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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Holmes and Hercule

In a few weeks, Sept. 9, I will have the distinct honor of speaking to the Cincinnati Branch of the English Speaking Union on the subject of "Sherlock Holmes and the Development of Detective Fiction."

My thesis will be that all mystery writers and their sleuths are more indebted to Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes than most people realize.

T. S. Eliot, reviewing The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories for The Criterion in 1929, wrote, “Every writer owes something to Holmes.” And who am I to argue with T.S. Eliot?

With some writers this is quite obvious. In a previous blog post I have noted that the early Ellery Queen was hailed as "the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes." Consider now Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot.

Christie tells in her autobiography how she went about creating a detective hero for her first novel, written during World War I: “There was Sherlock Holmes, the one and only – I should never be able to emulate him.” Is that why Poirot is so short – because Holmes is so tall?

When it came to creating a name for her detective, she recalled: “He would have a rather grand name – one of those names that Sherlock Holmes and his family had. Who was it his brother had been? Mycroft Holmes. How about calling my little man Hercules?”

In methods, too, there was a similarity. What is Poirot’s famous appeal to his “little gray cells” but logic, which is also Holmes’ stock-in-trade?

Early on Poirot even had his own "Watson" in the form of Captain Hastings, who is not nearly as astute the original Watson. In fact, at times he out-Bruces Nigel Bruce!

What does your favorite modern-day sleuth owe to the Master?

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