Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Devon: A Complete Tour Guide & Companion

Back in 2009 my second book "Close to Holmes" was published. It was praised as a book that could be used as a reference work as well as a travel guide.

The same can easily be said for "Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Devon: A Complete Tour Guide & Companion" by Paul Spiring, Brian Pugh and Sadru Bhanji.

It is broken down into five sections. There are chapters on Arthur Conan Doyle; George Turnavine Budd, his one-time medical partner; George Newnes, the notable
publisher; and Bertram Fletcher Robinson, the journalist and author. The final and largest chapter is the Devon tour.

The sections on the four men are not comprehensive biographies but that is not their intention. The purpose of these smaller chapters is to give you a good idea of who these men were, their relationship to each other and, more
importantly, their relationship to Devon. This goal is achieved with great success. It is like being introduced to the actors in a great drama before the curtain goes up.

The fifth section is a guide to some thirty Devon locations with connections to the Sherlock Holmes stories or the lives of Doyle, Budd, Newnes and Robinson. All the locations come with maps, written directions and notes explaining their relevance. The locations cover everything from houses to graveyards and all have
strong links. Other books have often gone to great lengths to mention locations or people with tenuous links to the work of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. The same cannot be said for this book.

Even if you have no plans to go to Devon this book deserves a place on your shelf. If you do go to Devon it will be an invaluable companion.

The Science of Sherlock Holmes

This book has been around for a while now but like others covered in this blog it has been attacked for its readability. Some people have criticised it for not flowing very well for example.

This is an unreasonable criticism as this is a reference work that I don't believe is really designed to be bed time reading. Yes it can seem a little disjointed at times but that is a criticism that has been thrown at my own books.

What this book really is is a reference work covering the emerging science of forensics at the time of Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle. Treat it as such as you'll have a good time with it.

A confession

I have begun reading "A Duet" which is one of many works that ACD composed during his residence at Undershaw. Like many people I came to ACD through Sherlock Holmes and have not read many of his non-Holmes works. I have, of course, read "Memories and Adventures" and have dipped into such works as
"Through the Magic Door" but I have never been able to persevere.

Why is this? Perhaps it's because I only want Holmes. I honestly don't know. However I will finish "A Duet" which is proving charmingly entertaining.

Arthur Conan Doyle Society

I recently took possession of my latest eBay purchase. This was issues two to fifteen of the society newsletter of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society.

I've not read them all yet but I am impressed with it and would love to get hold of a copy of the first issue. Indeed I would like to know the total number of issues to-date.

Book review - England's Secret Weapon

Note: This is the book that pipped me (with Close to Holmes) and others to the 2010 Sherlock Holmes Society of London - Tony & Freda Howlett Award. Rest assured however that I shall remain objective :-)

The author Amanda Field presents the reader with a truly exhaustive study of the 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios Holmes films that featured Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Before I launch into my review I think it is important to manage expectations.

I have looked at some Amazon reviews of this book which have been decidedly unkind. For the most part they are written by people who bought the book expecting it to be full of witty anecdotes and trivia about the Rathbone/Bruce films. When they have found this not to be the case they have damned the book.

So, to be clear, this is NOT such a book. There remains a space in the market for someone to produce a more light-hearted book on these films but to criticise Field's book for not being in this style is not fair. 

Field's book is a film study and concerns itself with the style of the films and the way they depicted changing attitudes in society and how they in turn were affected by them.

While she does address all of the films, Field focuses largely on those produced by Universal Studios (the latter 12 of the 14 Rathbone pictures). She breaks these down into three groups and proceeds to analyse each of them within the context of that group.

The first group were the films that were evidently rooted in their time. These were the overt war films such as "The Voice of Terror" where Nazis featured and Holmes was very much fighting for the allies.

The second group are the chronologically ambiguous films which were deliberately devoid of too many specific temporal references. Amongst these were such films as "The Scarlet Claw" and "The House of Fear".

The final group consisted of the horror films. These often shifted between time periods with Baker Street remaining firmly Victorian but the rest of the world being very much mid-twentieth century. However these films (examples being "The Woman in Green" and "Dressed to Kill") featured glamorous and dangerous female villains and monstrous forms of death such as venomous spiders and deformed giants that broke their victims backs.

Field analyses these films by looking at everything from sets, costumes and publicity materials and explains how they were all adjusted in line with the impression the films were desired to give and the audience they wished to attract.

Light reading it is not but it is the ultimate resource for those wishing to understand the thinking behind these iconic films.

The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle (DVD)

I know this was broadcast some years ago but I feel that it is time to review it because for me it causes real issues.

My principal issue is that I love it even though it is littered with errors.

It remains, in my opinion, the best way to show a non-Sherlock Holmes / Arthur Conan Doyle fan the lead-up to Holmes' "death" (and the reasons for it) along with Conan Doyle's personal struggles. My wife, who likes the stories but is not a Sherlockian, got a good grasp of Conan Doyle the man courtesy of this drama.
It is also a hugely enjoyable piece that is, I think, well shot and acted.
However we then have to launch into the negatives...

Mainly the issues are those of chronology. The time line is all over the place. The story opens in 1893 just before Holmes' "death" yet the party depicted in the opening scenes took place in 1897. Conan Doyle's son is depicted as a baby (which he would have been in 1893) but at the party in question he would have been five years old.

Conan Doyle has a butler called Cleeve from the opening scene. However Cleeve here is too old and ACD did not hire him until 1897 when he moved into Undershaw in Surrey. All this happened four years after Holmes vanished at Reichenbach.

Back to the positives.

Louise Conan Doyle is given sympathetic treatment which is good as she is too often portrayed as the sick wife who is the obstacle to her husband's happiness.

Back to the negatives.

