PW: How do you account for the lasting appeal of Sherlock Holmes?
Leslie S. Klinger: It's different for different people. For some, it's nostalgia for an era that they imagined was a simpler world and age. Although these are crime stories, we don't really see the seamy underbelly of the Victorian world; it's a genteel crime setting, with a few exceptions. What we see primarily is middle-class crime and the English middle-class life, which has a tremendous nostalgic appeal. For others, it's the characters. Holmes is a man who always does the right thing. We all want to be like that; we want to stand aside from the conventional morality and do what's just.
What led to your attempting The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes?
I always dreamed of doing this because I perceived a need. Baring-Gould's original annotated volumes are 37 years old and eventually someone was going to need to do it. So I sat down, I started to take the Baring-Gould annotations and just update them. I had no thought of publishing them. I did three or four stories and showed them to a few Sherlockian friends who said this is really good, you should do this. I took some detailed criticism to heart and then did this the right way, which was to start from scratch. My efforts first turned into the nine-volume Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. Then, about three years ago, I got a call from Norton, who said, we want to do a new annotated Holmes, we hear you're the guy, would you do it?
How does it differ from the original Annotated Sherlock Holmes?
I admire the Baring-Gould work immensely. I got to start from where he left off, whereas he started from nothing. I did take his advice about what subjects were interesting. The major difference is that Baring-Gould spent a great deal of effort on chronology, but while it's an interesting subject, I thought it was for a very limited audience. There's been so much excellent work written since the original that I could add as well.
How did you do your research and choose your sources?
Basically, I read everything, that is, I tried to read everything. The Reference Library was done unaided. When it came to the New Annotated, [my assistant] Patricia Chui was very helpful in going through the material and saying we need something more here for the general audience. In some cases she'd draft some background notes first. I did one story at a time and basically went through the same 20 sources every time. I had a checklist.
Why did you decide to give hints to the mysteries' solutions in each story introduction?
The Reference Library is unabashedly filled with spoilers. Norton basically said the explicit spoilers have to be removed. I guess my own view, from my time as an English major, is that the best way to read a book is to skip to the end and know where you're going before you start reading it. So I didn't have a problem giving such hints because I think it makes for more appreciation of the story. I actually thinks it improves the reading of anything to know what you're looking for. And you don't read Holmes for the plots. These are not Agatha Christie, these are not brain-twisting mysteries. Unless you're 12 years old, you'll probably figure out the mystery in the first four pages.