Seek and You Shall Find

The great sleuths of fiction were sometimes based on real-life versions of the characters. Of course, we have a couple of private eyes in our collection that fit that delineation.


Such is the case with Sir Arthur Conan  Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was inspired by two doctors.  Dr. Joseph Bell, for whom Doyle worked as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and Dr. Henry Littlejohn. Both doctors were surgeons of renown in Scotland and were often asked (as a team) to help with murder investigations by the police.

Dr. Joseph Bell
(Credit: Wikicommons)
Dr. Henry Littlejohn
(Credit: Wikicommons)

Dashiell Hammett also took his inspiration from a Scotsman. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was founded by Scottish immigrant Allan Pinkerton in the mid-1800’s. His men were hired as part of a national secret service during the Civil War successfully foiling a plot to kill President Lincoln (we have that book in our collection too! The Hour of Peril) and spying on the Grey Coats.  He was known to have hired female detective agents as early as 1856, when he hired Kate Warne. After the war, they were the prime agency in tracking down outlaws and putting them out of business, including Jesse and Frank James. They eventually expanded into security services as well and were used in many of the mine strikes, typically overhandedly and with tragic results giving the agency a black eye for awhile. In Hammett’s day, the agency was run by Pinkerton’s great-grandson, Robert Pinkerton II and it still exists today.

Pinkerton office (Allan’s son William seated) circa 1904
(Credit: Library of Congress)


The poet, the artist, the sleuth-whoever sharpens our perception tends to be antisocial. . . He cannot go along with currents and trends. -Alfred North Whitehead




Arian Osborne
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