Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective created by Scottish physician and author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is currently enjoying a period of increased popularity, thanks to the acting skills of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman,
Conan-Doyle said that Holmes was inspired by a surgeon he’d worked for at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, called Joseph Ball. Conan-Doyle created Sherlock to be a consulting detective whose abilities in logical reasoning, knowledge of forensic science, outstanding brain power, and ability to adopt disguises made him a formidable force, who could tackle cryptic criminal cases that baffled the police.
An eccentric, Holmes is often seen to be deriving pleasure from baffling police inspectors with his theories, from his base at 221B Baker Street, London.
The first novel to feature Holmes was A Study in Scarlet, which appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. It was followed by The Sign of Four, which was also published in a magazine (Lippincott’s Monthly) in 1890. After that, Conan-Doyle wrote Sherlock’s stories in serial form for The Strand Magazine, the first of these being A Scandal in Bohemia, which began in 1891.
The Sherlock Holmes stories were narrated by his greatest (and only) friend, Dr John Watson, who recorded all their cases as they worked them. Only four Holmes stories aren’t written as though they’ve come from Watson’s pen. The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier and The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane were narrated by Holmes himself, and the other two tales, The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone and His Last Bow, were written in the third person.
Apart from Dr Watson, the most well known character from the Sherlock Holmes stories is Professor James Moriarty, a criminal mastermind whom Holmes describes as the “Napoleon of crime”. Doyle introduced Moriarty as a way to kill off Sherlock Holmes. He only featured directly in two of Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventure of the Final Problem and The Reichenbach Falls, when the story ended with both Holmes and Moriarty falling to their deaths.
With the Sherlock Holmes stories currently enjoying a new lease of life, and Moriarty as his popular arch-enemy appearing in more and more stories, it looks as though London’s most famous fictional detective is here to stay- even if he never did really use the phrase Elementary, my dear Watson!
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.