Eliminate The Impossible
The District Messenger, Sherlock Holmes Society of London. February 2008
Alistair Duncan knows his Holmes, and he brings a fresh eye to this 240 page survey of the Canon and its film and TV off-shoots. Eliminate the Impossible is well written and entertaining. The story summaries are concise and accurate, and the notes are frequently incisive. Most interesting, to my mind, and most controversial, are the comments on film and television portrayals.
BFRonline.biz, Paul Spiring. February 2008
It is generally accepted that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 Sherlock Holmes tales (4 novellas and 56 short stories). Furthermore, this great detective has featured in at least 220 full-length films (more than any other fictional character). Hence, the difficulty of writing a review about Holmes portrayal in both forms of media is very apparent. Alistair Duncan has risen admirably to this unenviable challenge in his book entitled Eliminate the Impossible. This 260 page book is most attractively presented and begins with a perceptive examination of Holmes impact upon crime fiction. The author then charts the evolution of the character across the 30 years that it took Conan Doyle to write these stories. The book concludes with a synopsis of the most important actors to play Holmes on film over the past 80 years and the attributes needed for a definitive screen portrayal. This book is packed with useful facts, original thoughts and fascinating insights. It will be enjoyed by all those readers who are already acquainted with Mr. Sherlock Holmes. More importantly, it will prove to be a most stimulating introduction for those poor souls who have yet to step inside number 221b Baker Street.
Sydney Passengers, Australia. February 2008
Twenty one years ago the centenary of the first Sherlock Holmes story saw a flurry of commemorative books on Sherlock Holmes aimed at a general (rather than specialist Sherlockian) readership. Since then, apart from Martin Fido, The World of Sherlock Holmes (which was more concerned with Conan Doyle) there has been rather a gap in the market for a well written look at the Sherlock Holmes Canon that does not assume a familiarity with the writings on the writings.
British writer Alistair Duncans Eliminate the Impossible rather nicely occupies that gap. The usual (though entertainingly summarized) account of how Holmes came into being and the popularity that ensued when he became the star feature of the new Strand Magazine is followed by a perceptive look at the character of Sherlock Holmes and of the other principal players in the saga and a story by story examination of each of the tales. It is here that we realize that we have a refreshingly personal perspective by a writer with both a genuine affection for, and a considerable knowledge of, the great detective. Mr Duncan looks at the inconsistencies in both Sherlock Holmes the man and his recorded exploits, from both the point of view of the great game (whereby the cases are assumed to be more or less factual accounts recorded by Dr Watson) and as products of Dr Conan Doyle's vivid imagination. Such an approach might easily have resulted in a rather schizophrenic viewpoint, but Mr Duncan is commendably even-handed and a reader will appreciate the pleasures to be derived from both schools of thought. Each tale is briefly summarized, with care to avoid spilling the beans.
The ensuing notes, however (which are the real pleasure of the book) look at some of the questions raised in the plot, and ought only be looked at after reading the story concerned. Mr Duncan expresses the hope that he will bring a fresh perspective to some of these puzzles . I will confess that I had made the mistake of theorizing in advance of the facts and expected an impartial summary of previous writings, interesting to the novice reader, but rather familiar to the well read Sherlockian. Instead I was refreshingly delighted to read much that had never occurred to me. Within his look at The Devil s Foot for example we find Mr Duncan musing on just how Doctors Watson and Moore Agar might have contrived to enforce a complete abstinence from work for the exceedingly exhausted Sherlock Holmes. His conclusion is logical, yet startling. In view of the Passengers recent look at some of the apparent illogicalities of The Red Circle , I found the authors very sensible explanation of one such problem both simple and convincing (and slapped my forehead for not having thought of it myself). So too, I had never noticed Watsons vacillating attitude to breaking the law at Holmes s behest (assuming the loyal Watson was always up for a spot of housebreaking in a good cause).
Eliminate the Impossible not only deserves a place on any keen Sherlockian's shelf, but also might make a fine starting point for a Sherlockian Group's discussion of any of the stories. It would also represent a splendid introduction to the world of Sherlockian scholarship to any newcomer to the Sherlockian Canon.