By John Dickson Carr.
Harper & Bros.
1949. 304 pages. $3.50.
Reprinted in 2003.
THIS is a season of multiple biographies by distinguished amateurs. Robert Sherwood, a playwright, gave us the dual history of Roosevelt and Hopkins; now John Dickson Carr, a mystery novelist, writes a triple biography which only a mystery novelist could have done so well.
For it is not only the life of Conan Doyle; it is also, as Carr demonstrates, the life of Sherlock Holmes; and it is further, as he must have seen but is too tactful to admit, the life of John H. Watson, M.D.
Conan Doyle would not have liked to see it so described. As is well known, he regarded Holmes and the fame he brought his creator with an amused annoyance ("he takes my mind off better things"); and his opinion of Watson was even lower.
But Holmes and Watson were parts of Conan Doyle—as Gerard and Samkin Aylward, for instance, were not; only, he was a man of many other parts too.
He wrote an immense amount of fiction, some of it first rate and some of it terrible; and what he did gave him a fame that obscured what he was.
One of the merits of Carr's biography is that even a devotee of the fiction (or some of the fiction) ends by wondering whether what he was or what he did was more important.
At any rate, they are equally good reading; if Carr's book reads like a novel, that is because Conan Doyle's life was a novel; and he was himself a more remarkable character than any he ever created. (But this is not a "novelized" biography. Carr has documented everything from the immense accumulations of a man, and a family, who apparently never threw away anything in manuscript or in print. It appears to be an authorized biography; but what it loses from that is far less than it gains from access to the material.) — Elmer Davis, "All This and Sherlock Holmes, Too," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (March 5, 1949)
Category: Detective fiction