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  • Holmes in Context
  • Lynnette Porter
Sam Naidu, ed. Sherlock Holmes in Context. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. x + 206 pp. $99.99

IF FANS of Sherlock Holmes were asked to describe the Great Detective, no doubt most would reply that he is a genius, an investigative scientist who makes brilliant deductions. In short, Holmes often is perceived as infallible and smarter than other mortals (with the exception of brother Mycroft). Yet Sherlock Holmes in Context analyzes why these expected characteristics and descriptions are only the surface and Holmes is more flawed than his fans may want to think. As chapter authors illustrate, Arthur Conan Doyle's and Sherlock television series co-creators Steven Moffat's and Mark Gatiss's limitations and preferences have resulted in a less-than-perfect fictional world. Nevertheless, [End Page 409] Holmes continues to be popular more than a century after the 1887 publication of A Study in Scarlet, and chapter authors in this new volume explore the character's influence on, for example, roleplay and cosplay, film, television series, pastiches, and referential novels.

The book's cover features a silhouette of actor Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes from the BBC's Sherlock television series juxtaposed against a more traditional background image of the pipe-smoking Holmes. Just as Cumberbatch's Sherlock is positioned in the cover's foreground, Sherlock is foregrounded in several chapters that use the series to provide new contexts for better understanding Conan Doyle's canon. The cover likely will attract fans of the television series who may not be as familiar with other texts discussed in later chapters. Thus, it is especially important that the book is clearly written, its theories illustrated with examples suitable for fan-scholars as well as academics. The introduction, for example, provides background about the canon appropriate for non-Sherlockians. Sherlock Holmes in Context is an important book to study, both by chapter and as a whole, by anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes scholarship.

As editor Sam Naidu explains in the introduction, the book resulted from creative discussions during the 2013 Sherlock Holmes: Past and Present conference held at University College London. Since that time, much more has been written about Holmes, and new episodes of Sherlock and Elementary (the U.S.-based Holmes television adaptation) continue to alter perceptions of the iconic character. An interesting fact is that others have written more about Holmes than Conan Doyle ever did. Naidu notes that 25,000 literary texts have been written to date, but this number does not include all the non-literary works, such as YouTube videos and Tumblr posts.

That Sherlock Holmes in Context is a print book published in 2017 necessarily limits its coverage. Thus, the authors investigate in great detail only Sherlock episodes through series three, including the special episode "The Abominable Bride." However, based on the arguments presented in each Sherlock-based chapter, readers familiar with the series should be able to draw conclusions or see parallels between the information presented within chapters and the visual texts more recently supplied by Moffat and Gatiss. In addition, Elementary and the Guy Ritchie-directed films are briefly mentioned in one chapter, and [End Page 410] a passing reference to the Granada series is made in another. These latter filmic texts are not highlighted nearly as often as Sherlock and are not in flux as much as the BBC series, which changed direction and made unexpected connections to previous episodes during series four.

Chapters are often paired by theme, so that one chapter's discussion of Holmes's female clients is followed by the next chapter's analysis of gendered depictions of aging, or a chapter about disguises and trickster characters leads into a chapter about fans' cosplay choices. Whereas the first chapters relate to Sherlock, later chapters most often deal with literature influenced by Conan Doyle and Holmes. Every chapter benefits from an extensive bibliography with entries related to Sherlock, another Holmes-themed work, or publications by theorists such as Roland Barthes, Sarah Cardwell, Thomas Leitch, Robert Stam, and Linda Hutcheon, who represent a variety of fields reflecting the wide range of chapter topics.

The following chapter summaries emphasize the book's depth and...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 409-413
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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