Review of ‘Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle’

Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle
Daniel Stashower
Henry Holt

Mention Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes pops to mind, which is not the way Conan Doyle wished to be known. Nor does he need to be, for Conan Doyle threw himself into life with a vengeance, and though he remains inexorably linked to his famous pipe-smoking detective with the deerstalker hat, there are countless other ways to remember this teller of tales, so richly portrayed in Daniel Stashower's biography. Stashower, himself an accomplished practitioner of the mystery novel whose titles include The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man and Elephants in the Distance, is admirably suited to the task.

In 1881, at 22, Conan Doyle received a Master of Surgery from the University of Edinburgh, having sold stories on the side to help pay his tuition. He had interrupted his studies for a stint as ship's surgeon aboard a whaling vessel. Following graduation, he served as ship's doctor on a freighter that steamed between Liverpool and West Africa. In 1891, he abandoned his medical career to "give himself over entirely to his writing," but never lost his taste for adventure, talking his way, at age 40, to the front as an army doctor in the Boer War. Back home, the burly, affable author successfully championed two men he believed to be wrongly imprisoned, dabbled less successfully in politics, and became a world-class sportsman. He predicted the Channel Tunnel and space travel, and was an early owner of a motorcar. "While demonstrating the new car for his mother," writes Stashower with subdued wit, "Conan Doyle managed to slam into a cartload of turnips. The Ma'am [Conan Doyle's name for the mother he dearly loved], unperturbed by the sudden shower of vegetables, continued with her knitting."

Emily D'Aulaire is based in Connecticut

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