Review: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann

The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann

Published by Random House Audio, Vintage on January 2011
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Audiobook
Source: Bought
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4 Stars

Acclaimed New Yorker writer and author of the breakout debut bestseller The Lost City of Z, David Grann offers a collection of spellbinding narrative journalism.

Whether he’s reporting on the infiltration of the murderous Aryan Brotherhood into the U.S. prison system, tracking down a chameleon con artist in Europe, or riding in a cyclone- tossed skiff with a scientist hunting the elusive giant squid, David Grann revels in telling stories that explore the nature of obsession and that piece together true and unforgettable mysteries.

Each of the dozen stories in this collection reveals a hidden and often dangerous world and, like Into Thin Air and The Orchid Thief, pivots around the gravitational pull of obsession and the captivating personalities of those caught in its grip. There is the world’s foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes who is found dead in mysterious circumstances; an arson sleuth trying to prove that a man about to be executed is innocent; and sandhogs racing to complete the brutally dangerous job of building New York City’s water tunnels before the old system collapses. Throughout, Grann’s hypnotic accounts display the power—and often the willful perversity—of the human spirit.

Compulsively readable, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant mosaic of ambition, madness, passion, and folly.

I’m a big fan of Grann’s Lost City of Z (no, I haven’t seen the movie thankyouverymuch) so I was happy when this book came up in my To Read pile.

The book is a collection of previously released stories by Grann, most with updates. While some of them held my attention, white knuckled on the steering wheel, others were interesting but didn’t hold me. That said, Grann is a solid storyteller and there’s something for everyone in this collection. The title is a little misleading though. Be warned, there is only one story having to do with Holmes at all (the first one) so if you’re looking for investigative journalism about only Holmes or Doyle, this collection isn’t for you.

Frankly, truth is stranger than fiction and the scariest and most fascinating stories that Grann researched and reported on were ones that made me drive a touch slower on my commute home, hoping to finish the chapter by the time I got to my driveway. The Brand, a murderous prison sub culture in super max prisons; the vulnerability of the water tunnels and aqueducts under NYC; the mysterious suicide/murder of a Holmes scholar.

For some reason, lately I’ve been gearing more towards reading non-fiction and this was a good place to continue my journey. The stories were well done, all different and interesting, and reminded me of why I liked Grann’s Lost City of Z so much in the first place. His new book is out and I intend to grab the audiobook version of that one too.

Fans of non-fiction and true crime will devour.