Sherlock Book Review - Close To Holmes

Posted by Steve Emecz on

The BookBag

Even today, London is a remarkable compromise of the old and the new. As Alistair Duncan shows in this volume, the city of Conan Doyle and Holmes has changed – yet not changed. There have been a handful of books in the past on 'Holmes's London', but this is the first of its kind to place equal emphasis on places associated with the detective and his creator. 

Starting, obviously, at 221b Baker Street, we learn about the history of the address which was in Victorian days only a fictional address, how it later came into existence (a fascinating saga in itself), and how the museum which can be found there today developed from an exhibition in 1951.

Next we read about Upper Wimpole Street, where Conan Doyle had his shortlived and very unsuccessful ophthalmic practice. The profession's loss was literature's gain, as it was while waiting in vain for patients that he began to write. From here it is only a short step to the Langham Hotel, where the author had dinner one evening in 1889 and was commissioned to write his second Holmes story, 'The Sign of Four'. Coincidentally, a fellow guest that evening was Oscar Wilde, who was commissioned to write 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' at the same time. It was obviously a very productive occasion.

As is so often the case, every place leads somewhere else. The Strand is particularly rich in associations, partly as the street from which the magazine took its name. Apart from the Holmes and Watson connections, it is also home to the Savoy Hotel. Cue Conan Doyle associations with Wilde (again), Sir Arthur Sullivan, and Earl Roberts of Boer War fame.

A chapter on Holmes and the railways brings in his connections with Paddington, Victoria and others, and the rich tapestry thus revealed even brings John Netley (a cabbie with Jack the Ripper associations) and wife-murderer Dr Crippen into the frame.

The author adds a few pertinent comments on the state of London today as well as offering us the benefits of his historical research. In a later chapter, he makes the point that South Norwood is one of the most deprived parts of the borough of Croydon, and asks why the area does not do more to capitalize on its Holmes and Doyle connections, and thus bring more tourists, therefore more retailers and thus further employment, to the borough.

If London and its various 19th century connections (not just those associated with the great detective and the author) fascinate you, you will adore this book. Even if you have only a casual interest, this very readable and enthusiastic book will surely whet your appetite.


Close To Holmes was shortlisted for the Tony & Freda Howlett Literary Award (Shelock Holmes book of the year from the Sherlock Holmes Society of London).

Also available from

Amazon USA     Strand Magazine (Special Offer)

Amazon UK      Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Other formats -  Kindle   Kobo  Audio

The London of the late nineteenth century was home to both Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous detective - Sherlock Holmes. This book looks at some of the many locations in both central and outer London that have connections to one or both of these famous names. In addition to examining the history this book also looks at some of the theories that have been woven over the years around Holmes and these locations. Very popular with both fans of Holmes and Victorian London and includes stunning comparison photographs from the late 1880s and modern day for many London landmarks.

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