Today I Read…Sherlock: The Casebook

Sherlock CasebookToday I read Sherlock: The Casebook by Guy Adams. This is a guide to the first two series of the BBC show Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

My name is Dr. John Watson, and recently I have had the privilege of working with a truly remarkable man, with the most dizzying, gifted mind that I have ever come across. This is an attempt to put my notes together and help ordinary people (like myself, for one) to understand the genius of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and what he has termed ‘the science of deduction.’ The first time I met Sherlock…no one cares John, this is boring. The case is what matters, not you nattering on about trifles like how we met. We both needed a flatmate, you weren’t completely stupid and occasionally somewhat useful, we started solving cases together. Also, can you hand me my phone?…Sherlock, I’m trying to write here. And your phone is, as usual, in your jacket pocket. The jacket you are wearing right now. And yes, people do care about the background, it’s interesting and it helps people understand why I haven’t strangled you in your sleep yet. Although Greg mentioned last week that the neighbours have just about stopped calling to complain about the noise whenever you get bored and shoot the walls, so if I happen to accidentally shoot you for being an impossible git I’d probably have plenty of time to get away…Greg? Who is Greg? And you’re much cleverer than those bumblers in the police, like Anderson, you could probably shoot me in front of the Eye with a dozen Japanese tourists taking photographs and he wouldn’t figure it out… Greg *Lestrade*, Sherlock, we’ve discussed this before, you really could make a slight effort to remember his first name, he’s a good friend and it’s not like it’s a hard name, and I’m still trying to write so would you please go away and get those eyeballs out of the fridge? You’ve finished with your experiment and I don’t like having them in the same fridge as the milk for the tea. Though we’re out of milk, seeing as when I asked you to bring some home last night you brought sixteen varieties of pesticides instead…I needed those for an experiment John, I wanted to see what trace amounts would look like dried under the fingernails…yes, and the severed fingers can be cleaned out too if you’re done. And don’t put them in the trash, it disturbs the garbagemen, put them in the biohazard bags I brought home and we’ll take them along back to St. Bart’s the next time we go…but John, I think one of the garbagemen might be a murderer, he does look so pleased whenever he comes across the organs in the trash. He may have a fetish…No, Sherlock, he’s a fan. He reads my blog, he comments as TrashIsTreasureAndIKnowWhatsInYours. He likes going through our trash because he thinks it gives him special insight into our cases, though I think you may be right about the fetish bit…oh course I’m right, I’m always right, or at least hardly ever wrong, and I’m still waiting for you to get my phone John…I’m taking back all the nice things I was writing about you Sherlock…no you’re not.

This entertaining book is half casebook with commentary, and half guide to the television show Sherlock, a 21st century reimagining of the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion Dr. John Watson. John’s notes include his and Sherlock’s observations, news articles about their cases, photos, and lays out the case piece by piece, encouraging the reader to follow along as Sherlock observes and deduces the clues. Sherlock, always incapable of minding his tongue, makes his pointed comments about John’s ‘scrapbook’ via yellow sticky notes between the pages, while John is forced to defend his work via retaliatory green sticky notes. In between each of the six cases, representing the so-far six episodes of the show, are in-depth interviews with the cast, crew, and creators, articles about the episodes, and analyses of the connection between the original Conan Doyle stories and the modern BBC version, and all of the versions in between. This book is a great read for any fan of the consulting detective and the loyal doctor.

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I’ve mentioned before my love of snark and pop culture guides like this and this. I love Sherlock–they’ve done such a wonderful job of thinking about what he would be like in the 21st century, and what the modern equivalents are of the tools he used in the Doyle stories, eg. homeless people for street urchins, taxis for horse-drawn cabs, nicotine patches since smoking isn’t socially acceptable anymore. Sherlock has drawn intense devotion among its fanbase, since there have only been 6 episodes produced over the last three years (although series 3 is set to FINALLY begin airing in January).

The scrapbook part of the book is interesting, informative, and entertaining. In the episodes, they have to keep the story moving. Though John’s notes and the messages between Sherlock and John, the reader can see both their thought processes a little more and their relationship, which has always been a huge part of the Holmes mythos. You simply can’t have a Sherlock Holmes without a John Watson. He’s only part of a person like that. Of course, the contrary is true as well– a Watson without a Holmes is lost and directionless, and Sherlock does an excellent job of showing this to the audience. (You can find the essay I wrote on John Watson, “My Dear Watson is Elementary: The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” in my ebook I’m Not Watching TV, I’m Doing Homework!: Essays on Science Fiction here.)

As for the nonfiction side, it is equally as well done. Since this is an official tie-in published by BBC Books, Guy Adams was able to get access to the people who know Sherlock best–the ones who make it. He retells their stories and insights with wit and a genuine interest so it is never a dry interview with people about their jobs. He also did his homework with regards to Doyle, the original Holmes stories, and the various screen versions that have popped up over the years, while still staying focused on Sherlock. It comes across as an acknowledgement of the inspiration and what has gone before without becoming about the other versions.

Like most television guides, this will mainly appeal to fans of the show, the devoted ones who want to know all of the details of how the show is made, the in-jokes that the crew put in to amuse themselves, and the thought processes of the men and women who bring these beloved characters and their world to life. The other side is that these guides quickly become outdated as new episodes air (not that rapidly for Sherlock of course, since the book was published in 2012 and we won’t get the new episodes until 2014, instead of the more usual new season and new content per year). I’m sure that another book will be produced soon, possibly next year, to include the new cases. But even when we get the new episodes, this will remain a wonderful addition to the world of Sherlock.

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