Thursday, August 02, 2007

SHERLOCKIAN SCIENCE


I am about three quarters of the way through reading The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E.J.Wagner, and it is proving a very pleasant interlude from modern crime fiction. It covers everything from blood and ballistics, to poisons and fingerprinting: delving into real life Victorian crimes as well as Conan Doyle's masterly detective stories. It is the type of book you can read right through, or just dip into as a reference guide.
But it will shake your confidence in the medical profession as there were a plethora of Victorian murderers who were medical men.
I have lived in Devon for over 20 years, but it was only last week that I saw the formidable Dartmoor Prison, which is mentioned in the Hound of The Baskervilles, for the first time. It was a very rare mist and fog free day on Dartmoor and I realised that only a few weeks earlier I had driven right past the prison and had not seen it hidden in thick fog.
".....the great convict prison of Princetown. Between and around these scattered points extends the desolate lifeless moor. "
The Science of Sherlock Holmes won a well deserved Edgar as the Best Critical/Biographical book of 2007.

7 Comments:

Anonymous cfr said...

Almost as long ago as you moved to Devon, I worked there for a few months during the winter. I once took a drive to see the prison. A very bleak looking place.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

I'd like to read a full review of this from you. You'd likely be a good judge of Holmes' science, since you read crime fiction and are a kind of colleague of Conan Doyle's. I once read a scathing critique that said the Holmes approach to science did not so much get details wrong as it misunderstood the process of doing science. The scientific mind, the critic wrote, is no mere passive but comprehensive recorder of detail, the way Holmes' is.

One could almost say on the basis of that critique that Holmes was an idiot, as stupid as a machine.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

1:22 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

cfr,even on the brightest summer day it looked a very bleak building. One day soon I will go back and visit the museum.

Peter, it would take a better and more knowledgeable reviewer than I to fully do it justice.
The methods of methodical recording of every minute detail as espoused by Holmes are now at the very heart of forensics and TV series such as CSI.
"You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles" said Sherlock Holmes in The Boscombe Valley Mystery.
I like the idea of being a kind of colleague of Conan Doyle. The Bristol University pathology course in my days were held in a lecture theatre that looked as if it pre-dated Holmes, Watson and Conan Doyle. But the lecturer was a brilliant man who had worked on the Christie murders at 10 Rillington Place, which made up for the Victorian surroundings.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

That was an interesting comment about C.S.I. and similar shows. I had a Dutch girlfriend who was fond of crime fiction and television shows. In the Netherlands, she got to watch not just the British and American series, but many from elsewhere in Europe. She once observed that American protagonists were like super heroes, with failsafe machines and methods guaranteed to get the job done right.

Holmes' method may depend on trifles, but the critic I had in mind (it may have been the federal judge Richard Posner, who is a reviewer in his spare time), tied Holmes' rise to the increasing prestige of science in the public mind. Conan Doyle's misstatement of scientific thinking, therefor, was a kind of cheat. Of course, back then, naivete about scientific thinking could have supposed it more mechanical than it is now thought to be.

===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

7:34 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I think I will have go into more detail about the contents of The Science of Sherlock Holmes, over the next few months.
I agree that some of the Victorian and Edwardian ideas we now think of as very bizarre, but many of the forensic techniques first used during the period, such as fingerprinting, tests for the presence of human blood, examination of dust and soil on clothes are the basis of modern day forensics.
I think the problem with TV such as CSI is that juries expect vast quantities of forensic evidence before they will convict, and even in the USA police departments can't afford all that equipment.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Check this out: http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2007/08/from-well-beyond-grave.html.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

12:45 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks,Peter.

1:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home