Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sherlockian; A Review and Recommendation, and The Second Book Crossed Off My List

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Full disclosure here: I actually started this book a couple of years ago. I don't know if I had a lot of things going on at the time or if I just wasn't in the mood for it, but I put it down after reading the first few chapters. It has been on my TBR pile ever since. 

Excerpt from the book:

Sorry, I couldn't choose an excerpt. This book has too much "muchness" to choose an excerpt, and, besides, it's easy to find one online if you want. :)


Published in 2010, the Sherlockian is about obsession and fanaticism in many ways. The modern part of the book is about Holmes and Conan Doyle fans; the historical part of the book is about readers' obsessions with Sherlock Holmes to the point of treating him as if he were a real person and not an invention of his author. The book also touches on the more militant and extreme views and actions of the Suffregettes.  

There truly are in our modern world Sherlock Holmes fanatics and Arthur Conan Doyle fanatics, and apparently there really is a group of Sherlockians called the Baker Street Irregulars. The main character of the contemporary part of the book is a literary researcher and Holmes enthusiast named Harold White. While attending his first meeting as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, Harold discovers the foremost Holmes scholar murdered in his hotel room. The man had been scheduled to give a talk on the famous missing Holmes diary which he had claimed to have recently found. Harold is enticed into investigating the murder and finding the diary. In the turn-of-the-century portion of the novel, the main characters are Conan Doyle and his good friend, Bram Stoker. Their part of the story takes place in the last part of the year 1900, just before Conan Doyle brings Holmes back to life.  They are on the hunt for a serial killer, and this hunt happens to take place during the months covered by the missing diary. A lot is written about Conan Doyle's hatred of Holmes and why he killed him off and the public's reaction to the "death."  This is a multiple viewpoint novel, written with every other chapter taking us along the turn-of-the-century investigations with Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Instead of my trying to tell you any more of the plot, I liked this article in The New York Times about The Sherlockian. If you haven't already read the novel, this will give you a good preview of it.

Now, as for my opinion of the book --! Hmm. I liked it and didn't like it. I'm not a Holmes fanatic. I like a lot of the Holmes stories and LOVE the BBC series Sherlock. I liked the character of Holmes in the stories after he was brought back to life better than the earlier Holmes, but I can't say that I ever had a fellow-feeling or sympathy for him. I'm not an extremely big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While I think he was prodigiously talented, I know I wouldn't have liked the man himself. That being said, my own favorite author is someone I know I would not have really liked much in real life, so I am quite capable of being a fan of a canon of literary work without idolizing the author. 

I do like to be able to sympathize with the main character(s) of a novel, and I really didn't feel that way about Harold or the secondary character Sarah. Their part of the story, the investigation into the murder of the Holmes scholar and the search for the missing diary (there really were missing diaries and papers from that period at the end of 1900, by the way), couldn't keep me interested and keen throughout. I kept wavering between boredom and wishing they'd hurry up and a sudden spark of interest and appreciation. Expect a couple of plot twists toward the end, only one of which I thought was well-done.

I liked the Conan Doyle part of the story better, but not because I could sympathize with him. I actually really, really liked how Moore drew the character of Bram Stoker best out of all the characters from both centuries represented. The story line for this part of the novel was more plot-driven, and the murders were more interesting. There were also references to other authors, contemporaries and real-life friends of Conan Doyle's, like Barrie and Wilde, and I really enjoyed those bits. Moore also has Conan Doyle getting very dangerously close to the murders in his part of the story, in surprising ways. I suppose they would be the plot twists to expect in that portion of the story, and I actually rather liked them.

There was nothing really wrong with the plot, and Moore is a talented writer. I thought he did well with the dialog, especially the 18th/early 19th Century dialog. I would have preferred a bit more fleshing-out of the characters in the modern portion of the novel, or at least a bit more liveliness to them, but perhaps there was really no way of doing that; Harold White was just too milquetoast for me. I don't think he could have been improved without totally overhauling him. He would probably work better on screen with the right actor playing him. I do not own The Sherlockian and will not add a physical copy to my book shelves, but I would recommend giving it a try if you haven't read it. There are more good bits than bad. On a scale of one to five I waver between a 3.5 and a 4. I would definitely read another book by Graham Moore.


Graham Moore is a well-known screenwriter and author, probably best known at this time as the screenwriter for The Imitation Game, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Sherlockian was his first novel and was on the New York Times Bestseller List for three weeks.


I'd Kill For That edited by Marcia Talley

1 comment:

Geo. said...

Thank you for alerting me to this book. I have collected many works by Doyle and even more Holmes pastiches. I think lovers of rationalism delight in Holmes --a time when women were portrayed as conveyors of mysteries and men smelled of tweed and tobacco. There is a romantic attraction to Queen Victoria's England for me, Holmes's London, where the fog curls around one's legs and it is always 1895. Of course we consider Holmes a real person, a person humans might become if committed to justice, reason and fairness to all.