Book Review: Alistair Duncan’s Eliminate the Impossible (2008) - MX Publishing
Alistair Duncan’s (2008) Eliminate the Impossible [MX Publishing] is a delightful tour (de force!) through many of the key Sherlockian scholarship questions and controversies familiar to serious students of the canon. Highly readable and accessibly erudite, Mr. Duncan does a fine job presenting the intricacies of Holmesian scholarship without getting bogged down in an infinite of particulars. The Holmes canon in toto can be rather overwhelming but Duncan does a fine job of outlining the major plot points, allowing the reader to immediately begin considering all those fascinating peccadilloes, inconsistencies and mysteries that makes Holmesian scholarship so fulfilling.
[I’m amazed that “Eliminate the Impossible” has never been used for a book title.]
After a general introduction focusing mainly on Sherlock Holmes, Duncan presents thumb nail sketches (‘Heroes & Villains’) of some of the major players in the Holmesverse stressing those characteristics and themes that act as a useful key to what is ultimately the ‘meat’ of Eliminate the Impossible: a survey and light commentary/criticism of each of the 56 short stories and 4 long stories.
Sketching out a very brief synopsis of each story, Duncan considers the more salient themes, controversies and inconsistencies which have been the domain of Sherlockian scholars for decades. In many ways, Duncan’s text can be considered ‘Dakin light’ - that is, a condensed, more digestible version of Martin Dakin’s seminal A Sherlock Holmes Commentary. In no way do I mean this in a disparaging way. Dakin’s 1972 masterpiece is an exhaustive study of all the Sherlockian minutia that has been the bread and butter of Homes scholars past and present, but it is not for beginners. Duncan’s book should offer a less daunting alternative to someone jumping into the fray of ‘Watson’s wives’ or ‘When did the events recorded in HOUN actually occur’ for the first time.
This is not to say that Eliminate is just for Sherlock neophytes: there’s a plethora of thought provoking material that should rev-up the old racing engine so it doesn’t tear itself to pieces anytime soon. My only complaint is Duncan’s handling of ‘playing the game’. The game is mentioned by way of explaining exactly why so many people care about chronology or ‘war wound’ discrepancies, but to a Sherlockian novice this explanation might sound a tad trivial. Explaining the (almost frighteningly) depth in which the game is played might have provided a stronger foundation for a book that, overall, is an excellent example of what it is to play the game.
I look forward to reading Duncan’s next two books (Close to Holmes and The Norwood Author) as I get the sense that each volume in his oeuvre is one piece of a larger vision, comprehensive in scope and ultimately a valuable contribution to Homesian scholarship.
- always1895 posted this