Book Review : The Sherlockian by Graham Moore
In December 1893, Sherlock Holmes-adoring Londoners eagerly opened their Strand magazines, anticipating the detective’s next adventure, only to find the unthinkable: his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning — crowds sported black armbands in grief — and railed against Conan Doyle as his assassin.
Then in 1901, just as abruptly as Conan Doyle had “murdered” Holmes in “The Final Problem,” he resurrected him. Though the writer kept detailed diaries of his days and work, Conan Doyle never explained this sudden change of heart. After his death, one of his journals from the interim period was discovered to be missing, and in the decades since, has never been found.
Or has it?
When literary researcher Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes enthusiast society, The Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he’s about to be thrust onto the hunt for the holy grail of Holmes-ophiles: the missing diary. But when the world’s leading Doylean scholar is found murdered in his hotel room, it is Harold – using wisdom and methods gleaned from countless detective stories – who takes up the search, both for the diary and for the killer. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I’ve enjoyed many of the original tales of Sherlock written by Arthur Conan Doyle, and so I was interested to read this fresh story by Graham Moore. The book opens with Arthur ranting about his desire to kill Sherlock because the creation has become more famous than the creator, while everyone knows the detective the author is obscure. The counter-point to Arthur, or perhaps actually Holmes, is Harold White who has just been admitted into an exclusive club, the Baker Street Irregulars in the year 2010. The plot twists along alternating between the two story lines. Alternating between two plots, with some relationships, helps to disguise the end in either and keeps the reader searching for hidden parallels that might aid in the discovery of the conclusion. Arthur murders Holmes, much to the dismay of the public, in the penny dreadfuls, but he didn’t account for having to live with his decision. Harold, a student of Holmes, and every other member of the convention has been confronted with a murder of their esteemed colleague who has discovered the fabled missing diary of Mr. Doyle. Harold, with the help of a reporter, Sarah, gets a lead on the other Holmes-wannabes by using the powers of reason and acute observation to try to find the diary and the murderer.
In ways, I believe I was more interested in Arthur’s problems because he was a real person, and part of the written material was historically accurate. I particularly liked seeing his friendship with Bram Stoker. It should be noted that Doyle did not have a letter bomb sent to him from disgruntled suffragists, that was purely fictional. I liked the idea that Arthur may have become caught up in his own fictional ideas of deductive reasoning. The question remains, why did Doyle choose to bring Sherlock back? – Did something happen in the author’s life beyond the desire to make money from another story that the public was anxious to gobble up?
Harold and the murdered Sherlockian, Alex Cale, is also loosely based on real fact. The real Richard Lancelyn Green died in a mysterious fashion after announcing that he had found Doyle’s lost papers. Sherlock’s students must have gone crazy wanting to solve the mystery and find the lost papers. I felt terribly sorry for Harold because he really had no one in his life, and he would have liked to have more. He even hoped that something might come about with Sarah, who was somewhat in the role of a Watson, though he never could believe it might be possible. I think he found the world of Sherlock more comforting, though fictionalized, than real life. Even England didn’t provide the romance he associated with living in the Victorian age.
I don’t want to spoil the endings, and so I am intentionally not giving much information. My conclusion was that I did not feel satisfied by the end of the story, in fact, with either story. Even though life is often unsettling, has loose ends, and justice is not always seen I want to feel complete at the end of a book. Satisfied or complete doesn’t always mean happy, but a feeling that things are settled in a reasonable fashion. By the end I cannot be happy or settled for Harold who seems like he has been used, neglected, accused and even disappointed in his entire life. I also didn’t feel like Arthur had a feeling of satisfaction, as he had tried living without Holmes to only bring him back, after he had tried to solve a murder using the methods he had written for the famous detective. It seems that real life was too much to deal with for Doyle and Harold.
Finally, I would say I liked the book, I wanted to love it, be intrigued, and feel the concluding spell of all the details whirling together through intelligence found in the original Doyle mysteries. I wished there had been a stronger tie between the two story lines, and miniscule, obscure clues to help me solve the problems. Sadly, I finished the book, closed the cover and thought … really, that was the end. Sigh.