Penzler Pick, December 2000: His roommate and amanuensis, John H. Watson, once described Sherlock Holmes as "the best and wisest man whom I have ever known." With the possible exception of Marv Epstein and Stanley Ellin, two dear old friends now deceased, I have to go along with that assessment. I discovered Holmes when I was pretty young, and nothing was more influential in my choosing this life of crime. The 56 stories and four novels that comprise the true canon are filled with more wisdom and quotable lines than any other single book aside from the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare.
Gerard Van der Leun has extracted scores of wonderful lines from the text, and they are a joy to sample. On jealousy, for example, Holmes says, "They are as jealous as a pair of professional beauties." On lost love: "A man always finds it hard to realize that he may have finally lost a woman's love, no matter how badly he may have treated her." Watson was a ladies' man, but Holmes, though unfailingly polite and protective of women, had his moments of misogyny: "Women are never to be entirely trusted--not the best of them." And: "I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money...."
As wonderful as this little volume is, it would be only fair to those who have gone before to note that there have been, over the years, many books devoted wholly or partially to Holmesian quotations, most notably Bruce R. Beamon's Sherlockian Quotations (1977); The Thoughts of Sherlock Holmes by S.H. Moss and R.L. Kuis (1976), My Life with Sherlock Holmes: Conversations in Baker Street by J.R. Hamilton (1944), and The Whole Art of Detection by Sherlock Holmes (compiled by John Bennett Shaw), 1968. Does the world need another compendium of Sherlockian quotations? Sure it does. How many editions of the Bible are there, and how many different versions of Shakespeare's plays? After all, Holmes is the best and the wisest man you will ever know. --Otto Penzler