The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics

James O’Brien. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-19-979496-6
O’Brien, emeritus distinguished professor of chemistry at Missouri State University, delves deep into the science behind Sherlock Holmes in this brief and engaging volume. The book is clearly aimed at Holmes aficionados—each of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 stories featuring the detective are referenced via accepted Holmesian shorthand (e.g., “ABBE” for “The Abbey Grange”)—yet the author treats his subject and his associates (Doctor Watson, the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson, and Holmes’s bête noir, Professor Moriarty) with obvious affection, and it’s catching—his journey into Sherlockian science is both endearing and informative. O’Brien discusses Holmes’s investigative acumen according to categories of evidence (e.g., finger- and footprints, hand- and typewritten documents) and provides interesting real-life examples of crimes solved with similar techniques, such as the New York Zodiac killings and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. O’Brien, a loyal fellow test-tuber, devotes significant energy to defending Holmes against criticisms that he was a sorry chemist, and while the asides are interesting, the intensely detailed science behind the apologia might turn off casual readers. Nevertheless, the scientific rigor with which both scribe and subject approach their tasks is abundantly evident. Illus. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/29/2012
Release date: 01/01/2013
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