Book Review: Sherlock Holmes FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Greatest Private Detective by Dave Thompson

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned only four novels and 56 short stories about Sherlock Holmes, the last of which appeared in 1927. In the not-quite hundred years since, the detective with the amazing deductive skills has permeated our collective imaginations, created his own archetype, and has been recreated on radio, television, comic books, the stage, and movies thousands of times over. He is one of the world’s most enduring and popular characters ever created.

There is a dizzying array of adaptations and retellings of the stories out there. The classic stories and new inventions have been told and retold over and over again since just about the time the London detective was created. Within just the past few years we’ve seen two successful movie adaptations from director Guy Ritchie, an American television series, and a hugely popular modern reboot simply entitled Sherlock.

Beyond the adaptations are the scholarly articles, literary reviews, and pop-culture musings being published at a rate to make even Sherlock himself blush. It’s enough information to fill a library and make one’s head explode. Even the most diehard of Holmesians cannot possibly keep up with the bottomless pit of information and adaptations on the good detective. For casual fans. it seems an insurmountable mountain to climb, and it can seem a daunting task to know where to even start.

Fear not, dear reader, Dave Thompson’s Sherlock Holmes FAQ book is just the place for you to begin. He covers just about every aspect of the Holmes story – from the biography of Arthur Conan Doyle to the original stories and the retellings in various medias – that one could ever want to know.

The book contains 19 chapters all of which contain appropriately Sherlockian titles such as “The Exaggerated Adventure of the Death of Sherlock Holmes.” It runs essentially chronological through Conan Doyle’s life into the stories as he wrote them and concludes with a very thorough guide to the various adaptations the sleuth has undergone over the last hundred years.

Thompson has done his research and knows the format well (he also wrote the Doctor Who FAQ and various other similar type books.) His writing style is informative, breezy with just a touch of cracking wise. It is an easy and entertaining read though at times he gets a little too clever for his own good. For example, at the beginning of a chapter on the original inspiration for Sherlock Holmes he spends several paragraphs joking about a Doctor Who reference to the detective then writes it all off as absurd and asks the reader to forget what he has just said. It’s a lame attempt at humor, and even lamer attempt to tie his two books together and does nothing to add to Holmes story.

But mostly he keeps it together and lays out the long, storied history of the character, its author, and our universal obsession with it very well. It’s a book that you can easily read from cover to cover or simply pick up, thumb to any random chapter, and brush up on one aspect or another of the character and author. My favorite sections are the ones that deal with the various film and television adaptations. He breaks down who are the best (and worst) actor portrayals of Sherlock and his ever trusted guide, Doctor Watson. He gives details to seemingly every story ever told in celluloid, providing brief descriptions of the plots and quick reviews of whether or not they are worth your time.

Sherlock Holmes FAQ is a great guide for neophytes to get an overview of the detective and an excellent pocket resource for even the most die-hard fans.

Mat Brewster

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