Holmes's chronological home

Whilst I have no objection to screen adaptations of Holmes taking place outside of the Victorian era (i.e. Rathbone, Wontner, Cumberbatch), I have always maintained that a screen Holmes series could not be definitive unless it was Victorian based.

I was very surprised to see (or, I should say, observe) that this point of view was one that clearly struck a chord with Conan Doyle himself.

According to the book Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the Cinema: A Critical Study of the Film Adaptations by Scott Nollen, Conan Doyle's only real objection to the silent Holmes films starring Eille Norwood was that they were set in the 1920s rather than the Victorian era.

The idea that Conan Doyle believed that Holmes belonged in the Victorian/Edwardian era is also demonstrated by the stories themselves. Even though he published Holmes stories up until 1927 the only one set after 1910 (the end of the Edwardian era) was His Last Bow which was set in 1914 on the eve of the First World War.

As we know, Holmes retired after 1903 to keep bees in Sussex. Following this his only adventure (other than his pre-war adventure) was The Lion's Mane which took place on the Sussex coast (in 1907).

All the other stories released after 1908 were set no later than 1903. Conan Doyle could have written adventures set in later years but chose not to. Why?

Perhaps it was because he knew that part of the charm of the stories was their London setting. Maybe he thought that having Holmes and Watson investigate cases from Sussex would seem less impressive (and it was undeniably less likely that Watson would respond positively to telegrams demanding his immediate attendance if they required that he head to the south coast every time).

Perhaps Conan Doyle realised that 221B Baker Street was as important a participant as his two heroes. If this was something that occurred to him it left him with two options. He could bring Holmes out of retirement and move him back to London or he could pre-date the adventures. It was predicatable that he would choose the latter.

Conan Doyle did not wish to create the idea in the minds of readers that regular Holmes adventures were likely. The stories that make up the last two collections were published far more sporadically than the first three series. This was because Conan Doyle was knocking (not an unfair word) them out as and when (often motivated by the money which helped fund his spiritualist crusade) rather than at a regular rate which he had done when Holmes had first appeared in The Strand.

Was his decision possibly driven by Holmes's age? Holmes's work was mostly cerebral but he was also a man of action. We know, from His Last Bow, that Holmes was 60 in 1914 and hence was 49 at the time he retired. Did Conan Doyle consider that an aging Holmes would be of less interest to his readers?


Radio Documentary - Tuesday 26th July 8pm (UK Time)

Last year I was one of a number of Sherlockians who contributed to a documentary on Sherlock Holmes. It is finally going to be broadcast on the London Radio Station Resonance 104.4 FM.

Here is the synopsis from the station themselves:


In July 1891 the first Sherlock Holmes adventure, 'A Scandal in Bohemia', was published in The Strand Magazine. To commemorate the 120 year anniversary of this event James Hodder examines the origin of the world's first consulting detective and his popularity with past and present generations.

Featuring interviews with notable Sherlockians, actors and authors, 'The Legacy of Sherlock Holmes' also includes guest appearances by Roger Llewellyn who has played the character in two acclaimed one-man shows written by David Stuart Davies.

The programme is narrated by Karl Carpani, with music from Kevin Macleod.

Cast (in order of Appearance):

Andrew Lycett: English biographer and journalist. Author of "The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle".

Mark Campbell: London based theatre critic and writer on crime fiction; including the pocket essential guide to Sherlock Holmes.

Alistair Duncan: Sherlockian writer and winner of the 2011 Tony & Freda Howlett Award with "The Norwood Author".

Daniel Smith: author of 'The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide"; featuring a detailed analysis of each published adventure and interviews with leading Sherlockians.

Bert Coules: dramatist and head writer in adapting all of the Sherlock Holmes stories for BBC radio; starring Clive Merrison and Michael Williams.

Nick Utechin: broadcaster and former editor of "The Sherlock Holmes Journal".

David Sinclair: author of "Sherlock Holmes' London"; a tour of London based on clues contained in the cases of the great detective .

Guy Adams: Sherlock aficionado and author of "The Case Notes of Sherlock Holmes". He is also the youngest actor to play Holmes on the professional stage.

David Stuart Davies: author of various pastiche Holmes novels including "The Veiled Detective". He also written two acclaimed one-man plays about the detective starring Roger Llewellyn.

The programme will be available for podcast for those who miss it.

More of the same Warner Bros. ?

It is of course dangerous to base a review on a trailer but if we compare the trailers for both Warner Bros. Sherlock Holmes films it is clear that they are very similar in terms of the level of action and dialogue they suggest.

When I saw the trailer for the first film I thought I was likely to get a film full of action and low on canonical fidelity and that view was largely borne out by the film when it was released. I won't deny it was a fun couple of hours in the cinema but that was the most you could say for it.

The trailer for A Game of Shadows suggests very much the same thing. So yes I'll watch it but I doubt it will beat the 6/10 score I gave the original. I very much hope I am proved wrong.

Reborn hound can be seen to the left

You can see my amended book cover on the left now. I hope it meets with broad acceptance.

Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows

A trailer for the new film can now be found on Apple's website. It has also made it onto Youtube. I haven't put any links in the post as I'm not sure that the trailer is on Youtube legitimately and hence it could well be removed.

Very good news from Georgina Doyle

Yesterday I received an email from Mrs Georgina Doyle. As some readers will be aware, Mrs Doyle has been an enormous help with my latest book and granted me free access to the diaries of Innes Doyle (ACD's brother) and her collection of photographs and other images. Some of these, I believe, will be appearing for the first time in a publication which is an honour for me.

I recently left a copy of my manuscript with her and her email opens thus:

"Dear Alistair. I have finished reading your book and have much enjoyed doing so. There is much that is new and interesting in it...."

