"You are NOT Sherlock Holmes."
A Phenomenon Explored
by Jess Nevins

updated on 24 June
updates in blue

(I don’t know how MN would have reacted to this article, especially because it calls into question one of his previous conclusions. However, I must go where the facts lead me, and I trust he would have understood.)

The career of Sherlock Holmes is quite remarkable. Born in 1854 in the North Riding of Yorkshire, he began battling crime and evil in 1870 (with his first encounter with Professor James Moriarty) and was still fighting the good fight a century later. Thanks in large part to the work of his “biographers” Dr. Watson and A. Conan Doyle (“biographers” only because Doyle and Watson, as they themselves admitted, occasionally took liberties with the facts) Holmes became a global phenomenon, the first such in history. Holmes’ fame spread across the world in the space of a few years and has continued to grow since then, to the point where, as Harlan Ellison has put it, Sherlock Holmes is one of only six characters that everyone on Earth knows about. (Ellison, of course, is incorrect in assuming that Holmes is fictional)

However, so many people were taken with the tales of Holmes’ exploits that they began to plagiarise Watson & Doyle’s accounts, sometimes covering their crimes only lightly. Making the confusion worse was the fact that many men and some few women began calling themselves “Sherlock Holmes” and embarking on their own careers in crime fighting. And, finally, the so-called “Great Hiatus” in Holmes’ life, as well as the still-classified status of many of his cases, makes a true accounting of Holmes’ career almost impossible. The diligent scholar, faced with these many contradictions, can be forgiven for giving up and moving on to a less intractable subject.

However, I am nothing if not stubborn, and after a great deal of research I have managed to produce what I believe to be the first accurate accounting of what I’m calling the Great Detective Syndrome, or GDS for short.

Understand, before I begin, that I am not attempting to chronicle the life and times of Sherlock Holmes. That has been done many times before, by more talented writers than I, and I would not presume to attempt to better their work. Rather, the following is an exploration of the many men and women who fell victim to the GDS.

The Great Detective Syndrome, or Fame and its Discontents

As MN wrote in his “Secret Wars” article, what occurred following Holmes’ rise to fame is understandable. As we shall see, there were successful consulting detectives before Sherlock Holmes. There were men and women, before Holmes, who solved almost impossible crimes and changed the course of history. There were detectives before Holmes who performed feats which were worthy or nation- and world-wide acclaim.

And yet somehow it was only Sherlock Holmes who gained the fame and glory of world-wide appeal. Those who were figuratively or actually his rivals did good deeds but also fell short in the public’s eye as well as the press’ attention. When the subject of detectives arose, it was always Sherlock Holmes who was discussed, even if other detectives were closer geographically or had done spectacular things within recent memory.

It is no wonder, then, that the presence of Holmes was very much a mixed blessing to the many men and women who became consulting detectives during the same years that Holmes was active. In many ways Holmes was seen as a mentor for these men and women, both psychologically and symbolically, an inspiration for them to follow in his footsteps and to do the same good deeds that he had done. But at the same time he was seen as a hurdle to be overcome. Just as most children wish, on at least a subconscious level, to outperform their parents, so too did the men and women who followed Holmes wish to outdo him, to symbolically slay the Father-Beast.

But thanks in part to Holmes’ outstanding record of success and in part of the fascination of the media and the public with Holmes this was never possible. For those of Holmes’ followers who were psychologically strong and had solid senses of self and strong self-esteem, this was an unfortunate fact of life which they eventually learned to live with. But for some of Holmes’ would-be successors, the burden of trying to live up to the Holmes image was a weight which could not be borne. No matter what they did, they could never match what the Master had done, much less best him. The press and public would always unfavorably compare them to Holmes, no matter how many criminals they caught and what acts of evil they prevented. Regardless of their length of service in the cause of justice, it was Holmes’ name and only Holmes’ name which was known around the World. It is understandable, then, that some of these men and women, in unsuccessfully attempting to match and surpass Holmes, finally broke down and began acting in erratic, irrational, and finally insane ways. Unable to beat Holmes, even in their own minds, they decided to “become” Holmes by taking his name as their own and pretending to be Sherlock Holmes. This behavior I am calling the Great Detective Syndrome, or (again) GDS for short.

Garnett Bell was, as mentioned in the “Secret Wars” article, perhaps the most overt of these poor souls, but he was by no means the only one, as we shall see.

A History of the Syndrome and its Sufferers
Before Holmes

The history of the GDS truly begins in the 14th century with the famous scholastic and monk Brother William of Baskerville. The history books note his success in solving a series of murders at an Italian monastery and in training his apprentice, Adso, to think like him. Although it has been argued that Brother William of Baskerville was in fact none other than Sherlock Holmes (see E. Anderson’s paper, “A Portrait of William of Baskerville and his Resemblance to Sherlock Holmes.”), this is highly doubtful, for there is no evidence that Sherlock Holmes ever traveled in time or was in anyway immortal. The more reasonable conclusion is that Brother William of Baskerville was, as many have concluded, an ancestor to Sir Henry Baskerville, who Sherlock Holmes encountered in the course of a case, and the extreme similarities between Brother William and Sherlock Holmes were simply coincidence.