However Jean Leckie (later to be ACD's second wife) is still presented as the woman who saved ACD from his personal hell and gave him the happiness that he so craved. Precious little is made of the fact that they conducted themselves right under Louise's nose. All we get is one brief scene that alludes to the conflict ACD's conduct causes in the family.

Douglas Henshall and Emily Blunt as Arthur Conan Doyle and Jean Leckie

At the end, ACD's decision to resurrect Holmes is portrayed as springing from the realisation that Holmes was part of himself rather than the knowledge that Holmes would bring in good money. ACD was always very economically driven and made no secret of the fact that he used Holmes as a cash-cow.

Back to the positives.

The casting is excellent (butler excepted). Douglas Henshall in particular makes a first class Conan Doyle and the best I have ever seen portrayed. Emily Blunt (pre-Young Victoria) makes a good Jean Leckie despite the fact that she is more attractive than the original. However she plays a Jean that seems too innocent and unaware of the trouble that she is causing. It seems pretty clear that the real Jean Leckie saw what she wanted in Conan Doyle and got him. You get no sense of that in this drama. Allan Corduner makes an excellent Herbert Greenhough Smith (of the Strand Magazine) and, despite looking nothing like the original, Brian Cox makes a good Dr Bell. However for me the laurels go to Saskia Reeves for her sympathetic portrayal of Louise Conan Doyle.

It is hard to get hold of the DVD except as part of a larger set. However you should try your best to get hold of it. Despite its flaws it is a quality drama and educational too.

Book suggestions

Feel free to recommend books (Sherlockian or Doylean) that you think I might like. Any I get I will review here.


Popped into Croydon Library yesterday. I practically lived there when researching my book on ACD's Norwood years. It was rather nice to be back and see the section where all my books sit.

Alas I didn't get what I wanted when there but I did unearth a few useful facts which I shall be writing up over the course of this coming week.

Review of "The Sherlockian"

The Sherlockian is the story of new "Irregular" Harold and his quest to find answers about the death of famous Sherlockian Alex Cale and to locate Arthur Conan Doyle's lost diary. In parallel we head into the past and follow Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker as they investigate the murder of a number of women in London's East End.

I have to confess that during the first few chapters my eyebrows were almost permanently raised as the author Graham Moore re-wrote the history of Conan Doyle in order to make his story work. Conan Doyle not only gains an extra son, Roger, but also a grandson, Sebastian, and lives out his final years at Undershaw rather than Windlesham.

Initially these changes worried me as I wondered where Moore intended to go with them but as the story moved on his changes began to make sense and my worries evaporated.

Various characters throughout the book are based on actual Sherlockians. Moore confesses to some of these at the end of the book but not all which suggests that he himself is unaware of how similar some of his characters are to real people.

I had to smile when, towards the book's end, the hero (if he can be so called) arrives at Undershaw and Moore describes the battle between developers and preservationist groups to determine the building's future. I am personally involved with "The Undershaw Preservation Trust" and visited the house quite recently so I felt a real connection to this section of the book and understood Harold's feelings as he visited the site.

The chapters alternate between Harold's quest and Conan Doyle's investigation  and, at first, you wonder if this constant switching will work. Rest assured that it does although it is very often the case that a chapter set in 1900 ends on cliff-hanger and you want to rush through the next contemporary chapter in order to see where Conan Doyle's story is going next.

The depiction of Conan Doyle is occasionally hard to swallow especially when  Moore has him and Stoker dressing up as women to attend a suffragette meeting  but a little suspension of disbelief is all you need to get past this and see  the humour in the situation.

The Sherlockian is a fun story which keeps you hooked. The way the story ends  can be seen coming but the enjoyment does not suffer as a result. If you have enjoyed Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde murder mysteries you will enjoy this and I very much hope that Graham Moore puts his pen to paper (or finger to key) again
and writes more in this field.

The battle has begun

I have just received the distressing news that Waverley Borough Council have finally decided to grant the owners of Undershaw the right to develop it. It was hoped that this would be denied but the council have decided to proceed, arrogantly casting aside overwhelming worldwide opposition. It strikes me that they are doing this out of sheer spite rather than anything else.

So, in response, the Undershaw Preservation Trust is starting the legal wheels in search of a judicial review.

Down but certainly not out.


Another 350 words (approx) today. Well done me.

The Sherlockian

Last night I finished reading Graham Moore's new novel "The Sherlockian". I have
written a review which I shall publish here as soon as Mr Moore has had a chance
to read it.

The shame

I was so determined to do some research this evening but I just don't have the energy. I promise you all that I'll be back on the case tomorrow.

Online newspapers

I have been very fortunate with the availability of on-line archives of old newspapers. The New York Times very nicely allow access to theirs for free. The British Library has a mixed access collection of old UK regional papers and there is of course the Times archive.

It is no exaggeration to say that this book and my earlier ones would have been hard to write without these resources.

Book update

My Undershaw book approaches 20,000 words. I may have to have a mini-party.

A brief hello

Having just looked at my blog statistics, I would like to say hello to my audience which, apart from the UK and US, extends to South Korea and Russia.

Welcome to you all and I hope you find this blog of interest.


Yesterday I finally stood (and sat) in the grounds of Undershaw.

The house is in a shocking state. You really cannot grasp how bad it is until you are there. The sooner it is rescued from those who see it purely in cash terms the better. We should all continue to hope things turn out well.

Afterwards I met John Gibson the co-author of the famous Conan Doyle Bibliography.

He was very generous with his time and I feel that he will be a great help with information for my book on the Undershaw years.

The Sherlockian

Well if I had any doubts over what I should be reading for the next few weeks they have been laid to rest by a parcel which I have just received.

Yes I have just received the 'advance reading copy' of "The Sherlockian" by Graham Moore. It is released in December so I have a little time to get on with it and write a review.