Doctor & the Detective

Martin Booth, Author Minotaur Books $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-24251-0
Although the burly Edinburgh doctor who believed in fairies will always be linked with an angular, coolly rational English consulting detective, Booth (a Booker Prize nominee for Industry of Souls) is only one of many Sherlock Holmes fans and Arthur Conan Doyle biographers to try to separate the two. Booth's polished life appears in the U.S. after Daniel Stashower's lengthy, more authoritative work from earlier this year (Teller of Tales, Forecasts, March 15). While Booth lacks Stashower's thoroughness, he makes up for it in style and astute judgments on Conan Doyle's life and achievements. Conan Doyle grew quickly frustrated with the way his most famous creation eclipsed all else but could not do without him. Booth, a professed admirer of Holmes but not a Baker Street Irregular, investigates Conan Doyle and his creation with shrewd detachment, including the possible link between Holmes's cocaine habit and Conan Doyle's old medical partner. Conan Doyle's achievements minus the Great Detective would have been respectable: writing everything from serious historical novels to proto-science fiction, running for Parliament, serving in the Boer War, lobbying for such social reforms as divorce laws, investigating wrongful convictions, observing the front lines in the Great War, etc. While Booth often skims over interesting episodes as well as boring ones, his intriguing interpretation of Conan Doyle's gullible promulgation of ""psychic religion,"" i.e. spiritualism, presents us not only with an industrious Victorian's attempt to situate his need to believe in the modern world but also with Conan Doyle's rationalization of his family's twin heritage of mental instability and creativity. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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