The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton

Review by Chris Redmond

This may be the most important Sherlockian book of our generation. Certainly it's the one book that a beginning Sherlockian should purchase (or, better, should be given — are there any societies that make this kind of investment in newcomers' education?).

The authors are Roger Johnson, long-time editor of Britain's Sherlock Holmes Journal, and Jean Upton, his American-born wife. Between them they have not only an international perspective but a thorough knowledge of, and merry affection for, the Sherlock Holmes stories and societies, the movies and parodies, the scholarship and all the rest of What It Is We Do. In this volume they have packed an enormous amount of it into 223 small pages (surely, with a little ingenuity, the numbering could have finished at 221B?).

Reading through the Miscellany, I constantly found myself comparing it with my own Sherlock Holmes Handbook and with the information provided on my website, Sherlockian.Net. The Handbook, in particular, is far longer than this little book, and inevitably contains much more information, encyclopaedia-style, but I was astonished at just how much of the essentials Johnson and Upton have managed to deliver. There are 18 chapters, talking about everything from Arthur Conan Doyle and his early publishers to stage shows, radio and television, the location of 221B Baker Street, Victorian customs, and the difficulty of replicating Watson's style. They seem to know everything important about everything important, and they provide a long bibliography.

The book is particularly useful for its surveys of film, television, and radio adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. It will be considerably easier to use as a reference than the heftier books that deal exclusively with screen adaptations, and frequently bury the reader in detail. My own Handbook falls somewhere between the two, but I know less than Johnson and Upton about such matters (this would be true of just about everybody) and so I know where I will be turning in future for quick information.

The Miscellany has its oddities, of course, including almost two pages devoted to the cutting of Alice Rucastle's hair in “The Copper Beeches.” It does not shy away from the interesting questions — “Was Holmes a misogynist?” “Were Holmes and Watson gay?” And it presents everything in a readable and affectionate style. North American readers may be startled by the amount of space devoted to British societies, films, and locations, and then remember: oh yes, Sherlock Holmes was British and he is beloved there as well as here. This book will wear well anywhere.