So three years after Arthur Conan Doyle revisited Sherlock Holmes with The Hound of the Baskervilles, he bowed to popular demand by retconning away Holmes’ death in The Final Problem. Or, if you prefer, he decided to go back to his cash cow for a little more milk. Either way readers had the thrill of seeing Holmes alive and in action again in THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
The opening story, The Adventure of the Empty House, (which will merit a separate post soon) reveals how Holmes used his knowledge of martial arts to throw Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls, then climbed to safety. However Moriarty’s most dangerous lieutenants were still at large, so he decided to fake his own death; even Watson couldn’t know, because he’d be watched and could never fake grief well enough to fool them.
However Holmes recently deduced that Col. Moran, Moriarty’s murderous right hand, has committed a murder, returns to London and alongside Watson, takes the man down. Mary Watson having died, Watson moves back into Baker Street with Holmes (I suspect if Doyle had known there’d be so many Holmes stories, he’d never have married Watson off) and life resumes as before. Well, a little different: Holmes is off cocaine with Watson’s help, and he’s feeling very bored without Moriarty, which may be why he sometimes comments it would be more exciting to be a criminal. And the stories introduce a young, capable Scotland Yard detective Stanley Hopkins, though I don’t believe he appears much after this volume (and later writers invariably prefer Lestrade).
With the exception of The Second Stain, all the stories take place in the years following Holmes return, which is in the early 1890s; Watson is publishing them with Holmes’ consent because his friend has now retired to keep bees on the Sussex Downs. I was surprised when I read that detail — I’d thought his retirement took place years later — but he did in fact, talk of retiring after busting Moriarty.
Holmes fan though I am, this is definitely a drop in quality from Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. There’s nothing specific I can put my finger on, but the stories don’t have the same spark as that collection or Hound. Still there’s plenty of good stuff here:
The Adventure of the Dancing Men. Why do simple stick figures drawn by a child plunge Holmes’ client’s wife into a panic? This is one of those where the ending is tragic, Holmes being just a little too late to save the day.
The Adventure of the Six Napoleons. What kind of lunatic would smash every bust of Napoleon he finds? Or … is he a lunatic
The Adventure of the Norwood Builder. Holmes’ client appears to be a murderer, but Holmes detects another, nastier scheme at work.
The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. I don’t think this is a great story (and several critics have pointed out Holmes’ getting engaged to a maid to further his scheme is pretty darn callous), but Milverton (according to my friend Ross, based on a real person) is an impressively nasty piece of work. A ruthless blackmailer, he’s poised to destroy Holmes’ client’s marriage by presenting her intended with some injudicious love letters she wrote. When Holmes suggests Milverton should accept a lower payment — otherwise he gets nothing — the man replies that in the long run ruining the woman will make other clients pay up, so it’s all good. He’s all the nastier for being an affable man, cheerful, not at all threatening in demeanor and sublimely confident he’s got the upper hand.
If not Doyle’s best work, there’s still no place like Holmes.