Sherlock Holmes: The Dark Mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

sherlock holmes the dark mysteriesVampires, hounds and lunatics…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This pocket-sized little book is published by the Collector’s Library and contains some of the darkest of the Holmes stories. There is an interesting introduction by David Stuart Davies, himself a writer of crime and ghost stories, and an authority on Holmes. Apparently he has also written six Holmes novels himself. He reminds us of Conan Doyle’s interest in things not of this world as a great advocate of Spiritualism, and has selected stories that show Conan Doyle’s flair for going close to the edge of the supernatural, though in the Holmes stories the solution is always ultimately based in the rational world.

The book kicks off with the long story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, probably the most popular of all the Holmes tales. This is Conan Doyle’s writing at its finest, a thrilling tale with a dramatic setting amidst the mists and mires of Dartmoor, and a terrifying climax as Holmes and Watson finally face the hound that has been the curse of the Baskerville family for generations.

Hound drawing

Then there are seven of the short stories, all either with an element of the supernatural or with particularly dark and brutal storylines:

The Sussex Vampire – when a woman is found apparently sucking blood from her own baby and will give no explanation, her frantic husband applies to Holmes for help. What Holmes discovers reveals a very human darkness at the heart of this family, perhaps more frightening than had the woman truly been a vampire.

The Creeping Man – An elderly man who has fallen in love with a young woman starts exhibiting strange and frightening behaviour and seems to have acquired almost superhuman strength and agility. I must admit this is probably my least favourite of all the Holmes stories because it’s so far-fetched. That’s because the scientific explanation seems so ridiculous. However Davies points out that there were experiments of this nature going on in real life at the time, so the story probably seemed much more credible to contemporary readers.

The Veiled Lodger – there’s no detection in this one, as Holmes is simply the recipient of the secret behind the tragedy that befell the lodger of the title. Mrs Ronder and her husband were circus folk, lion-tamers… until it all went horribly and gruesomely wrong. Betrayal, brutality and cowardice are at the heart of this story – and it’s one example of Conan Doyle’s tendency to have Holmes leave punishment of wickedness to a higher power.

veiled lodger

The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place – a Gothic tale of crypts and corpses, greed and deception, this has definite elements of the horror story about it. The credibility might be a bit over-stretched but Conan Doyle’s writing just about carries it off.

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax – Lady Frances Carfax is alone and friendless, a perfect victim for any unscrupulous conman who wants to get hold of her property. Definitely a horror story this one, with a burial scene of Poe-like terror. And a very nice bit of detection too.

The Devil’s Foot – one evening, a man leaves his two brothers and his sister happily playing cards together. The next morning, the two men are stark, raving mad and the woman is dead, with a look of utter terror etched on her face. When I first read Holmes at around the age of ten, this story frightened the bejabers out of me, and I still find it the most truly horrifying of them all. The image of those grinning mad men being carted off to the asylum lives in my nightmares, and the scene where Holmes and Watson come close to losing their own senses is both scary and moving, as one of the rare occasions when Holmes reveals his deep affection for loyal old Watson.

The_Adventure_of_the_Devil's_Foot_03

The Cardboard Box – the last story in the book is another that planted itself firmly in my mind from first reading and refused to go away. A woman receives a box in the mail and when she opens it, she finds it contains two freshly cut human ears – but not from the same body! Betrayal and brutality again, combined with the demon drink, are the cause of this horror. But, just as a little piece of advice, if you ever want to send body parts through the post, make sure you have the right address…

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The book itself is rather gorgeous. It’s only just over 4” by 6” so the pages are tiny, which explains why there are over 450 of them. The font is pretty small too, but very clear, and some of the original illustrations are included. Beneath the rather lovely sleeve, the cover itself is of dark red cloth with the title on the spine in gilt, and is beautifully tactile. With the finishing touches of gilt edged pages and a red ribbon bookmark, this would make a perfect gift, especially for someone just being introduced to the Holmes stories. Though even although I know the stories so well and have at least three copies of the full adventures, I still found this a little delight and enjoyed reading the stories grouped in this way. A most pleasing little volume.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Collector’s Library.

