...that Holmes actually gets the highest ever reward he's ever got for solving a mystery - 6000 pounds! If you're wondering how much that is today - it's around 360,000 pounds today. Ahem.
This is not just the highest amount Holmes gets in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, it's higher than any amount he ever gets for a case.
"Holmes," I cried, "This is impossible."
"Admirable!", he said. "A most illuminating remark. It IS impossible as I state it, and therefore I must in some respect have stated it wrong."
There's one question Holmes needs to answer in this story: who killed Black Peter?
Black Peter was this ex-seaman who terrorized everyone around him. But, who the heck killed him in the middle of his night?
To make matters more horrid, or to use Holmes' words, "interesting", he was killed with a harpoon. In his outhouse. While he was drunk. Who did it?
Then there's a motive that's missing. This Peter guy had quit the sea ten years ago. He's not done anything new in his life recently.
So, what would anyone gain from killing him?
If I had to say one last thing about this story, I'd say - it brings back pleasant memories of being completely lost in reading it as I was travelling one day in a bus.
Not the best of the best - but very nice, nevertheless. :-)
"One should always look for a possible alternative, and provide against it. It is the first rule of criminal investigation."
This story is very, very different from almost all other stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Why? Because there is no mystery to solve!
So, I won't say it ranks in the top ten Holmes stories out there. But then, it does make up for its lack of mystery with a uber-cool drama scene - one of the best drama scenes in all Holmes stories.
Well, coming to the story itself: there's this blackmailer called Charles Augustus Milverton. He's a weird kind of blackmailer. He somehow finds out people's secrets and then extracts money from them to keep those secrets.
Now Holmes' client Lady Eva Blackwell has a secret letter that this dude's caught hold of. It is upto Holmes to get that secret letter back.
The whole story is about Holmes and Watson's adventure - as they try to get that letter back. So, in that sense, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton is literally an adventure. ;-)
"Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo, and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me."
Inspector Lestrade wants Holmes to help him solve a weird case: someone is breaking Napolean's busts in the city one after the other. Why would anyone do that?
This person who's breaking the busts - does not take anything else. He just breaks the busts and disappears.
What is even more fascinating is that these busts are not expensive - they're really cheap. And they're situated in different parts of London...
Napolean's bust - the busts that the guy breaks in the story must be like this one...
It looks like it's a mad man who is doing this. But is there a method to his madness? That's what Holmes wants to find out by deducing meaning from every shred of evidence he can spot!
"...this business... presents some features which make it absolutely original in the history of crime."
There's an exam coming up at St Luke's College - a Greek examination. The person who rocks this exam will get...a sizable scholarship.
So, where does Sherlock Holmes fit in?
Well, someone has taken a peek at the question paper in the professor's room! And - this has happened just one day before the exam itself. There is no option but to catch the culprit fast or postpone the examination.
To make the job easier for Sherlock Holmes though - there are three main suspects: three students who live right above the professor's office. It has to be one of these guys - but which one of them is it?
I'll confess that for me - Holmes' deductions were the highlight of the story. :-)
"Let us hear the suspicions. I will look after the proofs."
Inspector Stanley Hopkins needs Holmes' help this time. A man's dead - and it looks like it is murder.
But - just like in many other Holmes stories - there just seems to be no motive for the murderer! This guy wasn't even rich, he was the secretary of a professor helping him with a book. Why would anyone kill him?
And what about the golden pince-nez? Well, a pince-nez is like a pair of spectacles but it doesn't have earpieces. A golden pince-nez was found right next to the murdered man - Willoughby Smith. Again - why were these glasses there?
Thanks to Leba from the Portuguese Wikipedia for a part of the picture!
Maybe there's some secret...something dark about the professor and the secretary - more than what meets the eye?
Again, I loved the deductions by Holmes and the "sit-up-and-take-notice" twist in the end!
"Run down, my dear fellow, and open the door, for all virtuous folk have been long in bed."
Godfrey Staunton plays really good rugby. His team just can't do without him. And you've already guessed what position he plays at right? He's a three-quarter in the college rugby team. And yup - as the title says - he's missing!
His team's captain is Holmes' client.
Sherlock Holmes needs to figure answers to some simple questions: where has Godfrey suddenly vanished one day before an important match? Who was the man who came with a note for him...and what on earth did that note contain? And why hasn't Godfrey told absolutely anyone why he's disappeared?
The mystery element is good enough but I also liked the adventurous streak in this story. There is a lot of running around - you know...as Holmes follows clue after clue.
"I have heard your name Mr Sherlock Holmes , and I am aware of your profession- one of which I by no means approve."
"In that, Doctor, you will find yourself in agreement with every criminal in the country."
The Abbey Grange is my most favourite story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
It has some sizzling, absolutely fantabulous deductions by our dear Holmes. I mean - everything else in the story is fine - but the deductions just rock. They're too good.
The mystery is - almost not there. There's been a simple robbery. The robbers killed the owner of the house they robbed because he tried to stop them. That's it. It hardly looks like a Holmesian case..it's so simple.
But then as Holmes looks closely, then very closely...and then very, very closely at the site of the crime - he asks some questions that turn this simple case on its head.
I've rated it 8/10 overall - but the deduction part of the story honestly deserves to be rated 11/10.
(By the way, if you're wondering what the Abbey Grange is - it's the name of the house that's robbed in the story.)
"Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"
In The Second Stain, Holmes has some really fascinating clients: The Prime Minister of Great Britain and The Secretary of State. Ahem. ;-)
The case is about a missing document. There it was in The Secretary of State's safe. And now - it's gone. It's a mind blowing document that's very important for the country. The question is: who took it and how - that too right from The Secretary's house!
And there's a murder that happens - just around the time the document is taken...are the two events connected? On a lighter note - there's another mystery: why the heck is the story called The Second Stain? What is the link between a lost document and a stain, eh? ;-)
Well, well...as usual our good old Holmes clarifies everything in the end - with a flourish that's quite satisfying.
I won't say it's one of the best stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, but it's definitely worth a read.
"...the motives of women are inscrutable. Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tongs."
Phew! So those are the 13 stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
Which one is the best of the lot?
There are many that are awesome depending on what you're looking for...
If you haven't yet read The Return of Sherlock Holmes, now's the time!