There is nothing in the historical record about Brother William of Baskerville fathering any children. However, we know that the Baskerville line continued through the modern era. We also know that Brother William’s apprentice, Adso, fathered a child on a local woman while visiting the monastery in Italy. Either fact might explain the following.

In Japan, during what is called the Edo period (modern reckoning, 1601-1867 CE), there were two detectives who were in personality and methods quite similar to both Brother William and Sherlock Holmes. Unlike the detectives covered below, we cannot explain these similarities away as being conscious or unconscious imitations of Sherlock Holmes, for Holmes was not alive while these detectives lived. However, to say that these two men were similar to Brother William simply by coincidence is to stretch the bounds of credence. Therefore, it is my conclusion that the following took place:

Sometime in the late 16th century, when Portuguese sailors began visiting Japan, they brought with them, either as a sailor or as one of the Jesuits who began visiting Japan and preaching Christianity there, a descendant of either Brother William of Baskerville or Adso. This man somehow knew a great deal about Brother William, most likely through having read the extensive account which Adso kept and which was later translated by Umberto Eco. While in Japan, this man most likely spoke with various law enforcement officers of the Japanese emperor. In Edo (the capital of Japan), following 1631, the regular police officers were the doshin. The unofficial assistants to the doshin were the goyoukiki.

Starting some time in the 1640s a goyoukiki named Hanshichi came to the attention of the public and the Tokugawa shogunate. Hanshichi, from the Mikawa prefecture, quickly became known and liked by the public for his actions on behalf of the average person and against corrupt officials. Hanshichi was active for several decades and created an enduring legacy–and in methods and personality he was very similar to Brother William of Baskerville.

Although there is no solid evidence to support this, the similarity in personality and operating methods between Hanshichi and Zenigata Heichi (1680?-?) lead me to conclude that Zenigata may have been Hanshichi’s grandson. Zenigata, like Hanshichi, was a goyoukiki working in Edo. Unlike Hanshichi Zenigata had what we today would think of as a Watson figure, in Zenigata’s case one Hachigoro.

Again, there is no concrete evidence to support this next conjecture, but just as the similarity in personality and methods leads to me suppose a blood relation between Hanshichi and Zenigata Heichi, so too does the similarity between Kogoro Akechi and Hanshichi and Zenigata Heichi lead me to believe that the methods of Brother William of Baskerville were maintained in Japan and passed down from father to son through the decades, so that Kogoro Akechi was a several-times-removed descendant of Hanshichi and Zenigata Heichi. Kogoro was active as a private eye early in the 20th century in Tokyo, the successor to Edo as Japan’s capital. He, too, used the methods of Brother William. Interestingly, his arch-enemy was the “Fiend with Twenty Faces,” a fine-art loving master of disguise and super-thief. The descriptions of the “Fiend with Twenty Faces,” his skill at changing his looks, his taste for the finer things in life, and his disdain for the law, all are uncannily similar to those of another thief and master of disguise: Hamilton Cleek, the “Man of Forty Faces,” the “foremost criminal of Europe” (and Asia?). Cleek’s exploits were lightly fictionalised by Thomas Hanshew, who included no accounts of Cleek’s actions in Japan, but the similarities between Cleek and the “Fiend with Twenty Faces” are too close for mere coincidence.

(I do not believe that either Kio-Hako or Soroku Komuro Honda–see below for both–were blood relations to Kogoro Akechi, but rather were just two more GDS sufferers)

The Early Years

Just as the influence of Brother William of Baskerville was lengthy, so too was Sherlock Holmes’. But Holmes did not spring, Athena-like, fully developed from a god’s forehead. He developed over time, and although he was intelligent and resourceful from a very young age it is hardly inconceivable that he, too, might have been influenced by others, perhaps even another detective or two.

History records that in 1870 Sherlock Holmes first met and bested Dr. Moriarty (then in the guise of Rathe, Holmes’ fencing instructor). Holmes’ first love, Elizabeth Hardy, died during this conflict, and a disheartened Holmes left school. Holmes then disappears from view until 1875, when he encounters Dr. Fu Manchu. It is usually assumed, correctly, that Holmes spent the intervening years traveling and educating himself. What is not widely known, however, is that during his travels and adventures he encountered not one but two other detectives, both of whom were influenced by Brother William and who in turn influenced Sherlock Holmes.

In April of 1871, as the author Alexis Lecaye demonstrated, Holmes, then in London, was approached by Karl Marx, then the head of the Communist Internationale. Marx was being pursued by an assassin hired by Thiers and Bismarck, and asked for help from Holmes. Holmes narrowly escaped the assassin’s attempt on his own life and then began hunting the assassin. Holmes pursued the assassin across London and into France, apprehending him at the time of the Commune uprising.

Holmes seems not to have left France following the conclusion of the Marx case, but instead traveled through the country. At some point, Holmes traveled to Annecy, near the border of France and Switzerland, where he met the recluse and hermit Maximilien Heller. Heller, an amateur detective, had been active since at least the late 1860s and though little known to the public had a string of victories over criminals to his credit. He also had many traits in common with Brother William and the adult Sherlock Holmes. History does not record how Holmes learned of Heller, or even of Heller’s later (post-1871) exploits, however. We can only speculate how long Holmes stayed with Heller, what they spoke of, and what Holmes learned from Heller.

