While comparing my large book of Sherlock Holmes stories with my sister’s even larger book of Sherlock Holmes stories, I was recently disillusioned to discover that my edition was less comprehensive than I’d previously believed. So, when I saw the name of Conan Doyle emblazoned across the expansive spine of a ludicrously large book in Belle Books, Hay-on-Wye, I pounced eagerly. Strangely, the famous detective’s name was nowhere to be found inside.
A few months ago, if you were to ask me what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had written, I would have replied Sherlock Holmes (of course) and some novel I’d dimly heard about but never read, called The Forgotten Land or something (actually, I just checked and it’s The Lost World). I would have been completely ignorant of the 76 short stories contained in this 1200-page book, which is approximately the size and weight of a cinder block (and just as unwieldly). Thrilled with my discovery, I vowed to fit it into my suitcase for the long trip home, no matter how many articles of clothing had to be sacrificed to make room.
Generally, I am not a big fan of the short story format; I resent the energy it takes to completely reset my brain for each new plot which, by the time it has spooled up to anything of interest, has inevitably neared its conclusion. But, delightfully, these stories all seemed to waste little time at the beginning and generally lasted just long enough to keep my attention. I found them to be skillfully written and impressive in their variety, ranging in genre from horror to humour to history. Iconic characters such as the great detective are nowhere to be found, but there is plenty to amuse, while some twists and turns kept me guessing right until the denouement.
[Why I read it: I was looking for books to bring on a recent, cross country road trip and this was in my to-read pile. It is so large as to seem an impractical travel companion, but while contemplating its vastness, I cracked it open and read this glorious sentence:
All this disquisition upon superstition leads me up to the fact that Mr. Manson, our second mate, saw a ghost last night–or, at least, says he did, which of course is the same thing.
I brought the book along without further hesitation.]