At the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, a plaque commemorates an event that never took place, yet lives in the memories of millions. The inscription reads: "Across this dreadful cauldron occurred the culminating event in the career of Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatest detective, when on May 4, 1891, he vanquished Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime.
Each year, thousands of visitors to that spectacularly scenic spot pause to read the plaque and remember Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective who never lived.
The overwhelming influence of Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, on all the detectives who followed him is immeasurable. Agatha Christie often acknowledged her debt to Holmes for the creation of her equally brilliant and eccentric detective Hercule Poirot. Every keenly observant modern detective, from Inspector Roderick Alleyn to DCI Jane Tennison, works in Holmes' long shadow. Any loner with a loyal partner, like Morse with his Sergeant Lewis, is treading the turf of Holmes and Watson. When the introspective Adam Dalgliesh publishes a volume of poetry, he's taking after the even more introspective Holmes, whose many monographs on arcane topics helped build his formidable reputation.
In other words, by the time his creator had finished with him in 1927, some four novels, 56 stories, and 40 years after readers first met him, Holmes had pretty much done everything a detective could do. More than a century later, new investigators still pay their unspoken tribute the the great "consulting detective" of 221B Baker Street.
The preceding is an excerpt taken from the book,
MYSTERY!: A Celebration, by Ron Miller
(published by KQED Books).
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