BOOK: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore (2010)

This intriguing, entertaining mystery is two (two!  TWO!) Sherlock Holmes stories in one.  The first, set in 1800, launches when Arthur Conan Doyle kills off  England’s most beloved fictional character, the aforementioned great detective, and receives a letter bomb in response.  The second, set in the modern-day, is about Harold White, the newest (and youngest) inductee into the Baker Street Irregulars, the most exclusive and prestigious Sherlock Holmes fan club ever (“fan club” is a phrase the Irregulars would hate,  because the group clearly considers themselves to be Holmesian scholars, not fans, but they’re kinda dorks that way, so I’m sticking with it).

In the early story, author Conan Doyle manages to trace the letter bomb back to its maker, only to learn it was not, as he assumed, a Holmes fan trying to punish him for committing the murder of the century, but instead a young woman trying desperately to hire him to help solve the murders of two of her friends, both suffragettes.  Teaming up with his best pal Bram Stoker, Arthur vacillates between not wanting to help a woman whose method of asking for that help nearly blew his arm off, and being unable to resist the lure of demonstrating himself to be far superior to his creation.

As it turns out, Conan Doyle has quite an inferiority complex in regard to his fictional detective.  Since Holmes became so popular, Conan Doyle has absolutely loathed him, in large part because he only wrote the Sherlock stories to make enough money to write novels on subjects he was far more passionate about, only to find nobody was interested in reading them.  Living in the shadow of his own fictional character has been hell for Arthur, but, as Stoker keeps reminding him, he could never have created a detective so brilliant if he, Conan Doyle, were not so brilliant himself.  If anyone can solve the mystery of the murdered suffragettes, Stoker says, it’ll be the man who dreamed up the greatest detective the world has ever known.  (And here we learn Bram Stoker was the absolute master of playing off people’s inferiority complexes, probably because he had quite a huge one himself.)

Meanwhile, in the present day, Harold White is having the time of his life.  He’s at the annual meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, having just been inducted into the group, something he’s wanted ever since he read his first Sherlock Holmes story as a kid.  Even more exciting, he’s just met THE Alex Cale in the hotel lobby, the most famous and widely published of all the Irregulars, and the man whose presentation the next day promises to blow the minds of every Holmes worshiper in the world.  Cale, you see, claims to have found the long-lost missing installment of Arthur Conan Doyle’s diary — the installment covering, obviously, the period we’re being told about in the alternating tale.  The diary holds the answer, all believe, to the question:  Why did Arthur Conan Doyle kill off Sherlock Holmes, only to resurrect him a short while later with what eventually became his most famous work, The Hound of the Baskervilles?  Something for Doyle changed dramatically after he pushed Holmes off a cliff — something huge enough to make him want to bring his beloved (to everyone but him) character back to life.

Of course, since this is a murder mystery, Cale is found dead the next morning.  And, also of course, since he’s found dead by Harold White and a bunch of other Holmes groupies, a band of Irregulars immediately decide they’re the only ones who will be able to solve the case, find the diary, and deliver it to the world.

This is a really entertaining novel, though I had some issues with the writing style.  I wasn’t surprised to learn the author was 28 and this was his first book — the writing is a bit on the over-flowery/over-done side.  (Hey, Graham, for your next one, repeat after me:  Less is Moore).  The Conan Doyle story wasn’t as riveting as I think it could’ve been either, but I found the modern-day part satisfying enough, and I enjoyed the historical elements, especially the friendship between Arthur and Bram, intriguing as well.  Overall, this was a great pick for a recent camping trip — the perfect book to devour lake-side, for sure, and a really fun idea for a story that I think many Sherlockians will enjoy.



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