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New Sherlock Holmes Story Might Not Have Been Written By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

02/23/2015 01:12 pm ET | Updated Feb 23, 2015
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A long-lost Sherlock Holmes story, reportedly penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for a benefit bazaar to raise money for a bridge in Selkirk, Scotland, has been discovered in an attic where it had been forgotten for decades. Conan Doyle himself was a guest of honor at the bazaar to rebuild Selkirk’s bridge in 1904. The newly unearthed story, entitled "Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar," appeared in a small collection, “The Book o’ the Brig,” sold at the bazaar to support the cause. Walter Elliot, a historian, had owned the book for so many years he told The Telegraph he'd forgotten how he’d acquired it, but he only recently thought to excavate and display the century-old pamphlet.

Scarcely had the new story come to light, however, before strident doubts about the authorship were expressed. Swedish writer and Holmes expert Mattias Boström noted that there’s no mention in advertisements and bazaar records of Conan Doyle contributing an original piece, and other fans have argued that the flowery, ornate style of the prose does not resemble Conan Doyle’s action-oriented, concise style. (The story’s reference to Holmes living on Sloan Street, not the famous Baker Street, also seems to be an error the original author wouldn’t make.) The story itself is unsigned, deepening the mystery.

Elliot, however, has expressed his firm belief that Conan Doyle himself composed the story, telling The Guardian, “I’m not a specialist, but the vocabulary seems pretty close to the way Conan Doyle wrote. I’m fairly sure it was written by him.”

"Discovering the Border Burghs" doesn't feature the detached, cold Holmes or sharp, precise deduction of the detective's more famous tales. The story is layered in conceits, presented as the imagined encounter of a journalist with Holmes and Watson after his editor insists he write a piece on Holmes without traveling to London. The narrator imagines himself in the company of Holmes, who is ruminating on the cause of Watson’s distracted behavior and his new habit of whistling Scottish ditties. The brief mystery revolves around an appropriate theme: Holmes deducing that Watson is visiting Scotland “in aide of a bridge.”

The whole piece is more of a spoof than a serious addition to the canon, regardless of the true author, full of funny moments that parody Conan Doyle's template. "Why," Holmes complains at one point, "when I was retailing to you the steps that led up to the arrest of the Norwood builder by the impression of his thumb, I found a very great surprise that you were not listening at all to my reasoning, but were lilting a very sweet -- a very sweet tune, Watson."

Between Benedict Cumberbatch’s "Sherlock" and Robert Downey, Jr.'s "Sherlock Holmes" franchise, public enthusiasm for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic gumshoe has achieved a new peak in recent years. The success of these spin-offs, as well as the CBS show "Elementary" and a rash of Holmes-inspired novels and collections, suggests that the detective's fans are happy to consume non-Conan Doyle material to get their Holmes fix. Even if this newly resurrected tale is more fanfiction than canon, it's of interest as a quirky addition to the universe.

As for who actually wrote "Discovering the Border Burghs," that may be a mystery only Sherlock Holmes could unravel. But if you want to take a crack at it, you can read the full text at The Telegraph.

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