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61 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes: The Dark Mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  1. *laughs* You make the stories sound so interesting! But I know better, since it’s Doyle–beast!

    But the vampire one…that sounds sooooo interesting! You must needs tell me all the details to that one, please. Otherwise, I’ll get cranky, ’cause I’m not reading it!

    That hound looks vicious.

    • *laughs* Yes, I have no doubt you’d find this one lame and dull to the point of tears…

      Well, it all came down to the fact that boys are horrid little kids. But Holmes solved it with his usual brilliance and the boy was suitably punished…

      Tuppence could take it on…

        • Go for it, I say! You haven’t done a rip in centuries.

          Oh, he did! But it was only his brother he was trying to kill and I’m sure WOB would agree with me that that’s perfectly justifiable…

          *wide eyes* You have?? Did she win?

          • I know! I’m going to rip…Dune Messiah soon. *evil laugh*

            Kill a brother?! Goodness. He was a little beast then. *laughs* You and WOB are vicious to the core!

            Well, no, ’cause she was fighting me, but she was good!

            • If you leave it much longer you’ll have forgotten it. *imagines the Professor having to read it again and… evil laugh*

              I told you! You were the one who was defending him! Who, me? Am not! I’m sweet!

              Ah, she’d have been holding back then, ‘cos she likes you.

            • Will not! Have I ever told you my memory is fantastic?

              As sweet as… I’m horrible at smilies. As sweet as…a beetle!

              We’re buds now, since you’re always sending her over.

            • If it’s that good, why do you need to ask me? *smiles triumphantly*

              A beetle?!? But they’re horrible!! *stomps off*

              She’s started miaowing with an American accent…

            • *punches air*

              Now I’m a stag beetle…?!? Oh, well at least I’m awesome, I suppose.

              Gee whizz, it sure is! *chews tobacco and twirls her six-gun*

            • *laughs* Cool celebration move, too!

              That’s right. I wish I was a stag beetle!

              No tobacco! You could get cancer of the tongue–like what happened to Fernando Sor. But I’m not sure that he chewed tobacco.

            • But then someone might stamp on you… *takes off flamenco shoes just to be safe*

              Who’s Fernando Sor? Only Americans chew tobacco, when they’re not eating hotdogs, that is… or maybe they do both together…

            • But do you see my jaws? Now that’s to be feared.

              Mr. Sor was a very early classical guitarist. In fact, he was friends with Beethoven and even played for Beethoven, but though he tried hardly hard, Beethoven never did write for the guitar–imagine! You stereotypist you! I don’t even like hotdogs…and I’ve never chewed tobacco.

            • *shudders* Just imagine how well they would go with an Edelman…

              How knowledgeable you are! I bet Beethoven feels pretty silly now. I don’t think he ever wrote for the kazoo either, did he? Tchah! You can’t be American then – bet you’re Chinese!

            • All the more reason to put them together! But, sadly, I can’t grow the jaws.

              *laughs* Hmm! Never for the kazoo…or organ. Though I think he wanted to write for the organ. He was a bit silly in the head. Am not Chinese! All American! Like…Cohan!

            • Nor the Edelman!!!

              I think I prefer kazoo music to organ music, on the whole, though it’s close. Though listening to an organ live can be wonderful – bit like the bagpipes. Some instruments don’t work so well as recordings as others. Ah, my Yankee Noodle Boy!!

            • Nah. Kenny’s not talented enough to play the kazoo and all that snorting would be dangerous – he might accidentally get the kazoo stuck up his nose. Did you? For guitar? You should do a book of patriotic Scottish songs next…

    • I’ve been addicted to Holmes since I was about ten, and love getting the stories in different formats. I thought the selction of stories in this one would make it a good ‘starter pack’ for a new Holmes reader…

  2. These stories are definitely among Conan Doyle’s creepiest Holmes stories, FIctionFan. I always find it interesting that a man who was determined his sleuth would solve things scientifically and rationally also had such an interest in the paranormal. Sounds like a terrific collection.

