Monday, 19 December 2011

Review: The Science of Sherlock Holmes

The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E J Wagner

Sherlock Holmes is regarded as the world's greatest detective.  More than that, he is that rare instance of a fictional character who has not only become a household word, not only become a part of popular culture and folklore, but has joined that elite group of characters whom many people firmly believe really existed.  Dr Watson's accounts of his exploits, edited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are wonderful stories filled with adventure and the portrayal of a remarkable friendship, but they are also a primer of logical thinking and of proper crime detecting methods.  Indeed, much of modern police work can be traced back to Sherlock Holmes.  Therefore, a book about the science of Holmes would be a fascinating exploration of both the Holmesian Canon and forensic investigation.

Unfortunately, this book is not it.  The Science of Sherlock Holmes is a major disappointment.  Far from examining the science behind Sherlock Holmes, Miss Wagner merely uses the great detective as a framing device for a book that is little more than a potted and very superficial history of forensic science.  We are introduced to fingerprinting, the acid bath murders, Crippen, and the usual assortment of the lurid and the mundane, but it is territory that has been ploughed much more deeply and thoroughly by better writers and using the gimmick of referring occasionally to  Holmes before dancing off to talk about blood stains does a disservice to both topics.

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