Sims’s magnificent work of scholarship isn’t a birth-to-death biography of Conan Doyle but a more specific investigation into the events leading up to those fateful weeks in the late winter and early spring of 1886 ... Sims is himself an ingenious investigator. Among his most intriguing explorations is his teasing out of not just Conan Doyle’s personal history but the history of the detective story itself.
...a worthy addition to any scholarly Conan Doyle/Holmes bookshelf. Many Holmes fans know the bones of the origin story, but Sims dives deep into Conan Doyle’s biography to put flesh on it. The physician-turned-writer becomes much more human to the reader in the process ... At times, the book reads a little like an overstuffed suitcase, with facts spilling out the sides; it makes for heavy going ... Fans of Holmes and his creator, however, will find the journey is worth the tiny bumps.
The issue is not a lack of detail. Sims offers an abundance of it as he traces Doyle’s path from poverty in Edinburgh, Scotland, through his years as a struggling writer to the dawn of literary immortality. I wanted a book that focused on that rise, but Sims is keen to tell the story not just of Doyle’s struggle but of everything that influenced him along the way. This means that interesting biographical anecdotes — say, Doyle’s experience on an 1880 whaling voyage — are related in almost as much detail as the resume of the former medical school professor whose studies inspired Doyle to engage in a reckless experiment in self-poisoning ... Arthur and Sherlock is slowed by such narrative cul-de-sacs. But once I finally accepted that the road to Holmes’ birth would be paved with tangents, I settled into the ride. Which does have rewards ... Later sections offer the well-told biographical tale I was looking for.