The London of Sherlock Holmes by John Christopher

Review by Chris Redmond

There's a saying that another book can always be written about London, or something to that effect, and clearly the saturation point for books about London and Sherlock Holmes has not yet been reached. This 96-page paperback volume by John Christopher is published by Amberley, a specialist in local history based in Gloucestershire, and goes onto the shelf next to books with such interchangeable titles as Sherlock's London TodayFinding SherlockÕs LondonSherlock Holmes's LondonSherlock Holmes in London, and several others.

This one has the advantages of compactness, simple organization (Central, West, South, East), clear and readable typography, and a spare and helpful text. If you want to know how the Strand figures in the Sherlock Holmes tales, you can skim three paragraphs of background, look over a checklist, and admire two or three small photographs — then off to Trafalgar Square or back to Regent Street, in alphabetical order. Some of the headings are streets, some are neighbourhoods, and a few (Policing, Theatres) are categories; it works well enough.

Unfortunately the images are small, and they clearly represent what was available to the author and publisher, rather than a careful choice from a larger universe of Victorian and modern pictures. Certainly they are not useful for anyone who wants to compare the modern streetscape with what Holmes might have seen. They do, however, offer much that is interesting; the author does not hesitate to include both pictures and sentences that add unexpected tidbits of history and perspective.

The only map in the book is a reproduction of a "pocket map" dating from 1900, which provides period interest but is not large or clear enough to help the reader locate streets or even neighbourhoods. This omission is a serious one because of the book's alphabetical, rather than geographic, organization, and because many locations are introduced with no explanation whatever — Camberwell in the middle of "Lambeth and Kennington," for instance, and the Temple in the middle of "Fleet Street." The index is by Canonical story titles, so that finding anything the book might have to say about, for example, Grosvenor Square is well nigh impossible.

There are a number of annoying minor errors ("Shaftsbury" Avenue, Mary "Morston," "Horonia" Westphail, and more) and a few places where the author makes geographical judgements that seem somewhat puzzling. "The Borough," for example, rates a sentence in the section headed "London Bridge," with no indication that its proper name is Southwark.

In short, this book is well worth the browsing, and will start many interesting trains of thought about the great city in which Holmes lived and worked, but it is not — and probably was not expected to be — particularly useful either for research or for a tourist's literal walking-in-the-footsteps.