A cache of archival letters being auctioned in England show that Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, was the subject of a police conspiracy. Dastardly!
If it had a Sherlock Holmes title, it might be, The Case of the Writer of Detective Fiction Who Was Such a Good Real-Life Detective That Police Tried to Mislead Him to Discredit His Work. (It doesn't quite have the ring of "A Study in Scarlet" or "The Noble Bachelor.")
After Holmes became popular, Conan Doyle was called upon to become a criminal investigator in real cases. He did so in the case of George Edalji, a lawyer sent to prison for sending nasty letters and maiming horses; after Edalji was released, he appealed to Doyle for help in clearing his name. The child of a British mother and Indian father, Edalji was convinced prejudice had played a role in his conviction.
Conan Doyle undertook his task with such enthusiasm that he got on the bad side of Staffordshire's head policeman. "In a printed report discovered in a collection of letters, chief constable of Staffordshire police, GA Anson, admits attempting to discredit Doyle by creating an elaborate ruse," the Guardian reports.
Anson and Conan Doyle knew each other as antagonists. In one letter, Conan Doyle wrote to Anson, "Your letter is a series of inaccuracies mixed up with a good deal of rudeness." But Conan Doyle never knew the extent of Anson's animus, and how far he would go.
The letters auctioned Wednesday show Anson created a series of fake letters and fictitious informers to mislead Conan Doyle and make his sleuthing seem inadequate to the task.
"The new evidence was a total fabrication planted by Anson, and all part of an elaborate ruse," Sarah Lindberg of Bonhams told the Guardian.
Conan Doyle's involvement in the case has long fascinated British Holmes fans. Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes even wrote an entire novel based on it, "Arthur and George," which has also been adapted for television.