The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Bruce Wexler
Publisher: Running Press (2008)
Hardcover, 192 pages, $14.95
Lavishly illustrated, The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes is a companion guide to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Great Detective.
The book includes a biography of Conan Doyle, a history of Sherlock Holmes in print as well as on stage and screen, and an examination of the Holmes phenomenon today. Wexler also briefly touches on Sherlock Holmes' role in the evolution of crime fiction, the class structure of Victorian society, Victorian medicine and Holmes' use of forensic investigative techniques.
Over 150 illustrations are beautifully presented throughout the book. Many of Sidney Padget's iconic images are reproduced as full or half-page illustrations. There are many photographs of Victorian London and weapons that were common to the era. The section picturing some of Holmes' key possessions (such as his deerstalker hat, magnifying glass, pipe, Persian slipper, and violin) was especially interesting to me. When I first read through the Sherlock Holmes stories as a teenager, I had no idea what a Persian slipper looked like. I would have had no such trouble envisioning Holmes' quirky method of tobacco storage if this book had been available then.
While the illustrations shine, some of the text -- unfortunately -- does not. I am by no means a Sherlock Holmes scholar, but I picked up on several factual and typographical errors throughout the book. Mary Morstan, a prominent character in The Sign of Four, is referred to as "Mary Morstam", several quotations from Doyle's work are incorrect, and more than once, the word "to" is used where "too" is actually the correct form. Better editing would have served this volume well. Wexler also asserts that Doyle's non-Holmes works have "withered away from disregard." While it is certainly true that the Sherlock Holmes stories are Doyle's most popular work and will likely remain so, I would not be so hasty to dismiss the rest of his body of work.
Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend this book based on the quality and variety of the illustrations alone. If you can look past some rather unfortunate errors, there is a lot to enjoy here.
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