Eliminate the Impossible

Eliminate the Impossible” is the first of two books by Alistair Duncan on Holmes. His second Holmes book, “Close to Holmes” in which he looks at the historical connections between London, Holmes and my literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, will be the subject of another review at a later date.

Alistair has also written a book about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Norwood Author“, which I have already reviewed. Currently, he is writing another Doylean book about Undershaw, the house that Sir Arthur had built at Hindhead which remains under threat from developers. This book is not due to be published until next year, by which time the fate of Undershaw will almost certainly have been decided.

Eliminate the Impossible” runs to 244 pages of which the first three-quarters cover Holmes on the page and the last quarter looks at Holmes on the screen.

I note that he prefers to the term “Sherlockian” which is usually reserved for Holmes fans abroad whilst “Holmesian” is supposedly the term used in the UK. I have always found “Holmesian” a bit cumbersome – “Sherlockian” leaves no-one in doubt who you’re talking about and in the BBC Sherlock series we’re on first name terms with the main protagonists for the first time!

May I also raise a point about our address. It was 221B Baker Street – note the capital “B” after 221. Flats are designated with a capital letter not a lower case letter. So where “221b” has been used “221B” should be used instead.  Even the Dummies Guide gets this wrong! But congratulations to the BBC Sherlock props department for getting this right and commiserations to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street for getting it wrong on their unofficial blue plaque.

Part One – Holmes on the page

This covers the origins of the stories, Holmes’s influence on crime fiction, his appearance and character before dealing with the “Heroes  and Villains” as Alistair calls them, beginning with me (I assume I am a hero?) His selection is interesting. It includes two women and I will leave you to guess who they are!

Following this is a short discussion about the “timeline” of the stories which has always, and continues to be, a subject of much discussion (and many books)! Alistair picks out D Martin Dakin’s and Leslie Klinger’s chronologies and sets them against the dates found on the Internet. The order of the stories as listed here puts the last three stories from The Case-Book in the order in which they are now usually published (VEIL, SHOS, RETI) rather than the order in which they originally appeared in The Case-Book (RETI, VEIL, SHOS).

For each of the sixty stories, he then gives the date of publication (in The Strand except for the first two stories which were first published elsewhere), the date the story was set in (just the year) and the identity of the client. Following a brief synopsis he then presents some notes about the story, usually about the dates involved, but sometimes about the real identities of the people involved, and some of the puzzles and inconsistencies.

His own inconsistencies are that he leaves “The Adventure of” off all the stories in The Memoirs and again changes the order of the last three stories – this time to SHOS, RETI and VEIL. I think he has the date of publication of SHOS in The Strand incorrectly as January 1927 when it should be April 1927 making it the last to be published.

In the general introduction to the stories he sensibly suggests that you read the story first before reading his notes and doing it the other way round is likely to confuse matters.

Part Two – Holmes on the screen

This looks at Holmes portrayal in film and on television by looking at a selection of actors who have portrayed my good friend. Alistair attempts to classify them as either “good” or “bad” and “remembered” or “forgotten” making the point that some portrayals (“good” or “bad”) might only be remembered by Sherlockians rather than the general public.

He has left out all the comic portrayals presumably on the grounds that they are universally viewed as “bad” and “best forgotten”.

Rathbone and Brett come out best in this analysis with perhaps Douglas Wilmer coming in third. Alistair puts Brett just out in front and probably the favourite for those who would see the Rathbone films as largely set in their own time rather than the time of the original stories.

Alistair recommends David Stuart Davies book, “Starring Sherlock Holmes“, for more detail about Holmes on film and television (and stage and radio for that matter!)

As Alistair’s book was written in 2008, it predates the Robert Downey Jr film “Sherlock Holmes” and more importantly the BBC Sherlock series. It will be interesting to speculate where these two very different portrayals would be in the “good”, “bad”, “remembered” and “forgotten” categories. Cumberbatch’s Holmes has a good chance of being in the category “good and remembered” if they can maintain the standard of the first series (mostly ignoring The Blind Banker) whereas Robert Downey Jr may end up in “bad but remembered” if they cannot raise their game!

Nevertheless, Alistair Duncan succeeds, as he sets out in his introduction, “to bring a fresh perspective” to some of the puzzles concerning “the anomalies in the stories and the films”. Whilst he “conceived it as an introduction to the canon” it does, as he hoped, “appeal to long-standing fans as well as novice Sherlockians”.

