That previously unknown Sherlock Holmes story discovered in an attic and revealed to the world last week may be a pastiche or homage, experts say. Mattias Boström, writing for I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, argued on Friday that there is no evidence to tie the famed author to the story.
The story in question was published in a pamphlet which was sold to raise funds to build a much needed bridge in the Scottish town of Selkirk. While we know for a fact that Conan Doyle was in the area and did help with the fundraising, Boström points out that the local press coverage at the time never mentioned that Conan Doyle had also written and contributed a Holmes story:
Conan Doyle's host, the Selkirkshire historian Mr. Thomas Craig-Brown, made a long introduction to the recital—everything he said was reported in the weekly local newspaper The Southern Reporter—but he made no mention of a new Sherlock Holmes story by Conan Doyle soon being published in the local booklet. It would really have been worth mentioning since Conan Doyle had started publishing new Holmes stories in The Strand Magazine earlier that same autumn.
The Southern Reporter wrote on 10 December:
"We understand that No. 1 of the Bazaar Book will be issued to-day, and will be on sale at the price of one penny. Its contents, both poetry and prose, will be found to be of a most original and attractive nature, the various articles, all more or less of a local interest, being written by our leading literary men."
No mention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the author of that story. Again.
So does that mean that everyone who reported on Friday about the story was wrong?
Not necessarily. If you read the post carefully, you'll note that Boström doesn't offer any evidence that Conan Doyle didn't write the story; he merely shows that there is no evidence to prove that Conan Doyle did.
In effect, all Boström did was to show that the dog did not bark in the night.
While Boström has laid out a strong argument, it hasn't convinced all experts. Leslie Klinger, lawyer and Holmes aficionado, hasn't made up his mind:
Mattias's analysis is persuasive but I'm not sure that it's conclusive. After all, Doyle had previously written something unlike his "normal" Holmes stories--"The Field Bazaar," a little piece contributed to a student magazine at Edinburgh University in 1896--for similar purposes. Much work remains to be done, and isn't that why we love this "hobby"?
I find that reassuring; so long as the experts disagree on the authenticity of a work, I am not wrong to have reported on it.
In any case, I would bet that the story will prove to be the work of Conan Doyle. I have trouble accepting that he would support the fundraising for the bridge (he contributed the revenues from several local recitals) and then let someone else pen a Holmes story - even a poor Holmes story.
I think it's more likely that Conan Doyle wrote it, although I do find it interesting that it escaped the attention of Holmes historians until now. That lack of a paper trail, that lack of references is the one detail which leads me to doubt whether this story is authentic.
But that's for experts to judge.