In Search of Dr Watson - A Sherlockian Investigation by Molly Carr

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In Search of Dr Watson - A Sherlockian Investigation by Molly Carr

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Category: Biography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not so much the primer to the character I expected, but a solid and well-researched monograph instead.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 196 Date: December 2010
Publisher: MX Publishing
ISBN: 978-1907685767

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The old saying that behind every great man there is a great woman has one major exception - Sherlock Holmes. Behind him is the figure of Dr John Watson, his biographer, the man who shares his Baker St lodgings, and the man eternally flummoxed by his deductions. This biography successfully shows how the superior Holmes walked over Watson in investigative skills, and also how Conan Doyle needed Watson, if only to help us admire Holmes more by making him less insufferably smug.

We begin with Watson's origins - the inspiration for his creator could, it appears, be one of many. Then we have the forging of the character Sherlock Holmes meets one day - the career as an army doctor cut short by catastrophes in Afghanistan and a bullet wound. They get introduced by a mutual friend, and the rest is (fictional) history, but raises countless questions. If Watson is a doctor why can't he employ any of the forensic techniques, logical reasoning and medical deductions Holmes can? Is he really a womaniser, as some blunt summaries would have? And is he really as effect-less as some of Holmes' put-downs might have us believe?

We get a lot closer to his character when his days in Afghanistan are put into context, as the author's solid research gives us more than enough perhaps about the battles the man would have seen had he lived at all. After that, with Watson back in London, things get a bit too specialised, as canonical dating of several major stories is disputed and discussed. The shows the pair saw, the songs they heard and the Latin they quoted are all explained. Then the book quite artlessly lurches mid-chapter to stage and cinema adaptations, where helpful to us knowing more of Watson's personality.

Beyond that are some telling pages on how unique Watson is - many detective duos have had a similar balance (Poirot and Hastings) - but never before nor since has it worked as well. Possibly it was too successful, for Conan Doyle tried to vary the relationship in other ways than just killing off Holmes.

So does this book work just as successfully? At a guess you couldn't go on Mastermind with the man as your chosen specialist subject without it. As a biography and more rounded discussion of a fictional character it can require some close reading as to whether we're in ours and Conan Doyle's reality, or the world on the page.

Carr is clearly an expert, and very erudite, with enough ability to portray countless facts and important opinions. The crux question now is, is the balance of the book right between being geared towards the passing browser, or the Conan Doyle devotee?

I came to it as somewhere in between, myself, having recently started professionally acting the part in murder mystery evenings. I ended up as confused by Conan Doyle more than Carr. Was Watson wounded in the shoulder, or the leg, for example. In the end I found I won't remember much about his character I couldn't surmise from general belief about the man, or from seeing re-runs on the TV.

But I did find a lot about his history before Sherlock Holmes, and much detail about his life with the detective, as well as enough pointers as to why the pair is uniquely lauded to this day. Even that might all be old hat to a Holmesian buff, and so for me the ideal reader of this book remains as elusive as perhaps one of Conan Doyle's villains temporarily are.

I must thank the publisher for sending me a review copy.

Consider shelving this next to Eliminate the Impossible: An Examination of the World of Sherlock Holmes on Page and Screen by Alistair Duncan and Steve Emecz, which contains many facts about all Conan Doyle's characters and more. The author is biographised himself here.

Buy In Search of Dr Watson - A Sherlockian Investigation by Molly Carr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In Search of Dr Watson - A Sherlockian Investigation by Molly Carr at Amazon.co.uk


Buy In Search of Dr Watson - A Sherlockian Investigation by Molly Carr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In Search of Dr Watson - A Sherlockian Investigation by Molly Carr at Amazon.com.

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