One hundred and twenty-eight years ago, in a British blunder blameworthy of literary treason, the country’s postal service misplaced the first ever novel written by Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the much beloved Sherlock Holmes stories.
The manuscript was lost, “never to be found again”. However Doyle recopied the work, entitled ‘The Narrative of John Smith’, from memory into four black notebooks.
Later ashamed of the story, Doyle stated “he would be horrified” if it ever went to print.
Unpublished and largely forgotten, the 130-page piece surfaced at an auction sometime in 2004, and was smartly snapped up by the British Library for £1 million.
Now the government, backed by the country’s academics, appear bent on tormenting Doyle once again, as the book is set to be published this coming Monday.
However, crime detective and literary fans argue the work is important in understanding the origins of Sherlock Holmes. Rachel Foss, one of the book’s editors, says it was Doyle’s “first attempt to make the transition from a short-story writer to a novel writer”.
Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, The Narrative of John Smith contains elements typical of his later novels, such as an interest in logical reasoning, even though it allegedly suffers from a “lack of plot”.
Many opinions stated in the book also clearly align with the author’s, such as the importance of science and medicine, and a scepticism of religious dogma. The book, however, was never finished, leading one particular historian to believe there’s more mystery to it than meets the eye.
Dr Kibby Cabby, lead historian at the Institute of Detective Mysteries (IDM), says after losing several family members during the war, Doyle joined the renown paranormal organisation ‘The Ghost Club’. The club’s objectives were (and still are) to prove or disprove the existence of paranormal phenomena through scientific reasoning.
He believes Doyle purposefully left the book unfinished, knowing full well the British Government would attempt to publish it without his consent.
Dr Cabby says before his death, Doyle gave The Ghost Club explicit instructions, that when the time came, he would be brought back to finish the book and haunt whoever tried to publish it, thereby avenging the blithering British postal blooper that left him so very bitter to the end of his days.