Molly Carr mines the background of John H. Watson, MD, late of the Army Medical Department. Illuminating Watson--instead of Holmes--is a welcome and enjoyable pastime for anyone who plays the Game, that is, pretending that Sherlock Holmes really existed, that Doctor Watson really wrote the stories, and that Arthur Conan Doyle was merely Watson's literary agent. But the dense historical back-story, combined with the author's rambling writing style, made this a difficult slog. And where are the sources for Ms. Carr's obviously substantial research? No bibliography and hardly any footnotes.
Recognizing the importance of Holmes' biographer is paramount. Critically, this topic has been covered before, albeit less loquaciously, by mystery (and Western) author Loren D. Estleman in his Introduction to the mid-1980s Bantam Classic edition. His essay, On the Significance of Boswells, identifies the crucial importance of Watson: "he is both the storyteller and the buffer between the cold, blinding light of Holmes's intellect and the reader."
Carr's own assessment concurs with Mr. Estleman's, but while both arrive at more or less the same conclusion, her journey there is much less enjoyable. In Search of Doctor Watson is chock-a-block full of historical tangents, yet curiously short of paragraph breaks or, for that matter, commas. Her own Introduction is too long--make it a chapter, already!--while the prose-masquerading-as-Appendix seems lost. Chapter 7 is the best of the lot, as the author examines many of the contradictions from the canon. (i.e., How many times did Watson marry?) Chapter 13 offers parallels between Doyle and Agatha Christie, specifically their respective narrators, Watson and Hastings. The latter was obviously heavily influenced by the former, and today's authors who find "inspiration" of the sort enumerated by Ms. Carr might be accused of plagiarism.
Typos are annoying in any published work, more so when they appear in quoted passages from the canon (pages 22 and 62, for example). That is sure to be a deal breaker for many serious Sherlockians. (Is there any other kind?)
This book has huge potential, but falls far short of being completely satisfying, in my opinion. I understand that the Sherlock Holmes Society of London's Roger Johnson made several suggestions to an early manuscript, but this current edition still needs major editing. Perhaps a Third Edition will be more to my liking?
[The reviewer was provided with a complimentary copy of the book.]