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Sleuthing the Sleuth: Discussing The Sherlock Holmes Handbook

I recently watched a fascinating discussion about Sherlock Holmes on PBS called How Sherlock Changed the World.  One of the interesting revelations the special maintains is that as the original Sherlock stories were being written they were in fact SCIENCE FICTION in that Doyle posited doing things with science to investigate and solve crimes that were not yet actually being done.  The science being written about in the Sherlock mysteries is akin to the nanotechnology that Michael Crichton and Michael Grant (the BZRK series) are writing about in the last ten years; in other words, it was just a tip of the ice berg.  In fact, Doyle’s writing helped take the concept of forensic science into the future.  Before the Doyle stories, eyewitness testimony or confessions were the primary method of solving crimes.

That was a fascinating revelation to me, the master of mystery may in fact have been dabbling in the art of science fiction with his use of science in not yet developed ways.  After watching years of forensic science procedurals and even seeing Sherlock’s thought processes represented visually in the BBC reboot of the show, it’s interesting to remember and explore just how revolutionary Sherlock’s investigation methods were for the time period in which the stories were written.

So I thought we would end Sherlock Week with one of our favorite topics: books.  What is a library without a books, right?  In 2009, Ransom Riggs wrote an interesting handbook on the great consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.  And yes, I do mean THAT Ransom Riggs . . . before there was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (which is awesome and you should read because the sequel, Hollow City, comes out this month), there was a nonfiction look at Sherlock.  This is not a look at the BBC television show or the CBS reboot, but a look at the character, the stories, and his methods.  Some of the topics in The Sherlock Holmes Handbook include:

How to Use Deductive Reasoning

How to Analyze Fingerprints-Without Computers

How to Master a Dozen Disguises

How to Survive a Plunge over a Waterfall

There are illustrations, a look at Scotland Yard during the time period that the stories were written and set, and a ton of interesting trivia.

Riggs is apparently quite the Holmes aficionado and it was interesting to see the results of that interest and research poured out into this volume of awesome.  For teens looking for more background information in the classic Sherlock Holmes, this is a great read.

A Sherlock Holmes Themed Community Reading Event, a guest post by Anna Behm

My library is abuzz with all things Sherlock Holmes, but it has nothing (well, almost nothing) to do with the premiere of the third season of Sherlock. We just launched our first independent community reading event, Westmont Reads, and The Hound of the Baskervilles is our chosen book. And while it might be too soon to evaluate the overall successes and failures of the program, I’m pretty excited about what the team at Westmont has created so far. These are a few of of my particular favorites:

The entire library staff is involved and on board. We’re a medium­sized suburban library with eleven full time staff members and twenty­one part timers. We wanted the whole staff involved in Westmont Reads, so the first thing we did was open the book selection up to a vote. Once The Hound became the clear choice, all staff were encouraged to join a committee ­ programming, outreach, or marketing. Not only do we have a large pool of talent to draw from, but getting all staff involved has given everyone a stake in the success of the program.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wukf8vo6us0]

A staff created video trailer for the program builds interest.

We created something unique for our patrons. The Hound of the Baskervilles is in the public domain and available for free as an ebook from sites like Project Gutenberg (and easy to load onto a flash drive and give to patrons), and inexpensive as a paperback. We decided to give away copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles for free. A local artist who happens to work in the circulation department (again, drawing from that pool of talent) designed a custom dust jacket for the book. She also lent her talents to the design of the Westmont Reads website, posters, bookmarks, and swag (I’m talking some of the COOLEST one ­inch buttons on the planet).

The library uses Facebook to interact and conduct trivia events. Showing the prize right in the post is a great way to build interest!

We planned tons of activities and events for all ages. Programming was by far the most popular staff committee, and it shows. From lectures and book discussions for our adult patrons, to mystery game nights and The Hound themed LEGO adventures for families, to special storytimes and tea parties for children, and forensics training and special volunteer opportunities for teens ­ there’s a little bit of something for everyone going on at the Westmont Library this winter. Many of the events have not taken place yet (Westmont Reads runs through February), but I’m impressed by the range of activities the staff has come up with. Staff even planned a Westmont Reads event for themselves ­ dressing up as their favorite character from the book on Halloween.

