Friday, March 13, 2015

Graham Moore’s “The Sherlockian”

Before writer Graham Moore wrote the screenplay for The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, and won the Oscar last month for best adapted screenplay, he wrote a novel, The Sherlockian. It’s a story about Arthur Conan Doyle at the beginning of the 20th century and a group of investigators trying to track down a lost diary of Doyle’s more than 100 years later. 

And what a great story it is. Actually, it’s two stories in one, and could almost be two complete (if shorter) books. 

Harold White is attending his first annual meeting and dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars, the enthusiasts of Sherlock Holmes (some might call it a cult) that has existed since 1934 when it was founded by Doubleday editor Christopher Morley. White has published an article on Holmes in the Irregulars’ irregularly published journal and at 29 become one of the youngest members of the organization. 

This meeting is especially noteworthy, for Holmes scholar Alex Cale will be speaking on his discovery of the lost diary of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The diary covering the period from October to December of 1900 has been most for more than a century; Cale says he has found it and will be lecturing on the discovery.  

Arthur Conan Doyle
The night before the lecture, Cale is found dead in his hotel room. Harold is among the group making the discovery. The lost diary is nowhere to be found. Also in the group finding the body is Sarah Lindsay, a freelance journalist. And she and Harold find themselves hired by Conan Doyle’s great-grandson Sebastian to find the diary. Sebastian had quarreled with Cale over the rightful ownership of the diary, insisting it belonged to his family. And he wants it. 

Through alternating chapters, we follow Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker (he of Dracula fame) as they investigate a series of murder of young women, who turn out to be suffragettes, and Harold and Sarah as they attempt to track down the diary. What we are read in the Conan Doyle chapters is what is recorded in the missing diary. 

Graham Moore
Harold and Sarah are followed and chased; they do some rather unorthodox investigating. Conan Doyle and Stoker, on the other hand, do some unorthodox sleuthing of their own – kicking down doors, shooting guns, donning disguises and dodging letter bombs. 

The character who never appears, but the one whose shadow overhangs and shape both stories is, of course, Sherlock Holmes himself.  

The story is partially based on real events. After Conan Doyle died in 1930, it was discovered that there were missing papers, and these papers became a legend in Sherlockian circles (they were actually discovered in 2004). The discoverer of the papers was later found strangled in his London flat. And Conan Doyle and Stoker were indeed good friends. And several of the other characters mentioned were real as well. 

The Sherlockian is a gem of a story, whether you a fan of the great detective or not. After a while you forget about catching all the Holmesian allusions and settle down to a terrific read. 


For information on all things Sherlock Holmes, one great source is the web portal 

Graham Moore describes how he convinced the producers of The Imitation Game to let him tackle the movie script -- by giving them a copy of The Sherlockian. (Hat tip to my friend Jared Gilbert, who posted the link in the comments.)

Top photograph: Undershaw, the home of Arthur Conan Doyle in Surrey.