The Patient's Eyes: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes - Reviewed
Reviewed by Charles Prepolec
“At first just...a shape in the trees. I put it down to imagination. My uncle says I have far too much of it. But the truth is that now, yes, I see...a figure...a cyclist. It follows me, doctor.”
- Heather Grace to Conan Doyle in The Patient's Eyes
Copyright © Century 2001
Last season, David Pirie’s Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes provided television viewers with an interesting new twist to the Sherlock Holmes mythos. Instead of presenting viewers with yet another straightforward Holmes pastiche, Pirie chose to dramatize a fictional interpretation of the early days of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s association with Dr. Joseph Bell.  As any Sherlockian can tell you, Joe Bell’s advanced observational diagnostic technique was to a high degree the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes deductive technique.  Add Ian Richardson as Bell and the result was solid entertainment, if not a particularly accurate representation of either Doyle or Bell.
Now, with the publication of the first book based on the premise, we find that Murder Rooms may have been better suited to the small screen than the printed page.  In The Patient’s Eyes, Pirie repeats many of the events that lead up to Doyle’s association with Dr. Joe Bell, while eliminating the key details of the previous television program’s plot. Once the reader has been brought up to date, we move on to the basics of this new story. Once again young Conan Doyle, recently moved to Southsea, is drawn into a mystery and romance, in this case involving a patient named Heather Grace. Doyle finding himself out of his depth, calls on his old mentor Dr. Bell for assistance. The main plot itself is essentially derived from The Solitary Cyclist with elements of The Speckled Band and A Case of Identity thrown in for good measure. Enough original material is mixed in to keep the jaded Sherlockian reader engaged, although the story concludes with a fairly predictable “twist” ending.

The writing is enjoyable and the plot structure is such that the reader is nicely drawn along without enduring any dry or tedious bits; making for a perfectly solid mystery novel in its own right. The problem with the book, and the entire premise really, is that this is a Sherlock Holmes story…that isn’t a Sherlock Holmes story. Pirie has created two characters in a Sherlock Holmes/Watson mold that just happen to be named Dr. Joseph Bell and Arthur Conan Doyle, with very little bearing on the real-life counterparts to those names. By making Bell the ‘living’ embodiment of Holmes, he has unfortunately robbed Doyle of any creative spark. It is one thing to credit Bell with inspiring the deductive technique used by Holmes, but it is quite another to present Bell as being Holmes in the flesh, requiring next to no modification to become Holmes of the printed page.

So, the book is basically a good read although far more derivative of the Holmes stories than the initial
Murder Rooms program itself. The book would have been just as good had the characters been named something entirely different as I never got a sense of the real Doyle or Bell from their representation here. We’ll have to wait and see how it translates to the small screen, as I gather that this will be a part of the next series of the Murder Rooms program. With Ian Richardson adding his unique charm to the dialogue, perhaps it will work a touch better!
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The Patient's Eyes: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes
By David Pirie
Released: May 24, 2001 ISBN: 0 71267 0890 Publisher: Century
Price: £12.99 
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Review copyright © Charles Prepolec 2001. All images are copyright their respective owners and are used here for review purposes only. Please do not duplicate images without permission.