Book Review – On The Trail Of Sherlock Holmes

I was thrilled to receive a book entitled “ON THE TRAIL OF SHERLOCK HOLMES” for review purposes, for I happen to have been for many years a massive fan of the fictional detective – a “Sherlockian” if you would like – and aside from the canonical tales written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which I grew up loving and have re-read many times, I am always keen to devour any pastiche stories of Holmes and Watson wherever I can find them. I’ve always enjoyed picturing the scenes as described within the canon and these, so imagine my delight at finding a book that the research for must have been, well, mind bending to say the least – but that goes someway to helping someone enjoy the same.

And what a book it is.

Opening nicely with a pastiche introduction written by Dr John Watson, which goes onto explain (quite cleverly, and beautifully, I thought) how the book the reader is holding is one that he himself began making notes upon to write, but had due to various incidents and constraints been consigned to the vaults of his bank alongside many other tantalising Holmes stories that are mentioned throughout the canon, ending it by suggesting:

“It is an idea for a future writer, maybe”

Author Stephen Browning has then gone on to indeed take up Watson’s mantle, and has in the process, created something magnificent. From an opening chapter that provides a detailed account of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life and work, his inspiration for Holmes and how he created one of the most famous literary characters ever to be, the almost remainder of the book leads onto several chapters that come under the heading, The Walks.

This is what I really loved here.

Stephen has painstakingly researched and accounted some 7 walks that cover the entire city of London, beautifully and diligently incorporating into which locations that feature in stories from not only the canon, but pastiches of Holmes from other authors too that feature in locations throughout each walk. These are not just listed, but each contain interesting asides to them too – they contain estimated times for each walk, references and directions for transport to and from the locations – there are even diagrams and maps. Whilst I do not want it to sound like a Sherlock Holmes themed tourist guide book (for it is so, so much more than that), it’s easy for the Sherlockian to pick up and follow, on what would be a to do trip out for any fan. Walk number 8 featured is not a listed walk as such as the others, but the author here has listed the other areas of England that Holmes’s adventures and investigations have taken him. County by county, the areas within and their relevance to the Holmes stories are explained in great detail, again with asides that detail real life events, and inspirations for aspects of many of the tales.

No less than three detailed appendices follow – a detailed and chronological timeline of the Canon; a detailed list and accounts of notable actors to have played Holmes on screen and radio over the years, and an alphabetical Holmes miscellany. It’s capped off by an extensive note section and detailed bibliography, that even contains interesting links to websites for further research/reading into Sherlock Holmes.

If I was to have any criticism with it – I do believe an honest review is the only one that counts – and perhaps this is me being overly harsh, but the only thing I was slightly disappointed with it was with the photographs contained within. These are always a plus point to any book I feel, and here there are some 16 pages of black and white photographs, originals taken by the author. But aside from a few stills of the Sherlock Holmes museum, various blue plaques, or of the statue of Holmes located near to Baker Street, they otherwise seem to just be filler pictures of famous landmarks that are found within each walk, or various shots of towns and locations featured within the canon. Whilst I understand the logic behind this, and as well as any possible issues with copyright, I cannot help but feel I would have loved here a few more of the wonderful illustrations, perhaps some from The Strand, as drawn by Sidney Paget, or photographs of real life characters that are mentioned within the text, the inspirations for Holmes perhaps?

This is, however, a minor criticism that stems merely from my personal preferences, and what I was disappointed with, another reader may of course be thrilled at, and appreciate. Overall, the book is fantastic, the research, structure, and writing of it is a truly commendable work, one that I thoroughly recommend – and it certainly hasn’t been a three pipe problem for me to come to this conclusion. Exhaustively, and painstakingly researched, it is a book that belongs on ANY Sherlockian shelf, and one that I dare say will become THE Holmes bible to many.

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