Experimenting with a new detective?

In 1898 two detective stories were published by Arthur Conan Doyle. Both revolved around train-related crimes and both involved an unnamed detective who was less than successful. They were entitled The Lost Special and The Man with the Watches.

It has often be said that the detective is Sherlock Holmes and this is based, to some extent, on the use by said detective of variations on Holmes's famous line concerning eliminating the impossible. The belief is so strong that, apparently, some French editions of the complete canon contain both stories (read here).

But in both stories the detective was incorrect which suggests, to my mind, one or both of two things:

  • Conan Doyle was mocking Sherlock Holmes but didn't want to overtly damage the brand as the Sherlock Holmes play (a la William Gillette) was in the works. He probably also avoided the name so as to not give people hope that Holmes was returning.
  • Conan Doyle was, however briefly, toying with the idea of a new crime series where the focus was more on the crime than the detective.

In 1932, The Lost Special was very loosely adapted for the screen (with no Sherlock Holmes).

Written by Alistair Duncan
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  1. As you probably know August Derleth's Solar Pons solved "The Adventure of the Lost Locomotive"--essentially the same mystery with a different solution.

  2. I read the collection "Round the Fire Stories" (sometimes known as "Tales of Mystery and Terror") this year, which contain a lot of stories written between "Memoirs" and "Return" and I was struck with a related thought: Doyle may have thrown Holmes over the Reichenbach but with stories like "The Lost Special", "The Man With the Watches", "The Jew's Breastplate" and "The Black Doctor", Holmes was lurking around Doyle's consciousness.

    "The Jew's Breastplate" has a Watson-like narrator friends with the non-Holmes-like protagonist who stumbles into a mystery. "The Black Doctor", while relying on a hoary old cliche for the solution, reads like one of those narrations a client tells to Holmes in the 221B sitting rooms. If Doyle were still writing Holmes adventures, I'm sure they would have been reworked to fit Holmes and Watson. I would also put "The Beetle Hunter" as a tale that could be reworked into the Baker Street mold. I don't think that Doyle, having got rid of one "shilling shocker" albatross, would have created another.

    Personally, I always felt that the Times letter-writer in "The Lost Special" was Holmes, but that The Daily Gazette writer in "Watches" was someone who knew but rejected Holmes' methods; in the absence of data, he suggests building up a fanciful explanation consistent with the facts, then wait around for facts to drop in and see of the fanciful theory still holds. As the crime took place in 1892, I've thought that it was Barker from the Surrey shore using Holmes' death to make a name for himself to the public.