Author Michael Sims has studied both the fictional and real-life inspiration that emerged from Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle's personal and professional life, particularly as a young medical student at Edinburgh University in Scotland in the 1870s and 1880s.

Sims informs us that Conan Doyle, born in 1859, was an avid reader from childhood, and Holmes was partly built out of his devouring the literary mysteries and adventures of Edgar Allan Poe, Émile Gaboriau, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and Wilkie Collins. In particular, Poe’s hawk-eyed detective C. Auguste Dupin (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, 1841) and Gaboriau’s sleuth Monsieur Lecoq (“L’Affaire Lerouge”, 1866) were earlier practitioners of the logical reasoning that later saw Sherlock Holmes tower above his peers.

But the greatest input into the character of the fictional detective that was forming in Conan Doyle’s mind came from one of his mentors and favourite teacher at the university, where the aspiring writer enrolled in 1876. Dr. Joseph Bell was a Scottish physician who, as Sims tells it, was a great symptomologist, a diagnostic genius who could usually quickly deduce both a patient’s illness and character or profession merely by studying the person’s appearance.

Conan Doyle was often amazed as he observed Bell’s vigilant eye identify a patient's occupation, hometown and ailments from the smallest details of dress, gait and speech. As the young student freely admitted, his tutor’s “inductive” methods would later inspire Holmes’ own science of deduction and gift for diagnostics.

In one instance given by Sims, a patient simply stood before Bell at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, whereupon the doctor deduced that the man had served in the army (from the fact he did not remove his hat), he had been discharged recently (or he would have regained his civilian habits: the hat again), he had belonged to a Highland regiment (his accent was simple enough clue), he had been a non-commissioned officer rather than a common soldier (his air of authority) and – a long shot by Bell, but correct again – he had been stationed at the British Empire outpost of Barbados (the man’s complaint was the early stages of elephantiasis, and most likely to have come from the West Indies, rather than India or Afghanistan).

Thus, Conan Doyle introduced scientific methods into the art of deduction in the criminal field. Later, Holmes would be detecting that his companion, Dr. Watson, had just returned from Leicester, thanks to his knowledge of the arrival times of trains in London and – a real giveaway this one – the tell-tale mud on Watson’s shoes.

Not only knowledgeable, skillful and observant, Bell was aquiline-nosed and had piercing eyes, two physical features that also emerged in Holmes. Further, as a student Conan Doyle became familiar with stimulants from his medical studies in Edinburgh, and, as is universally known, Holmes was an avid user of cocaine and injected himself with the drug to fend off boredom when not working on a case.

As Sim recalls, Conan Doyle also witnessed varieties of addiction, most notably to rum, when he worked as a trainee surgeon for months spent whaling in the Arctic during breaks from his medical studies.

The most iconic detective in fiction, Holmes first emerged in “A Study in Scarlet”, a full-length novel printed in “Beeton’s Christmas Annual” in 1887. Conan Doyle quickly had a success on his hands, and went on to write another three novels and 56 short stories about the consulting detective and the trusty Dr. Watson in their cosy rooms at 221B Baker Street, London.

Arthur & Sherlock. Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes” is Michael Sims’ seventh non-fiction book. Others include The Adventures of Henry Thoreau”, The Story of Charlotte’s Web” and Adam’s Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form”.He edits the Connoiseur Collection” anthology series, which includes The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes” and The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime: Con Artists, Burglars, Rogues and Scoundrels from the Time of Sherlock Holmes”.

Sims’ latest book is a more than worthy contribution to that branch of obsession known as Sherlockania, which has produced countless film, television, radio and stage productions, worldwide clubs and societies, collections and memorabilia, and even authors who have penned further Holmes stories in the wake of Conan Doyle’s death in 1930.

Particularly informative are his accounts of the poverty and violence of society at the time, the formation of the British police force, the early world of publishing and some of Conan Doyle’s literary contemporaries.

But it is surely logical to make sure that first you have read those four novels and 56 short stories about the great man, before delving deeper into the whole fascinating subject.

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