restricted access Diagnosis and Detection: The Medical Iconography of Sherlock Holmes, and: Comic Crime, and: The Sleuth and the Scholar: Origins, Evolution, and Current Trends in Detective Fiction (review)
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Reviewed by
Pasquale Accardo. Diagnosis and Detection: The Medical Iconography of Sherlock Holmes. Cranbury: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1987. 139 pp. $23.50.
Earl F. Bargainnier, ed. Comic Crime. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1987. 195 pp. $28.95 cloth; pb. $13.95.
Barbara A. Rader and Howard G. Zettler, eds. The Sleuth and the Scholar: Origins, Evolution, and Current Trends in Detective Fiction. Westport: Greenwood, 1988. 160 pp. $29.95.

Diagnosis and Detection, an exploration of Doyle's medical and literary sources, covers a wide variety of topics, only some of which are pertinent to the understanding of Sherlock Holmes. In rapid succession Pasquale Accardo enthusiastically comments on mythic echoes in Holmes stories; comparison of Holmes' actual action with what he says he does; King Richard; Napoleon; the Holmes saga as an epic showing the decay of Victorian ethos; Don Quixote; Holmes as an antiestablishment figure; parallels between Holmes and heroes of primitive epics, between Holmes and Quixote, between Holmes and Hamlet, between Doyle and Holmes; actual men as models for Holmes; linguistic analysis of Doyle's style; literary predecessors of Holmes; Dostoyevsky; the myth of science; the process of discovery; Chesterton's Father Brown; semiology; comets; Alice in Wonderland; Watson as a Falstaff figure. And this list is by no means complete.

This book contains a wealth of interesting facts and commentary, but Accardo spreads himself too thin. He brings up a topic, suggests a few examples, then frequently stops abruptly with little or no detailed discussion and leaves his reader hanging. One waits in vain for Accardo to discuss original insights that deserve in-depth analysis or tie together the multitude of ideas he tosses out. Impressive lists of authors, lists of titles of works and characters from fiction, quotations, statistical tables, and formulae are presented, but these would be more useful if Accardo discussed them more fully in his text. For example, Accardo offers a list of literary detectives who preceded Holmes, including Zadig, D'Artagnon, Lecoq, and Dupin. Most of these have been acknowledged by previous Doyle scholars, but even so Accardo needs to relate them directly to Holmes. He has compiled elaborate charts to document linguistic analysis of Doyle's style and comparative linguistic statistics for many of the recent Holmes pastiches. But he does not apply this information to considerations of how Doyle's use of language affected the appeal of the Holmes stories or of how linguistic concerns affect the writing of pastiche.

Accardo's handling of scholarly apparatus is unconventional. Pages 125-133 contain notes giving the sources for references and quotations as well as additional comments. Pages 134-136 contain a bibliography of materials to which he seldom or never refers. Perhaps Accardo did not wish to duplicate information, but a single bibliography is customary. Occasionally, where a footnote is needed, none is present, and no source can be found in the bibliography, but the necessary information eventually appears in a footnote many pages later. The index is incomplete. Accardo calls his method "research notes." Possibly he feels that what [End Page 346] he presents is self-evident. Perhaps he describes his own technique when he talks about "the shock of recognition of a mismatch between expectation and actuality, the surprised perception of the significance of this discrepancy, the resultant focusing of attention, the sparking of curiosity and the sudden insight into a simpler and more profound unity of phenomena." This method however does not succeed. His ideas need further development and synthesis.

Earl F. Bargainnier, in his Preface to Comic Crime, recognizes the "uneasy relationship between mirth and murder." At first glance any attempt to meld comedy with crime in fiction may seem distasteful, but as the contributors to this collection show, writers of detective stories have successfully blended serious crime with a wide variety of comic modes. In an unusual reading of the Holmes stories, "The Comic in the Canon. . . ," Barrie Hayne finds many traditional jokes about marriage used to describe the relationship between Holmes, an impatient husband figure, and Watson, a long suffering wife. He also comments on Watson's obtuseness (although he notes that Watson is sharper than at first assumed) and...