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THE GAME IS AFOOT by Jeremy Black


The Enduring World of Sherlock Holmes

by Jeremy Black

Pub Date: June 4th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-538-16146-3
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Why has Sherlock Holmes stood the test of time? The answer might not be elementary, according to this thought-provoking book.

Black, a veteran historian who has published more than 180 books, is interested in why Holmes has been so popular for so long. The author, a meticulous researcher, begins with Victorian England, where most of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are set. It was a time of radical cultural change, with technology and reason supplanting religious faith and the mercantile class beginning to push the old aristocracy aside. Holmes’ capacity for deductive reasoning and forensic science fit well in this milieu, and many of the villains are nouveau riche types. A surprising number of Americans, usually of the robber baron variety, wander through the pages of Doyle’s stories as well. Black, while acknowledging Holmes’ legendary intelligence, emphasizes that he was also a man of action, ready to don working-class disguises and fight if necessary. This duality that allowed Holmes to transcend his 19th-century origins also inspired a legion of imitators. As the stories developed, Holmes became more rounded and fully fleshed alongside his steady partner, Watson. The Holmes character is perfect for the big screen, with Basil Rathbone depicting him as a sophisticated, moral figure. Many actors have portrayed Holmes, and Robert Downey’s recent version brought a broad streak of dark comedy and emphasized the Holmes-Watson relationship. In the TV series Sherlock, Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was transplanted to modern London, and Watson’s casebook morphed into a blog. The innovative series Elementary put them in New York, with Holmes as a recovering addict and Watson as his sober partner. One unfortunate omission from the book is the 2015 movie Mr. Holmes, in which Ian McKellen deftly plays Holmes as an aged, lonely figure, terrified of the dementia closing in. But this is a small point, and Black delivers an interesting, authoritative read.

A detailed study that adds new depth to an iconic character.