This very handsome edition of some of Conan Doyle’s most iconic stories is not only a beautiful thing presented in the classic Folio Society livery, but it makes the perfect one-stop entry point for those who might be new to the Holmes canon – and there will always be people in that position, won’t there? Conan Doyle’s imperishable creation is one of the best-known characters in world fiction, with current iterations (such as Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern-day version) still captivating admirers. Doyle’s legacy is quite as tangled – and death-fraught – as any cases the writer created for his Baker Street mastermind and the faithful Dr Watson. Conan Doyle’s collection of manuscripts has been the source of quite as much plotting and counter-plotting as The Naval Papers that Sherlock Holmes retrieved. From the 1930s onwards, the disputes began with Conan Doyle’s sons Adrian and Denis spending their legacy in profligate fashion, before both dying at surprisingly early ages (Adrian had tried – with a conspicuous lack of success – to continue the Great Detective’s adventures in his own series). Other legal controversies followed. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own life was often as strange as anything to be found in his more outlandish fiction. A famous Punch cartoon of the day showed the author shackled to his celebrated pipe-smoking creation, and Doyle often voiced his exasperated desire to be remembered for something other than his cocaine-using protagonist (who he unsuccessfully tried to kill off with a plunge down the Reichenbach Falls). But it was Sherlock Holmes rather than the author’s own preferred historical fiction that made Conan Doyle (along with H.G. Wells) the most celebrated popular writer of his age – even though he seemed to lack the rigorous deductive reasoning of his hero. The most famous incident in the author’s non-literary life – recently dramatized in a both a film and a TV play – involved Conan Doyle’s credulous belief in doctored pictures of fairies, produced by two schoolgirls. To modern eyes, Doyle’s acceptance of this ludicrous hoax seems astonishing, but the author’s personal losses (as so often) predisposed him towards a desire to believe in the supernatural (surprisingly, not reflected in his fiction), and he famously espoused several very suspect causes – Conan Doyle was, in fact, something of a target for charlatans. While the four novels featuring Holmes and Watson (most notably The Hound of the Baskervilles) have their virtues, none is as completely successful as the many perfectly proportioned short stories, originally published in The Strand Magazine (1859–1930). Holmes first appeared in A Study in Scarlet, published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887 and was an immediate hit. By 1891 Doyle was already talking of killing him off. He attempted to do so in 1893, with a plunge down the Reichenbach Falls, but public and financial pressure meant that in total some 56 Holmes stories were eventually published. Doyle was a prolific writer, covering historical romances (The Adventures of Brigadier Gérard) and even science fiction (the Professor Challenger stories, including the prototype dinosaur übertext The Lost World), but Holmes remains his most enduring creation.
The Selected Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Homes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is published by the Folio Society