Author: James Edward Holroyd
First Published: 1959
Publisher: Otto Penzler Books
A series of essays, the most interesting of which explore one of the most crucial characters in the Sherlock Holmes Canon. London.
Baker Street By-ways (BSB), after a brief introduction, begins with the author’s pilgrimage to London and Baker Street. I’d read this prior to my own pilgrimage (shortly before my plane touched down to be exact) so I was captivated by the chapter. The author connects a lot of the sights of the area and ties them directly to Canon, which is something that really appealed to me. Sadly, having been written in 1959, the information (I soon discovered) is no longer particularly relevant.
The book then goes on to outline the history of Sherlockian theory, which again, given the age of the book, is very outdated. I think, if you wanted to read up on Sherlockian history, it would be best to avoid anything published pre 1990.
Holroyd then switches gears again (into a new essay) to talk about Sherlockian artists (Sidney Paget, Dorr Steele, etc). Further essays expound on theories that, while interesting, didn’t tend to align with my own theories. In fact, most Sherlockians tend to dismiss Holroyd’s work, as new and more plausible theories have since been established, all of which nullify Holroyd’s assumptions. Still, from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s interesting to read, because we can’t fully understand where we are, unless we have seen where we’ve been.
Also, despite their crack-headedness, some of his theories are just downright entertaining.
The essay format itself is quite jarring, as the collected work seems to jump from topic to topic before finally getting to Holmes and Watson, and later, other characters from the Canon . It’s all very descriptive, and not at all analytical, and while it certainly held my attention, I am fairly certain others would be disappointed by the lack of insight.
In the end, it’s worth a read, but I would certainly not shell out money for the book, or even include it in any collection I may someday own. It’s outdated, and at times a little ‘out there’, and doesn’t really encompass everything you would expect from scholarship.
It’s not all bad, though, and, in fact, I did enjoy reading it. There’s an incredible sense of nostalgia contained within it, and the author’s love for SH really does come across. Reading Sherlockian theory and scholarship connects you to this community that transcends time and space and conventional boundaries, and it’s hard not to get swept up in it. As I was reading this book, I found myself often misty-eyed.
Like Watson, Canon is a fixed point in an ever changing age, and that thought is reflected in almost every piece of Sherlockian Scholarship I have read. BSB is no exception to this, and so, for that reason alone, it is worth reading. It is this element that has earned this book 3 out of 5 pipes.