Sherlock Holmes: has the great detective still got it?

Although I was asked to write on a fictional character I secretly wish was real, I unashamedly confess that not only do I publicly hope Sherlock Holmes existed, but I often convince myself that he did in fact walk the streets of Victorian London. No other character exhibits such charisma, presence of mind and incredible genius as Holmes, making him the most enduring character of the detective genre and the most quintessentially British. Today his statue stands in Baker Street, and surely I can’t be the only one who forgets it’s not a memorial?

“Teenage girls should be more into boybands, or ‘cool’ characters like Alex Rider”, I was reliably informed. Instead I have been passionate about Sherlock Holmes since I was ten, when I picked up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and was struck by how ‘real’ he seemed. Holmes was more alive to me than any other character had been, so authentic I could smell his pipe tobacco and hear the notes of the Stradivarius floating off the page. Conan Doyle’s writing resonated with me then and continues to do so today: despite being over a century old the cases, and Holmes himself, are timeless. With his keen sense of humour, taste for adventure, and startling brilliance, Holmes stood out to me as a uniquely interesting and dynamic character from the very first page and kept me reading on. If he were alive perhaps we might begin to unlock the enigma he poses.

I could smell his pipe tobacco and hear the notes of the Stradivarius floating off the page

Alone, Conan Doyle’s stories would have been clever, but the charismatic figure of Holmes elevates them to the legendary as he propels the plot through mystery and intrigue, before revealing the ‘obvious’ solution with a flourish and a modest shrug. His impressive reputation is of course based upon his astonishing ability to solve perplexing crimes – readers may be familiar with the frustration felt by their Watson-esque selves as they struggle to keep up. Obscure clues are clear to him, as his vast catalogue of knowledge discerns hidden links, giving him an uncanny ability to solve ‘impossible’ cases and making him invaluable to the regular police. His modern-day counterpart, ‘Sherlock’, demonstrates how Holmes’s methodical, logical approach is still relevant, as in spite of cutting-edge technology Sherlock still wins with superior intellect. Despite (or perhaps because of) his unorthodox tactics, including an assortment of disguises, the infamous “Baker Street irregulars” and occasional burglaries, Holmes’s track record is far higher than that of the police today. Perhaps Scotland Yard should be inspired by his creative approach – I wish he were here to lead the way.

Holmes is by no means perfect, often exposing slight arrogance or struggling to confront defeat, although these weaknesses are important because in facing them he reveals his humanity, and by overcoming them he ultimately becomes stronger. Defeating his nemesis Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls is both poignant and tense precisely because Holmes appears so human – and the challenges so formidable – that for a moment the reader cannot be certain even he can emerge victorious. Holmes is able to balance his ‘machine-like brilliance’ and temper justice with mercy, preferring a sensitive approach over heavy-handed treatment when dealing with the unfortunate and vulnerable. Holmes is motivated not by material reward or recognition but the prospect of mental challenge and working for the good of his fellow men – an admirable ethos.

Holmes is able to balance his ‘machine-like brilliance’ and temper justice with mercy

I believe Holmes is more valuable than ever in a world of increasingly complex and challenging crime: I not only think he could solve the recent Hatton Garden jewellery theft, but that, as in The Red Headed League, he might have made a pre-emptive strike. Who wouldn’t want a “consulting detective” around, especially one of Holmes’s calibre? As such, if any character were to walk out of a book and onto the streets, I sincerely hope they would be the streets of London, and the footfalls those of Sherlock Holmes.