Leah Darrow's Reviews > The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness & Obsession

The Devil & Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
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's review
Jan 31, 2011

really liked it
Read in January, 2011

This book covers a series of true crime cases, with each chapter devoted to a particular case. The cases are quite wide-ranging and extremely interesting.

The first chapter is about an Arthur Conan Doyle scholar who was obsessed with getting a bunch of never-seen personal papers from Doyle's grand-niece. Then he was murdered in this super mysterious way, which obviously was like catnip to all the Sherlock Holmes fanboys out there. So the chapter talks about the circumstances of the case, and postulates a probable explanation for the mystery.

The second chapter is about a man named Willingham who was executed in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three children. Once again, circumstances weren't quite what they seemed, and the chapter examines recent changes in arson investigation and corruption in the death row system.

The third essay is all about a 32 year-old con man who impersonates teenage orphans. He has done it in 15 different countries in 5 different languages. He is a talented actor who can impersonate any nationality or age, and he can do mannerisms and appearances so well that he even fooled one of the teenage runaway's own parents. He is known as the "French Chameleon", and it's extra weird because he doesn't really get any money or anything out of it, it's just some kind of bizarre emotional need. Again, there is a twist ending to the story.

There are a variety of other cases, including an expose on "The Brotherhood" prison gang, and an essay on the search for the elusive giant squid. Come to think of it, the giant squid chapter isn't crime-related, so I guess each essay is more just a modern mystery, but most have to do with criminal activities.

Not all of the cases have clear cut "answers" to their mysteries, but the author does a pretty good job of providing either a very viable explanation, or some form of closure in notes at the end of the chapter that tell you what ended up happening to all the main players.

The prose style is quick-moving, informative, and stimulating without being overly sensationalistic.
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