Conan Doyle knew about the power of the first pages of a story, it is the difference between the readers finishing the story or discarding it, so he made them interesting, instantly intriguing the reader. A good example is the Man with the twisted lip. In this story the narrative starts with a sort biography of Isa Whitney, and then of his wife coming to Watson asking for his help in finding him, setting the story up to be about Watson’s adventure trying to find him.
Instead there is a sunned twist in the story, when Watson finds Holmes in the Opium den, where he has just found Isa Whitney. This stets the reader thinking. They have just read a page about Isa Whitney, and now he has been found very quickly, and appears to be leaving the main story line, also, what is Sherlock Holmes doing in an Opium den. Suddenly the readers thoughts about the story line have been upended, this grabs their attention, and puts them in a position where they wish to know what is going to happen now, and where on earth is the story going?
The endings of all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s are particularly satisfying to the readers, and make it more likely for the reader to go and read another story. In the end of almost all of the tales, Sherlock solves the crime, or hands over the criminal to the police, but often it is unknown what they are doing, or why Sherlock Holmes is doing what he does. Then there is usually a monologue telling Watson of all the clues he picked up on, how they all tie in together, and then finally how he came to devise the plan to capture the criminal or solve the crime. A good example of this is The Red-Headed League. In this tale, there is not a crime being committed at first, merely an inquiry in to the disappearance of the business, the Red-Headed League.
After a series of enquires, Holmes hoes ahead and organises a “gathering” which Watson is invited to but does not know why he, or the other two members of their party are there. Sherlock then took them to an underground cellar, without any information, to as for why. This all adds to the suspense. Then when John Clay, in a climax to the suspense, makes his appearance, with all of the action, it is clear what they have come to do, but why and because of what clues is still unknown to the reader, making them finish the story even after the climax, through curiosity.
It is through Watson that we hear the story, experiencing everything at the same time as him, so sharing his enthusiasm, and his ignorance in places. Because Doyle is writing in the first person, in the form of Watson, he can express a lot of information about Watson, without having to describe him; just through the way he tells the story. The best example of this is probably The Final Problem. Where Watson believes that Sherlock Holmes has fallen to his death in a struggle with his archenemy, Moriarty. This not only shows how Conan Doyle conveys Watson’s character, and emotions through his writing but also how it helps to build up suspense.
The other key thing it does it to put the reader in Watson’s shoes, with relation to his desire to be like Holmes, and solve the problems in the same way with the same clues. He starts of by making an affinity between the reader and Watson, by the complete confidence Watson has in the reader, “the very intimate relations which existed between Holmes and myself became to some extent modified.” Suggesting that Watson is now closer to you the reader, than he now was to Sherlock. This builds up Watson’s credibility in your mind, so that you are more likely to believe his emotional parts, for instance “In a incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion,”, and because you believe him you begin to feel the same way emotionally as him, and take his opinions on maters.
In the stories, we get a very one sided view of Holmes’ character, because it is all Watson’s impression. This means that because it is a first person, it is almost always bias, instead of the different points of view we could get of Holmes if they were written in the third person. Although on paper this sounds like the preferable option, Doyle has probably done it on purpose, because it shows Holmes always in a preferable and admirable light.
The skills and expertise that Holmes has are beautifully exhibited in The Cardboard Box, where Holmes has the opportunity to show off his many varied areas of knowledge. He has an in-depth knowledge of the human body, “In last years Anthropological Journal you will find two short monographs from my pen on the subject.” The subject being the human Pina (outer ear). And then again his varied knowledge exhibited when he is examining the cardboard box, its wrapping, and its contents.
All were identified with the utmost knowledge of the subject and accuracy. It also shows of his sensitive side at the end of the story, when he asks Watson “What is the meaning of it … What object is served by the visions circle of misery and violence and fear?” this shows a new side to Sherlock Holmes from the intelligent, hardnosed fighter for Justice that is usually portrayed.
In conclusion, I will say that using all these devices, Doyle successfully builds up curiosity and hence mystery and intrigue. Using little but heavy description, he is able to build up a powerful image that has the ability to shock the reader into submission. It is, for the most part, instantly believable and this serves the purpose of lulling the reader into a false sense of security. When the whole truth is finally revealed it is ever more vivid and much more successful in entertaining the reader.