A rollicking look at popular culture’s most beloved sleuth: “For even the casual fan, the history of this deathless character is fascinating” (The Boston Globe).
Today he is the inspiration for fiction adaptations, blockbuster movies, hit television shows, raucous Twitter banter, and thriving subcultures. More than a century after Sherlock Holmes first capered into our world, what is it about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s peculiar creation that continues to fascinate us? Journalist and lifelong Sherlock fan Zach Dundas set out to find the answer. The result is The Great Detective: a history of an idea, a biography of someone who never lived, a tour of the borderland between reality and fiction, and a joyful romp through the world Conan Doyle bequeathed us.
In this “wonderful book” (Booklist, starred review), Dundas unearths the inspirations behind Holmes and his indispensable companion, Dr. John Watson; explores how they have been kept alive over the decades by writers, actors, and readers; and visits locales—from the boozy annual New York City gathering of one of the world’s oldest and most exclusive Sherlock Holmes fan societies; to a freezing Devon heath out of The Hound of the Baskervilles; to sunny Pasadena, where Dundas chats with the creators of the smash BBC series Sherlock. Along the way, he discovers the ingredients that have made Holmes go viral—then, now, and as long as the game’s afoot.
Sherlock Holmes's popularity prompted Dundas (The Renegade Sportsman) to investigate how and why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's hero and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, have endured for so long. Dundas strives to use the detective's famed techniques to ferret out Conan Doyle's influences Poe, pioneering surgeon Joseph Bell and chronicle the influence Holmes has exercised through parodies, tributes, plays, films, TV series, and even comic books and fan fiction. The work is admirably exhaustive, but it's also exhausting. Despite a rigorous Sherlockian "commitment to the facts," lengthy personal digressions, such as Dundas's tour of Dartmoor, the setting for The Hound of the Baskervilles, with his family, seem more self-serving than illuminating. Dundas's admiration for Holmes is never in doubt, and he unearths some interesting anecdotes about Conan Doyle: Holmes's creator was an early auto enthusiast (who "collected speeding tickets") and had an interest in spiritualism, and as a writer, Conan Doyle was amusingly "reckless about accuracy" and character consistency. But Dundas's smug tone, strained attempts at humor with David Foster Wallace like footnotes, and tendency to synopsize plots are wearying. If only Dundas, like Sherlock, had simply "seen and observed" his fascinating material.