102. The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 334 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 30, 2010
First Published: Mar. 9, 2010
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: non-fiction, journalism
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Reporting, like detective work, is a process of elimination.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: I loved David Grann's debut book "The Lost City of Z" and really wanted to read this when I heard about it.

An extremely interesting book on a variety of different topics. A collection of previously published articles mainly from "The New Yorker" magazine, with three being from other magazines. These are investigative journalism where the author goes out to meet the people involved, shadow them as they go about their business, and interviews criminals in jail, in search of the truth behind a mystery that has never been solved or never quite to satisfaction or just why somebody would do what they do. It makes very fascinating reading. Each article gives a small one liner to let you know the topic of the article and to me personally, some of them I was eager to read, while others didn't seem like they'd be my cup of tea.

However, out of the twelve stories there was only one I didn't enjoy and that was one that was about a baseball player and the game. I don't like sports and that story just had nothing else to offer so for me it was a dud. Otherwise, whether I initially thought the subject would interest me or not, I was fascinated with the remaining eleven articles. Even one which is about the old water tunnel system below New York City and the building of the third tunnel. Sounds like something engineering folks might like but I was fascinated with the history of the building of the tunnels which have been worked on since the early 1900s, the dangers, and the personal stories of the men who work down there, often generations of the same family. Other stories include the mysterious murder of a famous Sherlock Holmes scholar, a Frenchman who serially poses as orphaned teenage boys, trying to track down the truth of a man about to be executed for murdering his children who swears he is innocent, a man who was obsessed with capturing the first live giant squid, and the life story of a stick-up man who committed his last robbery at age 79 but who enjoyed escaping from prison more than committing the crimes, and so on.

The mysteries and murders I was immediately pulled into, knowing I'd enjoyed those stories. But even the first couple that made me wonder whether they'd be my thing also pulled me in quickly as David Grann is a wonderful writer. From that point on I was eager to read each and every story. He gets up close and personal with his subject; he follows the people he is writing about and he gets in there with them doing the things they do (or standing beside them, watching) and explaining how he feels. He's been in more than one situation where he's admitted that he was scared. He can also pick up on all the different angles of a story so that no matter where a reader's interests lie they will find an angle that interests them. Most of the stories were riveting, the rest were very interesting, and, for me, I struck out with the baseball story. (There just was nowhere else Grann could go with that one and I realise that.)

I read the book slowly. Reading one story a night, taking the time to savour and appreciate each story. David Grann is certainly a talented writer who has a way with engaging his reader, and I do hope he is currently working on another book length story for us.


  1. I like your approach to this book, Nicola. I have it on my stack to read and reading it a story at a time sounds like a great way to go. I think I might even like that baseball related story, being a baseball fan. :-) I am glad you enjoyed this one.

  2. I don't think I would have explored this book, if not for your review. I think the cover doesn't appeal to me - not sure. Anyway, thanks for the heads-up. I'm interested! :)

  3. Hope you enjoy it, Wendy!

    Joy, I agree. The cover is blah!! Hope they change it for the pb.


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