After killing off Holmes at the end of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle left the character alone for 10 years before giving in to public pressure and bringing him back in Return of Sherlock Holmes. The long break seems to have benefited Doyle as the stories in the collection are not at all repetitive and the mysteries are all clever. I enjoyed the fact that the stakes of the stories varied greatly, from an international incident that could plunge all of Europe into war in The Second Stain, to identifying the student who sneaked a peak at the Greek final exam in The Three Students. Doyle introduces some great opponents for Holmes, including the blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton, the assassin Colonel Sebastian Moran, and Dr. Leslie Armstrong who seems to anticipate Holmes' every move.
The Holmes stories are a product of the Victorian Age, and unfortunately carry all the negative baggage of those times. Any character described as a Gypsy or Italian is almost guaranteed to be a criminal. Women are fragile and illogical, either needing to be rescued or endangering others on a whim. Aristocrats and high level government officials are noble and stoic, even when compromised.
Dr. Watson is the narrator of all these stories and I am beginning feel he is in an abusive relationship with Holmes. Back in the Adventures collection, Watson was happily married and had a successful medical practice. Holmes had to stop by Watson's house and ask him for help. In Return, Watson is living with Holmes, has sold his practice, and makes his living writing accounts of Holmes' adventures. Holmes treats him alternatively like hired muscle or like a butler, sending him to answer the door and deliver messages, or come along on investigations with his pistol at the ready. He often slips in little insults at Watson's intelligence. If they were a couple I knew in real life I would advise Watson to move on for his own mental and emotional health.