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Reading for comfort: Let Sherlock figure it out

‘The Complete Sherlock Holmes’ is a perfect escape from the chaos of the present.
"The Complete Sherlock Holmes"
"The Complete Sherlock Holmes" [ Colette Bancroft ]
Published Apr. 26, 2020

Editor’s note: When we’re overloaded with dire news, escaping into a familiar, beloved book can soothe us. In this series, Tampa Bay Times staffers offer their recommendations for books that will take you away from your worries for a while.

Because of my job as book editor, I’m always reading something new. But when I tuck into bed at night, I turn to a book that I don’t have to review. Often my bedtime reading choices are mysteries or true crime (twisted, I know, but I sleep peacefully).

Since I began sheltering at home and fretting about the coronavirus, I’ve been turning to a longtime favorite: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and novels about Sherlock Holmes. I love all Holmes’ contemporary iterations, in books by Laurie R. King and Joe Ide and others, and on screen, especially as played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jeremy Brett.

But right now I’m reading the real thing, The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Picked up years ago at an estate sale, my copy is a reprint of the classic 1930 edition, with an introduction by Sir Christopher Morley, one of the founders of the Baker Street Irregulars.

The volume contains four novels and 56 short stories about the Great Detective in 1,122 pages. It has that cozy old-book smell, and its pages are a little foxed but not brittle.

More comforting than the physical book are the stories. I first read them when I was a teenager and have re-read them countless times since, so opening them now is like visiting a former home, if your former home were Victorian London.

That’s part of what I love: Doyle’s deployment of a richly detailed, evocative setting. Whether it’s the jam-packed city streets, the hound-haunted moors or the tobacco-scented clutter of 221B Baker Street, it’s a world I never tire of, just as I always enjoy John Watson’s gentlemanly, rational and sometimes clueless voice.

The main attraction, of course, is Sherlock Holmes. He’s the ur-detective, arguably the ur-superhero. But what makes him so comforting right now is his utter confidence and control. No matter how bizarre, how frightening, how inexplicable a crime might be, to Holmes it is simply a problem to be solved — and solve it he does. Power, fame and money mean nothing to him; his satisfaction comes from finding the truth and making things right. In these pages, he always does.

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