Sir Arthur Conan Doyle owed much of his success to the reclusive and brilliant private eye, Sherlock Holmes. No doubt he had once loved him. But that didn’t stop Sir Arthur from plotting his shocking demise.
As in so many tragic relationships, the author felt he had outgrown his creation and he was bored. Truth be told, he felt positively stifled and confined by Sherlock’s enormous popularity. Sir Arthur craved freedom to meet – well, to create – new people. He wanted to try new things that Sherlock simply wasn’t up for. Their relationship was irretrievably broken.
And so Sir Arthur hurled his great benefactor over Reichenbach Falls to his death. As he left the scene of the crime (it cannot be said that he fled or that he made any effort to conceal his guilt), he was overheard rejoicing, “Thank God, I’ve killed the brute!” When Sherlock’s devoted admirers confronted Sir Arthur with the details of the slaying, he tartly replied, “I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defence, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me.”
With Sherlock out of the picture, Doyle was free to embrace his new love: historical fiction. He went on to write a number of excellent historical works and, eventually, revived Holmes. But that’s a story for another blog. (Incidentally, if you’d like to learn some interesting facts about how Doyle created Holmes, check out Graham Moore’s review of Michael Sims book on the subject.)
For our current purposes, the important thing to note is that although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for his short stories about Sherlock Holmes, his active and intelligent mind drove him to explore a wide variety of genres beyond detective fiction. In addition to historical fiction, he also produced novels, adventure tales, plays, military history, and poetry. And – surely you saw this coming – stories about the supernatural. In fact, several of Doyle’ works rank among the best Victorian gothic tales.
Among our favorites here at the Haunted Crossroads is Lot No. 249 in which an Oxford medical student comes to suspect that nefarious purposes underlie his “reptilian” neighbor’s strange obsession with a particular Egyptian artifact. Doyle provides a suitably ancient and eerie setting for his tale; a secluded and “lichen-blotched” corner of campus. And he uses the eccentric neighbor’s apparent fearfulness, and certain strange occurrences (for example, who is it that walks about in the neighbor’s rooms when he’s away?), to inspire suspicion and foreboding. It’s an excellent story for a dark and lonely night – one we don’t hesitate to recommend.