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Mystery explores old murders in fact and fiction

Life is full of surprises, and The Strange Case of Dr. Doyle – written by a father-and-son pair of physicians and published by Square One Publishers, a small, indie book publisher in a town of 8,000 on Long Island, New York – is one of this year’s big literary amazements. This is a spectacular undertaking by Drs. Daniel and Eugene Friedman, who must be very good physicians if they can be judged by their passion, exhaustive research and absolutely flawless writing.

The Strange Case of Dr. Doyle is about Arthur Conan Doyle and his real-life exploits over 30 years adrift in Edinburgh and London. It also incorporates a fictional account of a 1910 “Murder Club” tour of five documented locations in London’s Whitechapel ghetto where the victims were found in the unsolved murders of Jack the Ripper.

I usually haven’t the patience for long-form nonfiction unless I’m researching something, but for a couple of nights, the amalgamation of fact and fiction in The Strange Case of Dr. Doyle had me reading until my eyes were burning and my legs were going numb from crossing and uncrossing.

This is an extraordinary narration packaged in unquestionably the most elegant, cloth-bound book I have seen in commercial distribution. You will be educated, entertained, challenged to discern the factual and fictional clues, mesmerized by the percolation of rakish coincidence and absolutely startled by a few conclusions you will be asked to adjudicate.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s formative years were the stuff of dropouts and criminals, and the dysfunctions continued through his years in medical school, internships, medical practices and far-flung seafaring adventures. Doyle was by any account a no-account until he created one of the world’s most famous criminal investigators, Sherlock Holmes, and his misemployed foil, Dr. John Watson.

Doyle, always the loquacious braggart and temporizer, acculturated himself among London sophisticates in 1887 with his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. He built a context around Sherlock Holmes that proffered new forensic methods in crime investigation.

Doyle and Holmes nearly became one, as the stories piled up from the hijinks of both men, resulting in Doyle being knighted in 1902 by King Edward VII and achieving the indistinguishable equivalency of his chimerical detective of Scotland Yard.

As unconventional as it sounds, Doyle was consulted in the real investigations of Jack the Ripper. His involvement in the Murder Club, and the fictive tours he conducts of Jack the Ripper’s murder scenes in the counterpart of this book, will set off an alarm (spoiler alert) for all but the most unimaginative readers.

Jeff@jeffMannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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