The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (Private Detectives & Other Miscreants)

We can go around and around all night about who the first fictional “private detective” was, but most of us, I think, will agree that Sherlock Holmes was the first significant fictional detective — his 1887 debut was a literary shot heard ’round the world that still reverberates over a hundred and thirty years later.

Holmes called himself a “consulting detective,” and yes, he took money to invesigate crimes on behalf of private citizens, on a freelance basis. To deny his very real influence on almost every fictional detective, private, public and amateur that followed would be mere folly. The infuriatingly rational sleuth and his faithful companion and narrator, Dr Watson, are a part of us now, forever associated in the public imagination with deerstalker caps, magnifying glasses, and hansom cabs wending their way through the gaslit streets and eternal fog of late nineteenth (and early twentieth century) London.

But the staggering success of Holmes and Watson pretty much guaranteed that they were not the only fictional private detectives chasing down clues and bringing villains to justice. They had plenty of rivals, from the ridiculous to the sublime; some still read today, and some who have slipped through the cracks of time, most deservedly. But not all.

Some of them were blatant ripoffs; others openly stressed how different they were from Holmes, emphasizing how ordinary and down to earth they were, or how much more peculiar and eccentric than Holmes they were. Gimmicks abounded. Some were women, some were even American. Most were private detectives of one sort or another, but a few were police officers or amateur sleuths.

In 1970, Hugh Greene (Graeme’s older brother) released an anthology of Victorian and Edwardian mystery stories that were published back in the day, and called it The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, reintroducing readers to many long-forgotten sleuths. The book’s success inspired an ITV television series of the same name, which dramatized several of the stories, and prompted Greene to release three similarly themed collections: Cosmopolitain Crimes: The Foreign Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971), The Further Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1973) and The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1978).

The name stuck, and there have since been several anthologies since  titled The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, edited respectively by Alan K. Russell, Graeme Davis, Stefan Dziemianowicz and Nick Rennison. Not surprising, really, since all these stories are in the public domain.

  • Sherlock Holmes
    by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Debut: 1887
    Like, I have to make a case here?
  • Miss Loveday Brooke
    Created by C.L. Pirkis
    Debut: 1883
    Arguably the first female private detective (and almost certainly the first created by a woman), Miss Brooke actually predated Holmes.
  • Eugene Valmont
    Created by Robert Barr
    Debut: 1890s
  • Martin Hewitt by Arthur Morrison
    Created by Arthur Morrison
    Debut: 1894
    One of the most successful of the rivals, the Hewitt stories often appeared in The Strand, alongside those featuring Holmes.
  • Miss Violet Strange
    Created by Anna Katherine Green
    Debut: 1895
    Nancy Drew’s grandmother? Often considered the first “girl detective.”
  • Dorcas Dene
    Created by George M. Sims
    Debut: 1897
  • Horace Dorrington
    Created by Arthur Morrison
    Debut: 1897
  • Dora Myrl
    Created by M. McDonnell Bodkin
    Debut: 1900
    A honest-to-goodness private detective, she rode bicycles and carried a gun. And then she got married…
  • Dr. John Thorndyke
    Created by R. Austin Freeman
    Debut: 1907
  • Craig Kennedy
    Created by Arthur B. Reeve
    Debut: 1910
    A scientific detective who uses new-fangled technological advancements like X-rays and microphones.
  • Miss Madelyn Mack
    Created by Hugh C. Weir
    Debut: 1914.
  • Max Carrados & Louis Carlyle
    Created by Ernest Bramah
    Debut: 1914.
  • Madame Storey
    Created by Hulbert Footner
    Debut: 1923.
  • Philo Vance
    by S.S. Van Dine
    Arguably the last true rival of Holmes (the last Holmes stories were published in 1927), Vance was a presumptuous, pretentious monocle-wearing upper class twit, who solved crime in New York City, and was for years America’s most popular detective.



You’d think “Rivals of Sherlock holmes” was a franchise or something, but it’s not. Besides collecting a bunch of public domain stories featuring various contemporary competitors of Holmes, and slapping “Rivals of Sherlock Holmes” on the cover, most of these anthologies have absolutely no connection with each other at all. They boast different editors and publishers and offer different commentary (if any at all), and many of the same stories are repeated over and over. Even the art work is often depressingly generic. You’d think these guys could at least come up with a more original title.

  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Buy this book
    Bodley Head, 1970.
    A pivotal book in the history of the genre, spotlighting those mostly British authors who dared, with varying amounts of success, to take on Holmes. Includes stories featuring Horace Dorrington, The Old Man in the Corner, Dr. John Thorndyke and Martin Hewitt.
  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    Cosmopolitain Crimes: The Foreign Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Buy this book
    Pantheon Books, 1971.
    Spreading his net further, Greene assembles some of Doyle’s more accomplished foreign contemporaries, including stories set in France, Switzerland, South Africa, Belgium, United States, Denmark, Austria, and Canada. Includes stories about November Joe and Colonel Clay.
  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    The Further Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Buy this book
    Pantheon Books, 1973.
    A second round-up of British authors, although this one steps away from the mean streets of London and ventures into the English countryside, with the stories mostly leaning more towards Christie than, say, Chandler.
  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Buy this book
    Penguin Books, 1978.
    The logical next step in the series, and an indication, perhaps, of things to come. Englishman Greene, feeling all smug and morally superior, states rather patronizingly in the intro that “Marlowe and Sam Spade could have walked into some of the situations and felt instantly at home” but he’s not wrong.
  • Russell, Alan K., editor,
    The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Forty Stories of Crime and Detection from Original Illustrated Magazines Buy this book
    Castle Books, 1978
  • Rennison, Nick, editor,
    The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Stories from the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime Buy this book Kindle it!
    No Exit Press, 2008.
  • Dziemianowicz, Stefan, editor,
    The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Buy this book
    Barnes & Noble, 2015.
  • Davis, Graeme, editor,
    The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: The Greatest Detective Stories: 1837-1914 Buy this book Kindle it!
    Pegusus Books, 2019.
  • Rennison, Nick, editor,
    More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Stories from the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime Buy this book Kindle it!
    No Exit Press, 2019.


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