No fictional detective is as widely known or widely read (or viewed) as Sherlock Holmes. Since his first appearance in 1887, Holmes has fascinated mystery lovers. He continues to do so today, as a character in movies, television series, books, even plays. I don’t think there’s an opera version, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’m wrong.
As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I came to mysteries through Sherlock Holmes when I was just 10 years old. I was given a book containing all the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories about Holmes – all 4 novels and 56 short stories. I fell in love with those classic mysteries, and I’ve never looked back.
But who really was Sherlock Holmes? There’s an interesting new book by B. J. Rahn, a professor of English Literature at Hunter College, called The Real World of Sherlock which goes into that question in some detail. Professor Rahn looks at the literary influences that produced Holmes, particularly Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, and at some of the real-life people who obviously influenced Doyle, especially his medical mentor at Edinburgh University, Dr. Joseph Bell. But the main influence was Conan Doyle himself, and Professor Rahn shows us how much of Doyle may be found in Holmes.
The book also looks at some of the developments in the real world of criminal investigation during the years of the original Holmes stories. Ever think of Sherlock Holmes as one of the earliest forerunners of CSI? Well, maybe, in his intensive observation of crime scenes that figures so strongly in the stories.
It’s an interesting book, quite well researched, and – particularly for today’s newcomers to Sherlock Holmes who want to find out more about the world’s first scientific detective and his creator – it deserves a place on your mystery reference shelf.
UPDATED – I should have mentioned that the publisher – Amberley Publishing – provided me with a copy of the book for this review.