A lively look at the enduring detective.
A Sherlock Holmes fan since childhood, Portland Monthly co–executive editor Dundas (The Renegade Sportsman, 2010) embarks on a cheerful romp through the conception, fame, and afterlife of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth. The detective story was still in its literary infancy when Conan Doyle invented a character based on one of his medical school professors, “a hawk-nosed, gray-eyed wizard radiating an air of command.” Joseph Bell was a master diagnostician, making deductions from astute observations. “What if a detective did that?” Conan Doyle wondered. Dundas chronicles Holmes’ evolution as Conan Doyle fleshed out his personality and appearance, beginning with A Study in Scarlet (1887). In The Sign of the Four (1890), Holmes emerged as “a magnetic figure, coiled in his armchair, wreathed in smoke: a gray-eyed whipcord of skinny muscle wrapped in a dressing gown.” Watson, too, became deeper. Though “bluff and hearty,” he seemed to harbor “inner pain and loneliness.” Watson’s regard for Holmes, Dundas writes, is “one of literature’s great studies in devotion.” Readers found the Holmes stories irresistible, but by 1893, Conan Doyle was tired of producing them and summarily killed off his hero. Watson was not the only one bereft; readers called the author a brute. Years later, offered substantial money by a periodical, Conan Doyle revived Holmes with a barely believable tale accounting for his survival. Dundas offers attentive readings of Holmes stories; traverses the bleak landscape of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902); investigates Conan Doyle’s homes, haunts, and obsession with spiritualism; chronicles his visit to the cheesy museum at 221b Baker St. and his meetings with the Baker Street Irregulars, a “mother ship of a small, dedicated subculture of Holmes enthusiasts”; and recounts the work of the actors who have played Holmes, including Basil Rathbone, who felt the role consumed him, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
A bright read for Sherlock’s fans.