LeRoy Lad Panek has established himself as an authority on the development of the genre of detective crime fiction, with several books already to his name on the subject. After Sherlock Holmes – The Evolution of British and American Detective Stories, 1891 – 1914, takes a look at how the arrival of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation in the 1890s more or less defined detective fiction as a genre, and influenced contemporary writers and the hallmarks of its distinctive literary style, up to the First World War. Readers may also be interested in Panek’s previous tome Before Sherlock Holmes, though both books are independent theses in their own rights.
The key audience for After Sherlock Holmes will be aficionados and students of detective crime fiction, though the text also details the development of Conan Doyle’s work, and there’s plenty of interesting facts that will be new even to devoted Sherlockians.
The early chapters of the book trace the development of the modern detective story, with a focus on the cultural reasons why the genre burgeoned in the late Nineteenth Century. It’s also interesting to note, a theme Lad Panek returns to, that the stories were concerned more with puzzle-solving than they were about justice; and the crimes at the centre of the plots are described after the event. His chapter ‘What Is A Detective Story?’ discusses this in some detail. He also explains why the short story rather than the novel became the most popular form for the detective story, and the necessary limitations such economy of prose imposes upon authors.
Having talked about how detective stories came to be popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and how Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes came to prominence in the Strand magazine (with an intriguing story about how Sidney Paget came to provide his iconic illustrations to many of Conan Doyle’s stories), Lad Panek turns his attention to the works of other writers of detective fiction. It is in these sections that will most strongly appeal to students of the detective genre itself, rather than to Sherlockians. Casual readers may pick up from the potted histories other writers whose work they may be unfamiliar with that they may wish to research. Some names, such as Baroness Orczy (The Scarlet Pimpernel), Mark Twain and GK Chesterton (the theologian who also authored the Father Brown stories) remain household names, their works still read: but many names, and their fictional detectives, will be entirely new to most lay readers. Lad Panek summarises their works with great economy.
The book ends with two final chapters discussing criminal heroes and master criminals, the latter of which included a brief section on Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty. This chapter, like most of the book, left us intrigued by details of unfamiliar works, but wishing for more on Conan Doyle’s canon and creations.