My weekend ritual used to be making the circuit of the used bookstores in downtown Long Beach. On one trip I discovered a collection of the Sherlock Holmes short stories. I showed it to the woman at the counter who owned the shop.
“It’s a facsimile edition,” she told me. “They reprinted the stories and illustrations as they originally appeared in The Strand Magazine.”
I was thrilled by my find, and produced my checkbook and ID. She waved off the license as I slid the check across the counter.
“Really?” I asked. “You don’t need to see my drivers license?”
She smiled. “You’re buying a Sherlock Holmes book. How bad can you be?”
I was in elementary (!) school when I read my first Holmes story. It was ‘The Adventure of the Red Headed League’. The summer I entered ninth grade I read the 56 short stories and four novels in a two-volume set called “The Annotated Sherlock Holmes”. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce thrilled me on Sunday afternoons, in a series of old Universal films that shifted Holmes slightly ahead in time from the original stories and novels in order that he might stand against the Nazis.
As an adult, I enjoyed Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes in the Granada Television production. With all respect due Rathbone, to me, Jeremy Brett will always be the Holmes. And if you get that reference, then you’re part of a special group of people who are passionate fans of the greatest literary detective, and the most loved character in all of Western literature.
Only now there seems to be a lot more of us. There has been a tremendous increase in interest in all things Holmes as a result of the terrific series ‘Sherlock’ airing on the BBC in Great Britain and on PBS in the states. Robert Downey Jr. has appeared in two recent features as Holmes. I must admit I was a little worried when I heard about the deluge of Holmes projects, especially the modern updates. But I’m very happy with the BBC series (And enjoyed the first of Downey’s films).
Of course a trip to the Sherlock Holmes Museum was mandatory on my London itinerary. The sign on the door says 221B but it’s not really the address. That’s the name of the corporation that runs the museum, a period reproduction of the rooms of the world’s first consulting detective. One of the odd things about Holmes is how many people believe he was a real person (The Royal Mail Service began delivering Holmes’ mail to a bank just down Baker Street practically from the character’s inception).
And when Arthur Conan-Doyle decided to do away with his character, he discovered that Holmes was so highly regarded that ten years after his fall at Reichenbach, people still hounded him to bring Holmes back. And Doyle did.
I was beside myself as I mounted the stairs and climbed to the sitting room. There was the Persian slipper stuck to the mantle with a letter opener. Bullet holes in the wall outlined the initials ‘V.R.’ The picture of Reichenbach Falls over the mantle.
I signed the large ledger used as a guest book, noting line after line of names and addresses from around the world. I wondered how many people came each year and flipped pages to the front of the volume to get an idea. The ledger was not for the year – it was for the month.
Which is by way of saying that I’ve really been sharing Sherlock all along.