A father-and-son team exposes the similarities of two very strange men, Jack the Ripper and Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Friedmans intersperse a biography of Doyle with a re-enactment of a tour of a handful of sites where the Ripper’s victims were killed. The original tour, which included Doyle, was an activity undertaken by a group the press referred to as the “Murder Club,” a dining club comprised of professional men who debated popular criminal cases (“admission to the club became one of the most sought-after prizes in the realm”). The authors have cast Doyle as leader of the tour, with a fictitious assortment of Ripper followers, including an American doctor, two ladies, two brothers, a lawyer and a financier. From the first, Doyle becomes the formulaic Holmes character, exuding pedantry and disdain for any theories not his own. His superiority complex and the never-ending scraps of information from his pockets eventually become tedious. The biographical sections of the book are much more interesting, as the authors expose the man with a titanic ego who always had a good excuse for his failures—e.g., even his thesis listed barriers that prevented a better paper. Doyle’s transcripts from medical school have been altered, and his letters home do not gel with actual events as he developed his fiction writing. His medical career never took off, but his schooling exposed him to three brilliant diagnosticians who provided the perfect model for Sherlock Holmes. Throughout, the Friedmans have the tour members discussing the intelligence, surgical ability and misogyny that could apply to both Holmes (Doyle) and the Ripper. The biography ends with the first Holmes mystery published in 1887, the year before the Ripper murders. “It would take four more years for Doyle’s consulting detective to bring him fame and fortune,” write the authors.
At first muddled and confusing, the book goes on to raise intriguing questions and possibilities for fans of both men.