In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits Conan Doyle’s best tales of terror
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had the rare and peculiar ability to make fiction seem real. When he killed off his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, in 1893, many of his devoted readers donned black armbands as a sign of mourning. He got letters from real people asking if he could pass their requests on to the great sleuth, in the hope that he might take up their real-life case. Many people have heard the mysterious story of the Marie Celeste, the ship which was found abandoned with everything perfectly preserved. In truth, there was no Marie Celeste: the actual ship was the Mary Celeste, which was found abandoned but was severely waterlogged. Its one boat was also missing, providing a clue as to how the ship’s crew had not-so-mysteriously disappeared. But it was the fictional version of events – with the story of the pristine ship – that took hold of the public imagination. And this version was the product of one man: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Doyle created this modern myth, taking Read the rest of this entry
Conan Doyle’s finest Sherlock Holmes stories
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 Sherlock Holmes cases in all: 56 short stories and four full-length novels. But where is the best place for the reader who is new to Sherlock Holmes to begin exploring these classic works of detective fiction? We offer our selection of the ten best Sherlock Holmes cases below.
The Hound of the Baskervilles. Of the four novel-length adventures Conan Doyle penned about Sherlock Holmes, this is the most satisfying (and the best-known), and the one novel that we’ve included on this list of Sherlock Holmes’s best cases. Inspired by a story Doyle heard from his friend, the sportsman and journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson, about the legends surrounding a seventeenth-century squire, The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the best-known Sherlock Holmes cases, featuring supposedly demonic hounds on atmospheric Dartmoor. In 2012, a portion of Doyle’s original manuscript sold at auction for $158,500. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a classic Sherlock Holmes story
‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ is one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Doyle himself recognised that many readers would include ‘The Speckled Band’ among their list of favourite Holmes outings. It’s easy to read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and enjoy them, with no additional analysis deemed necessary. But closer inspection reveals its links to previous detective fiction and the reasons for its status as one of the finest of Doyle’s short stories.
‘The Speckled Band’, in summary, focuses on the case of Helen Stoner, a woman of thirty who lives with her bullying and domineering stepfather, Sir Grimesby Roylott, at Stoke Moran. She is nervous and fearful when she comes to Baker Street to consult Sherlock Holmes, and tells him her back-story. In India, Roylott had married Ms Stoner’s mother, a young widow of a major-general, when Ms Stoner and her sister were both very young, and their mother bequeathed her substantial wealth to Roylott while she was alive, on condition that an annual sum be paid to the sisters when they married. Eight years prior to the main events of the story, the girls’ mother had been killed in a railway accident, and Roylott had taken the two girls to live with him at Stoke Moran. Roylott had become violent and reclusive, though he was known to associate with wandering gypsies who hang around on the plantation near Stoke Moran, and we learn he has a passion for exotic animals which are shipped over from India, including a baboon and a cheetah. Read the rest of this entry