I’ve never worn a deerstalker hat or a wool cape coat. I don’t inhale coke and don’t smoke. I’ve never attended a meeting of like-minded folks who spend a weekend talking about old stories and fake cases. I have no desire to visit the childhood home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or 221B Baker Street.
So I’m not obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. But I do love him, and in today’s world it’s still possible to disappear into the world of history’s greatest fake detective, whose fake adventures still dominate movies, TV, books and imaginations.
This weekend I bought the book The Sherlockian by Graham Moore. I didn’t set out looking for a Sherlock book. The great cover actually caught my eye on the shelves of Barnes & Noble.
I just started it so can’t attest to its quality, though it received numerous glowing reviews when it came out in 2010. The story focuses on the past and present, with linked stories involving Doyle’s decision to kill off — and then resurrect — Holmes and a mystery involving a member of a Sherlock club.
The book will help fill the time while waiting for a new season of the BBC’s Sherlock to appear. It took me awhile to discover this show — like I said, I don’t obsessively follow every new Sherlock production or book. But this show? Yeah, toss in the obsession word. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Watson, it’s set in modern-day London, although it uses clever twists on many of Doyle’s classic tales. Each season has only three episodes, but they’re each about 90 minutes long, making them mini-movies. The acting, stories, and scripts are all superb. Even the sound track shines. On the show, Watson writes about Sherlock on a blog. Amusingly, that blog is available in real life, too, where Watson talks about cases and Sherlock contributes to the comments.
FYI: The second video has a spoiler so if you haven’t seen it and plan on watching it, skip it. Don’t click. You’ve been warned. It’s my favorite scene in the series so far.
The second season ended on a cliffhanger but the third season is still months away. The series appears in England first and then the U.S. It streams on Netflix and is worth a weekend viewing party. In fact, Netflix is Sherlock central. There are streaming episodes of a Sherlock series from the ’80s, starring Jeremy Brett. Catch Christopher Lee as Sherlock in 1954. Obviously the Robert Downey Jr. films are on there, as is a 2009 movie called, simply, Sherlock Holmes. That one stars Ben Syder and was a bit too strange for my liking but as always the character is such a genius invention that it’s at least watchable. I haven’t watched the new CBS show Elementary, but that’s because I worry it’d come up short when compared to the BBC’s Sherlock.
It all goes back to the original stories and I still crack open the collections of Doyle’s Sherlock stories. When I first started reading them years ago I was surprised they didn’t all involve murder. I’d been trained by modern books and TV shows, where detectives are there to solve homicides. Sherlock? He takes a variety of cases.
Looking for another great Sherlock tale that doesn’t actually involve the man himself? Read New Yorker writer David Grann’s The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, a collection of his best work. The opening piece is about the bizarre death of a Sherlock scholar.
Like countless others, one reason I find Sherlock appealing is because I feel like I could take his methods and apply them to my own life. Which neighbor is leaving trash on the floor instead of throwing it down the chute? Why have my Sports Illustrateds started arriving a week late, when they were always delivered every Wednesday, right on time? Deductive reasoning can solve all. Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And so on. If you have a partner around to listen to your theories so much the better. Sherlock teaches you to examine the small details when looking at the big picture.
The popularity extends far beyond the do-it-yourself fantasies. The original stories still draw in new readers and enthrall old ones. Modern retellings help — on the BBC’s Sherlock, the finale in Season 2 was called The Reichenbach Fall, a nod to the real Falls where Sherlock died in the original stories. Mostly it’s about the man himself, plus his friendship with Watson. Sherlock’s lovable, but not always likable. He can be distant and inconsiderate, arrogant and exasperating. But you always know he’s the smartest guy in the room — and he doesn’t shy away from letting other know it too. It’s reassuring knowing someone always has the right answers and the excitement comes from watching him arrive at the solution. Detective stories — whether in books or on screens both big and small — remain as popular as ever, so it shouldn’t be surprising the greatest detective ever is still a hit.
No, I’m not obsessed. But I can’t wait to read The Sherlockian. And I can’t wait for the third season of Sherlock on BBC. And I can’t wait to figure out who’s been violating the no-smoking policy in our apartment building’s hallways. The game is afoot.