Creating Sherlock Holmes – Review

Charlotte Montague. Creating Sherlock Holmes. New York: Chartwell, 2017. Print.

Creating Sherlock Holmes is a picture-filled resource for the Sherlock Holmes fan. It is a basic biography of Arthur Conan Doyle: his family, his education, his unorthodox religious beliefs, his writing, with a focus on Sherlock Holmes.

There are copies of numerous family photographs and illustrations from the original magazine and book issues of the Holmes stories. It has, for example, a photograph of the cover of the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual, which carried the very first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, and which was a key property in Elementary, She Read, a novel recently reviewed in these pages.

For the fan, there are also photos and brief descriptions of some of the better known film and television adaptations of Holmes stories. There is also something else that would make this not only an appealing book to look at and read, but also a helpful resource. Creating Sherlock Holmes contains a summary of each of the 56 (or so) Holmes stories written by Doyle. This can be helpful for the reader who has read the stories, even The Complete Collection but may not recall the details of each one.

Like most readers, Montague believes that The Hound of the Baskervilles may be the best of all the Holmes stories. She does not necessarily subscribe to the idea that the stories after Holmes’1903 resurrection were inferior. Indeed, she calls The Valley of Fear “one of his [Doyle’s] greatest achievements.” (128)

Because there are many illustrations from the original magazines, we can see how Holmes got to be imagined a certain way. All the stories tell us is that Holmes was taller than average and had boxed when he was younger. The tweed coat, aquiline nose, and deerstalker hat seem to have been used by illustrator Frederic Dorr Steele. And Steele may have been partly inspired by actor William Gillette who began portraying Holmes on stage in 1899.

Creating Sherlock Holmes also describes most of the other works Doyle is known for, including some of his science fiction, notably The Lost World, and his political writings such as The Crime of the Congo. This reviewer recommends the latter for anyone interested in Joseph Conrad and especially Heart of Darkness. Doyle was a studious researcher, though there is probably a reason that today he is best known for Mr. Holmes.

Creating Sherlock Holmes
is a relaxing trek into the world of Arthur Conan Doyle, especially the ins and out of 221B Baker Street. It is best appreciated at a leisurely pace, taking in all the text and illustrations.

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