Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are classic characters of a bygone era. Despite that they and the villains with which they were tasked have been appearing again and again in thousands, possibly even millions of pastiches and homages and parodies over the last one hundred and thirty-two years. They are truly timeless.
They may adapt well to somewhat more modern eras be it the 1930s and 1940s films staring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, the modern BBC version by Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss starring Benedict Cumberbatch or a number of other takes – the Japanese Sherlock Holmes manga comes to mind as a somewhat infamous example – but there is only one era in which they truly feel at home.
That period is of course the time of their creation. The London smog, hansom cabs, gentleman’s clubs and opium dens of late Victoriana and the early 1900s. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself knew that very well which is why when he returned to Holmes and his chronicler after The Final Problem, all but a very select few cases take place during the turn of the century.
There have been several audio versions of the Holmes canon over the years ranging from BBC radio dramatisations to a series of Big Finish audios that discuss untold stories to a collection of the stories as narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi. However those are not the versions being reviewed today.
In 2017 Audible made a somewhat unexpected announcement. They were going to release the entire official Sherlock Holmes series from A Study In Scarlet to The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place in one audio collection as narrated by Sherlock enthusiast and noted television and radio personality Stephen Fry. This caught my attention as despite having listened to a version of all the Sherlock stories by that point I have myself something of a fondness for Stephen Fry’s narration. As such I obtained a copy shortly after release and began to listen.
The stories in question are obviously very well written and the narration definitely suits the stories. Fry does an admirable job at changing accents and tone for the various characters involved across all 60 stories. My personal favourite voices of his probably would be his Watson and Lestrade. Watson sounds perfectly dependable and exactly like the kind of man you’d want by your side during all these escapades. His Holmes is also appropriately capricious and yet bloodhound like while on a case. I can’t help but have a soft spot for his Lestrade though as despite Lestrade’s occasional cockiness he clearly respects Holmes and isn’t a complete fool himself either.
As well as the enjoyable narration of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work there is also one small notable addition. Between each of the four novel length tales and each of the individual story collections there is a small introductory foreword or introductory essay of sorts written and narrated by Stephen. They serve well to act as stopping points between collections if you are busy or beginning to tire and can also inform the listener of a few select facts before the beginning of the story proper.
There is no backing music or soundtrack to this particular audio but in this specific instance I feel it would detract from the stories being told and could potentially make it harder to understand the context of certain scenes. Either that or cause the listener to mishear certain older words that aren’t common parlance anymore or words that are used but with much different meanings than today.
The collection in short is VERY enjoyable and if for some reason you’ve never read the original Holmes stories or you have but not for quite a long time I would recommend it. But there is one extremely large asterisk or caveat to that recommendation.
As stated previously this specific version of the Holmes stories is an Audible exclusive. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be an issue as anyone with an Audible account can buy one of their books. However the regular price for this seventy two hour audio collection is a whopping £80! I may use and appreciate Audible but that is very very VERY expensive. So my recommendation to you as my reader and as an audio listener is one of three options
Option 1: Either obtain an Audible free trial membership and claim this book as your free book when you first sign up.
Option 2 – which I did: Sign up for a regular membership with however many Credits(i.e. ‘free’ books) a month you wish and use one of your credits to obtain this collection for ‘free.’
Option 3: Buy a different audio Sherlock Holmes collection with a different narrator.
The choice is entirely yours as my reader but if you wish to own this specific collection be forewarned.
Side note for clarification: For purposes of review I did not relisten to the entire seventy two hour collection. I listened to the sections which contained The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.
Watson the game’s afoot!