The Baker Street Irregulars continues to flourish, hosting an annual birthday banquet with lots of toasts and talks. Being an invested member of the group is a lot of fun, especially since my fellow Irregulars range from the retired chief technical officer for Apple to judges and lawyers and notable writers such as Neil Gaiman.
Your first choice is A Study in Scarlet, which describes how the famous detective pair, Holmes and Watson, met. If you’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes books you really need to start with that one because it introduces this rather mysterious and romantic character.
Happily, the 21st century Sherlock produced by the BBC, with Benedict Cumberbatch as this very Aspersion Holmes and Martin Freeman as this vulnerable and engaging Watson, gives us a more accurate portrait of their relationship. Watson, we know from the books, marries at least a couple of times and is a much more admirable and humane figure than Holmes.
We can’t discuss Conan Doyle without mentioning his most famous Sherlock Holmes book, The Hound of the Baskerville. I can remember buying the novel as part of a school book club and waiting until just the right November evening to read it, one when my sisters and parents would be away.
It was literally a dark and stormy night and I pulled all the covers down from my bed and turned off all the lights in the house except one and read the pages absolutely wide-eyed. When you come to the end of that second chapter, there is this particularly brilliant exchange when Doctor Mortimer describes the death of the latest Baskerville and mentions that there were footprints seen near the body.
Still, The Hound of the Baskerville was the book that persuaded Conan Doyle to bring back Holmes in a serious way. You know that he killed off the detective at the end of the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and people thought for several years that their beloved Sherlock was dead after the tumble with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.
One of the aims of my little book OnConanDoyle is to urge people to explore Conan Doyle’s many wonderful non-Sherlockian works. It introduces Professor George Edward Challenger, a self-important but wonderfully funny and committed scientist who discovers a plateau in a South American jungle where dinosaurs still roam the earth.
Challenger is a larger than life, humorous character, and I stress repeatedly that Conan Doyle is often very funny. He’s a man who lives purely by his wit, who kowtows to no one and who disdains the conventions of society that most of us have to observe.
He can shoot his gun inside his house, he can be as messy as he cares to be, he gets to wear lots of disguises, and he can go out and have great adventures fighting the bad guys. Finally, you have chosen Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, edited by Jon Heisenberg, Daniel Sta shower and Charles Foley.
Particularly after he became famous, Conan Doyle thought of himself as a public intellectual, and he wrote many letters to The Times protesting about atrocities in the Belgian Congo, arguing for divorce law reform, and trying to right the wrongs of people unjustly incarcerated. ArthurandGeorge, Julian Barnes’s novel previous to his Booker Prize winner, was about Arthur Conan Doyle in one of these cases.
Conan Doyle is funny, witty, concerned with his family life, and he writes very entertainingly about all sorts of subjects. Above all, with its abundant annotation, the book offers a good survey of Conan Doyle’s career and some of his many interests.
I drew on the letters, of course, but also his essays and memoirs, the Shylockian scholarship of the Baker Street Irregulars, various biographies. I certainly hope people enjoy my book for itself but also use it as a means to better appreciate the Sherlock Holmes stories and as a gateway to Conan Doyle’s other work.