Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Down these mean streets a man must go, my dear Watson

Aside from a woman 'kicking and punching a man to death and dumping his body in a skip after he tried to chat her up' last year, nothing sinister tends to come from suburban Norwood in South East London.

So it comes as a surprise that the creators of two of the coolest detectives ever – Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe – both lived within a few miles of each other in the seemingly sleepy suburb of Norwood (though not, unfortunately, at the same time). Just as his writing was taking off, and he was able to quit his not-quite-successful-career as a doctor to become a full-time author, Conan Doyle moved to Tennison Road in South Norwood, where he would live with his family from 1891-1894. He wrote a Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Norwood Builder (1903) partly set in the area and some of The Sign of Four (1890) is said to be too, though Conan Doyle hadn't moved to the area then, so it may be unlikely.

Last year the house in Auckland Road, Upper Norwood, where Raymond Chandler lived from 1900-1905, was given a blue plaque. The author of novels featuring the hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe, including The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, Chandler studied at nearby Dulwich College where his grounding in the classics apparently made his pulp novels a cut above the rest. Philip Marlowe got his name from Marlowe House (named after the writer Christopher Marlowe), which Chandler belonged to whilst at Dulwich College. He also overlapped, though never met, fellow author PG Wodehouse.

I love the idea of writers living near other and bumping into each other. Even if they lived in different times, as Chandler and Conan Doyle did, the concept of them meeting is tantalising. I can imagine them convening  together for coffee and cake and discussing how to surreptitiously kill someone with arsenic or deadly nightshade.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Plucked from the ether
Alice and Arthur

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