A Sherlock Holmes Handbook


Author: Chris Redmond
First Published: 1993
Publisher: Simon & Pierre

I should probably first admit that this is the first guide or handbook I’ve had the occasion to read, and hence I won’t be able to compare it to anything else. That being said, I am, relatively, impressed.

This book is a wealth of knowledge. Redmond touches on things I hadn’t even considered. The book begins with an outline of Canon, giving a small synopsis for each of four novels and all of the collections of short stories. It’s written with the assumption that the reader has read Canon, so the story summaries are quite sparse; simple enough to remind the reader of the story, but in no way long-winded.

Redmond goes beyond touching on Canon, though. He gives a detailed account of everything from Victorian life, to London crime, to Doyle, to Sherlockian societies, and to the prevalence of Holmes in media. Essentially, everything you could ever hope to know about Holmes, his creator, the era in which he lived, and the ‘cult’ that rose up upon his creation, Redmond touches on.

His writing style is quite engaging, too. He writes in a simple, elegant way that informs while it entertains. All things considered, I was quite impressed.

I did, however, have some quibbles.

Redmond is a member of theĀ Baker Street Irregulars, and, as such, has a slight obsession with Irene Adler. I still don’t understand the preoccupation with this woman, or the assumption that Holmes was somehow ‘in love with her’. She appears in one story, bests Holmes at his game, and because of this he admires her. Admiration is not love. Respect is not lust. Even Watson tells us that Holmes interest in her stems from her cunning cleverness, and that it is in no way a romantic interest.

Holmes himself, in a later story, confesses that he has never loved, which suggests that Irene Adler’s title of ‘The Woman’ had nothing to do with any deep-seeded emotional attachment. In fact, he barely knew her, having met her face to face only a handful of times (and never as himself).

Irene aside, Redmond also (in my opinion) underestimates Watson’s intelligence. Yes, Watson did ‘dumb himself down’ in much of the stories, but this was done largely to accentuate Holmes’ intelligence. When you consider this, it becomes quite obvious that Watson was far more clever than he led us to believe. He’s certainly more clever than most Sherlockians suggest.

There are also points where Redmond does get a little long-winded (the section on political history comes to mind, which surprised me, as politics have long been a favourite subject of mine). Fortunately, these sections are few and far between.

Finally, the book was published in 1993, and, as such, it is fairly out of date (although certainly more modern than most Sherlockian works). It doesn’t touch on the internet, or the rise of Holmes based sites, message boards, online newsletters, etc. I would really like to see an updated version, actually, because the internet really did change everything.

It also focuses primarily on North American Sherlockian views, which while useful (given that I live in North America) I would have loved to have seen an elaboration on European societies.

Overall all, though, I highly recommend this book, as it provides a very detailed look at all things Holmesian, and makes an excellent companion to Canon. I checked this book out of the library, but I suspect I will purchase a copy, even if only for its incredibly detailed index.