    • I liked the collection – the stories work well together, and the book itself is a lovely little thing. Yes, he’s a man of contradictions, Conan Doyle, isn’t he? But I’m glad he always gave a rational explanation in the Holmes stories – real supernatural elements just wouldn’t have fitted the style.

    • I love to see what stories get picked for these little anthologies, and I thought this collection was particularly well-themed, with several of the stories that don’t get highlighted as often as others. And the book is pretty…

  3. Hmmm – you really shouldn’t make adding needlessly to the TBR so appealing – I have a huge, fat, well-thumbed everything Conan Doyle ever wrote book, but of course it does require some serious biceps and triceps exercises to build muscles before reading (a half mile swim, at least) So the idea of a delicate little beauty of a selected and scary Holmes and Watson does appeal….it would leave one hand free for the popping of chocolate….particularly as I’ve just read a report extolling the virtues of dark choco (the only kind I ingest) with a trial involving better cognitive ability after just 2 little squares of 60% cacao, compared to ‘placebo’

    Okay, o marvellous expert on the Sherlock Canon – are there any stories where chocolate is either the agent of dastardly derring do, or, conversely of salvation?

    PS you do know, I assume, that all your ‘following’ and ‘posts I like’ widgets have been doused in invisible ink? Now i have to do some work of my own for a bit of idle blog hopping perusal, rather than finding it here!

    • Oh, I know – I really don’t need any more version of the Holmes stories, but I couldn’t resist! It’s a nice little collection with some of the not so well known stories as well as The Hound, and I loved the actual book. I didn’t know when I asked for it that these Collector’s Library books are so small, but I found it was a lovely format to read, and the gilt edges made it extra special. I’m so shallow! Hmm… maybe I should eat some chocolate before writing reviews – I could do with something to boost my flagging brain!

      I don’t think chocolate appears at all – presumably that’s why poor Holmes had to take to cocaine! A warning to us all…

      I do – there are a variety of reasons as to why and I shall perhaps bore you with them all at some point…

      • I wait, with bated breath, for bloggy enlightenment re your last sentence. Don’t fret, I’ll find some long saga to send you to sleep with….(an everyday story of scamming ‘free product in return for (coughs) ‘honest’ review companies’, perhaps………..)

  4. I’m familiar with some of these, but not all. I should remedy that, huh?! Of course, horror isn’t exactly my favorite genre, for I’m rather fond of sleeping soundly at night, ha!

    • Hardly any of the Holmes stories are really horror although some of them are pretty dark. But you can always be sure the next one will be something about a jewel theft and a goose, just to cheer you up again! 😉

  5. These all sound terrifying! The Sussex Vampire is a curious one. It’s not enough being a plain o’l vanilla vampire these days. So The Devil’s Foot did to you what The Exorcist did to me at ten? I slept on the floor for five months for fear of a spinning bed. Never went back to horror after that. Reading horror is worse too if you have an over active imagination…

    • Apparently he knew Bram Stoker and that’s why he wrote a vampire story, according to the introduction in this. But it’s not nearly as scary as the Devil’s Foot! Haha! Why do we do it to ourselves? You’re worse than me – I was fourteen by the time I watched The Exorcist. and it was scary enough then! Though I think we were all so taken by the variety of new swear words that it kinda made up for the terror…

  6. I have read all of the Holmes stories (my parents got me “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” as a boy, and it was one of my favorite books), but I barely remember a few of these. Of the ones I do remember; yes, these are absolutely among the most frightening Holmes stories. The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the cheeriest one in this volume!

