Holmes imitators - A blessing or a curse for Conan Doyle?

Once Sherlock Holmes achieved popularity and Arthur Conan Doyle began to make serious money, it was a given that other people would attempt to take a slice of the 'literary detective' cake. As I mention in The Norwood Author, two detectives appeared in 1893 - the same year that Holmes was destined to leave the stage (as it were). The first was Loveday Brooke who debuted in The Ludgate Monthly in February 1893. In an evident attempt to stand out, the character was a lady detective which must have been pretty revolutionary at the time.

In what appears as an attempt to present readers with a familiar experience, the illustrator clearly went for a Paget style for his accompanying drawings. The above drawing (from The Black Bag Left on a Doorstep) is very much the same as the train carriage drawings that Paget drew for The Boscombe Valley Mystery and Silver Blaze.

However the writer's efforts were not enough. The Pall Mall Gazette of April 6th 1894 reviewed the stories (presumably when they were compiled into book form) and said that even though they were as good as similar stories (presumably not including Holmes) they relied too much on a fixed pattern which the reviewer defined as follows:

'avoid the obvious criminal: connect your case if possible with some absolutely irrelevant advertisement read by chance in the morning paper: score off everyone else around, but remember last of all that it is possible even for an amateur detective to be a bore.'

In December 1893, just as Holmes (supposedly) went over the falls of Reichenbach, a more successful would-be replacement emerged. His name was Sexton Blake. His similarities to Sherlock Holmes were such that he was even referred to as 'the poor man's Sherlock Holmes'.

In fact, the similarities were so startling that it is a wonder that legal proceedings were not started by Conan Doyle or The Strand. Blake's appearance was virtually identical to Paget's Holmes, he eventually (but not initially) had a residence on Baker Street, he had a less intelligent sidekick who was a man of action and his name even had the same number of syllables (which I believe was probably a conscious decision - the same of course was true for Loveday Brooke).

Blake suffered (or did not depending on your point of view) from having no single author. Consequently he was able to have a lot more adventures but naturally his character was subject, to some degree, to variation brought about by so many different author perspectives.

Initially, as I suggest in The Norwood Author, Conan Doyle was probably relieved that other detectives were coming up. He may have hoped that the public would latch on to one or more of them and that this would reduce the demand for Holmes's resurrection. However, when it finally came to Holmes's resurrection (in The Hound of the Baskervilles) it is tempting to wonder whether Conan Doyle had any fears that these new detectives would dent his income. As we now know he had no cause to worry - the name Sherlock Holmes would always draw people in - but he may well have had some concerns even if he did not express them publicly.


The Norwood Author (Amazon UK, Amazon US, Book Depository). Kindle, iPad and other e-reader formats are available.

Walking through the new country

I am now giving my manuscript a serious read-through before it wings it way into the hands of proof-readers / editors. We're on schedule for that December 5th release.

An Entirely New Country and

I've been told that Amazon's US site rarely lists books for pre-order quite as early as the UK version is willing to do. This is apparently the reason why my latest tome is yet to appear on the .com site.

As soon as I hear any word on this I will let you all know.



Let's talk pastiche

Arthur Conan Doyle is an author whose work is more often subjected to the pastiche treatment than most others of his day. Naturally this is primarily down to the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes.

His daughter, Dame Jean Conan Doyle, was firmly against such stories and suggested that people used her father's characters to sell books that would not have sold without them. This may seem harsh but it is probably true. If you took any of the pastiche stories that exist and removed Holmes and Watson they would almost certainly not sell as well (if at all).

My own opinions on this are not unknown. I don't like non-canonical pastiche stories. In my opinion, they must work within the world Conan Doyle created. In the words of the great detective himself 'no ghosts need apply'. I would extend this to include the following:

  • No fairies
  • No magic
  • No vampires, werewolves etc
  • No cross-overs (e.g. Holmes meets Van Helsing, or Holmes meets Raffles)
My natural inclination with any pastiche that includes any of the above is to put it back on the shelf. The only exceptions to this have been occasions where I have been asked to read such a book for review purposes. I just don't understand why people want these kinds of stories. If you want a vampire story - read Dracula, why do you need Holmes in it?

Some authors attempt to justify fairies in Holmes stories by pointing to Conan Doyle's interest in the subject (Cottingley etc). This will not do. If Conan Doyle did not put fairies into his stories (and he had opportunity to do so - Cottingley was 10 years before the last Holmes story) there is no need for anyone else to.

Now I know full well that this will stir some people up. I also accept that I don't get to arbitrate and that non-canonical pastiche stories will continue to appear whether I like it or not. I would just ask why people feel the need to have Holmes in situations and worlds that Conan Doyle would never have put him into.


It's pre-order time (in the UK) are now listing my latest tome for pre-order. Due to an admin mix-up a rather old draft version of the cover has been uploaded but we are getting this corrected asap.

At the moment are not yet listing it. As soon as this changes I shall let you know.

Next item on my reading list

I was shocked recently to be told of the existence of a pastiche of which I had never heard. Namely...

My first port of call was Amazon for reviews and boy does this book polarise opinion. I already know enough about the plot to know that I won't be a fan of the story but I am keeping as open a mind as possible until I have finished it.

Have you read it? If so, please leave comments (preferably without spoilers).

Review complete

I have just sent off my review of Sherlock Holmes' Tibetan Adventure. Phew. That's the decks clear. I can return to my own book now.

Biography of William Gillette now available

Henry Zecher has been of material assistance to me - very kindly answering my questions regarding William Gillette. As one good turn clearly deserves another I am drawing the attention of you all to his recently released biography of the man himself.

Nearly there...

Still reading Sherlock Holmes' Tibetan Adventure and making notes as I go. I managed to get through quite a bit of it last night and reckon I shall be done by the end of today. Then comes the hard bit of organising my thoughts into a review.

A new review

My first book Eliminate the Impossible picked up a four star review on on April 1st. Part of me hopes it wasn't a joke.

It is nice that a book that was published three years ago is still pulling in nice reviews or indeed reviews of any kind. When you consider the amount that has happened in the Sherlockian world since its release my first book is somewhat out of date. This is especially the case for the film and television section where we have had the Warner Bros. film, the BBC's re-imagining and the odd 'mockbuster'.

It re-raises a question I posed a short while ago. Exactly how much new material would I need to justify a second edition of my first title? As most Sherlockians know we have Warner Bros' second film coming out at the end of the year and almost certainly a new BBC series to run in parallel.

I guess I'll have to wait a while yet. One thing is for sure, I shall address the principal criticism I received by making sure I include an index.

An Entirely New Country - Book Cover

Here you go folks. This is the cover for my next book An Entirely New Country.

It could still end up slightly different but this is pretty close to how it will end up looking.

If you would like to register an interest please either leave a comment or email MX Publishing on