The community is involved in a variety of ways. The outreach committee solicited a variety of partnerships with local businesses and organizations. Many businesses agreed to hang posters promoting Westmont Reads. Some locations let us drop off copies of The Hound for their customers. Other businesses acted as destinations in our community scavenger hunt. We also fostered a relationship with the local humane society ­ they agreed to come to the library to give a talk about rescue dogs, and the library set up a donation bin so that patrons could help provide them with much needed supplies. The local community theatre group is even getting in on the fun ­ they are scheduled to perform a Sherlock Holmes radio play at the library after hours in two weeks.

Aligning Westmont Reads with the new season of Sherlock was just a coincidence (though if

anyone were to ask, I’d be tempted to say that yes, we really are that hip­ and­ with ­it at the WPL). Personally I am a big fan of the BBC series, and am thrilled to have an excuse to incorporate it into Westmont Reads. It’s certainly a testament to Arthur Conan Doyle and his work that Sherlock Holmes remains such an engaging presence in popular culture. I am more than happy to ride those coattails, and enjoy everything Sherlock Holmes, for a few weeks more. 

Anna Behm is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Westmont Public Library in Westmont, Illinois.

The Curious Case of the Doctor’s Wardrobe

I’ll be honest with you all – I am an equal opportunity appreciator. Not only do I love both the BBC’s Sherlock AND CBS’s Elementary, I also adore the movie versions with Robert Downey, Jr. In fact, if you asked me to pick a favorite of the three, I would look you squarely in the eye and declare, “Shant!” before flouncing off to rewatch all of them on my various subscription services. All the more mysterious is the fact that I have never read any of the original stories, nor have I seen any other productions of them. Ah, we live in mysterious times…

Never the less, whether you prefer your Holmes and Watson contemporary or historical, adapted, updated, original, gender-swapped, or even medically-inclined, that is not the topic of today’s discussion. No, gentle reader, today we are here to discuss the curious case of the doctor’s wardrobe – or, more specifically, the wardrobe choices being made for the character of Dr. Joan Watson in the CBS series Elementary.

Let’s start with what we know about Dr. Joan Watson. She was a well-respected surgeon for an unknown number of years before becoming a sober companion. I think it is safe to assume that her career as a surgeon provided her with significantly more income than she would receive as a sober companion. And, in fact, there are several instances through which we are provided insight into her current financial status – most notably when she is approached for money in “Solve for X.” So, it would be reasonable to assume that the vast majority of her wardrobe, especially any pricier pieces, are from her time as a surgeon. So, they should be several years out of date, yes?

Accordingly, one might also safely assume that her wardrobe would be one befitting a well-respected surgeon at a New York City hospital. While I am certainly no arbiter of fashion, and definitely not conversant with styles in major metropolitan areas, there are certain ‘inconsistencies’ that catch my attention. May I present exhibit A?

Elementary: CBS

In such a small picture, you may not be immediately aware that it is snowing. Certainly, though, you can tell from the presence of hats, scarves, and gloves that it is cold? Yes, I thought so too, until I realized that Dr. Watson is wearing leather shorts. With tights. And what look to be 3 to 4 inch platform heels. Or whatever you call those shoes. As a sober companion, would she have had the income necessary to purchase those shoes? As a surgeon, would she have worn them? Although her top half does seem to be dressed for the weather, which is more than we can say for exhibit B:

Elementary: CBS

Let’s examine the evidence. You’ll notice that, although they are inside, Detective Bell is wearing a warm winter coat over his suit and tie. From this, we can safely assume that it is cold outside. At least autumn in New York, if not winter (no scarf, hat, or gloves being present.) And yet, Dr. Watson, who lives in a run-down, barely furnished, presumably drafty New York Brownstone, is wearing a leather mini-skirt with tights and a thin, cap-sleeved t-shirt. Understandably, she is crossing her arms for warmth. Less understandably, she is neither shivering nor a lovely shade of blue.

