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Sherlock: The Casebook - Book Review * 20 October 2012


The first official tie in book to BBC Sherlock arrives with a huge weight of expectation from loyal fans. Does it deliver?  Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes.

Sherlock: The Casebook has a difficult task to accomplish - to sate the hardcore while also attracting and informing the casual, in effect two sides of the same audience. First impressions when confronted with the book are those of mild surprise - it's smaller and more compact than anticipated, but also thicker as a result. Physically the whole book smacks of high quality production and attention to detail, from the silver accented dust jacket to the rich and suitably Sherlockian purple inner liner paper. This good start is extended once you delve into the content itself.

Guy Adams has crafted a fantastic, fun guide to the series. Throughout, it switches between behind the scenes material and fictional examinations of the episode plotlines from series one and two, taking the form of a scrapbook of material collated by John Watson throughout the cases and annotated with handwritten post-it notes between Sherlock and John - and others. In terms of photography, the book is richly illustrated throughout, though much of the imagery is previously released, either as press shots or as screenshots from the episodes themselves - a nice exception is a close look at Sherlock's headstone from The Reichenbach Fall, which confirms his Birthday as January 6th. All the imagery is deployed with such care throughout the overall design of the book everything you lay eyes on feels incredibly fresh. It's a grab bag of content that effectively covers all bases in an informative and entertaining manner.

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Looking at the behind the scenes material first, the book opens with an invisible introduction that effectively explains the genesis of the series, told through Adams' excellent journalistic prose and interviews with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Clean and precise, this material is chopped into sections and spread throughout the book, laying out casting, the creation of the pilot, the commissioning of the series and the reshooting of A Study in Pink from its original hour long form, examinations of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and Jim Moriarty (all with interviews with Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Andrew Scott), the lead-in to the second series, and the creation of the narratives for A Scandal in Belgravia and The Hounds of Baskerville. None of this material is truly nuts and bolts in terms of the production of the series, but it communicates the creation and evolution of the show well, while also touching on the growth of its popularity online and in the media. Four of the episode sections - A Study in Pink, The Great Game, A Scandal in Belgravia and The Hounds of Baskerville - are closed out with our favourite part of the entire book, a spread detailing all the references, asides and in-jokes that spring from the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, including a couple that we hadn't spotted before (That's a re-watch scheduled then...). The only obvious omissions among all this are behind the scenes sections on the creation of The Blind Banker and The Reichenbach Fall - while the latter may be understandable due to the secrecy surrounding its resolution, the former is perhaps a little perplexing. In addition to the material directly relating to the series, there are extended sections on previous screen incarnations of Sherlock Holmes - examining the Basil Rathbone Holmes films, Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett - and a concise but detailed biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which draws from multiple sources while also pointing the reader to further material for study.

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On the flipside, there are the scrapbook sections, effectively making the book an episode guide with a twist. Instead of simply repeating everything we see onscreen verbatim, information on the page is presented as John's handwritten notes, newspaper clippings, police reports, text messages, and those aforementioned post-it notes from Sherlock and John. The result is something fresh, amusing, and at times informing, imagining up scenes that fill in some blanks - highlights include media reports of the slightly disastrous press conference held by Lestrade and Donovan at the start of A Study in Pink, and a police report of an officer arriving at the National Antiques Museum, where he encounters Sherlock and John immediately after the murder of Soo Lin during the events of The Blind Banker. Also included is a tour of features inside 221B that the pair narrates, pointing out various objects in the space, with some particularly wry comments about the famous bison skull. The post-it notes are maybe a little idiosyncratic at times but consistently amusing and occasionally laugh out loud funny, depicting the interaction between Sherlock and John with originality while also staying true to the character's voices. It's clear that Sherlock is painted as the instigator of their inclusion in the casebook's narrative, his input rife with pith and sarcasm, so by the time we reach the section dedicated to The Reichenbach Fall their absence is rather jarring - but the final page of the book punctuates the entire concept of the notes quite wonderfully, and in terms of that episode's overall narrative, rather tellingly too.

If you are a fan of BBC Sherlock then, it goes without saying that The Casebook is an absolutely essential purchase. Neither a dry making of book, nor a straight up episode guide, it's instead a robust, packed little book that fulfils a clear target of fan-service while appealing to those who may have watched the series only once. Obviously, and indeed expectedly, it comes with our very highest recommendation.

Sherlock Case Book Full Cover

You can order the book from BBC Books here. For international delivery information from the BBC Shop, click here.

You can order the book from Amazon UK here. For information on international delivery rates from Amazon UK, click here.