Partially set amidst an early Mormon community in Utah, Conan Doyle’s first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, won a good readership, according to Daniel Stashower’s fine biography, Teller of Tales, The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle. Publication in the popular in Beeton’s Christmas Annual (1887) practically guaranteed success.
When things slowed afterward, the 28 year old translated “Testing Gas Pipes for Leakage” (German to English) for the Gas and Water Gazette. Speaking at the Authors’ Club years later, he claimed the gas article as his breakthrough, the first time anyone sought his work, rather than the other way round. Not that he wasn’t persistent. He admitted to an eight year period, while also trying to build a medical practice, in which he made more than fifty submissions. Each “described an irregular orbit,” and “came back like a paper boomerang.”
On the heels of A Study in Scarlet and the Gas Leakage, Holmes’ creator set about a work of historical fiction, more befitting his own tastes than more detective plotting. In late 1888, he finished the well-researched Micah Clarke, about a group English Puritans during an 1685 attempt to overthrow James II, a Roman Catholic who succeeded his Protestant older brother, Charles II. Initially, Micah seemed another flop. Cornhill Magazine asked why he’d waste himself on historical fiction. Publishers Bentley and Company pointed out that Micah Clarke “lacked that one great necessary point for fiction, i.e. interest.”
Finally, Micah Clarke found favor with Longman’s Publishers, garnered excellent reviews, went through three printings in its first year and even made it to the school reading lists. As unbelievable as it seems to us, Conan Doyle always considered Micah Clarke his first success, rather than A Study in Scarlet which, he said, “belonged to a different and humbler plane.”
Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable
Coming Soon from Susanne M. Dutton and Propertius Press*
The Game is not afoot. The Better-Every-Day world of 1895 is gone, even hard to recall, as WWI ends. Holmes fills out entry papers at the rundown Le Dieppe Clinic and Sanatorium on the Normandy coast. Confronted by a question as to his “treatment goal,” he hesitates, aware that his real goal far exceeds the capacity of any clinic. Like a tiny explosion unaccountably shifting a far-reaching landscape, the detective’s scribbled response churns desperate action and interlocking mystery into the lives of Holmes’ friends and enemies both.