Sometime that year or the next Holmes traveled to Italy, where he encountered John Siloch. Siloch, who later became known as “the Sherlock Holmes of Italy,” was in fact active (in the words of his biographer Antonio G. Quattrini) “at least ten years” before Holmes, which would place Siloch’s tenure as a consulting detective as beginning in or around 1871. As with his visit with Heller it is not known how long Holmes visited Siloch, and how much Holmes took away from the meeting. Presumably Holmes was at least somewhat impressed with Siloch’s methods and personality, as he presumably was with Maxilien Heller’s, and we can assume from Holmes’ own later behavior that he modeled himself, at least to a certain degree, on Heller and Siloch–and on Brother Wiliam of Baskerville, albeit at a long remove.

After this, Holmes apparently resumed wandering and temporarily passed beyond the ken of his biographers.

As a sidenote, Moriarty’s personal history, not as well known as Holmes’, also has various gaps which biographers are still filling in. It was not until 1976 that the Swedish journalist A. Fage-Pedersen revealed Professor Moriarty’s complicity in infamous the 1883 volcano explosion on Krakatau, in Indonesia. Fage-Pedersen demonstrated that Moriarty was experimenting with a primitive atomic bomb and that the experiment went bad, destroying Krakatau and killing more than 36,000 people

1883 also brought another event only recently revealed: the beginning of the investigation of the murders of the infamous Mr. Hyde by Sherlock Holmes. To this, the knowledgeable scholar of the fantastic will object that this investigation was revealed by Loren Estleman a generation ago, in his Dr. Jekyll and Mister Holmes. This is true. However, the investigation in question was not performed by Sherlock Holmes, but by “Sherlock Holmes,” or rather, the first known victim of the Great Detective Syndrome.

A fictionalised account of this investigation was provided in 1998 by the French writer Jean-Pierre Naugrette. Naugrette’s novel has “Holmes” investigating Mr. Hyde and apprehending him in 1885. But Naugrette’s account differs in many ways from Estleman’s, leading us to wonder which is correct. The truth is that both are correct, as far as they go.

As best as can be reconstructed at this late date, Estleman’s accout is the more accurate, and can be accepted in all its particulars. Naugrette’s novel is truthful to a limited extent but is flawed. I believe what occurred is that Naugrette somehow acquired the written account of one Robert Graceman (written as “Sherlock Holmes”) and reproduced it as fact without checking into Estleman’s previous reporting.

Graceman, whose biography was briefly sketched by Guy Clifford, seems to have been the first sufferer of GDS. By the time Clifford published stories of Graceman’s life, in 1895, Graceman seems to have secure enough in his own identity to go by his own name, but in 1883 Graceman apparently was not, and was pretending to be Sherlock Holmes. (It may also be that Clifford refused to play along with Graceman’s pretense or insanity and published his stories using Graceman’s real name, an act which may have angered Graceman but also secretly flattered him and even produced some positive reinforcement.) I have no way of knowing for sure, but my guess is that Graceman, reading about Hyde’s murders, began investigating them as “Sherlock Holmes,” only to observe or encounter the real Sherlock Holmes in action, at which point he, Graceman, would have retreated rather than be exposed as a fraud. In his own diaries, however, Graceman would have been free to let his mental illness flower, and I believe it is these diaries that Naugrette discovered and used in constructing his novel.

This also explains the work of another French writer. The French writer René Réouven, from 1982 to 1989, published five novels purporting to be stories of Sherlock Holmes’ deeds. These novels, which Réouven called “Sherlock Holmes’ Secret History” (“Les Histoires Secrètes de Sherlock Holmes"), had a number of absurdities and incongruities in them, including Holmes encountering Edgar Allan Poe, Eugène Vidocq, the “poet assassin” Pierre-Francois Lancenaire, and Jack the Ripper (in a fashion quite different from that described by Dr. Watson and Ellery Queen in A Study in Terror), but mixed in among the fantasies are more credible stories. It is my contention that Réouven, like Naugrette after him, found some of Robert Graceman’s diaries and, taking them to be real, published them as being by the real Sherlock Holmes. I believe that the more believable stories are in fact accounts of Robert Graceman’s real actions in the mid- and late 1880s while posing as “Sherlock Holmes.” Similarly, I believe that Béartrice Nicodème’s Challenge to Sherlock Holmes (“Défi à Sherlock Holmes”), in which Holmes pursues a serial killer calling himself “Cockroach,” and her Wiggins & Sherlock vs. Napoleon (Wiggins et Sherlock contre Napoléon), in which Holmes meets and assists Wiggins, a teenager modeling himself on the Great Detective, were both based on Robert Graceman’s diaries.

The Syndrome Takes Hold

It was in the late 1880s that the Great Detective Syndrome began to spread. As Holmes’ fame grew, and as his name became recognizable in almost every country of the civilised world, so too did the pressure on those aping Holmes. It was in 1890 that the public in Vienna became aware of a consulting detective by the name of Dagobert Trostler. As his biographer Adalbert Goldscheider has shown, Trostler knowingly modeled himself after Holmes. However, Trostler, a warm and lively man, was far more secure as a person than the unfortunate Robert Graceman or Garnett Bell, and apparently never saw the need to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes. Trostler was quite successful for a span of many years, and did the tradition of the Holmesian consulting detective proud.

