The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 25, 2012

Joe Hadsall: Sherlock Holmes enjoying a renaissance

JOPLIN, Mo. — I was in the first grade when I read my first “Sherlock Holmes” book. It was a young readers edition of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Each left-hand page had 14- or 16-point text set in New Century Schoolbook; each right-hand page had a line illustration. One of those was a big, scary-looking dog.

But most of the illustrations featured the hawk-like Holmes, with his pinched face, long nose and magnifying glass.

Seriously, it was in every drawing, almost. As a first-grader, I thought it was attached to his hand by magic. But for some reason, I was enchanted by that drawing.

I didn’t read any of the books until I was in my 20s. During a break, back when I was working at Barnes and Noble, I picked up a collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the consulting detective, and was sucked in. I devoured all the stories, from “The Five Orange Pips” to “The Final Problem.”

Strange thing about the books, however: I never could picture a real person. As I read, I would always return to that memory of the line-drawn, surgically attached magnifying glass-handed, pinch-faced drawing. That’s weird for me, because with every book I read, I picture actual faces. Not illustrations.

It was irritating, because I could picture faces for the other characters. I assigned looks for everyone from Irene Adler to Inspector Lestrade.

Sherlock was different, for some reason. I couldn’t place a face to him, even though Basil Rathbone almost put a monopoly on the look.

That’s why I’ve had an open mind about all the different iterations of Holmes that have come out in the last few years.

If you’ve never read any of Doyle’s masterpieces about the detective, get thee to a bookstore now. Most of the stories can be found in a single edition, and I guarantee you will leave it dog-eared.

It’s easy to see why the stories are so enduring -- even in the stilted, forced language of Doyle’s Victorian age, the stories are pleasantly fast-paced and engaging. Holmes’ ability to make detailed deductions based on thorough-yet-breakneck observations is fantastic.

In a way, Doyle’s stories don’t play fair, because the solution to the mysteries are impossible for readers to figure out themselves. The average reader doesn’t have the chance to tackle the problem, even in today’s modern age.

Yet still, they are captivating, because they are one of the few instances where superior intelligence is treated like a superpower, yet the hero willingly shares his secrets. All it takes is observation: “You see, but you do not observe.” Simple, right?

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