Sherlock: His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle

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Sherlock: His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A slender example of the original stories, with many brilliant dashes of the intelligence of the series.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: December 2013
Publisher: BBC Books
ISBN: 9781849907613

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The End. I got told off for writing those two simple words at the end of a short story I wrote at school, aged about eleven. If it is the end, I think the teacher was saying, it should be obvious. If it isn't, there's still no way the words are necessary. But at least I'm not alone. Conan Doyle, the south coast Doctor turned entertainer extraordinaire with all his output, was told off for the way he finished things. Holmes dead? Sorry, not allowed, Mr Doyle. Holmes retired to keep bees near Eastbourne? Beyond the pale, Sir – bring him back. You don't like the labour of proving your genius invention to be such a genius? Tough. And so we come to 'His Last Bow', which Watson tells us is the final, final, ending story with which to conclude, and a few others. He wasn't exactly correct about it being the last ones, though.

But was it worth the continuance? Do we get much that we haven't seen from the other stories? Well, yes and no. And even if this, one of the smaller collections, is the first one that you should have picked up, you can immediately see the routine that Conan Doyle was so averse to. For one, Watson just has to either pepper his introductions with notes as to why a story is being told by him now, after all this time, or at least after finding an individual way to say why the story is of note – the one with the weirdest outcome, or deductive process, or of the most pressing national urgency. That latter is surely 'The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans', and I won't be alone in asking why that was written up at all if it concerns a murder linked to the theft of state secrets. It also suffers from having too small a cast-list – it's so much more successful as a look at the deductive mastery than a whodunit in the modern sense.

The devil is in fact in the detail in many of these examples of Conan Doyle's best – the way a small, slight drama is turned into a rich, deep crime story by piling on the minutiae until the simple is buried in enjoyable complexity. The devil might also be in a country house, 'Wisteria Lodge', where the person who brings the case to Baker Street had awoken one morning to find his host and the household vanished; it might be in the sender of a box containing two unmatching human ears to a lady in Croydon; and also in Cornwall, with people frightened to death or insanity over a chummy card game.

Yes, you can see much that is strikingly different and diverse about each of these tales, but read just a few at once and you will see the commonalities. It's surprising how they read as quite clubby – I don't mean the way Holmes and Watson share lodgings, and the latter picks apart the lifestyle and thought processes of the former as only a very trusted intimate would be able to do. I'm getting at the fact that with several home counties settings, or tales from rich rural retreats, and with never a thought to the expenses account, the feel of the stories now are quite upper class and high-brow for tales that had such a huge audience when first published, and have never in fact had less.

But to those endings. We actually get two here – one with Holmes on his deathbed (which would never have convinced, since that trip to a certain waterfall), and the title story, which is uncommonly written in the third person narrative, and not from Watson's point of view, and just suffers greatly instead. The modern reader is far too savvy to engage with either of these stories (except the first is much more fun than the latter), and having a Holmes story without Holmes in is just not going to cut the mustard, the same as having about, ooh, one potential baddy in 'Bruce-Partington' wasn't exceedingly fine. But damn it, a lot of the rest, and even the cleverness of that last, is fine. There's nothing here to consider shatteringly great, nor anything to likewise demolish the estimable reputation of Conan Doyle or his creations. So I have to conclude with a recommendation – even if it seems I shouldn't assume to state as much.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Man From Hell by Barrie Roberts shows that just now and again the fan fiction of the last hundred years can be almost as good as the original.

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Buy Sherlock: His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sherlock: His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle at


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