Mike Foy’s The Curious Book of Sherlock Holmes Characters is a new incarnation of a rather old concept. It is a full alphabetical concordance of the many characters and personages to appear or be mentioned in the original Sherlock Holmes tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In a tried and true formula, attempting to stand out can be difficult, and Foy finds clever ways to do so.
The entries are not usually especially long and text, covering the bare essentials of the way person happens to be mentioned within one or more stories. Each entry gives a name, what stories the character appeared in, any known years of birth or death, the character‘s status as to being alive or dead upon introduction, followed by a quick summary of their parts in the tales. It is an efficient and clear system that makes the various elements available at a glance.
The use of a wide variety of sources for imagery is most helpful as well, giving readers an extremely wide assortment illustrations. These include illustrations by Sidney Paget, yes, but also Frederic Dor Steele and a number of less remembered artists. In many cases, so as to better draw the eye, all else in the image beyond the person relevant to the entry is faded out to a significant degree.
For historical figures this decision spread further. Contemprary photographs, paintings, and sculptures are all used to illustrate various individuals appearances. It is a nice touch that helps to separate this volume from many other concorances and references created for the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlockian tales.
One of the more striking weaknesses of the volume comes in editorial and layout mistakes, such as the moment on page 314 where part of Frederic Dor Steele’s name has been cut off underneath an illustration he created. In similar fashion Tables 2 and 3 at the end of the book had small errors or cutoffs in the titles do stories. These are small details true, yet a sign that if nothing else, the book could be improved (slightly) in a future edition.
There is no significant forward or introduction to this volume, something unheard of for such reference pieces. There is a nice little dedication, onever which shows more humility than the great detective was often willing to, and it is nice to see that Foy recognized that source. A more traditional works cited might be useful, the original publications for many of these illustrations is not always obvious, however the exhaustive material included is appreciated.
Overall this volume is easy to recommend. While imperfect, it serves as a worthwhile successor to Scott R. Bullard and Michael Leo Collins’ Who’s Who in Sherlock Holmes. Indeed The Curious Book of Sherlock Holmes characters has an advantage not only in illustration but also due to the simple passage of time. Technology making more details and resources readily available, combined with aimple years to faults the failures of similar works. Mike Foy has produced a rather thorough and impressive look at the people in the Sherlock Holmes Canon.
(MX Books, 2020)