Some of the Sherlock Holmes stories that I like the best have a fairly low mystery quotient. I'm thinking of works like "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" and "The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk." One reason, I believe, why mysteries can hold the appeal they do is there's a certain amount of coziness and a natural inclusivity. People are together talking, trying to figure things out, and we're there with them in a study, at the table, over snifters of brandy by a fire in the library. We're comfortable in our own seat, and it's as if we're there-- hanging out, you could say. In on things.
That's the greatest appeal of Doyle's most famous creation and his best friend/chronicler in Dr. Watson, and it's that friendship that's really the main character throughout the Holmes canon. Personally, I don't want to have to focus on too much mystery, if that makes sense. It's the people solving the case who matter most to me.
Sometimes a case in a Holmes story is less a mystery and instead the unfurling of one of those perversities of life that, on account of being such a thing, and life being what it is, is paradoxically a commonplace. Life is perverse. That's a defining norm.
Make a mystery too much about mystery, and you get something sterile, in my view. The best things typically come back to people and how we're made to feel about them, how much we can feel about them, and how in turn we come to see ourselves and to what degree we relate and gain comfort or insight or necessary truths we haven't been aware of yet and may have never been aware of.
Those truths can speak to things inside ourselves, but without the great work, or the great mystery, we could have been lost to them. Or them to us.
My very favorite Holmes story is "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," which for me strikes the perfect blend of what I'm talking about here, and with Christmas mixed in. It has everything I could want for in a Holmes story, and in just the right measures. I do love "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," which takes the form of Holmes telling Watson about a case he had helped solve before they had met. It's a friend telling a friend a story, and we feel as if that friend is also us.
Doyle himself considered "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" his favorite. I bet that's because of how he handled the locked room mystery aspect with the snake. "The Five Orange Pips" has what is perhaps the coziest sequence in the canon with Holmes, Watson, and John Openshaw conversing by the fire at 221B as the wind and the rain of the late London night buffet the windows outside, but this man that we like is also having one of his final moments on earth. We feel awful with what occurs, and what Holmes and Watson failed to prevent. I can't help but wondering that they did so in part because of a simple human desire--even on a subconscious level--not to have to venture out into that storm themselves.
Holmes stories that rely on doings in America ("The Adventure of the Dancing Men," The Sign of the Four, The Valley of Fear) for the motion of their plots--in the form of back story--lose something, I think. Holmes and Watson worked best as characters when concerned with the world reachable by train from London. I embrace the happy reunion of "The Adventure of the Empty House," but I have to try and look past the plot hole of Holmes' rooms being kept intact over all of that time, and Watson not making anything of this. Surely he would have known. Wasn't that odd? Why would the rooms be maintained? He wouldn't have asked Mycroft? He and Mrs. Hudson didn't kick around any ideas?
Still, the boys had gotten back together, and here I think we can call them boys. Both Doyle and myself cite "The Red-Headed League" as a favorite. Is the scheme by the criminals far-fetched? Sure. But I don't think that matters too much. It's novel--colorful, if you will--and everyone buys into it and that's really what matters within the drama of this mystery itself, with all of that interaction we like to see. People are intimate with each other in mysteries. I'm not talking sexually. I mean they're conversing, trying to find solutions. They speak in whispers sometimes, and in the dark or near-dark. Again, cozy.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is, as I've said, one of our finest works of nature writing--something it's never given credit for--and it's the one novel of the four that manages the blend in just-about-perfect measure that we get with "The Blue Carbuncle." It's a superb book for cozy hanging out. Knowing that there's a moor outside while one is snug inside--with all of the built-in mystery that a moor possesses on its own--makes for a nice feeling. A "I wouldn't-want-to-trade-this-feeling" feeling, which is vital to a good mystery, even more so than the actual mystery.