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Frances Li
Professor Haas
Writing 39B
27 July 2014
The Character and Plot of Conan Doyles Detective Genre
When did the detective genre became a popular form of literature? The author of the
book An Introductory to the Detective Story, Professor Leroy Panek traced its origin back to the
late Victorian Era when detective first became an occupation (8). He believes that the public
attitude toward the incompetent police force and favoring a heroic figure during the time gave
rise to detective stories (11). With these elements included in his writings, famous Victorian
author Sir Conan Doyle who wrote fifty-six short stories and four novels about detective
Sherlock Holmes, is inevitably one of the greatest contributor and founder of the genre. His
reasons of success can be seen in some of his short stories such as Silver Blaze, and A
Scandal of Bohemia from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The setup of a genius chivalry
detective and the establishment of a formulated plot are key elements to the popularity and
uniqueness of the series.
One of the special characteristics of Sherlock Holmes is that he was modeled after
Doyles medical school teacher Joseph Bell who was a consulting surgeon. Just as in the first
novel A Study in Scarlet where Holmes introduced himself to Watson as the worlds only
consulting detective. Many of the traits the detective has are similar to that of a doctor or a
teacher. For example Holmes likes to deduce information from a person when they first met. Bell
too, likes to predict his patients illness before they tell him anything (Panek, 84). The basic
habit of Holmes to find the answer upon facing a problem came from the nature of physicians to
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make logical diagnoses when facing an un-clear disease (85). The trait of a teacher can be seen
almost in every case where Holmes explains to Watson how he came to his conclusion. Often he
will post a question for Watson to answer and guide his thoughts. Like in the Silver Blaze,
Holmes complimented: Excellent, Watson, excellent! when Watson stopped him to ask
whether the stable-boy locked the door behind him. A prototype of Sherlock Holmes based on a
doctor gave the character a highly scientific root, as well as a perfect skeleton for Doyle to start
his imagination. Panek said in his book: Anyone could have combined Poe, Gaboriau, and the
sensation novelists to form the next step in the evolution of the detective story. Not everyone,
however, could have added Joseph Bell to the formula (84). The character that Doyle had built
up since the beginning is one thats destined to be different.
Sherlock Holmes has always been an appealing detective to the readers because of both
the great intellectual talents he possesses and the eccentricity that comes along. Maria Konnikova
in her book Mastermind: How to Think like Sherlock Holmes discussed how the Holmes
System is different from the Watsons System which is the system we employs every day (2).
In many cases, Holmes was able to correctly deduce the identity or personal information of his
client at a first glance. He explained to Watson that the trick is just elementary, which begins
with basic observation (14). For example in the Scandal of Bohemia, he was able to tell the
background of his client before they even met by looking closely at his clients letter. Then when
he sat down with the client face to face, he has already gathered enough details to confidently
declare the man as the King of Bohemia. Konnikova calls this observation skill mindfulness, to
be aware of the details that we omit unknowingly, which Holmes can perform at the utmost
degree. Holmes not only has an exceeding ability in deduction but also in a wide range of areas
that includes even boxing, and gun-shooting. Like Panek commented in his book: He embodies
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almost everyone's fantasy of being accomplished without effort (93). The genius figure that
Doyle has sculpted out attracts readers with his unlimited possibilities and power of the mind. In
fact, he is like a mystery himself.
Conan Doyles detective stories have a formulated structure which is one of the qualities
George Dove has pointed out in his book The Reader and the Detective Story. Detective stories
are often relaxing to read because from a readers perspective no reading is completely "new,"
and in this sense, every reading is a rereading (6). In most stories, there will be a mystery in the
beginning that seems impossible to explain. Then following the development of the plot, there
will be new leads and evidence which will eventually lead to the answer. This pattern is
especially apparent in Doyles detective stories. For example in The Sign of Four, Holmes came
upon a case of mysterious pearls received by Miss. Morstan. The pearl then leads them to murder
case which only makes the puzzle more complicated. Then Sherlock Holmes using his deduction
and observation followed the leads and caught the murderer. At last, the whole story was told by
the murderer and the mysteries are explained. A similar plot can be seen in the Silver Blaze,
where the case of a lost champion horse was brought to Holmes attention. He first recounted it to
Watson but no conclusions were made. Then he found evidence and leads which helped him to
solve the case and retrieve the horse. At last when everything was settled, he explains everything
to the horse owner on their way back to London. Doyles detective stories are predictable in the
sense that the readers are insured that the puzzles will be solved. Their plots are based on a
similar formula of first encountering the case by some means, then gathering evidence while
the mystery builds up, and lastly revealing the entire story. Such a formulated structure can be
found in most of Doyles work which establishes the unique style of his works and set the classic
standard for the detective genre.
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Overall, the unique characteristics of Sherlock Holmes and a similar structure in Conan
Doyles detective stories are important reasons that made his works so influential to later
generations. Moreover, like TJ. Binyon wrote in the Murder Will Out: Holmes has given society
its popular image of a detective: a tall, thin, eagle-eyed figure in cloak and deerstalker, with a
magnifying glass in one hand and pipe in the otherAny future great detective would have to be
sharply differentiated from Holmes in method, appearance, eccentricity, or even nationality (11).
Doyles detective image has been planted deeply in the genre itself that it will take a very long
time for big divergence to occur.















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WORKS CITED
Binyon, T.J. "Murder Will Out": The Detective in Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1989. Print.
Dove, George N. The Reader and the Detective Story. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State
University Popular Press, 1997. Print.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Sign of the Four. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2013. Kindle
eBook. Online.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. "Adventure 1: A Scandal in Bohemia." The Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes. Lit2Go Edition. 1892. Web. <http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/32/the-adventures-of-
sherlock-holmes/345/adventure-1-a-scandal-in-bohemia/>. July 26, 2014.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. "Adventure 1: Silver Blaze." The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Lit2Go
Edition. 1894. Web. <http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/40/the-memoirs-of-sherlock-
holmes/573/adventure-1-silver-blaze/>. July 27, 2014.
Konnikova, Maria. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. New York: Viking, 2013.
Print.
Panek, Leroy. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State
University Popular Press, 1987. Print.