This book, like its successor “Close to Holmes“, is available on the Kindle although Amazon have not linked the two versions properly on their website so you will need to go to the Kindle store to find it.

Everything is in order [CHAS]

When I heard recently that someone had set themselves a summer reading project to read the entire Canon of sixty stories including all the short stories and the four novels, I suggested an unusual approach to this would be to read the stories in the chronological order according to when the cases occurred rather than the more usual order of publication.

Using Vincent Delay‘s as the the most recent attempt to order the stories, despite my legendary problem with dates, this would be the order in which they should be read.

Before Holmes and I met:

  1. The Gloria Scott
  2. The Musgrave Ritual

Our meeting and the first case together, up to the Great Hiatus:

  1. A Study In Scarlet
  2. Shoscombe Old Place
  3. The Resident Patient
  4. The Beryl Coronet
  5. The Speckled Band
  6. Thor Bridge
  7. The Cardboard Box
  8. The Yellow Face
  9. The Greek Interpreter
  10. Charles Augustus Milverton
  11. The Valley of Fear
  12. The Reigate Squires
  13. Silver Blaze
  14. The Sign of the Four
  15. The Five Orange Pips
  16. The Noble Bachelor
  17. A Scandal In Bohemia
  18. The Stockbroker’s Clerk
  19. The Crooked Man
  20. The Second Stain
  21. The Naval Treaty
  22. The Dying Detective
  23. The Blue Carbuncle
  24. The Boscome Valley Mystery
  25. The Man with the Twisted Lip
  26. The Engineer’s Thumb
  27. The Hound of the Baskervilles
  28. A Case of Identity
  29. The Copper Beeches
  30. The Red-Headed League
  31. The Final Problem

After the Great Hiatus:

  1. The Empty House
  2. The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
  3. The Norwood Builder
  4. The Sussex Vampire
  5. The Golden Pince-Nez
  6. The Red Circle
  7. Wisteria Lodge
  8. The Three Students
  9. The Solitary Cyclist
  10. Black Peter
  11. The Bruce-Partington Plans
  12. The Veiled Lodger
  13. The Missing Three-Quarter
  14. The Devil’s Foot
  15. The Abbey Grange
  16. The Dancing Men
  17. The Retired Colourman
  18. The Six Napoleons
  19. The Priory School
  20. The Three Garridebs
  21. The Three Gables
  22. The Illustrious Client
  23. The Creeping Man
  24. The Blanched Soldier
  25. The Mazarin Stone
  26. The Lion’s Mane
  27. His Last Bow

Pray be precise as to details [SPEC]

Holmes and Watson: A New Chronology of their Adventures by Vincent Delay published by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in 2008 and translated from the French by Margaret Owens is a new chronology that goes back to my own accounts of Holmes’ cases.

As such, it is probably closer to being accurate, in many of the cases, than some of the more complex analyses of the Canon. Nevertheless I find it hard to deal objectively with the instances where he says I had got the date “manifestly wrong”! It is true that I did not always give the dates concerned, mainly because I was trying to disguise as many of the details of the case as I could to protect those who were innocently involved.

As well as deducing the dates of the cases that were fully recounted in the Canon, Vincent Delay has also tried to date the unpublished cases that I mentioned in these stories. he has even provided a “Gregorian Calendar for the Canonical centuries” that make it easy to determine what day of the week a particular date falls. I spent a whole afternoon checking my diaries against this calendar and I am astonished to find I may have made a few errors!

In one of the appendices he lists several other chronologies, few of which appear to be readily available.

Notable amongst these are:

A Sherlock Holmes Commentary by D Martin Dakin. This is only available second hand but it well-worth acquiring as a guide to the Canon. My copy is signed by the author. He would have been shocked if he had known who was asking for it to be signed when he cheekly quoted me from The Red-Headed League in writing on the flyleaf “I have even contributed to the literature on the subject” although I was referring to Holmes work on tattoo marks!

Holmes and Watson by June Thomson. This has just been reissued and is certainly worth reading as in one of the appendices her deductions about the true location of 221B Baker Street and the real reason behind the existence (or otherwise!) of a bow window are pretty close to the mark.

He does not mention William S Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes which again is only available second-hand. This, annoyingly to some people, tells the adventures in what he believes to be their chronological order.

Nor does he mention Leslie S Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (Volumes I and II) covering the short stories and Volume III covering the novels. There is a chronology entitled “The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes at the end of Volume I and Volume III.

I will return to these annotated versions of the Canon at a later date when I consider them alongside the excellent Oxford Sherlock Holmes – now available in paperback.

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