Reading Pointers for Sharper Insight

While reading these Sherlock Holmes tales, the reader should keep the following points in mind:

  1. Surprise endings

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the most popular mystery writers of the nineteenth century. Doyle portrayed Holmes' brilliance at piecing together various clues, discarding others, and applying a vast store of knowledge in many fields as a simple task. Yet, to attract more readers and to have them try to solve the problems he presented, Doyle often complicated the stories by inserting false leads. This made it necessary to distinguish which clues were important and which were unimportant. Frequently, the least significant observation by Holmes proves to be the crux of the case.

  2. Holmes' brilliance

    Holmes is the epitome of the rational thinker, who pieces information together to draw an inescapable conclusion, one that was not evident to the others in the story. Note that after the case is actually solved, Sherlock Holmes summarizes the facts and conclusions for the people in the story, usually Doctor Watson or the ineffectual police.

  3. Repetition of plot elements

    Many of the stories share similarities, so that the plot line is basically the same.

  4. Doyle's use of verisimilitude

    The names of actual people and places around London are generally accurate, although Doyle sometimes makes up fictitious names. He does refer to crimes that were actually committed, however. This technique makes the stories more plausible. Readers should note that various elements in some stories are false or scientifically incorrect:

    • “swamp adder” is not a type of poisonous snake

    • many foreign areas that he mentions do not exist

    • numerous dates are incorrect

    Doyle, however, wrote in a letter, “It has always seemed to me that so long as you produce your dramatic effect, accuracy of detail matters little. I have never striven for it, and I have made some bad mistakes in consequence. What matter if I hold my readers?”

  5. Personality and behavior versus appearance

    Holmes is described at various times as handsome, lean, lithe, powerful, with “aquiline” features. He has “piercing eyes” and is very strong. However, with the exception of Professor Moriarty, the master criminal, Holmes' adversaries are described as dirty, obese, physically unattractive, large, clumsy, deformed, or unusual-looking. This concept, that a person's looks determine his or her behavior, goes back to antiquity.