The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

August 5, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): In December 1893, Sherlock Holmes-adoring Londoners eagerly opened their Strand magazines, anticipating the detective’s next adventure, only to find the unthinkable: his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning — crowds sported black armbands in grief — and railed against Conan Doyle as his assassin.

Then in 1901, just as abruptly as Conan Doyle had “murdered” Holmes in “The Final Problem,” he resurrected him. Though the writer kept detailed diaries of his days and work, Conan Doyle never explained this sudden change of heart. After his death, one of his journals from the interim period was discovered to be missing, and in the decades since, has never been found.

Or has it?

When literary researcher Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes enthusiast society, The Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he’s about to be thrust onto the hunt for the holy grail of Holmes-ophiles: the missing diary. But when the world’s leading Doylean scholar is found murdered in his hotel room, it is Harold – using wisdom and methods gleaned from countless detective stories – who takes up the search, both for the diary and for the killer.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The premise was interesting and was the whole reason I decided to give this book a chance. I’m not even a particularly big Holmes fan, but the mystery of the missing Doyle diary was enough to make me want to read.
  • The portrayal of Doyle and Stoker’s friendship was perhaps the most compelling component of the entire novel. I’m glad Moore didn’t get into the literary jealousy too much (I recently read a couple of books about the Dickens-Wilkie Collins rivalry), but I would have liked to see more of these two famous authors getting into trouble together.

Disliked:

  • The shifting back and forth in time between 2010 and the Doyle/Stoker stuff got to be very annoying after a while. I think Moore’s decision to do this negatively affected both plots, and made me not care for either one very much. It didn’t help that neither was particularly compelling to begin with, I guess!
  • Harold White was not the most exciting protagonist, making it dreadful having to spend half the novel with him. I never bought him as a true Sherlockian or any kind of detective at all. He seemed better suited to selling rv insurance or teaching history than solving a big mystery. I think this book would have been better served to tell about the missing diary only in the context of the Doyle/Stoker segment, while leaving out the 2010 storyline altogether. Yes, that would have changed the entire complexion of the novel, but I think it would have made the whole thing better.
  • I hated that the characters just decided to destroy the diary. What gave them the right? What an utterly ridiculous ending, and a poor payoff for readers that spent so much time waiting for the mystery to unravel. Yes, we got to see what was in the diary, but it felt cheap to have it destroyed by people with no claim on it.

Rating:

Overall, I thought The Sherlockian started off well, but ran out of steam about one-third of the way in. The 2010 plot simply wasn’t engrossing enough to sustain interest throughout, and the boring protagonist Harold White does not earn either the reader’s sympathies or attention. Perhaps this book, with it’s myriad references to Holmes novels and short stories, would be appealing to those that are maniacally fond of Doyle’s creation, but I can’t see casual fans getting too caught up in this one. I give this novel 3 stars out of 5.

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