“Racy, engaging, thoughtful stories which have stood the test of time, The Case of Lady Sannox will appeal to all readers of fiction.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Our first encounter with Arthur Conan Doyle is, as Jerry Pinto writes in his introduction, through the Sherlock Holmes stories. The fact that Doyle had a whole body of work which covered historical adventures, science fiction and short stories often goes overlooked. The Case of Lady Sannox comprises a series of Doyle’s lesser known short stories ranging from the medical to the horrifying.
Since they were written in the 19th century, the stories have a certain refreshing simplicity to them along with that dexterity of English for which Doyle is known. He has the ability to involve the reader in many cases through a single persona who carries the burden of the story, though sometimes he does it through the strength of his language.
Many of the stories are medical ones, reminding us that Doyle was first and foremost a physician. His tales juxtapose medical ethics and symptoms with the physician’s all too human failings. The title story is that of the flamboyant surgeon plunged into an adulterous affair, the consequences of which can actually be guessed at. Doyle uses a middle eastern punishment for the adulterous lady which some might say hint at a perverse imagination. But then again many of his stories use equally perverse means of justice and revel in the macabre.
For the social observer what does come through is the changing role of the physician in the 19th century, especially noticeable in the Doctors of Hoyland where a lady doctor makes her presence felt in the face of male prejudice. One of the world’s first female physicians went disguised as a man so she could exercise her professional talent.
Some of the stories can be anticipated and not all the horror tales are equally horrifying. Those good at clues will pick up traces of Sherlock Holmes, with knocks on doors at midnight signifying that ‘the game’s afoot’. However, uneven as the stories are, they all have the ability to intrigue the reader, at least for a while through their sympathetic depiction of character and strength of situation.
Added 22nd November 2016