The following year another “Holmes” was seen, this time in Sofia, Bulgaria. Due to the historical paucity of information from Bulgaria and its presence until recently in the Soviet zone of influence, most in the West have not been aware of this “Sherlock Holmes,” despite Z. Bobyr’s 1970 story. Although it may be that Bulgaria spawned its own “Sherlock Holmes,” as Bobyr writes, there is some reason to believe that this “Holmes” was another, more familiar figure, more on which below.

That year, 1891, also saw the disappearance of Sherlock Holmes following his supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls and the beginning of the so-called “Great Hiatus.”

In 1893 the noted detective Sexton Blake took up the burden left by the still-missing Sherlock Holmes and began practicing in New Inn Chambers, off the Strand in London. Blake instantly became famous and worked on the side of good around the world, solving more cases than Holmes or anyone else with the exception of Nick Carter. Indeed, there are even today people who will tell you without hesitation that Sherlock Holmes did not exist but that Sexton Blake was as real as Queen Elizabeth.

However, a cursory examination of Sexton Blake’s early cases and portraits, and a comparison of the fictionalised accounts of those early cases with his later cases, reveals a startling fact.

The description of Sexton Blake’s looks and personality changes substantially in the space of a few years, to the point where the early Sexton Blake is nearly completely different from the later Blake. There is an explanation for this, but it will require your indulgence.

The truth is that there were, during the 1890s, two “Sexton Blakes,” who I will refer to as “Blake (I) and “Blake (II).”

Blake (I)’s first case in England took place in 1893, but there is reason to believe that he was active somewhat before this. (As we shall see, when he later reappeared and became famous under his true name, he was an older man, in his mid-40s.) Blake (I), when he first appeared in England, was accompanied by a partner, Jules Gervaise, a French detective of some note. The pair had worked together for some time, as is clear from the initial texts. Given their familiarity with each other and their shared experiences, which the initial texts refer to, we can only assume that Blake (I) had been active before starting a practice in London.

This begs the question of nomenclature. Why did the two Blakes share the same name? Who changed their name to the other’s?

The explanation is, I believe, rather simple. Blake (I), like many other GDS sufferers, wanted to become like Holmes, a famous detective. However, Blake (I) knew that he would need years of training to become good enough to merit comparison with Holmes. Blake (I), a well-educated man, further knew that the best training was the practical, hands-on, in-the-field variety. And Blake (I), am ambitious sort, did not want to become known by his real name until he had sufficient skill and experience.

So Blake (I) began his training first by taking on the name of “Sherlock Holmes” and working in Bulgaria in the late 1880s. I believe it was Blake (I) who performed the feats related in Z. Bobyr’s article, mentioned above. After that, Blake (I) changed his name and moved to France, where he met and joined forces with Jules Gervaise. At some point during this apprenticeship, he met the real Sexton Blake, Blake (II), another GDS sufferer. Blake (II) was in Europe, training to be a Great Detective; as has been pointed out in various monographs, for most of the 19th century it was in France where the greatest detectives lived and it was a privilege for any non-Frenchmen to be linked with a French detective. It is not known how this meeting went, but presumably it was at least nominally friendly, for when they parted Blake (I) left for England, where he took on the name of “Sexton Blake” and with Jules Gervaise formed the detective agency which was to make the name “Sexton Blake” famous. Blake (I) entered the public’s eye in 1893, while Blake (II) remained in France, training and educating himself.

I will return to the Blakes momentarily.

1895 saw several GDS-related events. Another sufferer, this one German, debuted in Cologne. His name was Victor (his last name has not survived), and he was to become a minor cause celebre in Germany for a several years, his fame enhanced by the Maximilian Böttcher stories written about him. In Japan, following the first translated publication of the Watson-Doyle stories, a detective named Soroku Komuro Honda, the “Magic Detective,” began his practice in Tokyo. Robert Graceman, who you will remember had formerly posed as “Sherlock Holmes,” was apparently confident and secure enough in his own identity to allow the author Guy Clifford to publish stories about him, using his real name. And John Siloch, in Italy, clashed with the forces of Professor Moriarty, including men claiming to be his children; it was this clash, rather than the real Holmes-v-Moriarty duel, that was later fictionalised and published in Italy in 1984.

In 1896, following the first Chinese translation of Dr. Watson’s writings about Holmes, several Chinese began imitating Holmes, in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere. Holmes’ name in Chinese, as Ellery Queen as written, was “Fu-erh-mo-hsi” (or “Fu-erh-mo-ssu” or “Fuermosi,” depending on the translation), and several Chinese men went by this name while solving crimes. Interestingly, the Fu-erh-mo-hsi of China confronted a wide variety of supernatural enemies, including ghosts, fox-women, and tiger-men, of the kind that the rationalist Holmes would have scoffed at. I believe one of these Fu-erh-mo-hsi was a European, more on which below.

