Conan Doyle, By Andrew Lycett

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The Independent Culture

Son of a talented, though alcoholic, artist and nephew to Richard Doyle, the great Punch cartoonist, Conan Doyle hid his considerable literary energy behind the bluff exterior of a medical man.

Doyle's lecturers at Edinburgh were the models for both Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Dr Moriarty. The first Holmes story, "A Scandal in Bohemia", appeared almost from nowhere in 1891. Its success was due partly to Doyle rejecting the concept of the serial – his innovation of self-contained episodes featuring familiar characters remains the template for TV detectives – and partly to his idiosyncratic creation.

Like Doyle, his biographer finds Holmes wearisome ("brilliant, troubled, often annoyingly smug"). During a walking tour of the Alps, Doyle admitted Holmes "makes my life unbearable", so one of his companions suggested the Reichenbach Falls as an ideal spot for the final solution. Lured by the vast sum of £100 per 1,000 words, Doyle was persuaded to revive Holmes for "The Hound of the Baskervilles", described by Lycett as "an anachronism, full of Victorian novelistic devices".

At least Doyle did not utilise Holmes as a mouthpiece for the spiritualist cause, though he was not so scrupulous about using his other protagonist, Professor Challenger. Packed with fascinating detail about Doyle's milieu, this engaging and perceptive account deserves to sell in vast quantities to the army of Holmes fans. Unfortunately, the more dedicated Sherlockians maintain that the yarns were penned by Dr Watson.