Early Victorian Britain was proud that it had no detectives. Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, conversely, was proud of its detectives, and everyone still knows of the most famous one, Sherlock Holmes. He might be fictional, but he rose at the time detective forces rose within Britain, and there are necessarily links between the legend of Holmes and the reality of British police services. The links, and much more, are investigated in _The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England_ (Oxford University Press) by Haia Shpayer-Makov. The author teaches history in Israel, but has written previously on the history of the British police. Her current work is heavily academic and extensively researched and footnoted; the first part gives the details of the history of the growth of the branches of the detective service (necessarily concentrating on London), recruitment, pay, and so on, and will be of interest mostly to experts in the history of police work. The second part has to do with how detectives were presented within the print media, in newspapers, fiction, and in memoirs, and will be of interest to the fans who enjoy the eternal fascination of Holmes, as well as his many fictional counterparts.
Britain had police forces before it had detectives. The administrators of the new police force gradually realized that while uniformed men out in public might keep some crimes from happening, if a crime did happen, it was unlikely that a policeman would be easily available to interrupt it and that some arrangement had to be made to investigate and trace criminals after the fact. This was despite worries that non-uniformed police would operate in secret and use disguises. The press became vitally interested in Scotland Yard and in detectives in general. One of the keenest admirers of the detectives was Charles Dickens, who interviewed detectives and went about with them on their investigations, writing admiring pieces like "The Modern Science of Thief-Taking" for his magazine _Household Words_ in 1850. It was such steps, the author says, that made detectives an accepted part of British policing. There were pseudo-memoirs of police detectives, and then Sherlock Holmes came on the scene. His extraordinary figure runs through many of the chapters here. Holmes was not a police detective, but the distinction between the private detective and the police detective was not always clear in reality. Some stories had the police detective functioning in a private capacity, and this was in accord with real practice by off-duty policemen. The pseudo-memoirs were always written as if by a police detective who solves the case, but in other detective fiction, private investigators like Holmes eventually predominated. Not only did private investigators predominate numerically, but they overcame the police detectives who would make wrong assumptions, arrest the wrong person, and miss vital clues. In the later Holmes stories, however, the police detectives were more competent, perhaps reflecting the good nonfiction press they had been getting. The final chapter here is about the nonfiction memoirs of detectives, and as might be expected, many of the former detectives specifically cited their infuriation with Holmes and his slighting attitude toward their peers. A detective could write little while on the force except for articles to police journals, but in retirement, many used their memoirs to advance the cause of police detection. They seldom battled against their image in the daily press, but often specifically criticized the superhuman detection capability of Holmes, and especially argued how little they used the despised practice of adopting disguises, whereas Holmes was a genius at that suspicious art.
Shpayer-Makov seems to have read all the obscure pulp novels, all the forgotten memoirs (actual and pseudo), and all the newspaper stories. This is a detailed and well-organized look at the British detective at the scene of the crime, in the newspaper, and in novels. At the start of this rich historical account, the very idea of a detective force is acceptable to no members of any class within Britain, and by the end, the detective is regarded as, if not a hero, then at least a stolid, hardworking official with the best interests of the public at heart. An ascent indeed.