I’ll admit that the wardrobe choices being made for Dr. Watson’s character didn’t initially bother me. I thought her clothes were very stylish and very youthful.  Also, some of the choices are consistent with the character’s canon – Dr. Watson being interested in dating and finding a romantic relationship partner would fit with an effort to dress in a youthful and attractive style.But, as time has gone on I find myself increasingly confused by the wardrobe decisions made for her character. What are they really trying to say? I’m not even sure.

On Loving Two Different Sherlocks, a guest post by Rachelia

I’m relatively new to the various Sherlock fandoms, having first watched series 1 – 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock around this time last year, and all of Elementary this fall. What I lack in history with these shows I like to think I make up in passion, haha!

From what I’ve garnered from browsing Tumblr tags and seeing various internet discussions is that there seems to be some kind of rule that you must choose between the BBC or Elementary version of Sherlock. There is some kind of feud between fans, often with BBC purists dismissing criticisms of the shows (particularly in regards to issues pertaining to gender and race), and insisting that is the far superior show and interpretation of Sherlock (example).

I don’t necessarily understand this either/or line that seems to have been drawn in the sand, as I have come to love both these modern TV adaptations of Sherlock. I’m going to talk a little about what keeps me coming back for more from these shows, and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers along the way!


Sherlock (BBC)

Brief description: Set in London, England the famous Sherlock and his doctor partner John Watson solve cases using both the sleuth’s power of deduction and the conveniences of modern technology.  

Cinematography & Setting

I absolutely love the aesthetics of the BBC version of Sherlock. Sleek, modern, and fast-paced, it’s very cinematic in style. The dark tones reflect the criminals they are in pursuit of, and the mysteries they are solving.

The city itself also sort of becomes a character of its own, as it lends so much to this interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. From the skyline with the London Eye in the opening credits to Sherlock and Watson called to Buckingham Palace there is no escaping that this is a BBC show through and through. My inner anglophile wholeheartedly approves, and I get immense homesickness for my study abroad days in the UK while watching the show!

John!Lock Pairing

I can’t deny that I ship Sherlock and John. They have such chemistry on screen! But honestly, even without the John!Lock fic that I can’t seem to put down, I love their friendship. They both ground each other: John is Sherlock’s connection to the outside world, the world that exists outside of his brain; and Sherlock is John’s stabilizer, helping him through their friendship manage his PTSD and finding a new purpose in life. 

Elementary (CBS)

Brief description: Sherlock has relocated to New York City, where he acts as a consulting detective to the NYPD, along with his sober companion Joan Watson.

Creative interpretation

While Elementary pays homage to the BBC’s Sherlock in the way he wears his ever-present scarf, that is where most of the similarities end. Elementary is quite a different show than Sherlock, as the writers have adapted the story and made it their own.

Most obviously: 1) Sherlock is now living in New York, after fleeing London due to his addiction, and 2) the fact that Watson is a woman. These two simple changes give a lot of new life and material to the adaptation!

Sherlock’s addiction is also front and center in this adaptation, which helps humanize him as he struggles with sober-living.

I also love how they changed the Moriarty character and storyline – I actually prefer it.

More diversity in gender and race

It’s a pretty well known criticism that Moffatt has a bad track record with writing complex, fully imagined female characters, whether it be on Sherlock or Dr. Who. So, I really really appreciate the work of the producers and writers on Elementary, who have introduced more diversity to the case, and address issues of sexism and racism in the show.
First of all, I love the reimagining of Watson as Joan, a woman, instead of John. More so — I love how she’s not just another Asian sidekick but a capable and independent woman who evolves from Sherlock’s sober companion to his partner as a detective-in-training. I mean, look at that poster — you often don’t see women standing behind a man in a movie or TV poster. Usually the woman is objectified and the man, domineering. Here, Joan is standing right behind Sherlock at the focal point of the poster. She appears to be the backbone of Sherlock here, and I think you could make the argument that, at it’s heart, the show is really about her and her journey.

Further, on numerous occasions Joan has called Sherlock out on sexism, racism, and his lack of sensitivity in dealing with victims. Sherlock treats Joan with respect, and listens, making adjustments to his anti-social behaviour to accommodate their working relationship. Speaking of relationships, theirs’ is completely platonic… and I love it that way. Yes, grown men and women can “just” be  friends!

