Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes by Bruce Wexler

The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes
The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Bruce Wexler
Publisher: Running Press (2008)
Hardcover, 192 pages, $14.95
ISBN-10: 0762432527
ISBN-13: 978-0762432523

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.

Rating: 7/10.

Buy The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon


  1. I've never read any Sherlock Holmes - I think I'd rather start with a more accurate book. Great review.

  2. Thanks, Kathy. This would be a pretty good book for someone not familiar with Sherlock Holmes, despite the inaccuracies. A lot of the things that I didn't understand at first were explained very well, especially the parts about life in Victorian London. The pictures are fantastic and really bring the settings in the books to life.

  3. I'm sorry to hear about the errors- sounds like a book for fans who can pick apart the mistakes. maybe there will be another edition that's edited more carefully! :-)

  4. The illustrations do sound attractive. It's too bad the text wasn't better edited.

  5. Good review of a flawed but ambitious book. Nothing new among the Holmes' artwork/illustrations (a better book would be "Sherlock Holmes in Portrait and Profile"), but I found its real value in illustrating some of the everyday objects of Victorian life and its sleuths at the Yard. As far as Conan Doyle's non-Holmesian work withering away...his spiritualist writings are a bit obscure these days (except for the fairies photos), but Professor Challenger is doing well, and his historical novels and Brigadier tales all have their devoted adherents.