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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

An Invaluable New Reference Book

Since I have a library, not a collection, I find reference books about Sherlock Holmes and his world irresistible. Consequently, I have a lot of them. But none is quite like Christopher Redmond's new Lives Beyond Baker Street.

As the subtitle says, this is "A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes's Contemporaries." The indispensable Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana by the late Jack Tracy and other books offer brief entries on some of the people mentioned in the Canon. (Sarasate springs to mind.)  But Redmond serves up mini-bios of 800 real-life Victorians and Edwardians.

As Redmond explains in his introduction: "These are the people about whom Watson read in the newspapers, the people Holmes might have encountered in the Marylebone Road, and people who made 1895 (and the surrounding years) what it was."

The organization of this 300-page book is a bit unusual for a biographical dictionary in that it proceeds in chronological order. Thus, the first entry is George Wombwell (born in 1777, mentioned in "The Veiled Lodger") and the last is Marjorie Kay (born in 1898 and acted in William Gillette's 1916 film "Sherlock Holmes."

"The time period I have tried to keep in mind is the years Sherlock Holmes is said to have been in professional practice, that is, from about 1880 to 1902," Redmond writes.

However, the exhaustive index - which includes not only those who are the subject of biographies but those mentioned in the bios of other people - is in alphabetical order.

I expect to refer to this book constantly in the coming years. But more than that, it's also tremendous fun to just browse through it.

Lives Beyond Baker Street is available for pre order from all good bookstores including The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA, Amazon UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.

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