The Case of Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Glazzard – Review
By Karl Hornsey
Think you know all about Sherlock Holmes, arguably the world’s most famous fictional detective? Well, you may need to think again unless you’ve read Andrew Glazzard’s forensic dissection of all things Holmes, Watson and Conan Doyle, and how the novels and short stories fit into and depicted Victorian and Edwardian society.
Despite being a big fan of Holmes, including having recently rewatched all of the wonderful Jeremy Brett’s canon, there was a huge amount that I didn’t know, or hadn’t even thought about, that Glazzard brought to the fore.
This is a scholarly work, but also an accessible one for anyone with even a passing interest in the character, its author or the time in which the stories were set. Glazzard manages to delve deep into the psyche of Conan Doyle and of Holmes, while also referencing the influences of the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Joseph Conrad on the stories.
To do so, he focuses on seven strands that run through the adventures – money, class, family, sex, race, war and secrecy – using an incredible depth of knowledge to tease out the oddities that Conan Doyle imbued in Holmes and assess just how realistic his tales and achievements were.
Even the most die hard of Sherlock Holmes fans would accept that some of the stories are so far-fetched and full of plot holes as to be rendered just too implausible, and the great thing about Glazzard’s work here is that it doesn’t paper over the cracks, rather it goes looking for them. It’s an honest work and one that reveals some of the tricks or exaggerations that Conan Doyle used to please the masses who, at the time, lapped up all things Sherlock to the extent that the author had to bring him back, several years after seeing him supposedly plummet to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. Although the huge sums of money on offer to do so might just have had something to do with the resurrection as well.
By going into such remarkable depth and covering such a breadth of historical events and occurrences, there are parts of this work that I found difficult to follow and veered a little too far away from the subject of Holmes for my liking, with some passages being too dry for casual reader. Finding the balance between effectively being the only book you would ever need in order to understand the world of Sherlock Holmes, yet still making it accessible to the average fan is not an easy thing to pull off.
On the whole Glazzard manages it though, and the likes of The Sign of Four, A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles are covered in detail, making this a must-read for anyone who is, or maybe just thinks they are, an aficionado of the great detective.
‘The Case of Sherlock Holmes: Secrets and Lies in Conan Doyle’s Detective Fiction’ by Andrew Glazzard is published by Edinburgh University Press, paperback £20