5 Sherlock Holmes Stories That Aren’t Unreadable, Just Kind of Dull

Welcome to today’s edition of The Definitive Ranking of Every Single Sherlock Holmes Story, which covers #47-#51. Note that unless otherwise called out in advance, a story’s summary will not give away the ending; I am not a monster.

You know how you’ll get that grocery store California Roll sushi and it’s, like, definitely sushi-shaped, and definitely has all the right ingredients in more-or-less the right order, but it’s just a sad echo of real sushi? And you are kind of sad about your life, but you eat the sushi anyway because it’s 1am and it’s what you have, but eating it just makes you remember the last time you had good sushi? And you wish you had the good sushi? So you’re unsatisfied and unhappy? You know?

#47-51 in our ranking are like that. They’re not, like, awful. They’re readable. You’ll read them and go, “Yes, that was certainly a Sherlock Holmes story that I read.” But they aren’t great. There isn’t anything magical about them. So let’s get them out of the way quickly so we can move forward into next week, when the stories will still not be great, but they’ll at least have a spark of that weirdness that makes a Holmes story special.

51. The Adventure of the Stock-Broker’s Clerk

First published 1893. Collected in Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894.

Content warning: attempted suicide.

Summary

Holmes collects Dr. Watson and dashes away with him to Birmingham to investigate the case of Mr. Hall Pycroft, a stock-broker’s clerk. Mr. Pycroft is befuddled by his new employers, a disconcertingly similar pair of brothers who poached him from another company and then sent him away from London to do grunt work. When Holmes and Watson arrive on the scene, Pycroft’s manager attempts to hang himself. Holmes must unravel a mystery with broader implications than just Pycroft’s paycheck.

This Aged Poorly: An old-timey pejorative word is used to refer to a Jewish person while stereotyping Jewish features. 

Reader’s Notes

This is a weaksauce version of The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, which preceded it by two years. It’s not a bad story, exactly, it’s just that Conan Doyle already wrote it once, better, and this version doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Overall just kind of dull.

Read This Story If… You’ve lost your copy of the The Adventure of the Red-Headed League

Drink Pairing: RC Cola, the lesser version of a better drink.

50. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

First published 1892. Collected in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892.

Summary

When Dr. Watson tends a patient whose thumb has been cleaved down to a bloody messy stub, he immediately takes him to see Sherlock Holmes. There, the hydraulic engineer tells them the fantastic tale of his night’s adventures and how he came to be running from a mysterious German with a large meat cleaver.

Reader’s Notes

This one starts with promise but there isn’t really a mystery, and nobody gets any comeuppance. The only literary achievement is some mildly spooky atmosphere.

Read This Story If… You want to be vaguely disappointed while desperately trying to discover an interesting story, somewhere.

Drink Pairing: Just take a shot of jager to numb the pain. (Of the story, I hope your thumb is OK.)

49. The Adventure of the Three Students

First published 1904. Collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1905.

Summary

In this low-stakes case, one of three students has cheated on a college exam and for some reason Holmes agrees to investigate. (I mean, the honor of the college is at stake, but honestly who cares?)

The dramz.

This Aged Poorly: One of the three suspects is Indian, which is excellent for showing both the diversity of Fake Oxford/Cambridge as well as the stereotypes of the time. Thankfully, Holmes is in better form than he was in The Three Gables, defending the character against Watson’s charge of “slyness.” Overall I would characterize the man’s treatment as “surprisingly not as bad as it could be,” which I realize is giving credit for sailing over a very low bar.

Reader’s Notes

A perfectly fine little puzzle, though a modern reader might immediately latch onto the least likely suspect as the inevitable culprit. It’s also one of the stories where the culprit, upon exposure, is like “well yes I was going to confess here’s the letter I wrote” so Holmes isn’t really necessary at all. Meh.

Read This Story If… You yearn for your college days.

Drink Pairing: A nice Greek wine.

48. The Adventure of the Red Circle

First published 1911. Collected in His Last Bow, 1917.

Summary

Mrs. Warren finds her new lodger a bit odd, and asks Holmes to figure out why. An odd lodger himself, Holmes at first shows little interest, but when Mrs. Warren’s husband is roughed up in the street Holmes’s interest is piqued and he sets out to investigate. He quickly discovers secret codes, Italian ruffians, and a lodger who is certainly not what they seem.

Of Note: The only story in which Holmes works with the famed American detective agency, the Pinkertons. (Though Detective Leverton seems to do very little.) 

This Aged Poorly: The Italians are very dramatic and are obviously all part of the Mafia.

Reader’s Notes

This one is fine – the concept of the mystery lodger has promise, but the unraveling of the mystery is a bit lackluster. Holmes’s presence isn’t really required to ensure that everything ends up OK, and any story where the hero doesn’t really need to be there should maybe be reexamined. The secret cipher sounds like one of the most tedious things ever, but honestly that aligns with what I think of most ciphers.

Read This Story If… You wish the Godfather movies had more Sherlock Holmes. 

Drink Pairing: A nice Italian wine, red like blood and drama. 

47. The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone

First published 1921. Collected in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, 1927.

Summary

Watson, currently living in his own quarters, gets the run-down from Billy the Page: Holmes is on the trail of the missing Crown diamond, “the hundred-thousand-pound burglary” which has brought the Prime Minister himself to 221B Baker Street. Holmes appears fresh from a nap to cheerfully declare that his life is in danger, but even he is surprised when the man he knows to have stolen the diamond sends in his card. Holmes sends Watson for the police and lays a trap for the evil-sounding Count Sylvius, using the magic of the modern gramophone and a dummy of himself.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself, Count Sylvius.

Of Note: One of only two stories written in third person, which makes sense both from a narrative standpoint and when you get to the next paragraph and learn that this is adapted from a stage play.

Reader’s Notes

This story appears late in the Canon and seems to pull elements from a few earlier stories (including The Empty House and The Naval Treaty). It is adapted from a stage play, The Crown Diamond, which may account for some of these references and definitely accounts for it taking place in a single room. It’s a perfectly fine little tale, though not exemplary. 

Read This Story If… You are academically interested in theatrical adaptations or you enjoy watching villains hoisted by their own petard. (I just had to look up how to spell petard.)

Drink Pairing: A French 75, a drink that is yellow like the Mazarin stone and not actually French, like the French Cardinal Mazarin.

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And that’s it for this week!

Agree? Disagree? I am always game to talk about Sherlock Holmes, so please feel free to leave a comment below!

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Join us next week for 5 Sherlock Holmes Stories That Have a Hint of Magic, but Miss the Mark! The entire series can be found here.

2 thoughts on “5 Sherlock Holmes Stories That Aren’t Unreadable, Just Kind of Dull

  1. I basically agree with your reviews here, except I do enjoy the wackiness of the guy almost getting crushed by the hydraulic press in the engineer’s thumb.

    Also, how do you name a character Pycroft when you already have a Mycroft?? Hysterical.

    Like

    1. Right?? I think sometimes Conan Doyle forgot about what he’d written previously. There’s one story where he refers to the landlady as Mrs. Turner when her name is obviously Hudson. Maybe keep some notes somewhere Arthur?

      Like

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