'What does Captain Ahab have in common with Sherlock Holmes?'
is the title of the book review about ACD's whaling voyage diary:
The reviewer offers high praise, indeed, in Sunday's New York Times Book Review.
I received both The Narrative of John Smith and Dangerous Work for my birthday. While John Smith is a short work and quite fascinating when seen against Doyle's other work, it was slog to get through. Nothing happens in that book. Nothing! The closest to anything even remotely resembling a plot is when Smith feels sorry for the woman artist living with her elderly father across the street and commissions some paintings. Maybe there'll be a romance, but no, she's engaged to be married and Smith finds her paintings unpalatable. Doyle's views, as expressed through the mouthpiece of Smith, are always interesting; he was both a man of his times and ahead of them. Dangerous Workmay may have never meant to be read by anyone but Doyle, but it was never a slog to read. We are introduced to a vanished world, vividly and economically. We also see a mind-set that is both Victorian and, sadly, very modern. This is most apparent in Doyle's 1892 essay "The Glamour of the Arctic" which is appended to the diary. Doyle knows the whale is a sentient being: "Nature, while depriving this unwieldy mass of blubber of any weapons, has given it in compensation a highly intelligent brain. That the whale entirely understands the mechanism of its own capture is beyond dispute." Yet the excitement of the hunt is there: "To play a salmon is a royal game, but when your fish weighs more that a suburban villa...it dwarfs all other experiences." We might think such a point of view would only belong to Col. Sebastian Moran, author of Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas, but Watson has expressed that sentiment as well. Doyle also recognizes the mercantile side of things: "What could it guess, poor creature, of laws of supply and demand, or how could it imagine that when Nature placed an elastic filter inside its mouth, and when man discovered that the plates of which it was composed were the most pliable and yet durable things in creation, its death-warrant was signed." The lists of animals killed during the Hope's 1880 voyage can find its counterparts here in the 21st century.
The book is also physically wonderful, the first half reproducing Doyle's diary and his drawing; the paper it's printed on feels great. It definitely should be read by anyone even remotely interested in ACD.
I hope you caught I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere episode 48 with Jon Lellenberg and Dan Stashower, Ronald.