That’s right, folks! It’s time to get back to the world’s greatest detective! Today, we’re talking about another pair of Sherlock Holmes stories!
So far, we’ve discussed three of the classic mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We’ve broken down his first adventure, A Study in Scarlet, along with The Sign of Four, both of which established Holmes as an iconic character. Then we discussed what is widely considered one of the greatest mystery novels of all time, as well as the best Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Admittedly, I haven’t exactly been tackling them all in order. But today, I aim to get (mostly) back on track. We’re going to rewind back, just after The Sign of Four and well before The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Let’s start with A Scandal in Bohemia. The plot is simple. When Sherlock and Watson are approached by the soon-to-be-married king of Bohemia, they’re given their most interesting job yet. Irene Adler, a beautiful, cunning woman, and iconic Sherlock Holmes character, has blackmail material on the king, one that he can’t afford to leave in her hands. Thus, Sherlock and Watson must find the location of the blackmail material and outwit the clever beauty to get it!
This one has what may be my favorite hook for any Sherlock Holmes stories! See, there’s a common misconception surrounding the iconic character: people commonly believe that he can’t lose. While it would be a good narrative trick to sell how good he is at his job, it would quickly suck away the tension from the series if he were unbeatable. An invincible, unstoppable protagonist is a boring protagonist. Conan Doyle’s solution? Make Sherlock’s upcoming defeat clear from the very beginning! What better way to get the audience interested? How could the legendary, seemingly unbeatable Sherlock Holmes be defeated? It’s a simple but highly effective hook that immediately pulls the audience in!
I also love Sherlock’s infiltration plot. It’s a perfect blend of over-the-top, completely logical, and totally effective! It was a thrill to read! Plus, it does throw the audience for an effective loop! With a plan that effective, which does earn the titular detective a win, surely our hero can’t be defeated!
And then we get to the ending. Honestly, this is where the story kind of falls apart for me. It does feel anticlimactic. Rather than some grand final confrontation, like we got in The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles, Irene simply vanishes and leaves a respectful letter behind. The conflict simply resolves itself and Sherlock, despite having done practically nothing wrong, was handed an L. It is pretty disappointing.
There also isn’t much mystery to this story. There is a mystery in there, primarily surrounding Adler’s mystery suitor/husband and what she intends to do with the blackmail material. But just like the story itself, it wraps itself up without any input from our heroes. It isn’t very satisfying, nor is it the most engaging mystery out of the whole series.
All in all, I can’t say I loved this story. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was a bit anticlimactic and unsatisfying. I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one anytime soon.
Unlike the next one: The Red-Headed League.
Sherlock and Watson are approached by Jabez Wilson, a pawnbroker. Up until a few days ago, he worked for a strange organization called The League of Red-Headed Men. His job was simple, easy, and paid surprisingly well. So imagine his surprise when, out of nowhere, the League shut down. Little did he know that his incredibly odd case pointed Sherlock in the right direction to stop one of the biggest potential heists of the century!
This mystery is super interesting! It immediately gets you asking questions! What is the league? How is it connected to the heist that Sherlock brings up later in the story? The story presents several seemingly disconnected threads that all come together beautifully in the end!
Speaking of which, the ending of this one is super satisfying! It puts our characters in a very quiet but intense situation. Then, in a quick but cathartic action climax, the story comes to an end. It’s very quick, as is the rest of the story, but it does leave you content after finishing it.
The Red-Headed League is easily one of the most unique mysteries I’ve ever read! It’s a perfect encapsulation of Conan Doyle’s creativity! Other mystery series are all about robberies and murders with little to help it stand out. So it’s refreshing to read a story that takes a seemingly absurd premise and makes it completely believable!
I never thought I’d describe a story from the 1800s refreshing and original, but here we are!
While I didn’t particularly care for A Scandal in Bohemia, I absolutely loved The Red-Headed League! It’s very short, yes, but it is one of the most fun and satisfying mysteries I’ve ever read! It is a perfect encapsulation of everything that makes Sherlock Holmes so damn good! Out of the stories I’ve read so far, this one is easily among my favorite!
Mostly because it gave me a great idea for pranking my red-headed little brother. Who hopefully will never read this.