Alistair Duncan has a very hard act to follow with his new book, An Entirely New Country. His last book, The Norwood Author won the 2011 Howlett Literary Award (Sherlock Holmes book of the year) and was widely recognised as one of the most important Conan Doyle books in recent times due to the new information Duncan uncovered during his meticulous research.
The challenge is that Conan Doyle is one the most written about authors in history, with literally hundreds of biographies about the great man. To find genuinely new information means delving into local archives which was the secret to the success of the book on the Norwood period. Duncan admits that he couldn’t create these ground-breaking books without the significant help from local library staff.
What adds to the importance of this book is the timing. The book covers the ‘Undershaw’ period, the time Conan Doyle spent in the home that he himself designed. The house faces destruction by developers and The Undershaw Trust is working hard to save it. Judging by the tens of thousands that visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum every year, and the millions of new fans that the BBC’s Sherlock and the new movies have generated, there is plenty of scope for restoring this important building and creating a larger exhibition for Sherlock Holmes.
The Sherlock Holmes Society of London’s Roger Johnson makes strong reference to this in his notes about the new book:
“It was evident from his first book Eliminate the Impossible that Alistair Duncan writes well, that he writes with knowledge and enthusiasm, and that he thinks about what he writes. His subsequent books, Close to Holmes and The Norwood Author, did more than just confirm that impression: they established him as an important commentator on Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous creation. After exploring the years when Conan Doyle lived in Norwood – surprisingly neglected by previous biographers, even though it was then that he became truly famous – Mr Duncan has turned his attention to the author’s next decade, perhaps the most turbulent of his life. Undershaw, the house that Conan Doyle had built at Hindhead, was his home from 1897 to 1907. He wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Nigel, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and much else at Undershaw. The house saw the end of his first marriage and the beginning of his second. He was resident here when he became Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yet, despite its cultural and architectural importance, Undershaw currently stands empty, vandalised and neglected. Read An Entirely New Country and you’ll understand just why the Undershaw years were so important.”
The most important book on Conan Doyle in 2011? – undoubtedly.
The biggest Holmes seller this Christmas will probably be The House Of Silk – the new Holmes ‘official’ novel from Anthony Horowitz and we understand too well the importance of pastiches as the most popular form of new Holmes books for publishers. However, we hope that at least one person that reads An Entirely New Country has a spare £million or two to invest in preserving an important part of Conan Doyle’s history before it is lost forever.