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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Happy Birthday, Arthur Conan Doyle!

Mystery fans have been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of master detective Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle was born May 22, 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  His gentle mother was a gifted storyteller, and memories of her entertaining tales propelled him through unhappy times at boarding school in London.  He inherited her skill and kept younger students gathered around him spellbound by the stories he made up to entertain them.  He went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he met a number of future authors who were also attending the university, among them James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The man who most impressed and influenced him, however, was one of his teachers, Dr. Joseph Bell. The doctor was a master at observation, logic, deduction, and diagnosis. All these qualities were later to be found in the persona of Conan Doyle’s celebrated detective Sherlock Holmes.

When his new medical practice in Southsea got off to a slow start, he began writing stories in 1882.  After five years, Conan Doyle finally found success writing a new literary genre when he teamed Sherlock Holmes with his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, in “A Study in Scarlet”.  This is the first narrative in the voice of the unassuming Dr. Watson, a military surgeon recently returned from the Afghan War. Watson needs a flat-mate and a diversion. Holmes needs a foil. And thus a great literary collaboration begins.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  Holmes and Watson move to the now-famous 221B Baker Street, where Watson observes Holmes’ eccentricities and uncanny ability to deduce the facts of a case from the merest snippets of clues.  Taking advantage of his medical knowledge, Conan Doyle wrote about two Holmes cases yearly, and captured the imagination of pulp fiction readers around the world, especially in the United States.
In time, Conan Doyle became more interested in writing serious historical fiction, so he tried to kill off Holmes in a hand-to-hand struggle with his archenemy James Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.  His adoring fans would have none of it, however, and demanded more Holmes stories.  Eventually, they coaxed Conan Doyle to revive his hero in “The Empty House”, a 1903 case in which the detective reappears to greet a now married Watson in his new home. The shock of seeing his old comrade causes Watson to faint before the two reunite to solve many more cases.

Altogether, Conan Doyle wrote four Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories.  He also wrote many historical novels, a history of the Boer War, and later in his career, became fascinated with spiritualism and communicating with the dead.  He died in 1930.
In the library world, we are sometimes amused at the individuals who continue to write from the grave.  V. C. Andrews and Robert Ludlum are two famous examples of prolific, unearthly output.

While Conan Doyle engaged in no such practice, other writers have certainly capitalized on readers’ fascination with his eccentric detective and we have many ongoing tales of Sherlock to enjoy.  Among the best of these writers are Nicholas Meyer and Laurie R. King. 
Meyer wrote “The Seven-per-cent Solution: Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of  John H. Watson, M.D.”, its sequel “The Canary Trainers: From the Memories of John H. Watson, M.D.”, and “West End Horror: a Posthumous Memoir of John H. Watson, M.D.”

Laurie R. King introduced readers to Mary Russell, a delightfully inquisitive student who eventually becomes Sherlock’s wife and sleuthing partner.  They star in a series of nine mysteries which we hope will continue indefinitely.

Nancy Springer’s  “The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline” is the newest in the Holmes oeuvre for young readers.  In late nineteenth-century London, fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes, much younger sister of detective Sherlock Holmes, turns to Florence Nightingale for help when her investigation into the disappearance of a Crimean War widow grows cold.

Sing a happy 150th birthday to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and pick up a Sherlock Holmes tale for a pleasant summer read!  For these and many more mysteries, visit the Library at or call 988.2541.

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