    Have you ever seen the very brief TV series called “Murder Rooms/The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes?” It was superb. The concept is that Doyle is a medical student at Edinburgh, and one of his professors is Doctor Joseph Bell, who was indeed the inspiration for the Holmes stories, as he had a great analytical mind. They become friends in this story, and Bell takes Doyle with him to help solve murders, as Bell is often called in by the police with regard to baffling crimes. This continues as Doyle becomes a young doctor. There are only four of these stories (and then a pilot with another actor playing Doyle), but they are brilliant, and befitting the Holmes canon, far more than “Sherlock,” which I do not like at all, or “Elementary,” which I will not even give a glance to. The great Ian Richardson plays Bell. I highly recommend this.

    • I tend to re-read the Holmes stories fairly often but just jumping in and out rather than reading them all at once these days. As a result, I know some of the stories far better than others. This is a nice little collection of the darkest ones though.

      Yes! I do remember that series – it was excellent. I must look out for it being repeated somewhere! I’m a bit of a purist as far as Holmes goes though I often can’t resist a new pastiche – and then get enraged and wonder why I bothered. I hate “Sherlock” with a passion and have utterly refused to watch the Johnny Depp versions. But I’ve loved both of Anthony Horowitz’s attempts – “the House of Silk” and “Moriarty”. They’re not Conan Doyle of course, but they’re as close as any follow-on that I’ve read. Have you come across them?

      • I have seen those books, but never tried them, because I am always very wary of attempts to reimagine Holmes. But I do like Anthony Horowitz, from the wonderful “Foyle’s War” series, so I might try one. I am impressed and gratified that you hate Sherlock! It is wildly popular, and I think it is a complete and self-indulgent insult to Doyle, Holmes, and the wonderful original stories.

        It is interesting that many of the “darker” Holmes short stories were later ones. Perhaps Doyle got somewhat tired of the more conventional ones; or it is simply that there were a lot of strange things going on in late Victorian London. But yes, if one reads a large volume of the stories, the scarier ones are set off by some comparatively lighter ones. A couple more unsettling stories which might have been included here are “The Man With the Twisted LIp,” and “The Dying Detective.” Any volume such as this, which might introduce the great original Doyle stories to a newer audience is to be commended.

        • Personally I don’t know why people ever feel the need to update classics – either remake them based on the originals, or write something new. It seems like a failure of imagination to use a famous ‘brand’. But what do I know – the series could hardly be more popular!

          I think you’re right that he had got fed up with the whole thing and was experimenting to keep his own interest going. That and his increasing involvement with spiritualism and the supernatural, perhaps. In general, I prefer the stories before the Reichenbach Falls rather than the later ones, but there are exceptions. Yes, I think this would be a lovely gift to tempt a young person towards the stories…

          • I agree with you wholeheartedly on this. It is a failure of imagination. But of course it can be a financial success. Holmes is one of the most iconic figures in fiction. So rather than try to write their own stories and their own characters, the TV and movie people just latch on to him. And of course people watch them. Unfortunately, there are many people who do not read books, so they get their entertainment from the screen. It would be nice to think that those shows actually bring people back to the original stories, but I am rather doubtful.

            I hope that there is not a generation of people which will think that Doyle’s Holmes is the way that Cummerbatch or Miller or Downey play him, or the way that he is written in these movies and TV shows. Even putting aside the financial aspect, I find it appalling that some people feel compelled to recreate certain fictional characters to fit their own sensibilities. Holmes has his quirks, but he is basically a very decent person who is always willing to help a woman in distress, and who does not much care about remuneration. And he might act a little high-handedly with Watson sometimes, but is usually quick to apologize, or to make it up to him. And their relationship is one of mutual respect and friendship, nothing more And cocaine is mentioned in “The Sign of Four,” and perhaps one short story, but that is all.. It is interesting that while Holmes is of course always going to be known for his brilliance and his deductive capabilities, Doyle’s stories also present a kind of nobility of purpose on the part of both Holmes and Watson, which can actually be inspiring to a reader of any age.

