Sherlock Holmes and his methods have been criticized since the beginning. A news article titled Every Man His Own Holmes was published in the New York Times in 1894 after the first Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet” swept the public away. In this piece this editor describes the epidemic Holmes has caused:
“Everyone knows the exasperating way in which Sherlock Holmes made what he called deductions. If he saw a man with muddy boots, he instantly deduced from that fact a long history of the man’s career, from his cradle to the moment when his boots became muddy. This was not sheer impudence. It was rather a species of madness, and like certain varieties of madness it had a great deal of method in it.” (The New York Times)
It was Doyle’s use of deductions and knowledge of sciences that allowed Sherlock Holmes to influence and inspire the use of science in real-life crime work. As we have advanced in the fields Holmes used to solve his crimes it only makes sense for modern day critics to continue the debunking tradition. Well one author took it upon himself to gather and review the Holmes’ use of science.
In The Scientific Sherlock Holmes James O’Brien evaluates the scientific validity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character. We are taken through evaluating each science that is mentioned in the entirety of the Sherlock Holmes collection (or the CANON as fans would say). It reviews different aspects of forensic science including fingerprints, footprints, handwriting analysis, printed documents, cryptology, and chemistry. O’Brien’s book is only 180 pages including his reference pages. If we narrow it down even further to just the portions of ...
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...cryptology or the history of it. This section highlighted and praised one of Doyle’s influences Edgar Allen Poe because of Poe’s obsession with cryptograms. It was a missed opportunity for this author because he had the perfect segue to go from the case of the Zodiac Killer to the ciphering skills of Sherlock Holmes. This portion is ineffectual in reviewing Holmes’ use of cryptology.
Considering the topic of O’Brien’s case study is evaluating Sherlock Holmes and his use of science his content should be more focused and balanced. More history about the science Holmes used frequently as opposed to the topic with the easiest information to gather is more beneficial in supporting his topic. For example, Holmes used footprinting as one of his main tools and only mentioned fingerprinting in seven of the cases (most of which did not play a large role in solving the case).
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