Dr. Sam Johnson: Detector (1946)
The first author to write a detective series about a historical personage was probably Lillian de la Torre, who cast Dr. Samuel Johnson in the Sherlock Holmes role, with James Boswell as his Watson, for a 1943 short story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. First collected in book form in Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector (1946), the series would eventually fill four volumes.
Head for the Mystery shelves in your local bookstore today and you'll find stacks of historical mysteries and everyone from Jane Austen and Henry Adams to H. L. Mencken solving crimes. But the subgenre started with Lillian de la Torre [Bueno] and may never be done better. For one thing her heroes, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, naturally lend theselves to a Holmes, the demanding genius, and Watson, the star-struck straight man, dynamic. Indeed, one would not be the least bit surprised to discover that the true life figures inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. For another, having Boswell narrate the adventures obviously fits quite naturally and the author does a terrific job of aping his style. It all makes for terrifically enjoyable reading.
-LILLIAN DE LA TORRE (Stop You're Killing Me)
-REVIEW ESSAY: Murdering History: How the past became fair game for detective stories (Jon L. Breen, 01/03/2005, Weekly Standard)
-ESSAY: ON CREDULITY AND BOSWELL’S GHOST (James V. Schall, S. J., The Saint Austin Review)
Book-related and General Links:
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd