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Close To Holmes
Sherlock Holmes Society of London - Summer 2009
An old schoolmaster once gave me sound advice; "A sense of place is a fine way to learn your history!" This is so true of the canon too! Alistair Duncan has visited the significant Sherlockian and Doylean London locations and has shared his enthusiasms in this very readable guide, the first book to give equal attention to canonical locations and important places in the London live of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As an informed and unique addition to further our studies, it is a rare treat!
Mr. Duncan's location chapters are easy to follow and he communicates the facts in an engaging and straightforward manner. It is as if an old friend is visiting London for the day and s/he and the author are enjoying a relaxed conversation whilst the latter points out, with great accuracy, important canonical and Doylean locations and their context. He is particularly helpful in his explanations of the south London "Norwoods" (Lower/West; South; Upper and Norwood Junction) where much action happened.
The author is again helpful in providing interesting background detail about senior Scotland Yard officers, the British Museum, the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, hotels, railway stations and many other people, places and organisations that Holmes and Doyle knew well.
The writing is very well supported with over 140 black and white photographs, many showing how buildings looked over a hundred years ago and their appearance today.
This is a delightful book, as useful on your reference shelves as in your pocket when on your field trip.
The District Messenger, Edition 291, March 2009
Of the dozen or so guides to Holmesian London, there are two that I recommend to visitors: Arthur Alexander’s Hot on the Scent and Tom Wheeler’s Finding Sherlock’s London. Nothing stands still for long, though. Thomas Bruce Wheeler has revised and expanded his book, and The New Finding Sherlock’s London (iUniverse, 1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403, USA: $22.95) is a guide to more than 300 sites, each of whose significance is clearly and pithily stated. The book can be used in various ways. You can visit the locations of a specific adventure. You can explore the sites near each of ninety-nine railway or Underground stations. Or you can take any of six walking tours in the footsteps of Holmes and Watson. I said of the original edition that it was an excellent traveller’s tool. The New Finding Sherlock’s London is that and much more.
Now there’s a third book to recommend. Close to Holmes: A Look at the Connections between Historical London, Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Alistair Duncan (MX Publishing, 335 Princess Park Manor, Royal Drive, London N11 3GX; £9.99 or $19.95) is, I think, the first to give equal consideration to the places associated with Conan Doyle. Reading it, we feel that we’re in the company of a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and witty friend. I should mention that I contributed the foreword; I did so because the book is both valuable and a pleasure to read. As much a historical and literary exploration as a travel guide, Close to Holmes doesn’t compete with The New Finding Sherlock’s London; instead, the two complement each other.
BFR Online, (bfronline.biz ), March 2009.
Over the years, there have been numerous books, essays and papers that examine the links between London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes. Many of these are very worthy but seldom do they give equal attention to both Doyle and his legendary detective. I suspect that this reflects the reluctance of many Doylean and Sherlockian scholars to stray too far from their respective academic beats. Alistair Duncan is a refreshing exception to this general rule – he is a kind of scholastic chimera, who is equally at home with both Doyle and Holmes, and Close to Holmes is a marvelous mixed-grill of juicy morsels about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and South London. I made the error of reading this book on an airplane that had just departed from Heathrow. Two hours later, I reached my destination and felt utterly homesick – my every sinew ached to return to the metropolis so that I might explore it further in the company of Duncan’s book. It particularly compelled me to try and retrace the route that Doyle might have walked between his home in Montague Place and his ophthalmic practice in Upper Wimpole Street (1891). It also beckoned me to travel toSouth Norwood in order to ascertain for myself why the local community does not do more to celebrate the fact that Doyle wrote nearly one-third of the Holmes tales whilst living there (1892-1894)!
Close to Holmes is compulsive reading for any Doylean or Sherlockian, expert and novice alike, who intends to visit London. This 213 page book is beautifully finished-off with original cover art by Phil Cornell and an astute foreword by Roger Johnson. My recommendation? Buy Close to Holmes, a pocket-sized A-Z Street Atlas of London and a '3 Day Travelcard' and then commence a fascinating tour of the capital for less money than the admission charge to most local exhibits.
Scuttlebutt, March 2009 Edition.
Alistair Duncan offered an interesting examination of the Canon in ELIMINATE THE IMPOSSIBLE (Apr 08 #5), and he has now turned his attention to Sherlockian and Doylean geography in his new CLOSE TO HOLMES (London: MX Publishing, 2009; 203 pp., £9.99/$19.95): he explores some of the neighborhoods in London of interest to admirers of Holmes and Conan Doyle, discussing history and displaying contemporary and more modern photographs of buildings, streets, and notables (fictional and otherwise).

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