THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES review in Books of the Week, The Times Friday 29 June 1934

By VINCENT STARRETT. (Ivor Nicholson and Watson. 8s. 6d. net.)

Books of the Week, The Times Friday 29 June 1934

It was no doubt poetic justice that Sherlock Holmes should be made in his turn the subject of one of those deductive analyses which he used to apply to his criminal victims. His methods, his life, the documents in which his career is related, his friend and biographer, Dr. Watson, have all been investigated and made the topic of mock-scientific hypotheses, till it might almost seem as if a good joke were being run to death.
The latest book of the kind, however, by an American author, has the advantage of not being written entirely as burlesque. Mr. Starrett, though his record of Holmes’s “private life” has been largely composed with his tongue in his cheek, also considers in his little treatise the true origins of the world’s most celebrated detective in the experience and fantasy of his creator. One doctor, Joseph Bell of Edinburgh, gave Holmes a living original; and another, Conan Doyle, having a practice that left too much leisure on his hands, filled the vacant hours with imaginations of which he never quite came to realize the value himself, and endowed popular fiction with a character that would not die, even when Doyle tried to kill him.
Mr. Starrett has some interesting things to recall about the first editions of the earliest Sherlock Holmes stories; he gives a replica of the wrapper of the rare first appearance of the rare first appearance of “A Study in Scarlet” (in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887), with what is even more entertaining, the first picture of Holmes that was ever made, as an illustration to the same publication—and a very amusing piece of whiskered Victorian flamboyancy it is. Further, Mr. Starrett goes into the baffling problem whether the house in which Holmes lived in Baker Street can be indentified, a matter in which another American investigator made discoveries that disconcerted Conan Doyle when he was informed of them; for he told the discoverer, it seems, that “he did not believe he had ever been in Baker Street in his life.” Best of all, perhaps, is Mr. Starrett’s attempt to explain how (especially for an American reader) the Holmes stories have come to stand for the spirit of Victorian London, with its foggy mysteriousness and picturesque contrasts of comfort and squalor. Quoting yet another critic of his own nation, he declares that “Sherlock is he who answers when you ask the air, Who lives there, I wonder? What is the story behind that drawn blind in London?” He could hardly have summed up the enchantment better.

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