We begin our study of the way of the detective by investigating the career and philosophies of the greatest of all detectives in literature, Sherlock Holmes.
Let’s start by considering what we know about Sherlock Holmes the character. He was born in January 1854 and entered Oxford or Cambridge in 1872. He moved to London to start a career as the world’s first consulting detective in 1877. He shared a suite of rooms with Dr. John Watson, who had retired from the army, starting in 1881. Holmes was believed to have died in a fight with his archenemy, Dr. Moriarity, in 1891. After three years in seclusion, he returned to detection in 1894. He finally retired to farming in 1903. All of these facts can be gleaned from reading the Holmes corpus or consulting any of several Holmes encyclopedias.
What books do we use as sources in understanding the methods of Sherlock Holmes? The following books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle document his cases:
A Study in Scarlet—1888
The Sign of the Four—1890
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes—1892—anthology
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes—1893—anthology
The Hound of the Baskervilles—1902
The Return of Sherlock Holmes—1905—anthology
The Valley of Fear—1915
His Last Bow—1917—anthology
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes—1927—anthology
The books noted as anthologies contain a total of fifty-six short stories. The other works are complete novels. If you want a scholarly edition of these works, complete with explanatory notes, you will appreciate the nine-volume edition The Oxford Sherlock Holmes.
Jeremy Brett starred in the definitive video rendition of many of Holmes’s adventures. They originally aired in the United Kingdom and subsequently in the United States on PBS’s Mystery! series and later on the A&E cable network. They are available on videocassette.
It is just as important to consider the life of Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859. He received a Jesuit education from 1868 to 1876. He attended medical school in Edinburgh from 1877 to 1880. Doyle served as a ship’s surgeon from 1880 to 1882. After that, he started a medical practice in Southern England. He married Louise Hawkins in 1885. She died several years later, and in 1907 he married Jean Leckie. Doyle served as a volunteer doctor in the Boer War in South Africa from 1900 to 1903, and he died in 1930. Besides his Holmes stories, he wrote twenty-four other books of fiction and ten other books of military history, medical studies, and other nonfiction.
There are a couple of important points to observe about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was an educated man, he was a man of science, and he was an historian. In these respects, the detective that he created was made in his own image.