Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: Daniel Smith
Publisher: Aurum Press
The well-known saying, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” immediately springs to mind on hearing the title of Daniel Smith’s enlightening work on the great detective, The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide. That the contents of this guide are anything but elementary, however, becomes clear when one sees how wide-ranging and diverse they are.
A thoroughly revamped edition of a work that was first brought out five years ago, the Companion is a joy and pleasure to behold, being as much a wonderfully illustrated gift book as an incisive entrée into the late Victorian world of crime and detection, in fictional form, as probed by a passionate lifelong Holmes devotee. The backbone of this book is provided by one-page synopses of all four of the Sherlock Holmes novels and fifty-six short stories in Doyle’s canon, given in as close a chronological order as is possible, given the extensive debate that has arisen around such an issue. Although there are a few spoilers in these overviews, by and large they can comfortably be read not only to remind one of plots that might be eluding one’s memory, but as an enticement, in the case of those who have not, as yet, read the works, to, in fact, do so.
Interspersed with the plot summaries, and starting with a social and political chronology of the years 1879 to 1903 (being the period from Holmes’s first reported case ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ until his official and final exit from the pages of detective lore, at least as emanating from the pen of Doyle), a wealth of information is presented regarding the background to the author’s prolific output, and as to the form that such literary masterpieces have taken since. That Doyle’s writings have stood the test of time, and are still, even in this digital age, as revered as ever bears witness to the universality of his themes, the depth of his characterisation, and the abiding interest of his subjects, which readily translate into modern-day sagas, as can so clearly be seen in the riveting, and still currently aired, television series, Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
It is only fitting that a biographical sketch of Doyle be followed by profiles of his key creation, the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes, as well as of the recorder, and narrator, of the tales, his close friend, Dr John H. Watson. The latter discussions are of great interest to anyone coming to Doyle’s work for the first time, as it is seldom that one’s reading is likely to be in chronological order, and with each story revealing only those aspects of the characters that are relevant to the plot, a broader, more comprehensive view of their backgrounds should prove to be enlightening as to the context from which the characters emerge Additional insightful chapters that fill one in on different aspects of the character of Holmes include ‘Holmes as the Detective-Scientist’, ‘Scotland Yard and the Police’, ‘Holmes and his Pleasures’, ‘Dr Joseph Bell’, ‘Holmes in the Town and in the Country’, ‘The Literary Lineage’, ‘Holmes and the Curious Affair of the Missing Woman’, and ‘Holmes and his Politics’. Pieces on Holmes’s arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty, as well as on other villains, provide valuable insights into the darker side of Holmes’s world, revealing how they came to be so “irredeemably horrible”. The publication of Doyle’s work is covered in chapters on the Strand Magazine, and on the illustrator (one of many) Sidney Paget’s contribution to the lasting image of Holmes and Watson out on a case. In covering Holmes’s legacy, Smith explains how he has become such a celebrity that he is now known as “one of the world’s most enduring ‘brands’”. Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collection at Marylebone Library in London, Catherine Cooke discusses her concern with the Collection, as well as with the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.
In a series of interviews entitled ‘Holmes and Me’, actors of stage and screen who have been intimately involved with producing their own accounts of the Great Detective and his constant companion, Dr Watson, reveal how they became interested, and involved, in doing so. Those interviewed include Roger Llewellyn, Philip Franks, Douglas Wilmer, David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, and Mark Gatiss. In addition, the writer and military historian Caleb Carr discusses how he coped with the challenges encountered in writing a new Holmes story, and Bert Coules, head writer on the BBC project to dramatise Doyle’s entire cannon for radio for the first time, shares how he transformed literature into the spoken word for public consumption. This aspect of The Sherlock Holmes Companion is rounded off with a comprehensive discussion of ‘Holmes on Stage, Screen and Radio’.
Overall, this is a wonderful volume, and would make a wonderful gift for anyone who is keen on Doyle and his abiding creations, the Great Detective and his comrade in arms, Dr Watson. Want to know whether The Sherlock Holmes Companion will be a valued addition to a friend’s library? Check their DVDs, and if they have a box set of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or ‘Sherlock’, you’ll know that it most definitely will.