On this 154th birthday of Arthur Conan Doyle, I'd like to salute the creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Professor Challenger, and Brigadier Gerard for his ability as a writer.When I took part in a panel on Holmes at Bouchercon last October, I was shocked that two eminent mystery writers agreed that ACD wasn't much of a writer. On the contrary, I would argue that he was not only a great storyteller, but a great writer.
In July I am scheduled to present a talk to a writers' group in Indiana titled "What Writers Can Learn from Sherlock Holmes." In it, I will discuss the author's excellent writing, character, plot, and setting in the Holmes stories.The virtues of the writing in these 60 tales include a simple but effective style, great beginnings and endings, crackling dialogue, memorable epigrams, showing rather than telling, and descriptions of weather that put you right there.
“It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths.”That wonderfully evocative passage from the beginning of "The Adventure of the Copper Beaches" is probably the sort of fog-drenched Baker Street scene that most people would expect, even those who have never read a Holmes story. But ACD was no one-trick pony. Listen to this opening from a later story, "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs":
"It may have been a comedy or it may have been a tragedy. It cost one man his reason, it cost me a blood-letting, and it cost another man the penalties of the law. Yet there was certainly an element of comedy. Well, you shall judge for yourself."Arthur Conan Doyle never considered Sherlock Holmes to be his best work -- which just goes to show you that even a literary genius can be drastically wrong.