In her preface to The Real Sherlock Holmes, Hoehling sets forth several points that are emphasized throughout her work: Doyle’s creative imagination, his love of adventure, his natural sympathy for other human beings (especially those in difficulties), his strong interest in both historical and contemporary events, and his gift for writing convincing prose. Hoehling’s fondness for Doyle and the family members and friends who were part of his life is thus readily understood.
Probably for the sake of dramatic action, Hoehling chose to create fictional situations in which Doyle’s thoughts, emotions, or private conversations are detailed. An example begins the book: Nine-year-old Doyle confronts a local bully harassing an old ragpicker in the streets of Edinburgh and is beaten up for his attempt to defend her. Many young readers would probably not distinguish such imagined accounts from strictly historical narrative, as Hoehling makes her transitions from fact to fiction smoothly and also includes a number of actual quotations from Doyle’s works and letters. The inclusion of fictional treatments, however, would limit the book’s appeal to readers who prefer a biography based only on strictly historical sources.
Although Doyle’s most important achievements were in the field of literature, Hoehling also devotes considerable attention, especially in the first eight chapters, to his earlier career as a young doctor. Doyle’s...
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The year 1965 saw the publication of two young adult biographies dealing with Doyle: Hoehling’s study and another by James P. Wood, entitled The Man Who Hated Sherlock Holmes: A Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Despite the latter’s title, surely chosen to attract the curiosity of potential readers, a number of reviewers indicated their preference for Hoehling’s book, considering it to be both broader and more substantial in scope. Her prose style was described in Best Sellers as “lively and entertaining,” while C. E. Kilpatrick of Library Journal thought that the treatment of her subject was “an excitingly whole portrait of Conan Doyle as man and writer.”
Hoehling introduces young readers to an attractive, energetic, brave, and hardworking gentleman who was tenacious in his ideas, imaginative, and at times impulsive. He loved travel but was also intensely loyal to his country. All these characteristics might be used to describe Sherlock Holmes, but they are also an accurate description of Doyle.
Once discovered, Doyle, like his many fictional creations, continues to fascinate and inspire respect and admiration. Hoehling’s summation toward the end of her biography could be echoed by the many generations of readers throughout the world to whom his works have brought so much pleasure: “for those who love him, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will never die.” Counterbalancing the somewhat questionable device of fictional dialogue is Hoehling’s sense of historical progression, her well-chosen bibliography, and her detailed index. Her prose is strong and never dull, making The Real Sherlock Holmes worthy of study.