Author: Michael Sims 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (January 24, 2017)
ISBN-10: 1632860392

ISBN-13: 978-1632860392

While I’ve read, seen, and heard  more than my fair share of fictional Sherlock Holmes stories, I haven’t spent much time reading any histories or biographies of the creator of Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  So I can’t say anything credible about whether or not Arthur and Sherlock presents anything new for Holmes devotees or breaks any new ground or sheds any new light for Doyle scholars. But I can report those of us who haven’t spent much time in the company of the actual good doctor/author should know that Michael Sims’ Arthur and Sherlock reads like a very fine introduction to pretty much everything that shaped the origins of the Sherlock Holmes mythos. In addition, I suspect even the most serious Holmes experts will find revelations they haven’t seen before, especially in the second half of the book.

Happily, the first chapters of Arthur and Sherlock don’t just cover the biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, describing his family background, his medical education—especially the mentoring he received from a long acknowledged model for Holmes, Dr. Joseph Bell, to Doyle’s early apprentice years and his time seeking to establish his own surgical practice.  Sims also chronicles Doyle’s lifelong reading and his first stabs at getting published. Sims’s discussions of Doyle’s reading and his awareness of popular novels focuses on fictional precursors to Holmes featuring characters and storylines created by Poe, Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and even the Book of Daniel from the Old Testament.    

Equally of interest is Sims’ overview of the times in which Doyle grew as a young man including the great shifts in scientific and medical knowledge as well as the surprisingly recent developments in police work. For example, the term “detective” was a relatively new term in the middle of the 19th century and the Metropolitan Police force and Scotland Yard had only been established in London in 1829. 

The second half of the book is where Holmes takes center stage, and this part of the book is essentially literary analysis. Sims breaks down nearly every element in A Study in Scarlet (1887) including the possible origins of the names of the primary characters, the structure of the novel that introduced us to the residents of 221b Baker Street, Sims’ evaluations of the characteristics of Holmes and his erstwhile companion, Dr. John Watson, as well as a detailed publication history of the novel. A bit of trivia I never knew was how Doyle’s artist father, Charles, was institutionalized for depression and alcoholism and did artwork for the first stand-alone publication of A Study in Scarlet.

Here, it’s likely even the most knowledgeable of Doyle/Holmes aficionados will benefit from Sims insights and perspectives. For example, Sherlock Holmes is known as a proponent of “deductive reasoning” (a form of logic employing a syllogism that moves from the general to the specific using a major premise, minor premise, and conclusion)   when, in fact, Holmes was more often using inductive reasoning (building a case by moving from the specific to the general, adding up small details to reach a conclusion.) 

Then, Sims discusses the publication  history of the first years of the Holmes series with rather quick hit-and-run descriptions of    The sign of the Four  (1890) and the short stories collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892). Clearly, anyone interested in the creation of the world’s first fictional consulting detective should not only enjoy Arthur and Sherlock, but also put the book down feeling educated in 19th century literature as a whole, not to mention life in London in that century. Sims’ writing style is often quite personable as he takes us on walks with Doyle, peeks behind the doctor’s curtains,  pokes around Doyle’s bookshelves, and finally explores the first adventures of Holmes and Watson in an analytical fashion Holmes would have approved of. What more can you ask for?