In 1893 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in the story, "The Final Problem." Doyle wanted to pursue writing historical novels and thought this story would be the end of Sherlock Holmes. But it wasn’t. The public wanted more stories of Holmes and his intrepid assistant, Dr. Watson, and the outcry was immediate and sustained. Even Queen Victoria is rumored to have pressured Doyle. He held out for eight years, and finally relented with the release of The Hound of the Baskervilles. While published in 1901, the novel was set prior to Holmes' death. But the public still was not satisfied, and in 1903 Doyle started a new series of Holmes stories, beginning with “The Adventures of the Empty House,” which was set in 1894 and within which Holmes explains that he faked his death to fool his enemies.
No one has ever known for sure what events led to Doyle's decision to kill off Holmes and what prompted him to resurrect the detective. Even Doyle's detailed diaries of his life and his writing do not resolve the issue. Among Doyle’s and Holmes’ fans, historians and scholars there always has been interest and conjecture about what happened during those years? In The Sherlockian, Graham Moore uses historical questions and occurrences, past and contemporary, to tell a story filled with possibilities.
When Harold White, a literary researcher for motion picture studios, is invited to attend a meeting of The Baker Street Irregulars, the preeminent-by-invitation-only society for Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it seems like a dream come true. The focus of the meeting is Alex Cale, a longtime Irregular and noted scholar, who claims to have accomplished the impossible: located the missing volume of Doyle’s diary, which is supposed to cover when he killed off Sherlock Holmes, and then resurrected him. At the time of Doyle's death there was a missing volume from the series of daily diaries. Others have tried to find the missing piece, but Alex Cale has done it and will reveal all at the meeting. But Cale is found dead, the diary is missing, and the police seem to have no clue how to solve either crime. Can Harold, the newest, and one of the youngest, members of the Irregulars use Holmes’ methods to solve these two mysteries?
In The Sherlockian, Graham Moore tells a story that is part mystery, and part historical fiction. The tale alternates between events during Doyle’s life in Victorian London and in contemporary New York and London. In the past, readers will follow Doyle as he consults with Scotland Yard, and is assisted by Bram Stoker who steps in as his “Watson." In the present, readers will follow Harold White, a devoted Holmes and Doyle devotee, as he attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding a murder that takes its origins from the real life murder Richard Lancelyn Green, a British scholar of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Green was found dead in 2004 surrounded by mysterious circumstances that seemed to replicate a Holmes murder case, and may have been linked to the auction of some Doyle manuscripts.
The mysteries presented in both eras are fascinating with the intertwining of references to actual events. It is interesting to watch each “detective,” one Holmes’ creator and the other an obsessive Holmes fan, try to utilize the methods and madness of the fictional character to solve very real crimes that have intruded upon their lives. Equally significant is the wistfulness Moore gives to each character about times other than their own. Doyle does not seem to welcome the future, and looks longingly back at his life in London, dragging his feet as he is forcibly taken into a London of electric street lamps where women fight for the vote. Similarly, White states at one point, “It’s funny, I’m so much more familiar with Britain a hundred years ago than Britain today.” His love of Doyle, his detective Holmes, and their overly romanticized depiction of the Victorian era have almost completely overtaken his existence. It is only when a female character points out the gains brought with time and technology, and the comforts that would be lost living in the past, that White begins to realize just how good he has it living in the 21st century.
The Sherlockian is a fast paced thrill-ride of a book that will satisfy Doyle/Holmes fans, mystery readers and anyone just looking for a great history tinged adventure.