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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Dipping into Edgar W. Smith

Anybody who’s been a Sherlockian for more than five minutes knows about the generosity of the breed. I was the recipient of that virtue again recently when our friend Joe Eckrich gifted me with a copy of Edgar W. Smith’s Baker Street and Beyond Together with Some Trifling Monographs

This was one of a number of red, limited-edition softcovers the Baker Street Irregulars published during Smith’s reign. In this case, it’s number 319 out of 350. I also have The Incunabular Sherlock Holmes (1958) and Introducing Mr. Sherlock Holmes (1959). Smith edited those two, whereas he wrote the volume at hand and published it in 1957.

The Baker Street and Beyond part, which takes up perhaps a third of the book, is a reprint of a Sherlockian gazetteer first published in 1940. It lists every location in the Canon, supplemented by five wonderful maps drawn by Dr. Julian Wolff, an amateur cartographer of no small talent.

The rest of the book consists of essays (or monographs, if you prefer), verse, and a pastiche.

Although I’m no chronologist, Smith’s forays along that line seem fine to me. My favorite essay in the book, however, is “The Napoleon of Crime” about You Know Who. It is closely reasoned, drawing inferences from the text. Other essays go a little further afield in discussing such now-familiar topics as Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper and what really happened during the Great Hiatus.

Smith’s pastiche of “The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore” is seldom reprinted for good reason, in my opinion, and my taste in Sherlockian verse runs more to Helene Yuhasova if I can’t have T.S. Eliot. But Edgar W. Smith was a truly colossus of the Sherlockian world, in some ways the true founder of the Baker Street Irregulars as we now have it, and I’m grateful and excited to add this volume to my library.

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