Adult Summer Reading is just around the corner, with registration starting right after Memorial Day. This year’s theme is Literary Elements, covering a variety of genres and topics with an emphasis on science. Falling under this is a program I’m looking forward to in July that will feature Dr. James O’Brien speaking on the science of Sherlock Holmes. He is the author of “The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics,” so this should be an interesting topic.
As a Sherlockian/Holmesian (interchangeable fan terms for Sherlock Holmes geeks) I’m always looking for new books to read. I picked up “The Scientific Sherlock Holmes” interested in reading about the forensics Holmes used and seeing how his scientific ability measured up. Dr. O’Brien starts off his book by laying groundwork by exploring Arthur Conan Doyle’s background, literary detectives and outside influences used in creating Sherlock Holmes. Reading about Edgar Allan Poe’s early detectives, including those in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Gold Bug left me with a yearning to go back and enjoy his short stories again.
Then the reader is introduced to the characters of Holmes’ world, ranging from Dr. Watson and Moriarty to Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson. I especially enjoyed seeing how Holmes’ relationship with each person worked and how some of the relationships changed over Doyle’s writings.
O’Brien next moves onto Holmes’ early use of the different forensic sciences. The topics range from fingerprints and footprints, handwriting and cryptology, and even the use of dogs in crime fighting. Holmes’ use of forensics was oftentimes cutting-edge, proving that Doyle was a well-read man, staying current on new techniques and science. There were times in the stories that Doyle gave Holmes more ability than science actually allowed.
A good section of the book covers Holmes’ mastery of chemical science, looking at where he actually measured up and where he fell short. My strength in school was not science by any means, so while this part was still interesting, there were times I just pretended to know what I was reading and skipped on to the next section. A look at Sherlock and other fields of interest, including math, biology and physics, is the following chapter.
One of the final highlights of the book was a look at “Doyle scams,” which include the infamous Piltdown Man and a belief by some that Arthur Conan Doyle perpetrated this scam. There are even some who believe that Doyle was Jack the Ripper!
This was a great book, and as a Sherlock fanatic, I look forward to hearing the author speak this summer at the library. But for those who want a lighter touch to feed their Sherlock obsession, “The Sherlockian” by Graham Moore is a must read.
This fiction book has two storylines, moving between Arthur Conan Doyle, who has been enjoying a respite from writing Sherlock Holmes stories after killing him off, and Harold White, a modern-day member of the Baker Street Irregulars.
The Baker Street Irregulars is the England-based premiere group for fans of Sherlock, and Harold is ecstatic to be their newest member. The night of his enrollment is filled with excitement as news that Doyle’s missing diary has been found filters though the group. Doyle was a fanatic diary keeper, but the one covering the time he decided to bring back Holmes has never been found. After his many vocal outbursts promising never to write another Holmes story, people have wondered for years about what changed Doyle’s mind. But before the diary can be released, the discoverer is found murdered. Harold must use all his knowledge of Sherlock and his techniques to find not only the killer but the missing diary as well.
Alternating between the chapters covering the modern-day search is the story of Doyle in the early 1900s dealing with the public outcry over Holmes’ death. When a bomb is sent to him, Doyle is frustrated by the lack of police efficiency and decides to find the bomber himself. Soon, he finds himself embroiled in what promises to be a nasty murder investigation.
This book read as a gushing fan letter in some ways, with Harold White’s reactions and emotions ringing true. The author did an outstanding job of weaving the 1900s storyline with the modern one. I enjoyed this book so much that I’m seriously contemplating buying a copy for my own personal collection.
Both of these books had me longing to pull back out my Sherlock Holmes collection, to work my way through the stories that form the Sherlock canon. It’s been over a hundred years since the first story was published, but they’re still as popular, if not more so, today. Pick these books up and give them a read, and remember that the Joplin Public Library summer reading program is just around the corner.