The Sherlockian – A Review

Wandering the library stacks, I pulled The Sherlockian at random and read the inside dust jacket. Intrigued and amused by the summary, I promptly included it on my book list. That was over a year ago. And another trip wandering through the stacks brought me back to the book. It was destiny.

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore tells two stories: that of two unlikely detectives who search for the lost volume of Arthur Conan Doyle’s diary and that of what occurs within the pages of the missing diary. Harold, a life-long devotee of Sherlock Holmes, is finally inducted into the exclusive society, Baker Street Irregulars just days before one of the prominent members is murdered at a Sherlockian convention. Enter the conveniently-present female journalist and let the case begin. However, there’s a twist to Graham Moore’s technique—he alternates between the two plotlines every chapter. So Chapter 1 is about Arthur Conan Doyle and Chapter 2 is about Harold, Sarah, and deerstalker caps. I am not usually a fan of this method because the author normally leaves far too much time between chronological plotline and flashbacks, leaving the reader disoriented and scrambling to decipher what happened the last time he was reading about 1899. Moore, by keeping the two plotlines moving forward chronologically at the same time, pulls it off brilliantly. Moore combines humor, intrigue, pathos, and drama to create a truly compelling mystery. The humor misled me, at first, that this would be a charming, well-crafted mystery—one that you would read by a warm fire. Yes, it is charming and well-crafted. But it is also more. It uses the conventional mystery genre to discuss the artist’s relationship with his art, the effects of grief, the existence of pain, and the consequences to one’s actions. If you want a book that will make you feel good at the end, then pass by The Sherlockian because you will not likely “feel good” at the end. If you want a book to engage you and possibly challenge your assumptions, whether you agree with its conclusions or not, The Sherlockian is a good choice—especially if you like crime novels, mysteries, or anything remotely related to Sherlock Holmes.

Disclaimer: There are flaws in this book and there are things with which I seriously disagree. If you want my opinion beyond a basic review of the book, ask me—I’ll give my praise and my points of contention. But I had not the time nor space to do so here. While this book contained far less foul language that I tend to expect from contemporary literature, let us say that it has its share of both Victorian and contemporary obscenities and innuendoes. The crimes are gruesome and disturbing. However, the gruesome crimes in The Sherlockian was not described in as gruesome details as it could have been. And I appreciated Moore’s restraint.

There were a few unexpected side effects to reading this book. First, I actually took the time to write a review of it—something I rarely ever do, even to books I consider among the best in literature. Second, I had no idea that Bram Stoker would be my favorite character in the book and that I would be including Dracula by Bram Stoker on my book list. Third, I grew so engrossed in my reading I was startled three times by people approaching that I had not heard at all. So beware for all you who work with heavy machinery—do not read this book on the job.

It is not amazing to me that people enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories. But it will never cease to amaze me how much artistic materials other writers, actors, and directors have gleaned from the books and expanded on them. Arthur Conan Doyle was the only one who could write the original Holmes. But that is what is so good about storytelling. You can take characters, stories, ideas from someone else and re-tell them, embellish them, and change things around to create an entirely new story. This is precisely what Graham Moore has done. With enough history to make it almost credible, enough humor to make it entertaining, and enough intrigue to keep you on the edge of your seat, Moore has told the story of Arthur Conan Doyle’s search for a murderer and Harold White’s search for a journal—both men in their own way looking for the solution to a final problem. So if you’re looking for a new twist on an old story, check out The Sherlockian this summer.

What about you? What is on your reading list this summer?

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