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Rennison, Nick 1955–

Rennison, Nick 1955–

PERSONAL:

Born June 19, 1955, in county of Yorkshire, England. Education: Graduate of Cambridge University.

CAREER:

Writer, editor, and bookseller. Has operated independent bookstore and worked for bookseller Chapter and Verse. Worked for bookstore chain Waterstone's, 1988-2000.

WRITINGS:

(Editor, with Michael Schmidt)Poets on Poets(nonfiction), Carcanet/Waterstone's (Manchester, England), 1997.

(Editor, with Michael Schmidt)The London Blue Plaque Guide(nonfiction), Sutton Publishing (Phoenix Mill, England), 1999.

(Editor)Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide(nonfiction), 5th edition, Bloomsbury Publishing (London, England), 2001, 6th edition, Bloomsbury Publishing/A & C Black (London, England), 2003, 7th edition, Bloomsbury Publishing/A & C Black (London, England), 2006.

Freud and Psychoanalysis(biography), Pocket Essentials (Harpenden, England), 2001.

(Editor) Kenneth and Valerie McLeish,Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to Crime Fiction(nonfiction), revised edition, Bloomsbury Publishing (London, England), 2003.

Contemporary British Novelists(nonfiction), Routledge (New York, NY), 2005.

Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography(fiction), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2005.

(With Richard Shepard)100 Must-Read Crime Novels(nonfiction), Bloomsbury Publishing/A & C Black (London, England), 2006.

100 Must-Read Classic Novels(nonfiction), Bloomsbury Publishing/A & C Black (London, England), 2006.

(With Stephen E. Andrews)100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels(nonfiction), Bloomsbury Publishing/A & C Black (London, England), 2006.

(With Andrew Holgate)Lost London(nonfiction), Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2006.

The Book of Lists: London(nonfiction), Canongate Books (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2007.

Roget: The Man Who Became a Book(biography), Pocket Essentials (Harpenden, England), 2007.

(Editor)The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes(short stories), revised edition, No Exit Press (Manchester, England), 2008.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including New Statesman and Bloomsbury Publishing's online magazine. Former editor,Waterstone's Books Quarterly.

SIDELIGHTS:

Nick Rennison has written or edited numerous volumes on literary topics, covering subjects as diverse as poetry and crime fiction. He tells the "life story" of the character who is perhaps literature's most famous crime-solver in Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography. Rennison writes as though Holmes, the great British detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle in the late nineteenth century, were a real person. Also discussed in the book are others who populate Conan Doyle's stories—Holmes's colleague and friend Dr. John Watson, brother Mycroft Holmes, and adversary Professor Moriarty, and perhaps the only woman who ever impressed him, Irene Adler. Rennison intermingles these characters with real-life figures, including Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud, Jack the Ripper, Winston Churchill, and Conan Doyle himself, who appears as a literary agent who helps Watson publish his chronicles of Holmes's cases. The book not only recounts those cases but juxtaposes them with historical events and fills in other details of the sleuth's life, depicting him as the product of a lonely childhood who dabbled in acting before making detection his life's work. It touches on topics that have long been debated among Holmes fans. These include his whereabouts during a period when he was presumed dead (Rennison has him sent on a government mission by Mycroft, a high-ranking bureaucrat) and his sexuality (despite his lack of interest in women, he was not gay, the author asserts). To make the book further mimic a biography, Rennison gives his story footnotes and a bibliography that is a mix of real and made-up sources.

Other writers have followed Conan Doyle in writing stories with Holmes as a character. Several reviewers of Rennison's work noted that they understood the enduring fascination with Holmes that motivates writers to continue building tales around him, and some thought Rennison had crafted an engaging pseudobiography. "This is a thoughtful and fun addition to the Sherlock Holmes canon," related Dana Cobern-Kullman in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic commented that the book "will intrigue Sherlockians and non-Sherlockians alike," while Library Journal contributor Susan L. Peters deemed it "a wonderfully clever read."

Charles Taylor, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that "Rennison may not be the first author to treat Holmes as a real historical figure, but a ‘biography’—with all of its historical context—is still a swell idea." The problem, according to Taylor, is that the project's execution is somewhat lacking. Taylor quoted Rennison's introduction as saying the author aims to demonstrate that "the ambiguities of Holmes's character mirror those" of the Victorian era. The reviewer reported, though, that rather than "showing how [Holmes] clashed or dovetailed with the sensibility of his age, he instead assigns the detective a series of Zelig-like cameos on the fringes of history, both grand and tawdry." London Guardian reviewer Alfred Hickling had a different reservation, characterizing Rennison's story as "stolid and dependable" when it could have been highly imaginative. However, he praised Rennison's handling of Holmes's "hiatus," the time when he was believed to be dead, saying the author "rejects some of the more outré theories" and "constructs a plausible argument."

Kirkus Reviews critic Thomas Leitch dubbed the work "neither fish nor fowl," not a biography and not a novel, and thought the characters "never come to life on their own." Nonetheless, he found the book "a tour de force that combines jaw-dropping inventions … with sober revelations that look and feel like the products of careful research." Taylor, despite his objections to some aspects of the story, noted that toward the end, Rennison "makes us mourn for the detective." The reviewer concluded: "Two centuries hence, can we imagine any contemporary fictional characters inspiring such an act of love?"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Australian Library Journal, August, 2002, Sally C. Anderson, "Got Any More Like This, Then?," p. 277.

Biography, Spring 2007, Charles Taylor, review of Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography.

Bookseller, July 13, 2001, Danuta Kean, interview with Nick Rennison, p. 64.

Guardian(London, England), November 26, 2005, Alfred Hickling, "Mycroft = Moriarty," Guardian Review Pages, p. 16.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006, Thomas Leitch, "Neither Fish nor Fowl," p. 918.

Library Journal, September 15, 2006, Susan L. Peters, review of Sherlock Holmes, p. 61.

New York Times Book Review, November 12, 2006, Charles Taylor, "Baker Street Regular," p. 59.

Publishers Weekly, September 4, 2006, review of Sherlock Holmes, p. 38.

School Library Journal, February 2007, Dana Cobern-Kullman, review of Sherlock Holmes, p. 149.

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