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• PREFACE “You Know My Methods, Watson” • Graham Greene famously observed that only in childhood do books have any deep influence on our lives. “In later life, we admire, we are entertained , we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already.” But when we are young, “all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future.” Had he not loved the swashbucklers of Stanley J. Weyman (Under the Red Robe) and Marjorie Bowen (The Viper of Milan), would Greene • ix x • have written This Gun for Hire and The Third Man? How many adults first learned about moral complexity from the final chapter of Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins, when the dog Ribsy must choose between two equally kind masters? Who, at any age, can read unmoved the last pages of Tarzan of the Apes when the rightful Lord Greystoke, deliberating sacrificing his own hope for happiness, quietly says, “My mother was an ape . . . I never knew who my father was.” In our hearts, we measure all the “better” and “greater” books of adulthood against such touchstones— and in later years we often return to the originals for comfort and renewal. That arch-sophisticate Noel Coward passed his final days rereading Five Children and It, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and the other children’s classics of E. Nesbit. On Conan Doyle, or, The Whole Art of Storytelling is a book about the pleasures of reading, a celebration of plot and atmosphere, adventure and romance, and an invitation to go beyond the Sherlock Holmes stories to explore a remarkable body of writing. Its slightly old-fashioned subtitle recalls the sleuth of Baker Street’s long planned, but apparently never written, masterwork : The Whole Art of Detection. Structured as a kind of reader’s memoir, On Conan Doyle begins Preface • xi with my own youthful discovery of The Hound of the Baskervilles, then looks at the Professor Challenger adventures and the great tales of terror and the supernatural. There’s a chapter on Conan Doyle’s nonfiction, concentrating on his memoirs, personal essays, and fiercely polemical journalism, and another on his “neglected” fiction, touching on such books as the medieval swashbuckler The White Company and the social novels Beyond the City, The Stark Munro Letters, A Duet with an Occasional Chorus, and The Tragedy of the “Korosko.” Since every Sherlock Holmes fan has heard of that mysterious literary society, The Baker Street Irregulars, On Conan Doyle also provides an insider’s account of its curiously romantic activities and traditions, as well as an example of what Irregulars call “the grand game.” I then conclude with some final reflections on the afterlife of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. A last point: In general, I reveal as little as possible about the action or plots of Conan Doyle’s various stories and novels. I tell enough to bolster an argument or illustrate some aspect of style, but no more. On Conan Doyle aims, above all, to enhance, not detract from, the reader’s pleasure in the wonderful fiction and nonfiction to which we now turn. This page intentionally left blank • ON CONAN DOYLE This page intentionally left blank ...


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