Devil and Sherlock Holmes – 4/5
All the stories in this collection of long nonfiction journalism are good. A few of them are absolutely great. They’re great because they are so carefully cultivated as subjects, well-researched, and satisfying.
There is a way in which all these stories are mysteries, and what makes so many of them great is that they aren’t generally covering any huge topic that would have been covered regularly and thoroughly in the news. So even though several deal with circumstances from years and decades ago, none (except one, but even still) are explicitly political or timely. Instead, they are about more or less consistent themes true about the American landscape and just so happen to have happened at this time in our history.
The great ones:
“Mysterious Circumstances” – This story is about one of the world’s leading Sherlock Holmes experts dying in unusual circumstances. Instead of letting the novelty of the crime be the whole of the story, Grann researches the history of Sherlock Holmes obsession and the lackluster historical record on Doyle’s life itself. So the story which is about murder and obsesession lands beautifully.
“Trial by Fire” – The death penalty is and always has been fucked and immoral. So the leading question of this story could have been “Did Texas execute an innocent man?” the answer is of course yes, in this circumstance and probably several others. We had more or less legally sanctioned lynching in this country for 100 years (400 years) untold numbers of innocent people have been murdered by the state. This however is really about the arson prosecution junk science that put a lot of people in prison on little or no evidence, or worse, false evidence. Like recent discussion on fiber and hair analysis, this field so is grossly horrible it’s unimaginable. The myth of the justice system in full effect.
“Stealing Time” – Ricky Henderson is awesome and this story about him really shows why.
“True Crime” – Did a novelist get railroaded because of the nature of the crime in his novel, or did a murderer write a novel about his crime? It’s in Polish if you want to try to read it, but this investigation into it so pretty amazing.
The rest are all fine and good, but the above four are worth picking up the book, or maybe finding on New Yorker. I listened to the audiobook on a sick day from work and it was a weird way to spend my day off. But great too.