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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Literary Agent? Not Likely!

For those who play "The Game," Dr. John H. Watson is the true author of the Sherlock Holmes tales, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle his honored literary agent - often referred to by the faithful as simply "The Agent."

Dissenting from this convention, however, was no less a person than that grand master of mystery John Dickson Carr.

In addition to writing dozens of his own mysteries, Carr was the official biographer of ACD and co-authored Holmes pastiches in a troubled collaboration with Adrian Conan Doyle, Arthur's son. Moreover, Douglas G. Greene's critical biography of Carr quotes the mystery writer as saying that his boyhood heroes had been "Sherlock Holmes, D'Artagnan, Admiral Dewey, and the Wizard of Oz."

It was of more than passing interest, then, that I read the following in the December 1969 issue of The Baker Street Journal:
Some interesting remarks by John Dickson Carr appear on page 104 of the November Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and here is one of them: "Being Conan Doyle's biographer, I can't accept him as Dr. Watson's literary agent; he was too indifferent a man of business to have been anybody's agent, including his own. In gesture of friendship, if you like, he may perhaps have served as the amanuensis to whom Watson dictated. After all, the stories are in his handwriting."
That clears up a mystery: I've seen original manuscripts of some Holmes stories and always wondered about the handwriting!

But Carr's comment seems to have been a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Greene's biography of Carr records that "money was never high on his list of priorities." Indeed, he stick royalty checks in his pockets and forget about them. Clearly, he was nobody's literary agent, either.


  1. Carr gives ACD too little credit. He looked at the short story market and realized a continuing character would help raise an author's profile, and wisely chose Sherlock for the job. ACD also had enough sense to ask for more money each time Greennough Smith asked for more stories. And he was savvy enough to exploit Sherlock for the stage several times, to great success. Not bad for a literary agent.