It’s been well documented (even in his own words) that Arthur Conan Doyle was not enamored with Sherlock Holmes. He did seem to soften a bit towards his creation over the years, but he was never the wide-eyed admirer of the Holmes tales that we are. This classic cartoon from Punch has long seemed to me a fitting summary. “He keeps me from better things” indeed!
The Canon consists of 56 short stories and 4 novels (novellas, really). He wrote 40 of those tales before 1905. Having finished up the stories that made up The Return of Sherlock Holmes, from 1905 to 1920, he only wrote 7 short stories and 1 novel featuring the great detective. Fortunately for us, there was one last burst and he wrote 12 more stories from 1921 to 1927. In fact, on March 5, 1927, Shoscombe Old Place appeared in Liberty Magazine, making its British debut the following month in The Strand. There were to be no more Holmes stories from Doyle’s hand before he died in July of 1930 (though Holmes’s successor was on the way!).*
The last dozen stories were collected together as The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Frederic Dorr Steele illustrated Shoscombe Old Place for Liberty Magazine. Over in England, Frank Wiles finished up his run as the final original illustrator of the Canon. Wiles had provided 31 drawings for The Valley of Fear, including a classic profile of Holmes studying the message from Porlock. He was tapped for The Retired Colourman and The Veiled Lodger, providing one of my favorites for the latter.
The last of his five drawings for Shoscombe gives us a final look at Holmes in his deerstalker, solving one last mystery. We are thankful to see the famous cap one more time.
Wiles gave us a lean Holmes with a receding hairline giving way to a prominent forehead. Which was fitting for our old friend. The Strand incorporated Wiles’ images for covers featuring The Valley of Fear and The Retired Colourman. There are a few drawings from the Canon’s run that have stood out above the others, and Wiles’ color illustration from Valley is one of them.
*Of course, August Derleth, after being told by Doyle in a 1928 letter that there would not be any more Holmes tales, sat down and created Solar Pons, with the Adventure of the Black Narcissus appearing in the February, 1929 issue of Dragnet Magazine.