1896 also saw the real Sexton Blake at last return to England after several years on the Continent and begin his career as a consulting detective, replacing “Sexton Blake,” who I’ve called “Blake (I).” Again, we will never know the arrangement that Blake (I) and Blake (II) had previously reached, but given the relatively smooth hand-off of the agency and name from Blake (I) to Blake (II), we can only assume it was friendly. Jules Gervaise seems to have returned to France and resumed his practice there, while Blake (I) went traveling, seeking out and studying under various masters, including Nick Carter. Blake (II), the real Sexton Blake, who physically resembled Sherlock Holmes, took on many of his mannerisms and his methods, but had enough self-respect to retain his real name. The accounts of Blake’s adventures reflect these changes but have altered them to fit the expectations of the audience of the time.

In 1898, another GDS sufferer began working as a consulting detective, this one calling himself “Sherlock Ol-mes” and practicing in Madrid, Spain. “Ol-mes” was more successful than the average GDS victim, working for many years and fighting crime around the world, oft-times in America.

The Twentieth Century

In 1900 one of the “Fuermosi” left China and traveled around the countries of the Far East, studying under various fakirs. This man, who later became famous under his own name, “Sir Ralf Clifford,” spent several years wandering, and when he finally returned to Europe he possessed the ability to move invisibly. Following a suggestion of Dr. Win Eckert it is my belief that Sir Clifford studied under the same Eastern masters who later taught Kent Allard and Shiwan Khan.

In 1903 the man I’ve been calling “Blake (I)” moved to New York City and began practicing his craft under his real name: Felix Boyd. Boyd, the nephew of Belle Boyd (who J.T. Edson revealed was the Great Aunt of Jane Clayton, née Porter), was very successful for several years, reflecting his rigorous training and great experience. Within a short time he had attracted a biographer, Frederick W. Davis.

In 1905 Sir Ralf Clifford debuted as an adventurer and consulting detective in Italy, fighting a wide range of fantastic enemies both in Italy and around the world. Unlike many of the other GDS sufferers he seems to have attracted more outré opponents, including werewolves and “living Buddhas.” His adventures were documented in a magazine bearing his own name.

In 1906 Madrid was witness to the debut of its second GDS victim, this one Gapy Bermudez. He practiced for a number of years before attracting the attention of the satirist Joaquin Belda, who wrote the spoof ¿Quién disparó in 1909. ¿Quién disparó was meant to satirise both Bermudez and the Holmes phenomenon itself, but was only partially successful in pointing out the flaws in Bermudez.

In 1907 one of the most famous victims of the Great Detective Syndrome came to the public’s attention. Solar Pons, whose career was nearly as long as Holmes’ itself, opened his private inquiry practice at 7B Praed Street in London. His similarity to Holmes did not go unremarked-upon, but Pons, like many of the GDS victims, was at heart a good man, willing to risk his life to help others, and the many men and women he helped forgave him his little eccentricities.

Baker Street in London began to grow crowded in this year. Sherlock Holmes had of course been living and working on Baker Street since the end of the Great Hiatus. Sexton Blake, too, had moved to Baker Street not long after he had taken over his practice from Felix Boyd. But most of the other GDS sufferers had stayed away, perhaps seeing the act of moving to Baker Street and opening a private detection agency there as a presumption beyond even them. But 1907 saw that final barrier fall. Harry Dickson was a young American of great talent and limitless ambition who adopted Holmes’ methods while retaining his own name. Dickson quickly found a wide range of enemies to occupy his time and spent years fighting the ghastliest and most outré villains around, gaining no small amount of fame in France and Germany.

Finally, another GDS victim, calling himself “Sherlock Holmes,” moved to Baker Street and began practicing as a private detective. The real Holmes, who had long been aware of his emulators and imitators, was no doubt amused and somewhat flattered by this behavior, and since it gave him time to pursue his own studies he most likely encouraged it in subtle ways. The “Holmes” who began his practice in 1907 was actually Garnett Bell, who we shall run into again. Bell, one of the best and most pathetic examples of the Great Detective Syndrome, brought with him a young assistant, one Harry Taxon, who was like Bell a victim of the GDS and who was bright enough to not only give real assistance to Bell (unlike Dr. Watson) but to prove brighter than Bell and a better detective on some cases.

In 1908 Albert Fleischmann began practicing as a detective and adventurer in Italy. He became known as “the rival to Sherlock Holmes,” but in point of fact he was a rival to John Siloch and Sir Ralf Clifford, both of whom were called “Sherlock Holmes” due to the identification in the public’s mind between Holmes and consulting detectives. Garnett Bell, in his guise as “Sherlock Holmes,” was active in Russia; the Russian magazine Ogonek handled the publication of his adventures fighting anarchists in Moscow, Odessa, and Baku. Unfortunately, the editors of Ogonek persisted in portraying Bell as being accompanied by Dr. Watson rather than Harry Taxon, which led to a quarrel between Ogonek’s editors and Bell. For reasons still unknown Taxon temporarily left Bell, perhaps because of his omission in the Ogonek stories, and traveled to New York City, where under the pseudonym of “Detective Rubbersole” he was involved in a trip to outerspace with the adventurer Sandy Highflier. This adventure was fictionalised in the The New York World as the comic strip “The Explorigator.”

