It is difficult to kill the man from 221B Baker Street.
Arthur Conan Doyle tried to finish off Sherlock Holmes, when he sent him tumbling down into the foaming waters of the Reichenbach falls along with his great rival, Professor Moriarty. A reader outcry forced a reluctant Doyle to resurrect Holmes three years later in The Adventure of the Empty House, with the helpful information that the detective had bided his time by hiding in Tibet. But finally, Doyle had his way; his fictional detective eventually took his last bow.
Now, more than 100 years later, comes the news that Doyle’s estate has commissioned Anthony Horowitz to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel. This week also saw the announcement of the second new-age James Bond novel, to be written by Jeffery Deaver (of Bone Collector fame), which comes after the resurrection of the Bond franchise in the 2008 novel by Sebastian Faulks, Devil May Care
That the world is still keen on the next Holmes mystery and Bond adventure may seem puzzling. After all, the world has changed in myriad ways since the originals were written.
The world has seen many great fictional detectives and spies in recent decades. Writers from all over the world have immeasurably enriched crime fiction, especially the Swedes. But the protagonists of modern crime fiction are often an angry, world-weary and cynical lot, as the genre breached old boundaries and became more sociological and political.
Writers no longer seek the moral certitudes of Holmes and Bond, one a creature from the high noon of Victorian imperial power and the other of the early Cold War rhetoric of good guys versus bad guys. True, their respective writers did shade them with elements of grey, be it Holmes’ cocaine addiction or Bond’s menacing misanthropy. Yet, the implicit worldview of Holmes and Bond was a simple one.
Such simplicity is often sought out by readers in troubled times. It explained the Jane Austen revival after the dot-com collapse and 9/11. It could explain the attractions of Holmes and Bond in a world of financial turbulence and the persistence of terror.
There is enough moral ambiguity out there. We could look at Holmes and Bond as escapist antidotes to our times.
Why do Holmes and Bond continue to attract new fans? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org