Monday, 29 December 2014

The Real World of Sherlock and Conan Doyle's War

Sherlock Holmes has often been in my thoughts this past twelve months, for a host of reasons. The publication of The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes is among them, naturally, but in addition to enjoying the Sherlock exhibition at the Museum of London (still running, by the way), I've read some good books about the great consulting detective.

One of them is The Real World of Sherlock Holmes by B.J. Rahn, recently published by Amberley. I've known B.J. for a long time - she's an American Anglophile, who usually spends part of the year in London, and she's extremely knowledgeable about the genre. If you didn't know she was an eminent academic, you'd guess from the amount of space devoted here to notes and a bibliography, and there is a suitable scholastic care about her study of the context in which Sherlock "existed".

She takes a number of different themes (including forensics, and the policing context of the stories) and for me the most fascinating part of the book concerns her analysis of the way Conan Doyle used, but adjusted, the storytelling model adopted by Poe in his ground-breaking stories about the first of the "great detectives", Dupin. There's much of interest, too, about the way in which Conan Doyle's deep interest in true crime informed stories such as "The Bruce-Partington Plans".

I'm delighted that Amberley have published B.J.'s book, and I suspect that even lifelong Sherlock fans will find a few things here that they didn't know previously. Amberley have also published Conan Doyle's War, which is an edited version of what Conan Doyle had to say about the British campaign in France and Flanders a century ago. Given that this year has seen the centenary of the outbreak of the so-called Great War, this is a timely publication, and it illustrates Conan Doyle's versatility as a writer. But nobody could doubt that his finest work concerned Sherlock (except, of course, Conan Doyle himself - but what do authors know?)


Unknown said...

You mention _The Real World of Sherlock Holmes_ by B.J. Rahn, and I look forward to finding a copy. By coincidence, I was reading about Doyle and Holmes last night in Leroy Panek's _An Introduction to the Detective Story_ (Bowling Green State UP, 1987). Panek restates the widely known point that Doyle grew tired of the Holmes stories but the money was too much to resist, so Doyle continued to crank them out (with mixed results with respect to quality -- although literary quality was never a strong suit in the Doyle/Holmes inventory). Panek also makes the great point that the Golden Age writers consciously sought to build upon but distance themselves from the Doyle/Holmes legacy. And, I should now note, because of Panek and your recent postings, I have become more than ever interested in the Golden Age writers -- so you should be finding more about those writers at my blog in the coming days, weeks, and months. Finally, I cannot wait to get my hands on your Golden Age authors book. Now, without further meandering here, I am off to read some short stories by Sayers. If I don't "speak" to you before the end of the year, there is this: Happy New Year, good sir, from the damp and dreary Redneck Riviera on the American Gulf coast.

nigel.holmes said...

There was a book by H.R.F. Keating on Sherlock Holmes, written in the form of a fictional biography, but actually setting him in the intellectual and social context of his times: "Sherlock Holmes: The Man and His World" (1979).

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks , Tim - I look forward to reading your thoughts on GA fiction, and I hope very much you find The Golden Age of Murder interesting. All best for 2015.

Martin Edwards said...

Nigel, you're quite right. It's a good book, full of interest, as Harry's non-fiction was. He's better known as a novelist, but books like Whodunit? And Murder Must Appetise are really good reads.