Sherlock Ol-mes, meanwhile, was active in Spain helping members of Spanish royalty; this adventure, fictionalised almost immediately by the journalist Hugo Vavris, was never translated into English but was translated into Esperanto in 1910 as “Sherlock Holmes in the Service of the Spanish Throne.”

Unfortunately, 1908 was also the year that the first of the GDS sufferers began to die, mistaken for the real Sherlock Holmes by various villains and criminals and made to pay for their long success in the wars on crime. The Spaniard Gapy Bermudez, traveling in Paris on a case, was murdered. An American detective, Miss Ethel Boston, avenged the crime along with Bermudez’s companion; she went on to a successful career of her own, with an anonymous biographer publicizing her accounts in France.

In 1909 a man going by the name of “Sherloc (sic) Holmes” assisted Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire to suppress a rebellion. Unfortunately, the feelings of the modernisers and the Young Turks could not be denied for long, and Abdul Hamid II was deposed. The “Holmes” who assisted the Sultan disappeared, to reappear three years later in Istanbul.

In 1909 the second of the murders of the GDS victims occurred. Sherlock Ol-mes, working on a case in Italy, was murdered, and it took John Siloch to avenge him.

In 1910 the American detective Ashton-Kirk, another victim of GDS, began practicing in New York City. That same year Rolf Brand began working in Berlin, where (like “Victor” before him) he gained the nickname “the German Sherlock Holmes.”

In 1911 Victor Brand began working in London as a consulting detective. Brand was, like many of the other GDS victims, physically similar to Sherlock Holmes. Brand also copied Holmes’ methods. But Brand was somewhat unstable, mentally, beyond what normal GDS victims suffered, and Brand surrounded himself with a menagerie, one of whom, Jacko the Detective, was an intelligent gorilla whose skill at detection was said to be superior to that of Holmes himself. This was an exaggeration, obviously, but Jacko–perhaps a distant relative to the notorious “Six-Gun Gorilla”?–was very intelligent; the team of Brand and Jacko was a formidable one.

That same year the Italian detective Doctor Riccardo began working in Rome. Like Albert Fleischmann before him, and John Siloch and Sir Ralf Clifford before him, Riccardo was almost instantly successful and gained the nickname “the Italian Sherlock Holmes.”

1911 also saw the Spanish detective "Lord Jackson" clash with a GDS sufferer in an encounter that Jackson's biographer entitled "Lord Jackson contra Sherlock Holmes." I believe that this "Holmes" was in fact the same detective who assisted Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1909. I do not know whether this man left Istanbul directly for Madrid or was only briefly in Madrid in 1911, however.

In 1912 the Garnett Bell/Harry Taxon partnership came to an end, with Taxon, now 15 and styling himself a man, left Bell and struck out on his own. Bell, still in London and still calling himself “Sherlock Holmes,” kept his practice going, but was soon faced with a case, the notorious “Man in the Grey Suit” thief, which was beyond his abilities. Too shamed to contact any of the other “Sherlock Holmes” in London, much less the Great Detective himself, Bell sent a wire to Melbourne, Australia, summoning the up-and-coming Australian detective Allan Dickson. With Dickson’s help Bell solved the case, which was then fictionalised by Dickson’s biographer.

That same year the GDS victim who had aided Sultan Abdul Hamid II under the name of “Sherloc Holmes” judged the time was right to reappear in Istanbul. He then began practicing under his own name, Avni, and quickly became the foremost private detective in the Ottoman Empire. In Santiago, Chile, Roman Calvo, inspired by the recent Chilean edition of the Watson/Doyle Holmes stories, modeled himself on Holmes and began practicing. In New York City the man known only as Hodges began his practice. And in London a member of the River Police, John Flood, gained public acclaim for his actions. Like the other detectives in this article, he, too, was a GDS sufferer.

1913 saw the debut of another GDS victim, the Englishman Stanley Brooke.

In 1914 a life-long admirer of Sherlock Holmes opened his private detective business in Shanghai. The earlier GDS victims, the Fuermosi, had by now retired, and when this new individual began his business he was the only private detective in China. He was Huo Sang, and he was so successful so quickly that the earlier Fuermosi were forgotten. Even today the name of “Huo Sang” is well known and respected in China. Huo Sang was so successful, in fact, that he seems to have attracted the attention of Sherlock Holmes, who began a very friendly correspondence with him.

Interestingly, within a few years the presence of Huo Sang, the “Oriental Sherlock Holmes” (as he was called by his biographer), had inspired an “Oriental Arsene Lupin,” Lu Ping. Lu Ping was a very successful thief who like Huo Sang gained enough fame to come to the notice of Arsene Lupin, who began a correspondence with Lu Ping. Then, during the 1920s, perhaps egged on by Lupin or perhaps because it was simply inevitable, Lu Ping and Huo Sang began a series of friendly and not so friendly jousts, replicating the Lupin-vs-Holmes boughts of the 1900s with much the same results.

