Book Review: “The Devil and Sherlock Holmes”

   Posted by: Faith   in Tasty Tomes

Looking for a good non-fiction read for the summer? David Grann’s newest offering is a fantastic choice… and yes, this is going to be a slightly gushy review, because I honestly loved the book. I had no idea what to think when I picked it up, but I’m very glad I did. Read on!

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession – David Grann

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Acclaimed New Yorker writer and author of the breakout debut bestseller The Lost City of Z, David Grann offers a collection of spellbinding narrative journalism.

Whether he’s reporting on the infiltration of the murderous Aryan Brotherhood into the U.S. prison system, tracking down a chameleon con artist in Europe, or riding in a cyclone- tossed skiff with a scientist hunting the elusive giant squid, David Grann revels in telling stories that explore the nature of obsession and that piece together true and unforgettable mysteries.

Each of the dozen stories in this collection reveals a hidden and often dangerous world and, like Into Thin Air and The Orchid Thief, pivots around the gravitational pull of obsession and the captivating personalities of those caught in its grip. There is the world’s foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes who is found dead in mysterious circumstances; an arson sleuth trying to prove that a man about to be executed is innocent; and sandhogs racing to complete the brutally dangerous job of building New York City’s water tunnels before the old system collapses. Throughout, Grann’s hypnotic accounts display the power—and often the willful perversity—of the human spirit.

Compulsively readable, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant mosaic of ambition, madness, passion, and folly.

My Thoughts:

This book is one to be read slowly… savored, piece by piece, story by story, until you find yourself so in awe of the discoveries Grann made during the course of his research that you truly wonder where the line between fiction and real life begins.

There are twelve tales in this book, all true stories. The narrative is clear and readable, but the subject matter is what will really have your jaw dropping: Hunting the giant squid; investigation into the thousands of miles long network of underground tunnels in New York that really exist and which may literally collapse at any moment; the infiltration of the Aryan Brotherhood into the U.S. prison system; and more.

If ever there was proof that truth is stranger than fiction, this collection is it.

I’ll admit that I enjoyed the stories in the first half of the book more than the second, but I think that might have been personal preference. I’ve gone on to recommend this to numerous people since reading it, and I plan to re-read it sometime soon simply because the stories were so fascinating that I bet I’ll get even more out of it on a second run through.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I received this book… but if this is indicative of Grann’s journalistic abilities, I hope he has a long and very lucrative career! He definitely knows how to chase down a story… and how to tell it, too.

I know I don’t often put a rating on my books these days, but this one is a solid 5 out of 5.

(Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Doubleday. I was not required to write a positive review.)

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 10th, 2010 at 1:31 pm and is filed under Tasty Tomes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 comments so far


Sounds like one to add to my list. I just finished reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, also on your recommendation, and enjoyed it very much. I am behind in my own book reviewing, but hope to get back to it sometime soon.

June 10th, 2010 at 5:30 pm

I’m so glad you liked ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’! Hope you enjoy this one as well.

I noticed I hadn’t seen many reviews from you lately — life gets busy sometimes :)

June 11th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I like to read books fast, so I’m not sure I’d like this one. I’ll have to think about it!

June 11th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Aubrie, I like to read books fast too, but I found this one just too interesting to whip through (with the exception of a few stories)! Maybe pick it up at the library or flip through at the bookstore for a few minutes first to see if it’s your kind of thing…

June 11th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Wow, a 5 out of 5! I think my hubs would love this, the style and pace. I might get it for him for Father’s day!

June 11th, 2010 at 3:44 pm