Back in February 2015, The Telegraph reported that a lost Sherlock Holmes story had been found. The lost Holmes story had been part of a booklet to help save Selkirk bridge, an event that Conan Doyle did attend and speak at, and was discovered in an attic. The fact-checking on this lost story was perhaps not all that it could have been and prominent Sherlockian, Mattias Boström has written publicly denouncing the story as Conan Doyle’s. It is, he says, very obviously a parody (and not the best by a long shot). His blog post on this can be read here.
Curiously, this was not the first instance of a discovered Conan Doyle manuscript being published under his name but was not authored by him. In my research I have found various accounts, all slightly differing, on the publication of ‘The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted’. In Jack Tracy’s book Sherlock Holmes The Published Apocrypha he states that Conan Doyle’s biographer Hesketh Pearson discovered the MS in Conan Doyle’s papers in 1942 and, believing it to be genuine, showed it to the family who agreed its authenticity. Another account I have seen says that Adrian Conan Doyle found the MS, but the first version seems to be the most accepted.
‘The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted’ was held by the family for a number of years and prominent Sherlockians, such as Vincent Starrett, publicly requested that manuscript be published. The family did not want to publish it during the war and so held it back until 1948 when it was published in Cosmopolitan in the US and then in the UK paper, The Sunday Dispatch in January the following year. It was published under Conan Doyle’s name, but it was soon noticed by a retired architect, Arthur Whitaker, who recognised the work as his own.
Whitaker had written and sent Conan Doyle the MS in 1910, hoping to collaborate with the famous author on a Holmes story. It was a serious pastiche and attempted to follow the canon and Conan Doyle’s style closely. Conan Doyle had very gently refused Whitaker’s offer, suggesting he re-write the story using his own characters, but if not then he would buy the storyline from Whitaker for £10. Whitaker accepted the money, though Conan Doyle never used the story.
When Whitaker made his claim to the MS in 1949, ACD’s family were reportedly very angry and threatened legal action, claiming Whitaker could not prove the MS as his. However, when Whitaker produced a carbon copy of the typescript, as well as the letter from Sir Arthur, the Estate were forced to accept that the MS was Whitaker’s and paid him £150. The family never commented on the mistake, neither did Cosmopolitan, though apparently The Sunday Dispatch did.
What this story goes to prove is that everyone loves a good lost manuscript story. The thought that there could be more Holmes stories, written by Arthur Conan Doyle is an opportunity too exciting to miss out on. This excitement, however, can lead to hasty mistakes. It also reveals that the quality of pastiches (or fanfic, whatever you wish to call it) can be very high and almost indistinguishable from the real thing.