- The Case of Sherlock Holmes: Secrets and Lies in Conan Doyle’s Detective Fiction by Andrew Glazzard
The title of Andrew Glazzard’s book, The Case of Sherlock Holmes: Secrets and Lies in Conan Doyle’s Detective Fiction, immediately invites us into Holmesian detective mode. “You see, but you do not observe,” Holmes tells Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891), before filling in what Watson ought to have taken in (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Richard Lancelyn Green [Oxford University Press, 1993], 8). In like fashion, Glazzard draws our attention to a host of details that we may regularly perceive while reading, but do not often pause to consider. A fine early chapter on “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” (1892) directs our attention away from the more usual consideration of Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s murderous colonial background, and onto the apparently mundane details of the family’s economic condition. Glazzard looks at the sums mentioned in Mrs. Stoner’s will and spins them into a detailed consideration of Roylott’s status as an inefficient member of the rentier class. He draws on records of the agricultural depression of the later nineteenth century and the history of rural depopulation, then expands outward into other condition of England fictions to contextualize Roylott’s attempts to secure his stepdaughter’s inheritance.
Holmes, Glazzard argues, is a master of his own elaborate fictions, which may betray an underlying social motive that outweighs the nominal investigation and solution of a case. He acts to protect not only his clients but also the reputation of their social class in order that “the public have a satisfactory explanation for disturbing events” (3). The book identifies this public sphere in twenty short chapters, each covering a story or a cluster of stories, grouped into seven sections that address different aspects of social and, in the later chapters, political history: finance, class, family, sex, race, war, and secrecy. The short case studies are intriguing. One of the pleasures of reading the book is that it offers the kind of information that a scholarly edition aspires to include; at the same time, in 200 pages of expanded context, cross-referencing, and comparison it finds room for much more detail than an edition could contain. It is an ideal companion to the Holmes stories. Glazzard’s prose is crisp, elegant, and to the point, and he manages to pack in a great deal of information.
Glazzard’s approach enables some useful cross-referencing between stories: in a taxonomy of exotic femininity, he notes how many of Doyle’s eroticized women come from South and Central America. We are also made aware of how often Doyle is thinking about Ireland, or the ways in which the Second Boer War recurs. The overall effect is one of reading not so much for the plot as for a story’s incidental details. Apparent plot devices spring to historical life. The sham marriage of the late story “The Adventure of the Solitary [End Page 704] Cyclist” (1903) leads to a discussion of marriage law. Minor characters are moved to center stage to good effect. Holmes’s dim view of Inspector Lestrade is passed through the lens of social class. Metropolitan Police detectives were generally working class (in contradistinction to the military officer class), recipients of a disdain that was often manifest in the newspapers. Glazzard brings in the notorious case of the Road Hill House murder, in which middle-class Constance Kent was released without charge following the accusations of the ungentlemanly Inspector Jack Whicher. A section on scandals, in Bohemia and elsewhere, covers late Victorian and Edwardian improprieties, including those of the Prince of Wales himself, and inserts Professor Moriarty’s principal henchman, Colonel Sebastian Moran, into them. Here, as Glazzard points out, Doyle’s contemporaries would have been much more attuned than today’s readers to reports of an aristocratic world “where they often encounter[ed] folly and . . . rampant criminality” (5). Pulling the focus wider...