As a young medical student, Arthur Conan Doyle studied in Edinburgh under the vigilant eye of a diagnostic genius, Dr. Joseph Bell. Doyle often observed Bell identifying a patient's occupation, hometown, and ailments from the smallest details of dress, gait, and speech. Although Doyle was training to be a surgeon, he was meanwhile cultivating essential knowledge that would feed his literary dreams and help him develop the most iconic detective in fiction. Michael Sims traces the circuitous development of Conan Doyle as the father of the modern mystery, from his early days in Edinburgh surrounded by poverty and violence, through his escape to University (where he gained terrifying firsthand knowledge of poisons), leading to his own medical practice in 1882. Five hardworking years later--after Doyle's only modest success in both medicine and literature--Sherlock Holmes emerged in A Study in Scarlet. Sims deftly shows Holmes to be a product of Doyle's varied adventures in his personal and professional life, as well as built out of the traditions of Edgar Allan Poe, Émile Gaboriau, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens--not just a skillful translator of clues, but a veritable superhero of the mind in the tradition of Doyle's esteemed teacher. Filled with details that will surprise even the most knowledgeable Sherlockian, Arthur and Sherlock is a literary genesis story for detective fans everywhere.
How often can one tell the same old anecdote and still expect it to be fresh and entertaining? – this is one of the questions plaguing Michael Sim’s book.
After all most people well-acquainted with Sherlock Holmes must have heard the story of how Joseph Bell inspired the creation of the immortal detective. The famous tale about how Bell correctly deduced several important biographical facts about a British soldier with Elephantiasis can of course be found here again, and to Sims’s credit it must be said, that he does come up with some interesting new material regarding Bell and Doyle, but there is also a feeling that there was little reason for this book to come into existence, since for the most part it reads like a straight-forward biography with some treatises on medical history and the origins of detective fiction thrown in. While it is perfectly readable (unlike many other contemporary non-fiction writers Sims does not feel the need to tell his story in a jokingly witty way) it is also occasionally a bit dry and the passages about Edgar Allan Poe and the beginnings of detective literature feel like an old hat.
While Mattias Boström’s recent book about Holmes can be called a milestone, Athur & Sherlock seems more like an elaborate footnote. It might be of more interest to newbies, but more seasoned Sherlockians will mostly likely feel a bit bored.