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The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Leslie S. Klinger, editor
W.W. Norton & Company, 1878 pages

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859 (Edinburgh) and sent to the Jesuit preparatory school Stonyhurst at the age of nine. From 1876 to 1881 he studied medicine at Edinburgh University, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham). Following his term at University he served as a ship's doctor on a voyage to the West African coast, and then in 1882 he set up a practice in Plymouth. He won his doctorate in 1885.

While waiting for patients, he began writing stories. His first significant work was A Study in Scarlet which appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 and featured the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes.

In 1885 he married Louise Hawkins, who suffered from tuberculosis and eventually died in 1906. He married Miss Jean Leckie in 1907. Doyle had five children, two with his first wife (Mary and Kingsley), and three with his second wife (Jean, Denis, and Adrian).

In 1890 Doyle studied the eye in Vienna, and in 1891 moved to London to set up a practice as an oculist. This also gave him more time for writing, and in November 1891 he wrote to his mother: 'I think of slaying Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.' In December 1893 he did so, with Holmes and his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty apparently plunging to their deaths together over a waterfall in the story "The Final Problem". Public outcry led him to bring the character back -- Doyle returned to the story, saying that Holmes had climbed back up the cliff afterwards. Holmes eventually appeared in 56 short stories and four of Doyle's novels.

Arthur Conan Doyle is buried in the Church Yard at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, England.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

As I take these volumes out of their slipcase to review them, I find myself admiring once again the admirable job that Norton has done in putting this new annotated package together. I am momentarily caught by surprise when I note the slipcase trumpets this as a 150th anniversary edition, and then realize that this refers to William Sherlock Scott Holmes's birth in 1854.

The volumes themselves are oversized, and have dustjackets with illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele, whose Holmes is a marked departure from the more familiar illustrations of Sidney Paget. Inside, the reader quickly sees why these volumes needed their ample size: printed with two colors, the stories and Holmesian essays here are presented in black ink, but red ink is used for the annotations which run as margin notes. There are an enormous number of illustrations and photographs presented, with the illustrations generally being either various illustrators' interpretations of scenes from the stories, or period-illustrations of various relevant items, like a spirit case in "A Scandal in Bohemia," which is described in the notes, but which really needs to be seen to be fully understood. The photographs are typically from the turn-of-the-century and offer glimpses of London especially that Doyle's contemporary readers would have had a much easier time envisioning than we do. The blending of illustrations and photographs is done so expertly that occasionally as I read these stories I have to stop and remind myself that the gentleman stepping out of a hansom cab in a photograph is not Sherlock Holmes, or any character from a particular story!

Aside from the stories themselves with their annotations, there are also some excellent short essays that explore such things as what weapons Holmes and Watson equipped themselves with in various stories, or what speckled viper was the actual culprit in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."

The only element of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes that a reader may find somewhat labored is the editorial decision to treat these stories as though they are actual reminiscenses of Watson's, which he, for reasons unknown, decided to have published through an intermediary -- Arthur Conan Doyle. While this is mostly fun, it can become a bit tiresome because it puts the editor in some peculiar positions. For instance, there are times when Mr. Klinger must solemnly note that Watson or Holmes are misremembering something, because they refer to a store at an address in London by the wrong name. Or, Klinger may tell us that a name has been changed by Watson to protect someone's privacy. My feeling is that, when caught in that sort of a situation, the editor may have been better served by passing over the supposed inconsistency without comment, rather than by drawing attention to the idea that there is a fiction within the fiction.

Other than this one criticism, though, I would say that the notes provided are on the whole quite good, and often help either to explain what might be baffling to a contemporary reader, or to poke a bit of fun at Doyle's occasional lapses in basic criminology (as in one instance where Klinger notes that several commentators on a particular story have wondered why no one bothered to look for blood on a blunt instrument that was supposedly used to batter someone to death).

There is obviously little I can possibly say about the stories here themselves. They remain among the very best detective stories ever written, created by an author who had an extraordinarily good grasp of the presentation of effective dialogue, and the gradual introduction of small morsels of characterization that have made Holmes and Watson so believable as to generate an annotated edition that fully subscribes to their reality.

These volumes can be had at significant discount to the list price, and I believe that even a reader who is not perhaps an avid Holmesian will find much in these stories and notes that will provide him or her with an entertaining glimpse into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in England. A third volume, annotating the Holmes novels, is due out next year.

Copyright © 2005 Stephen M. Davis

Steve Davis is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a long-standing contributor to the SF Site. Currently, when not reviewing, he teaches for Anderson College in South Carolina and for the Kaplan College online program.

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