I now need to turn my attention to the few points that she raised.

Book review - Rendezvous at the Populaire by Kate Workman

I was never going to completely warm to this story simply by virtue of the fact that it violates one of my two golden rules. The rule in question being that Sherlock Holmes pastiches should stay firmly within the world of Holmes and this one strays into Phantom of the Opera territory. However, in the interests of objectivity, I shall put that temporarily to one side.

The most significant thing that struck me is that this is not only a case of Holmes in the land of the phantom it also very much Andrew Lloyd Webber's phantom rather than Gaston Leroux's. The characters come across (to me at any rate) as they do in the musical rather than the book. In some respects, reading the book was like re-living parts of the musical (a musical I enjoyed) but I'm not sure that this is necessarily a good thing or what Workman was aiming for.

The biggest challenge when writing a pastiche is that of mimicking the original author's style. When you have a cross-over you have the problem of balancing two (or possibly more) styles. In Workman's case she is juggling three - Conan Doyle, Leroux and Lloyd Webber. Inevitably one of these influences has to dominate the book and I personally believe that Lloyd Webber is the winner here with the result that Holmes and Watson don't speak as authentically as they should. To be fair, no Holmes pastiche I have ever read has truly managed to capture the spirit of Conan Doyle but I have read many that have come closer.

Another problem comes from trying to step into the heads of too many of the characters (which is another significant departure from the style of most Sherlock Holmes stories). Sections are written from the perspective of Watson, Holmes and Raoul which is, I think, two too many. Also it is not always immediately clear with each chapter whose head you are occupying.

Next I come to matters of editing. I appreciate that the author is American but if you are writing a Holmes pastiche from the perspective of characters from Victorian England they must be both Victorian and English. Workman, at the beginning of the story, describes Holmes being shot in the leg. Writing as Watson she uses the word 'pants'. This is simply unforgivable. As an Englishman, Watson would say 'trousers' and nothing else. It would be perfectly acceptable for an American character to use the term but not good old Watson.

I would advise the author to make sure she has an editor fully conversant with English English on board for her next effort in order to weed out such little oversights.

All the above said, the book flows well and never seems to drag. The only part which really didn't ring true for me was the sword fight between Holmes and the Phantom. However I suspect this stems from the fact that I have experience of fencing - something which I suspect the majority of readers will not have and will therefore not be troubled by.

In short the basic problem with this story is that it is attempting to be a Holmes pastiche featuring the Phantom of the Opera but ends up being a Lloyd Webber inspired Phantom pastiche that features Holmes and Watson. If you understand this at the start I think you will enjoy the book more. If you start it expecting a Holmes adventure I think you will be slightly let down.

If Kate Workman tackles some of the obvious issues I think her next book will be something I shall definitely check out.

Facebook notice

I've decided to scale back my use of Facebook. I've got a little tired of it if I'm honest. While I will continue to have an account I shall limit my use to participation in some Sherlockian groups. Consequently I shall not agree to any new friend requests.

If what I'm up to interests you, please follow me on twitter at @alistaird221b or keep an eye on this blog.

Thank you.

The hound is reborn

The cover for my next book drew some criticism when it was unveiled due to the hound that had been used. It was felt in some quarters that the hound was inappropriate and comments were made to that effect.

Fortunately the amount of criticism was trivial in comparison to the positive comments but I nevertheless decided to see if I could do something. My reason for this was simply that I have been something of a pedant myself and therefore I felt obliged to make an effort to address the concerns.

My boundless thanks go to Phil Cornell (of PHILIP CORNELL ILLUSTRATION PTY LTD) for riding to my rescue with a brand new and original hound. It should be pointed out that Phil was responsible for the cover illustration on my second book Close to Holmes.

Who is your favourite Holmes?

I once heard someone say on a documentary that "your first Sherlock Holmes is always your favourite". Similar sentiments have been expressed when it comes to other famous characters such as Doctor Who and James Bond or indeed any that have been portrayed by a number of actors. However is it true?

For me at least, the answer is no (and for all the examples).

The first Holmes I saw was Basil Rathbone's and I have considerable affection for him. I owe him my entire Sherlockian career (such as it is) as without him there is no guarantee that I would have become interested in Holmes at all. However I will never claim that he is my favourite or the best. As I pointed out in my earlier post, I consider his performance to have been damaged, if only a little, by that of Nigel Bruce.

For people who were children in the sixties a popular choice for best Holmes is Douglas Wilmer. This is an opinion shared by many in the upper echelons of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. For those of us who came along later it is difficult to judge Wilmer as his outings are simply not shown and are nigh on impossible to obtain (they are I believe available on DVD in the US). Those of us in the UK (without multi-region players) can only catch parts via Youtube (and this may be legally dubious). I have not watched much but while the scripts seem good they just don't work for me. The dreaded spectre of personal taste rears its head again.

For most of us born in the 70s and later the ultimate Holmes is Jeremy Brett. For me personally it is because I was already interested in Holmes when the Granada series first aired and also because he was the first canonically accurate Holmes I had seen. It was his performance that enabled me to finally get through the written canon. He unlocked the stories for me and that is no exaggeration.

For later generations the appeal of Brett lies in the fact that, alongside Rathbone, he is the Holmes to be repeated most often on television so he is a familiar face even to Holmes fans not yet born when the series first aired.

The absence of a proper Holmes series since then has made it hard for any other actor to really lay claim to the Holmes crown. The new BBC series is good and the performances of the two leads are excellent but, in my opinion, the crown for the best Holmes can only ever be worn by a canonically and chronologically accurate Holmes. Until we get another one of those I feel that Mr Brett's crown is secure.

Let me know what you think?