Thomson, author of 18 crime novels and three collections of her own Sherlock Holmes pastiches, delves into the Conan Doyle canon with a nitpicker’s zeal to document the speculative roots of Holmes’s misogyny (a cold, aloof mother), his scientific methods (reading chemistry at Oxford), and his mercurial temperament (a French grandmother and cocaine-induced mania and lethargy). By contrast, she ascribes John Watson’s romanticism (two dearly loved wives), hard-work ethic (the establishment of two separate medical practices), and stability (his repeated attempts to wean Holmes from addictive substances and adopt more socially accommodating behavior) to a more conventional middle-class Victorian upbringing. Watson’s hero-worship, Holmes’s emotional cruelty and peremptory ban on recording all his cases, Mycroft Holmes’s influence on his less gifted brother, the significance of the beekeeping monograph, the rift that developed between Holmes and Watson after each of the good doctor’s marriages, and the grief that Holmes’s three-year Great Hiatus caused and its effects on their friendship are all dealt with, while rival Sherlockians’ theories are disputed in two appendices.
Holmesian fanatics will probably enjoy the quibble-factor generated by some of Thomson’s conclusions. Mere fans will be exasperated, bemused, or simply baffled by the minutiae.