Lastly, there is diversity in Elementarys’ cast of characters. Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson is Asian-American, and both Jon Michael Hill (Detective Bell) and Ato Essandoh (Alfredo, Sherlock’s sober sponsor) are African-American. Three characters of colour, give them a cookie, right?! However, I think it’s also important to note that all three characters are very important to Sherlock, and don’t exist solely to tell his story. They also don’t put up with his crap.

While the show isn’t entirely unproblematic, it is refreshing to see a female Asian lead, a diverse cast of secondary (but important) characters, and a show that calls out it’s main male character on his attitudes and behaviours.

Finally, These two shows both have value in what they bring to the Sherlock fandom and canon. After all there is no ONE Sherlock – he has been imagined over 80 times! All in all, I can confidently say that there is space in my heart to love two modern versions of the same classic detective.

Find out more about Rachelia and visit her blog Bookish Comforts


A Newbie’s View on Sherlock, from guest poster Maria Selke

It was early January, and I started to watch Sherlock on Netflix to get me through my elliptical routine. I enjoyed it… but something intervened.

(That something was a big blue box called the TARDIS. Six months and seven series later, I was more than an official Whovian. I was a fanatic fan.) 

Still… something about Sherlock Holmes beckoned to me. I love the idea of Sherlock. I love his lack of interpersonal skills and his overwhelming hubris. I adore how he notices… everything. I love how his connection with Watson has been depicted over the years.

Since I started my school year reading mysteries with my students, I took the time to reread Hound of Baskerville and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for myself. I even attempted to have my fifth graders read one of the short stories that were most appropriate for that age (though only a few of my students went on to read more themselves… since they are pretty tricky).

So when Karen announced that she wanted to run a blog series celebrating the return of Sherlock, I knew it was the right time to jump in with both feet. I’d like to take a moment and apologize to all my friends who have been pressuring me to watch the series. I’m sorry it took me so long. I’m so, so sorry.

What I Love About Sherlock

Keeping the Core

Sherlock is a cultural icon. People who haven’t read any of Doyle’s stories or seen any plays or movies still know who he is. There are behavioral oddities, styles of dress, violin playing, and verbal tics that need to be present for any version of Sherlock to be truly … Sherlock. BBC got it right. This is the Holmes I wanted to see. He is abrasive and prideful. He’s observant to a fault, yet strangely unable to process the feelings of others. He’s so easily bored that it is dangerous. In spite of his prickly exterior, there is a yearning for connection that makes his friendship with Watson the keystone of the tales. All of these things combine to make Holmes so appealing.

Modernizing for our Times

BBC did a great job keeping the core, but they also did a phenomenal job updating Holmes for our modern world. Sherlock’s attachment to his cell phone and his preference for texting are exactly what I’d expect to see. I was pleased by the fact that he doesn’t use the smart phone to look things up often, since his own mental palace is still chock full of tidbits that help him solve a case.

Watson’s blog is the perfect modern expression of his predilection for documenting their cases. BBC actually maintains a website where you can read Watson’s blog posts. How cool is that? There are posts from the actual episodes, and there are posts from after the season two finale. Now that is social media connection done right! http://www.johnwatsonblog.co.uk/

Visual Storytelling

It’s not just the characters that I like. The whole story telling style of the series appeals to me. Texts appear on screen so I can read them. Sherlock’s visual processing appears on screen as well, which lets me feel like I get to do the puzzles with him, even though I primarily identify with Watson. This is a way of experiencing life with Sherlock that is wonderful!

The little thrill I got when noticing tie ins to the original stories and mythos.

Watching the show without knowing Sherlock Holmes at all is probably almost as amazing. Almost. I found that the big and small references made a great experience even better, though! Some of the little things that would have passed me by before reading some of Doyle’s work this year were the “orange pips” alluded to in “The Great Game” and the titles of episodes like “A Study in Pink” and “A Scandal in Belgravia”. I loved noticing how the show writers took even the most familiar stories, like “The Hounds of Baskerville”, and respected the original plot lines while still updating the tale for the modern day. That takes some serious talent! Even casual Sherlock fans must have been amused by the addition of the deerstalker hat, though. Well done!

