Arthur Conan Doyle’s complete Sherlock Holmes mysteries aren’t hard to come by on the cheap, but if you want to go all the way, it’s hard to top this lavish 1,900 page set – arguably the definitive edition of the Great Detective’s adventures in both content and presentation.
These three large volumes are spread over two slipcased sets (vols. 1 and 2 covering the five short story collections, vol. 3 the four full-length novels). Illustrations appear at every possible opportunity; not just Sidney Paget’s famous Strand drawings, but also those of other artists and publications showing the same scenes. However, the narrative content is only half the story.
To those who wish to read deeper, Leslie S. Klinger’s incredibly well researched annotations will take you as far as you could possibly want. And then a lot further.
Sherlockian scholarship draws on a tongue-in-cheek concept called “The Game”: pretending Sherlock Holmes fiction is historical reality, passed from Watson on to his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This means comprehensive breakdowns of chronological inconsistencies, attempts to match fictional streets to real world locations, and entire essays about the one-off character of Irene Adler. It’s an “intellectual exercise” the Sherlockians clearly relish.
“You have cryptographers writing about code breaking, mathematicians writing about the timing of trains.. Some people take pleasure in finding errors, in thinking they’re smarter than Holmes.” - Leslie Klinger via New York Times.
Do these extensive notes intrude on the stories themselves? Only if you let them. Think of it as DVD commentary track: optional information to absorb later, and certainly not designed as part of the first experience. Save it for repeat readings, occasional glances of curiosity, or in those moments you’ll need to make sense of the occasional French, Latin or oblique Biblical reference. These are contemporary stories from a world that’s long since moved on, so having context at your disposal is a very comforting safety net.
The presentation is wonderful, with cream-coloured pages liberally coloured with red. Nearly half of each page is set aside for annotations. This format often leaves a great deal of space, and the resulting lack of clutter is frankly refreshing.
All in all, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting home for these timeless stories.
Where to find it: At the time of writing, Amazon.com is currently offering the cheapest price. However, for those of us outside the US (and prone to extra delivery fees), Book Depository (which ships free) should be the better deal.