The life of Arthur Conan Doyle from the first biographer to be granted access to the Doyle archives.
The leading problem in writing about the creator of Sherlock Holmes is that Doyle always considered the detective stories that brought him fame and fortune inferior to his other writing, especially the historical novels and military histories by which he hoped to be remembered. Lycett (Dylan Thomas: A New Life, 2004, etc.) may not find a compelling balance between what Doyle thought was important about his life and work and what most readers will think important, but he does an excellent job rooting the Holmes stories in the financial and legal realities of their author’s life. A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four were among many projects the Edinburgh-trained physician planned to start his literary career. The first two series of Holmes short stories were written to order for a particular market; and after killing his tiresomely superior hero off in 1894, Doyle resurrected him only when it suited the requirements of a story he had already planned (The Hound of the Baskervilles) or as a means to some ready cash (the last three volumes of short stories). Lycett’s access to archival material sometimes threatens to overwhelm his portrait in minutiae, and his schematic portents (history, faith and family “were to battle for supremacy in Arthur’s personality”) are seldom persuasive. But his handling of newly available information on the uneasy triangle involving Doyle and his first and second wives; his checkered relationship with Harry Houdini, the debunker of spiritualism whom Doyle persistently and mistakenly claimed as an ally; and the tangled web of copyright lawsuits of film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes are all welcome.
Not by any means a new Doyle, but a familiar one supported by a wealth of new detail.