Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Immortal Sherlock Holmes

In junior high I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Scholastic Book order, especially when I had ordered novels upon which my favorite Classics Illustrated Comics were based. This is how I first came to read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. It is how I first came across The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.

One Scholastic Book I read over and over was The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I loved it. Whenever the Basil Rathbone movie version was broadcast on television I watched it. (Watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLETzw6c1XA ) That 'cheerful little spot," the misty moor with Stonehenge-like ruins, the mysterious killer dog, thrilled the girl me.

I grew up watching Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and I had Alfred Hitchcock's 1962 Ghostly Gallery. I had discovered Edgar Allen Poe in my grandfather's library. (And wrote about it here.) I loved a tattered volume of ghost stories found somewhere. Especially The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, which can be read here

Eerie and weird and mysterious were my favorite things.

I read other Holmes stories over the years. And later I watched the PBS television Sherlock Homes series on Mystery!, read The Seven Percent Solution  by Nicholas Meyer and saw the movie, and even saw Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother; I had married a Holmes fan.

But what did I really know about Holmes? Why does he persist until today inspiring novels, television shows, and movies based on his character?

I thought I'd find out by reading the new book by Zach Dundas,
The Great Detective:The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes 

Enthusiasm abounds in this volume. It is never stuffy and maintains a light voice. Dundas' writing is informal and rather like a roller coaster ride with all the information he packs into a chapter. He summarizes the Holmes stories, informs the reader of relevant background information, throws in personal background stories on Doyle, and talks about his personal investigation on London locals which inspired Holmes' London. We learn about Doyle's teacher who inspired the Holmesian scientific methods. We find out about Doyle's private life and his love/hate relationship with his creation.

Those of us who have not read the stories in decades will appreciate the summaries of the stories. I had planned on reading the stories along with this book. I read The Study in Scarlet. But decided not to continue reading the stories side-by-side with Dundas. His synopsis is so thorough there was no need.

Dundas considers the current media versions of Holmes including Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, which will delight fans, and looks at the fan fiction imagining various pairings of Holmesian characters. He addresses how Doyle allowed adaptations and use of his characters during his life time. He became quite tired of Holmes and 'killed him off'. Some years later he caved in and wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, a story quite unlike the previous ones.

In his conclusion Dundas offers reasons for the durability and continual relevance of the Holmes mythos.

The book will delight Holmes fans.

I thank the publisher and NetGalley for a free ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes
by Zach Dundas
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date June 2, 2015
ISBN: 9780544214040
$26 hard cover