Well, to begin with a cliché, they say you should never judge a book by its cover and this has never been so true as it is with this book. It is one of those cases where the subtitle of the book is more accurate than the title.
The title of the book suggests that you are going to get an account of the Crimes Club (or Our Society) with a particular focus on Arthur Conan Doyle. Regrettably this is not what you are getting at all and I was left with the impression that the title was a marketing ploy to make the book sound more tempting by laying emphasis on the club’s most famous member.
The subtitle – The creator of Sherlock Holmes and his Criminological Friends – is more accurate but again lays emphasis on Arthur Conan Doyle. In reality this book is a collection of short biographies about a handful of men known to have been members of, or closely associated with, the Crimes Club and some of the true crime events that interested them or that they were directly involved with. Arthur Conan Doyle gets no greater screen time (so to speak) than any of the others although his name does crop up from time to time in the pieces about the other men.
While this is all very interesting and I cannot deny that I have enjoyed reading the book, I cannot overlook the fact that, in my opinion, the book is mislabelled. The book we are presented with suggests that we will gain some insight into the club and its activities but that is not what we really get. Wade tells us, very well, about some of the crime related activities these men involved themselves in and suggests that these events were the kind of thing that would have been discussed at the club. On occasion he provides reasonable evidence that the crimes he describes were actual topics of discussion but often it is more akin to speculation. Over and above this, we get no real insight into how the club operated and a proportion of what we are told is taken from other sources (appropriately cited I stress) such as Conan Doyle, Detective: The True Crimes Investigated by the Creator of Sherlock Holmes by Peter Costello.
I came away from this book with an increased knowledge of some members of the Crimes Club. I did not come away with any real knowledge of the society itself and, in that regard, I feel a little let down.
Written by Alistair Duncan