The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Jack Tracy’s ‘The Published Apocrypha’

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Jack Tracy’s ‘The Published Apocrypha’

I am bringing back The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes for a Doyle-centric run in April. Getting in the mood, here’s my review of Jack Tracy’s cornerstone book, Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha.

Sherlockians like to hold the Canon (Doyle’s sixty Holmes stories) in the same esteem that Christians hold the Bible. So it should come as no surprise that there are some works by Doyle that are comparable to apocrypha. The term refers to early Christian writings not included in the Bible.

Jack Tracy, author of the superb Encyclopedia Sherlockiana, collected some authentic and near-authentic Holmes works that are not part of the Canon. Few books made up of Holmes fiction can justifiably sit on your bookshelf next to Doyle’s short stories and novels about the wisest and finest man Dr. Watson ever knew. This book should be the very first one.

No one who has looked at Tracy’s Encyclopedia can doubt his Sherlockian scholarship. He utilizes his vast knowledge in an efficient and readable way in Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha. Each section begins with info about the writings that follow. Interesting and “must know” details set the stage for the pieces themselves.

For instance, chapter one contains threw short-short Holmes works. Doyle wrote the first (“The Field Bazaar”) for the Edinburgh undergraduate magazine. “How Watson Learned the Trick,” in which Doyle actually lampoons himself, was composed for Queen Anne’s dollhouse.I wrote a Christmas version of this little story.

“The Adventure of the Two Collaborators” followed upon the disastrous Jane Annie, a play co-written by Doyle and Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie. Barrie wrote this little parody and gave it to Doyle.

Four well-written pages tell the reader why and how these three parodies came about. There follows the full text of the stories. The book follows this pattern, and it is an accessible way to present the contents.

Next are two Doyle stories: “The Man with the Watches” and “The Lost Special.” Both were published in The Strand in 1898: after “The Final Problem” and before Holmes’ temporary revival in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Both tales include an unnamed amateur detective who could easily have been turned into Sherlock Holmes. The great Edgar W. Smith argued that these two tales should have been included in the Canon as Holmes adventures. Doyle may have killed off Holmes, but it appears he wasn’t quite through writing about him. Well, or at least writing the same types of tales.


Next is my favorite chapter, William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. There is a fascinating mini-history about Gillette’s two Holmes plays: Sherlock Holmes; A Drama in Four Acts, and The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes. Then we are treated to the full text of both plays. This book is worth the price for the Gillette plays alone!

In a natural progression, Doyle’s two Holmesian plays follow. A half dozen pages tell about the creation of The Speckled Band, and The Crown Diamond. The first is a good play and was successful on stage. The second: not quite a keeper.


Hesketh Pearson found the outline for an unwritten Holmes story when he was researching his biography of ACD. That short outline is included in this book. I don’t think it would have been much of a Holmes tale. Sherlockian Robert Cutter turned it into a pastiche, The Adventure of the Tall Man.”


The book ends with “The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted.” Pearson also discovered an entire previously unknown Sherlock Holmes tale in 1942. The Doyle estate (always quick to try and make a buck) surprisingly enough resisted pressure to publish it. Finally, in 1948, they accepted an offer from Cosmopolitan and it was published.

Then the bad news: Arthur Whitaker said that he had written the tale and sent it to Doyle in 1910, hoping it would become a collaboration. Doyle declined and suggested Whitaker rewrite is as non-Holmes tale. Finally, he purchased it for 10 pounds. Doyle set it aside and never used it. Whitaker produced the carbon copy of his typescript, as well as Doyle’s own hand-written letter in which the author had offered to buy the script.

The Doyle Estate refunded some of the money they received for selling the story and Whitaker was paid 150 pounds to be quiet about the affair. He died not long after and the matter was dropped by all parties. Cosmopolitan never admitted the story wasn’t by Doyle, and the Estate had no comments. I wrote an essay about the whole thing, which you can read here.

Tracy’s book is valuable alone for the fact that it was the first reprinting of Whitaker’s table since a 1949 appearance in Britain’s The Sunday Dispatch over 30 years before.


In short, The Published Apocrypha is almost The Canon and should be nestled close to Baring-Gould’s or Klinger’s Annotated versions of the stories on your Sherlockian (or Holmesian) bookshelf. I thoroughly enjoy my copy. It’s an important book for any Sherlockian to have.

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Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.

He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE DEFINITIVE guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.

He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.


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John E. Boyle

I had heard of Mr. Tracy’s book but never seen it (or maybe I confused it with a different book) and this post answers a number of questions. Thank you, Sir!

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