Mr. Doyle and Dr. Bell

Written by Howard Engel
Review by Ellen Keith

With this book, Arthur Conan Doyle joins the ranks of authors as detectives, but unlike Jane Austen et al., Conan Doyle seems more suited to the title. Engel draws the Holmes parallel by making medical student Conan Doyle the Watson to his professor, Dr. Joseph Bell, the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. In 1879 Conan Doyle and Bell embark on their first case together at the urging of the brother of a man convicted of killing an opera singer and her lover. The doctor and his student find a justice system unwilling to hear the evidence, come upon a sympathetic police officer, and keep company with such notables as Robert Louis Stevenson and Benjamin Disraeli.

Engel, the author of the Benny Cooperman mystery series, has done well by the real Conan Doyle. By making the author and his Holmes-inspiration the detectives, he not only sidesteps the pitfalls of trying to imitate Conan Doyle, he also provides a hugely entertaining preview of how Holmes came to be. It’s a delight to see all the elements—the deductive powers, the awesome intellect, and most amusing, Conan Doyle’s obvious boredom with his medical studies, making this case that more exciting to him. Making Conan Doyle the Watson is also a clever twist. I look forward to more of Mr. Doyle and Dr. Bell’s adventures.