Mr. Doyle and Dr. Bell

Engel, Howard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn
  • Date of entry: Oct-21-2003


In Edinburgh 1879, the famous actress Hermione Clery and her young lover are brutally murdered. A young man, Alan Lambert, stands accused of the crime, arrested after an expensive chase across the Atlantic. His brother, Graeme, appeals to Dr. Joseph Bell, professor of surgery and one of a dynasty in Scottish academic medicine. At first reluctant, Bell agrees to investigate the case and engages his medical student Arthur Conan Doyle in the task.

The story is told from Doyle's imperfect perspective. Beset by many obstacles from the police, the courts, and the Lambert family, Bell's investigation reveals a string of errors, including police sloppiness, suspicious evidence, and corruption in both government and law enforcement. On the day of the planned execution, Bell identifies the true killer and his motive, saving Lambert from wrongful death.


An interesting exercise in parody by an acclaimed writer of mysteries. The real creator of the Baker Street detective plays a youthful Dr. Watson to Dr. Bell's Sherlock Holmes. That the real Dr. Bell was indeed the original inspiration for the fictional Holmes merely adds to the fascination and further emphasizes the diagnostic parallels between detection of disease and detection of crime.

The Lambert story itself is loosely based on the real Glasgow case of Oscar Slater of some thirty years later. As a result, it is of historical interest not only for medicine, but for law and literature too. A light read, written in an accessible, detached, almost laconic style, it nevertheless serves as a sobering reminder of the power of accusation, in which the face-saving needs of a large bureaucracy argue forcefully against the dictum of innocence until proof of guilt.


Viking: Penguin

Place Published

Harmondsworth, UK



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