Sherlock Book Reviews - The Medical Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

Posted by Steve Emecz on

Sherlock Holmes Society of London - Winter Journal 2023

What we have in this book is a look at all the maladies that feature in the Canon and how they were perceived and treated in Victorian society. The author is a G.P. so you know the facts are solid. A staggering fifty-two diseases are covered, from Diabetes to Lumbago. For each, Howlett follows a pattern: 1. Introduction. 2. Where the disease features in the Canon. 3. How the disease was perceived in Victorian times. 4. How it was treated (rightly or wrongly). 5. How it is viewed by modern medicine.

The length of each chapter varies depending on how often the condition is featured in the Canon and how much was known (or presumed known) about it at the time. The book is, helpfully, peppered with illustrations. Some of these are contemporary drawings and photos relating to the condition under discussion. Others are original depictions of scenes from the Canon. These are all courtesy of a talented artist named Alex Holt, and I hope he gets commissioned to produce similar works for other authors. His style really impressed me.

My only gripe with this book is the font. Perhaps appropriately, it comes across as too clinical. I don't feel this is a book that you will read cover to cover. It is very much a reference book that you will dip in and out of. In my opinion, it will be of most use to pastiche writers, who need to understand what diseases were called and how they were treated. It will also be of use to anyone with an interest in Victorian society and medicine.


The Medical Casebook is available from this site with a contribution to our good causes and also available from:

Amazon USA   Barnes and Noble   Strand Magazine

Kindle     Audio 

Arthur Conan Doyle was a GP before he became a writer. He uses his medical knowledge widely in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He bases the deductive skills of his hero detective on the diagnostic techniques a GP uses with a patient. He even gives Sherlock a GP sidekick. This all contributes to the enduring popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories, over 130 years after the first story was published. An amazing 52 diseases feature in the Sherlock Holmes stories. This includes many that remain significant parts of a GP's workload today - diabetes, asthma, ischaemic heart disease, stroke. There are then other diseases that have largely died out in the UK due to advances in medical science - diphtheria, brain fever, rickets, tetanus. The Medical Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson takes a definitive look at how Conan Doyle uses these 52 diseases in the stories. It also gives a historical perspective on the Victorian understanding of the diseases, using the textbooks Conan Doyle would very likely have had sitting on his consulting room shelves.



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