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Harold Orel has collected 57 items by and about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, mostly from contemporary periodicals, newspapers, and books. These include autobiographical sketches, interviews with the author, and memoirs. Some are barely a page long, others cover as much as eight or nine pages. Individual pieces describe different periods in Doyle's life; his opinions on life, literature, and society; his early efforts at writing and his eventual success at publishing fiction; and, late in his life, his defense of Spiritualism. There is much repetition of anecdote, especially about Doyle's efforts as a beginning author, his physical appearance, and his opinions of literary works and of America. The memoirs present Doyle as the ideal late-Victorian and Edwardian English gentleman, physically fit, honestly bluff, interested in sports, a world traveler, patriotic, large-hearted, insistent on justice and fair play in all aspects of life, and committed to social reform. However, most of this information has been sifted through and used in other studies of Doyle, so anyone familiar with Doyle's life and works will find little that is new. This collection is meant for: a Doyle completist; a reader unfamiliar with recent Doyle biographies; a researcher who does not have access to the newspapers, magazines, and books in which the excerpts originally appeared. Orel's notes are excellent, offering succinct facts about once popular, but now nearly forgotten and seldom read authors who wrote about Doyle in the 1890s and 1920s. Other notes explain obscure social and historical events, and Orel is to be praised for gathering so much information.
Robert S. Paul in his Introduction to Whatever Happened to Sherlock Holmes? suggests that one of the strongest appeals of detective fiction is its reflection of the ethical and moral values held by the society for which it is written. Sherlock Holmes and many of his successors share values, states Paul, which "are ultimately grounded in theology, or in what serves as theology in a professedly secular society." Moreover, "If detective fiction . . . reveals radical changes in the theological presuppositions of society, it may help us to see the way society is going." This theology is shaped by Western thought, especially the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment, but is not necessarily concerned with questions of doctrine or dogma. Paul discerns the following theological concepts present in detective fiction: Created Order, Providence, [End Page 537] Justice and Truth, Value of Human Life, and Fallen Nature. Although Paul's list sounds promising as a paradigm by which to analyze detective fiction, his development of this idea is for the most part disappointing. His comments on the theological content of detective fiction are embedded in what he calls, toward the end of the book, a "survey." This overview offers, for the most part, materials that are well known to readers with any interest at all in the history of the detective story. A few sections do discuss in depth the ethical or moral significance of the works of an individual author, but too often Paul's comments are made only in passing and are unsupported. Paul finds, for example, that in her short story "The Fourth Man," Agatha Christie "raised the basic theological problems of our mortality, of human destiny, of the ultimate purpose of life, and of our responsibility for the good and evil of life." And David L. Lindsey, in Heat from Another Sun, "raises some acute theological questions for our society, but they are handled at a far different level from the simplistic treatment of earlier writings." But Paul never expands these remarks to show in detail how Christie and Lindsey present abstruse metaphysical concepts within the framework of an entertainment.
Paul's study is uneven. One of his best sections discusses the novels of P. D. James, whose...