B. J. Rahn’s The Real World of Sherlock provides a fascinating glimpse into the real-life Victorian inspirations behind the Sherlock Holmes stories. What lies behind the mystique of Sherlock Holmes? How did his deerstalker and meerschaum pipe become international symbols for the genre of detective fiction? Why for over a century has Holmes captured the loyalty of readers around the globe? So powerful was his charisma that fiction merged into fact for scores of people who wrote earnest letters to him appealing for help. Surely this represents the ultimate triumph of the imagination over reason? Yet Holmes’ success as a detective was based on logical reasoning.

This conundrum is the raison d’être of B. J. Rahn’s The Real World of Sherlock, which explores how close his fictional world actually was to Victorian reality. This expanded paperback edition (enhanced with 30 photographs plus added notes and bibliography) addresses this matter and examines other issues as it investigates the origins of the literary sleuth. It also explores how the work of police detectives and CSI evolved in this era, from footprint analysis and human blood testing to fingerprinting and crime-scene photography.

A new chapter on ‘Holmes and the Fair Sex’ reveals that, despite his antifeminist remarks, Sherlock certainly did not hate women. His actions speak louder than his words, as he befriends female clients, earns the trust and confidence of many reluctant witnesses, and protects helpless victims.

The Real World of Sherlock analyzes the literary influence of Edgar Allan Poe and assesses Dr Joseph Bell’s role in determining Holmes’ physical appearance and working methods, as well as weighing Arthur Conan Doyle’s personal inspiration. In addition to Holmes’ sense of justice and his investigative flair, Doyle himself contributed the imaginative alchemy to fuse these elements into a unique personality. Holmes is often perceived as an arrogant, eccentric loner, a drug addict and misogynist, but he is also a man of his time – knowledgeable, scientifically trained, acutely attuned to current affairs, highly perceptive about human nature, personable and charismatic.

Through Sherlock and his cases, Conan Doyle depicts the contemporary world of criminal investigation – both police methods and forensic techniques. Not only did Sherlock employ science to fight crime, but Conan Doyle also incorporated details from actual contemporary crimes. The descriptions of Holmes competing in situ with the Victorian police reveal the limitations of contemporary police methods and their hesitant acceptance of early forensic techniques.

The parallels between the fiction and reality in Sherlock’s world make fascinating reading.

B. J. Rahn’s The Real World of Sherlock is available from Amberley Press and Amazon (£9.99)

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