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The Ardlamont Mystery
The Real-Life Story Behind the Creation of Sherlock Holmes
BY Daniel Smith

Michael O’Mara Books
3 May 2018/ ISBN 9781782438458
Non Fiction / Criminal Law / Forensic Science / Politics & Social Sciences

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde



Early on the misty morning of 10 August 1893 three men went out hunting on the Ardlamont Estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. Only two of them came back, and one of them promptly disappeared. By December this incident would become a case that would enthral and mystify the Victorian public, not least because of its connection to Sherlock Holmes…

The game is afoot in this highly readable account of a true cause celebre, not for Sherlock Holmes but for the two men who inspired him. Conan Doyle had had the pioneering Dr Joseph Bell as his tutor twenty years earlier and revealed that he was the inspiration behind his famous creation. This book shows that there was another person behind Holmes as well, because Bell worked with forensic expert Dr Henry Littlejohn on many criminal cases including this, their most famous one. For sensation-loving Victorians it has everything: an aristocratic victim and possible murderer, a missing third man plus plenty of shenanigans involving life insurance, con tricks, a possible earlier murder attempt and of course the inspiration behind Sherlock Holmes. The story behind it all reveals possible murderer Alfred Monson as a con artist involved with many other dodgy people and tells of his numerous financial scams. Add in the spendthrift family of the victim and you have a good story which has the added bonus of actually being true. Mr Smith brings it all to life and although it is not a novel it reads rather like one. It is also the tale of the origins of forensics and shows how Bell and Littlejohn pioneered techniques that would become standard practice. Anybody interested in true crime, Sherlock Holmes or the period will enjoy this fascinating case.

Reviewed 2018