Hopefully fans of the show who haven’t already read them will dive into the Doyle stories.

The friendship between Holmes and Watson     

This is probably the part of the show that made me love it the most. Characters with puzzle are cool. Characters with intriguing relationships live in my heart forever. Holmes doesn’t have friends. He has a brother who annoys him. He has colleagues who find him irritating. He has clients who are grateful for his service.

Then he meets Watson. Finally, he has someone who appreciates his intellect. Holmes and Watson have an almost Time Lord / Companion relationship (especially of the Donna/Ten variety). Watson will stand up to Sherlock when he needs to be backed down. He even makes Sherlock apologize! As I watched the final episode of season 2, though, I realized that Watson needs Sherlock just as much. His goodbye at the graveyard was heart-wrenching. 

I’m not on board with the “shipping” in this fandom (I think the value of male platonic unconditional love is highly underrated in our society), but I am in awe of the way this pair supports one another. We need more emphasis on this kind of friendship.

What do you love best about Sherlock? Do you have any favorite stories or modern incarnations?

Maria is a mother, a teacher, a wife, and a reader. I’m also a committed geek girl. I love science fiction, fantasy, and comics.  She joined us earlier for Doctor Who week and she blogs over at Maria’s Melange.

Sherlock Titles for Tweens and Teens

With the current resurgence of interest in the Sherlock Holmes cannon, there has been increased interest in novels about the famous detective. But what to do for your younger teens and tweens who aren’t quite ready for Arthur Conan Doyle? Fortunately, there are a myriad of options for younger readers.

The Graphic Novel Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – This series is a great entry point for both graphic novel obsessed readers and reluctant readers who already enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories. There are currently 19 titles in the series.


The Echo Falls Mysteries by Peter Abrahams – This three book mystery series features 13 year old Ingrid, whose idol is Sherlock Holmes.  Contemporary and teen focused, this series is a good choice for your readers who enjoy either Sherlock or Elementary (the TV series.)



The Boy Sherlock Holmes series – Shane Peacock’s historical mystery series begins with Sherlock at the age of 13. A lonely, misunderstood social outcast, young Sherlock gets too involved in his amateur investigation of a newsworthy murder case and finds himself among the accused. There are 6 titles in this series, which concluded in 2012. This is a good choice for readers who enjoy the historical elements of the traditional stories.



The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer – 14 year old Enola is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, a creation of Nancy Springer. About 20 years their junior, Enola runs off to London to escape the dire fate of being sent to boarding school. There, she solves a series of mysteries all while evading discovery by her older brothers. The series borrows setting and some details from the original cannon, but all the Enola stories are unique. There are a total of 6 titles.

Young Sherlock Holmes series by Andy Lane

This series, authorized by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, stars a teenaged Sherlock just at the beginning of his interest in solving mysteries. All of the familiar characters are present, but the series also includes two new characters – tutors of Sherlock – who seem to be used mostly to illuminate Sherlock’s character.  There are currently 4 titles in this series, which is ongoing.

Do you have any titles or series you’d recommend? Please speak up in the comments!

Sherlock Lives: An Invitation to Sherlock Week

In planning our library calendar for 2014, Christie and I noticed that January 6th is typically celebrated as the birthday of Sherlock Holmes.  I have always been a Sherlock fan, and adore the series on the BBC.  Series 3 of Sherlock is set to debut on January 19th.  During the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special they released a new Sherlock trailer with the hashtag #SherlockLives:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Vq4s8n8vxw?rel=0]

So the week of January 6th through the11th will be Sherlock Week here at TLT and you can participate!  If you would like to write a blog post about Sherlock Holmes – old or new; book, movies or on television – or about YA mysteries or mystery related library programming, please email me at kjensenmls at yahoo and we’ll talk.  I will need all post drafts by December 31st to get them formatted and scheduled.  Join me, we can make fun of Watson’s mustache.
Sherlock Week
January 6th through 11th, 2014