Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh on May 22, 1859, the third of ten children. Early on, he evinced a talent for storytelling, wowing teachers and friends in Jesuit school with his yarns. His first publication came in 1879 with "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley" in the Chambers's Journal.

At the same time, Doyle pursued a career in medicine at Edinburgh University, going on to become a surgeon of some renown at Southsea, Portsmouth. While a medical student, he worked with Dr. Bell, who was exceptionally observant. Doyle thought he would write stories, said Doyle, "in which the hero would treat crime as Dr Bell treated disease and where science would take the place of chance."

In a series of stories—starting with A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four—Doyle produced the memorable character, Sherlock Holmes, a detective who relied on facts and evidence rather than chance. In 1891, six "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" showed up in Strand magazine, with six more appearing the next year. By 1893, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, as the collected stories were now called, was a huge hit. The public mourned Holmes' death in "The Final Problem." Doyle changed his decision to pursue more serious literary endeavors in 1901, when finances and public pressure yielded The Hound of the Baskervilles. The same year that The Hound of the Baskervilles was published, Doyle produced a piece of propaganda on the Boer War, and the author was knighted for his efforts.

Doyle continued putting out Sherlock Holmes stories, including the collected Return of Sherlock Holmes. Later in life, when his son was killed in the first World War, Doyle devoted himself to his chosen faith, spiritualism. The notion of life after death and the idea of psychic abilities inform the character of Doyle's famous detective. Sherlock Holmes is a man who can see beyond appearances and link ostensibly unrelated facts into a coherent whole.

The Sherlock Holmes stories also owe a debt to Edgar Allan Poe, who is often credited with having created the modern detective tale. The Gold Bug (1843), The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842–1843), and The Purloined Letter (1844) are all, in a sense, precursors to Conan Doyle's detective stories.