            • I always doubt that these updated remakes send people back to the originals, and anyway I suspect that if they do, it’ll lead to disappointment. I suppose there’s room in the world for both, so long as no-one makes watching ‘Sherlock’ compulsory!

              Yes, I think that’s one of the major differences about fiction from Victorian days – despite the darkness of some of the stories they were suitable for people of any age, because fundamentally the good guys made good role models. I would be much more reluctant to let a ten-year-old read a lot of what passes for crime fiction today. They may be more complex, maybe even truer to life, but they don’t have the balance between good and evil that earlier writers took as standard.

  7. I read the Hound of the Baskervilles when I was 11 or so. Yes, terrifying. Perhaps it’s time to read more. I need a reason to lie there awake long after I’ve turned off the light.

    • Haha! But lots of the stories aren’t nearly so dark, so you’ll be safe most of the time. That’s what I love about Conan Doyle, in fact – he ranges from light-hearted humour through to terrifying horror and all points in-between, and his writing style works for all. Derek Jacobi’s readings of the Holmes stories are brilliant too…

  8. One of my early Kindle purchases (for 99 cents!!) was the Complete Sherlock Holmes WITH a Table of Contents (the free version had no Toc). I have a couple print books as well with various Holmes stories, and yet… I feel like I need this little collection. Why is that?

    • Haha! Perfectly natural – you can never have too much Holmes! I like seeing which stories the editor chooses in these little anthologies, and use the introduction as a justification for needing the book… 😉

  9. These all sound lovely…in a pleasurably gruesome kind of way. 🙂 I’ve only read The Hound of the Baskervilles, so far, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but I want to read more and I was originally going to read everything in the order that he wrote them (going back to read his first novels and then proceed forward), but this seems like a more fun way to continue.

    • I’ve read all of the Holmes stories several times, but haven’t read much of his other stuff. I do like the first couple of Professor Challenger novels though. I like these mini-anthologies though – a good way to get a flavour without feeling you need to plough through all the stories at once…

  10. Think my favourite is “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, but these are all goodies, and the book sounds lovely.

  11. This does sound like a great collection, always nice when a book is nicely bound and I have a love for those that include a ribbon – it would make a terrific present for someone (me!) 🙂

    • I loved the actual book and could imagine a nice matched set of these Collector’s Library classics all lined up on a shelf… Haha! Yes, definitely! The best gifts are always the ones you want to keep! 😉

  12. Love Sherlock Holmes, especially The Hound of the Baskervilles. I think there are a couple of those other tales though I haven’t actually read, but maybe I have just forgotten them.

    • There are so many of them and even though I’ve read them all several times, I still find I’ve forgotten some. But that’s a good excuse for frequent re-reading… 🙂

  13. Well~! My husband had a day off yesterday and we went to see a movie about real life creepy people. (It takes place in Vienna during World War II and involved stolen pieces of priceless art.)

    The Hound of the Baskervilles was my first Holmes story. I was ten years old when my father handed it to me. It was pretty scary at the time. But now it seems less frightening compared with some I’ve read since. And then there are politics and health care…you can’t beat those two.

    • Haha! Yes, real life can be much scarier than fiction sometimes! I love the Holmes stories and think that sometimes the darkness of them gets a bit overlooked. They’ve almost acquired a ‘cosy’ reputation but some of them are anything but! And he’s such a great writer – a natural storyteller.

  14. I’ve read some of these stories already. But this collection would be worth having. I remember reading The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was a kid. I remember thinking that it wasn’t all that scary compared to, say, Stephen King’s books. 🙂 Yes, I was that kind of obnoxious kid. Still I love Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

    • I found The Devil’s Foot more terrifying than The Hound – it was the idea of them all being terrified into madness or death. *shudders* I’m glad I just went mad gradually… But I do love the Holmes stories and I know them so well now they’re real comfort reading – no concentration required.

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