1914 also saw the curious cases of “the Adventures of the Son of Sherlock Holmes,” as they were called in the French magazine description of them. Obviously this individual, who called himself “Sherlock, Jr.,” was not the son of the real Sherlock Holmes. So who was he? It is my belief that he was the child of Robert Graceman, born during the period when Graceman was posing as Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, Jr. was somewhat successful but never achieved even the marginal fame of his biological father, much less the enduring glory of his namesake.

In 1915 Sherlock, Jr. was active in Germany, where he picked up a biographer, one Dieter Schliwka. Garnett Bell, meanwhile, still posing as “Sherlock Holmes,” was contacted and coopted by the Conspiracy, as explained in MN’s “Secret Wars” article.

In 1916 Ben Wilson, a somewhat famous New York policeman, had a famous contest with Hodges to see who could solve a tough murder case first. This contest was fictionalised by Wilson’s biographer as “Ben Wilson Against Sherlock Holmes,” indicating that Wilson’s biographer was either unaware of Hodges’ true identity or that he knew that the name “Sherlock Holmes” would guarantee sales. (It did) The same year the notorious jewel thief Sebastián also began working in Mexico. Sebastián kept within the limits of Mexico, being satisfied to frustrate the local police rather than make an international nuisance of himself. Interestingly, however, he was well-read enough to make references to Raffles, he had apparently corresponded, like Lu Ping, with Arsene Lupin, and he spoke cryptically of having bested Sherlock Holmes at one point. The latter comment could be chalked up to Sebastián’s ego or perhaps is a reference to a joust between Sebastián and Roman Calvo.

In 1917 another Japanese GDS sufferer, Kio-Hako, began working as a consulting detective in Tokyo. His debut attracted world-wide attention and took many people’s minds off the depressing events of the World War, and he quickly became famous enough to be summoned to Russia, South Africa, Italy and China. That same year the famous occult detective Arnold Rhymer began his practice in London. By his own account he once trained under Sherlock Holmes, and given Rhymer’s reputation for truthfulness I believe we can accept that Rhymer’s teacher was actually the real Sherlock Holmes and not one of his imitators.

In 1918 Thomas Ashley began a long and successful consulting practice in London.

In 1920 a man calling himself “Jack Dollar” founded a private detective agency in New York City. The name “Jack Dollar” is an obvious pseudonym, and when we consider that “Jack Dollar” used a boy as an assistant the real identity of “Dollar” becomes clear. “Jack Dollar” was actually Harry Taxon, now a full-grown man and interested in becoming a success in his own right. Seeing what Garnett Bell had done with him as a good thing, he set out to replicate the experience, and succeeded. That year also saw the Norwegian detective and GDS sufferer Charles Holm, begin his practice in Oslo with his friend Dr. Madsen.

In 1923 another GDS victim, Digby Gresham, began a successful career as a private detective in New York City. And in London Dixon Hawke began a long and profitable career as a consulting detective.

In 1924 still another GDS sufferer, Derek Trant, began a practice in New York City.

In 1926 the Great Detective Syndrome had spread to India, with a GDS victim working there as a private detective and calling himself “Sherlock Holmes.” The Russian journalist Yakov Kret wrote about this in the pages of the magazine Our Progress.

In 1928 Sherlock Holmes, Jr. took part in a curious adventure, later fictionalised by Gabriel Bernard. Jr. teamed up with four men to stop a thief. The four men were Valentin, a talented French detective; Jonas, who claimed to have been raised by the legendary French detective Monsieur Lecoq; Scipion, who claimed to have been a former collaborator with Nick Carter; and Leonard, who claimed to be a former assistant of the famous French spy, adventurer, and policeman Inspector Tony. Leonard was, in fact, a former assistant to Inspector Tony, but there is no proof, one way or another, to support either Scipion’s or Jonas’ claim.

In 1933 the GDS spread to Singapore as the noted detective Pawang Ali began his practice there.

In 1935 the criminologist and GDS victim Ascott Keane began his practice in New York City. He soon found himself occupied in opposing the nefarious schemes of the infamous Doctor Satan.

And, finally, in 1940 the child of Sherlock Holmes, Jr. came of age. Wanting to be like his father, he began work as a detective under the name of “Mr. Hopkins.” Unfortunately, he was active in France, and he disappeared following the German invasion.

This is where my account ends. World War Two seems to have finished the Great Detective Syndrome as a social pathology, with those who would in earlier decades have been its victims focusing their energies and obsessions on other things. We must still, however, take note of these early victims, and sympathise with them and celebrate their achievements.


