Much of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle’s popularity today stems from his vivid description of late-Victorian London. From the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 to the start of World War I in 1914, Britain was the dominant military power in the world. Also a commanding imperialist power during this period with colonial territories throughout the world, it was during this time that it was boasted that, “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” As a result, London was both the world’s largest, most populous city and the center of the most extensive and powerful empire in history by the end of the 19th century.

Victorian London was also a city that was cloaked in mystery: a place of dark fogs, horse-drawn carriages, and Jack the Ripper, perhaps the world’s most famous serial killer. In other words, even though London at the end of the 19th century was the de facto capital of the world, Londoners were still deeply interested in their city’s dark undercurrents. Readers today find this mix of power and mystery fascinating and share with Conan Doyle’s contemporaries a love for the way in which the intellect of Sherlock Holmes cuts through the shadows and fog, illuminating the darkness with the power of pure reason.