“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
When Conan Doyle created the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson he redefined the detective genre. His first published story to feature Holmes was ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (1886) followed by ‘The Sign of Four’ (1890). These short stories first appeared in ‘The Strand’ magazine and were immediately popular with readers.
Conan Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh and had a turbulent childhood due to his father’s alcoholism; he was later committed to a lunatic asylum. Whilst studying medicine at Edinburgh University he began to write stories and his first published work was ‘The Mystery of Sasassa Valley’ (1879).
He modelled Holmes after his University professor Dr. Joseph Bell, who emphasised the importance of observation in diagnosis. He would often demonstrate this to his students by deducing the occupation and life-style of patients purely by observations.
After he qualified he became a ship’s doctor on a Greenland whaler and also on a voyage to West Africa where he nearly died of typhoid. Most of his life he divided his time between medicine and writing. An accomplished sportsman he played cricket for Marylebone Cricket Club. He married twice and had five children.
He served briefly as a doctor in the Boer war and later wrote ‘The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct’ (1902), which justified the UK’s role in the war. It was for this publication that resulted in his being knighted by King Edward VII in 1902.
Conan Doyle was also a fervent advocate of justice and personally investigated two closed cases which resulted in two men being exonerated of the crimes that they were accused.
Altogether Conan Doyle wrote 56 Holmes short stories and four novels. He grew tired of writing the Holmes stories and wrote ‘The Final Solution’(1893) in which Holmes and Professor Moriarty apparently plunge to their deaths over a cliff. Public outcry from his fans however led him to bring the character back, which he did in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1901).
By the 1920s he strayed from his religious upbringing and was profoundly interested in spiritualism believing that the living could communicate with the dead. He wrote many books on the subject and many other notable fiction and non-fiction works.
His stories have been translated into films, stage productions, TV series, animated films and radio plays; indeed there is a whole host of authors now writing Sherlock Holmes stories in Conan Doyle’s style.
He died in 1930 of a heart attack aged 71.