“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in Russia.” v1n12-24. Ogonek. (1908).
Aitken, A. Donnelly. The “Victor Brand” stories.
Almanzi, Ventura. The “Ben Wilson” stories.
Anderson, Prof. E. “A Portrait of William of Baskerville and his Resemblance to Sherlock Holmes.”
“Les Aventures du fils de Sherlock Holmes.” (The Adventures of the Son of Sherlock Holmes) (1914)
Baker, Guy C. The “Hodges” stories.
Belda, Joaquin. ¿Quién disparó. (1909)
Bernard, Gabriel. Les Cinq Detectives. (The Five Detectives) (1928)
Blyth, Harry, and following authors. The “Sexton Blake” stories.
Bobyr, Z. “Diamond Smoke.” The Technology of Youth (1970)
Böttcher, Maximilian. The “Victor” stories.
Brooks, Edwy Searles. The “Dixon Hawke” stories.
Bullivant, Cecil H. The “Garnett Bell” stories.
Cauvain, Henri. Maximilien Heller (1871).
Cei, Umberto. The “Doctor Riccardo” stories.
Cheng Xiaoqing. The “Huo Sang” stories.
Clifford, Guy. The “Robert Graceman” stories.
Columbus, Chris. The Young Sherlock Holmes.
Dart, Harry. “The Explorigator.”
Davis, Frederick W. The “Felix Boyd” stories.
Dipingiamo con Sherlock Holmes. (1984)
Doyle, A. Conan. The “Sherlock Holmes” stories.
Eckert, Win. “The Wold Newton Universe.”
Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose.
Edogawa Rampo. The “Kogoro Akechi” stories.
Edson, J. T. The “Calamity Jane” series.
Edwards, Alberto. The “Roman Calvo” stories.
Effinger, George A. “The Musgrave Ritual.” Sherlock Holmes in Orbit.
England, George. The “Thomas Ashley” stories.
Ernst, Paul. The “Doctor Satan” stories.
Estleman, Loren. Dr. Jekyll and Mister Holmes. (1980)
Fage-Pedersen, A. "Hans største sag." ("His Greatest Case") Politken. (1976)
Galopin, Arnould. The “Allan Dickson” stories.
Gladkov, V.A. The “Kio-Hako” stories.
Goldscheider, Adalbert. The “Dagobert Trostler” stories.
Hanshew, Thomas. The “Hamilton Cleek” stories.
The “Harry Taxon” stories.
Hart, Patricia. The Spanish Sleuth. (1987)
Herlinger, J.J. “Mister Hopkins wnuk Sherlocka.” (Mr. Hopkins–Sherlock’s Grandson) Nasza Ksiegarnia. 1968.
Hirayama Yuichi. “The Japanese Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.”
The “Jack Dollar” stories.
The “John Flood” stories.
Key, Samuel Whittell. The “Arnold Rhymer” stories.
Kinkley, Jeffrey. Chinese Justice, the Fiction. (2000)
Kret, Yakov. “Indiyanskie Sherlock Holmes.” (An Indian Sherlock Holmes) Our Progress (1926)
Lecaye, Alexis. Marx & Sherlock Holmes. (1981)
Lofficier, Jean-Marc. “Sherlock Holmes in the French Wold Newton Universe.”
The "Lord Jackson" stories.
McIntyre, John T. The “Ashton-Kirk” stories.
The “Miss Boston” stories.
Naugrette, Jean-Pierre. Le Crime Etrange de Mr. Hyde (The Strange Crime of Mr. Hyde) (1998)
Nevins, Jess. “Fantastic Victoriana.”
     “Pulp and Adventure Heroes of the Pre-War Years.”
     “Secret Wars.”
Nicodème, Béartrice. Défi à Sherlock Holmes (Challenge to Sherlock Holmes) (1993)
     Wiggins et Sherlock contre Napoléon. (Wiggins & Sherlock vs. Napoleon) (2000).
Nomura Kodo. The “Zenigata Heichi” stories.
Odian, Yervant. “Abdul Hamid and Sherloc Holmes.” (1911)
Okamoto Kido. The “Hanshichi” stories.
Oppenheim, E.P. The “Stanley Brooke” stories.
Petersen, Robert Storm. The “Charles Holm” stories.
Pettee, Florence. The “Digby Gresham” stories.
Price, E. Hoffmann. The “Pawang Ali” stories.
Quattrini, Antonio G. The “John Siloch” stories.
Queen, Ellery. “Introduction.” Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen. (1978)
Ray, Jean, and other authors. The “Harry Dickson” stories.
Réouven, René. Elementaire, Mon Cher Holmes (Elementary, My Dear Holmes). (1982)
     L'Assassin du Boulevard (The Murderer of the Boulevard)  (1985)
     Le Bestiaire de Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes' Bestiary) (1987)
     Les Passe-Temps de Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes' Pastimes) (1989)
     Le Détective Volé (The Purloined Detective) (1988)
Rodda, Charles. The “Derek Trant” stories.
The “Rolf Brand” stories.
Sami, Ebüssüreyya. The “Avni” stories.
Schliwka, Dieter. Sherlock Holmes Junior. (1988).
“Sherlock Ol-mes and the Poisoners of Chicago.”
“Sherlock Ol-mes and the Stranglers of Pittsburg.”
The “Sir Ralf Clifford” stories.
The “Soroku Komuro Honda” stories.
Starrett, Vincent. Bookman’s Holiday (1942)
     The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. (1933)
Sun Liaohong. The “Lu Ping” stories.
Tomoji Ohta. “Brief Notes on Holmes and Doyle in Japan.” (1997)
Turner, Mark. The “Albert Fleischmann” stories.
Vavris, Hugo. “František Leli_ek ve slu_bách Sherlocka Holmesa.” (Sherlock Holmes in the Service of the Spanish Throne) (1908)

Back to my Wold Newton page