Thursday, 31 December 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Stories From the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime

Fictional detectives don't came more famous than Sherlock Holmes.

The deerstalker be-hatted creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the seminal star of sleuthing.

And that is kind of the point of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Stories From the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime, no-one, least of all the book's compiler Nick Rennison (pictured), is trying to claim otherwise.

But what this book does is highlight that Holmes was not the only or indeed the first of his kind.

As revealed in the anthology The Strand magazine was at the forefront of a newly-insatiable thirst for detective and mystery fiction, thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's denizen of 221B Baker Street.

But Conan Doyle's inability or unwillingness to to write a Holmes story for every issue of the magazine in the 1890s opened the door for others.

There were copycat Holmes' as well as more eclectic sleuths, including those who battled supernatural enemies, 'New Women' crimebusters and even Catholic Priests-turned PIs.

There was lawyer-turned detective Martin Hewitt, by Arthur Morrison – a character that smacked of Holmes thanks to illustrations by Sydney Paget, who also drew the deducing consulting detective.

Female crime solvers were aplenty, including another Strand regular – Lois Cayley – a creation of Grant Allen.

While none of the rivals matched Sherlock's stratospheric success they all contributed to the burgeoning crime and mystery genre and many other magazines embraced detective fiction.

And it was not just London or UK sleuths.

The anthology features tales from three US writers and a story featuring Eugene Valmont, a French detective exiled in London, who was created by Robert Barr.

The Gallic gendarme appeared in The Windsor Magazine and Pearson's Magazine in the 1890-1914 period, which was something of a golden age for the genre.

William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki is also in the book, battling paranormal foes.

But, despite the fantastical and often far-fetched plots, these detective stories give a very real insight into the era in which they were set and vividly illustrate how the ability to read had mushroomed to a wider population in the late nineteenth century.

  • The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Stories From the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime is published by No Exit Press (@noexitpress) and priced at £9.99.
    For more information click here

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