Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first novel The Narrative of John Smith in 1883 when he was just 23, living in Portsmouth and struggling to establish himself as a doctor and a writer. Never published before, it has exceptional value as a window into the mind of the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and many of the themes and tropes of Conan Doyle's later writing can clearly be seen. Via the protagonist, John Smith, a 50-year-old man confined to his room by an attack of gout, Conan Doyle sets down his thoughts and opinions on a range of subjects – literature, science, religion, war and education – making it a novel of considerable biographical importance. While it is more a string of ruminations than a fully developed novel, The Narrative of John Smith is, nevertheless, a fascinating record of an early attempt at writing by a man who was on his way to becoming one of the best-known authors in the world.
Doyle's first novel, written when he was 23 years old, was lost in the mail, but the author later recreated most of it. The unfinished second version has never been published before, and while it won't be confused with any of Doyle's acclaimed Holmes or Professor Challenger stories, it's still an interesting read that offers insights into the author's worldview. Narrator Smith is incapacitated and confined to his room on doctor's orders, which gives him plenty of time to ruminate on religion, race relations, biology, and literature. The invalid approves of the enlightened attitude toward others shown by a fellow lodger, an unnamed army major, who anticipates the Doyle who was later to champion George Edalji and campaign against the Belgian slave trade. The major calls for "ore black faces in the streets of London, and more white ones in the country parts of India. We should find billets in England for a thousand bright Hindoo youths every year, and send out as many of our own young fellows to work at the tea and indigo." Casual readers will view this more as a curiosity than a must-read, but Sherlockians will enjoy noting phrases and sentiments that recur in Dr. Watson's tales.