The Real Sherlock Holmes sees a chronological and detailed account of the life of Victorian detective Jerome Caminada, Manchester’s first Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Superintendent. Finally revealing his story in full, author Angela Buckley traces back deep into the heart of Victorian Manchester’s criminal underworld. The biography begins with the birth of Caminada in Deansgate in 1844, which ironically, at the time, was the hub of crime in Manchester.
From a 24-year-old officer first starting on the beat in 1868, to getting his hand bitten by a man with no teeth, there was no shortage of drama in Caminada’s working life, as with Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The famous ‘Manchester Cab Mystery’ was the case which proved Caminada to be the ‘real’ Sherlock Holmes whereby a Manchester businessman entered a cab with another passenger, only to be found dead in the back of the cab by the driver later on that evening. Caminada persuaded a witness to provide damning evidence which led to the accused being found guilty, one of his most notable achievements.
Each chapter flows with ease, charting different cases or years in Caminada’s life. My own personal favourite was Chapter 7: ‘Gin Palaces, Gambling Dens and a Cross-Dressing Ball’, within which Buckley informs the reader of what a typical Saturday night was like in Manchester – filled with excessive drinking, debauchery and violence (not much different from today!).
The Real Sherlock Holmes not only narrates the life of Caminada, but provides an interesting insight into the general and criminal history of Manchester in the Victorian Period. Buckley provides great context to Caminada’s story, educating the reader of how it was possible to rise from financial hardship to wealth in inner city Manchester. The book is thoroughly interesting – a leisurely, yet well informed read. After ‘decades of silence’, Buckley has certainly voiced Caminada’s story again.
I spoke with author Angela Buckley to ask some questions about The Real Sherlock Holmes:
What is it about the Victorian period that fascinates you?
I find the contrasts and contradictions of the Victorian period endlessly intriguing. The Victorians embraced new inventions and groundbreaking scientific and technological developments, yet they believed in the supernatural and loved nothing more than a mystery. They were innovative, acquisitive and dogmatic, yet at the same time they could be fearful and anxious; there were often secret betrayals, hidden sins and even crime. I also love the feeling that the Victorians are just within our reach: they created our modern world and you don’t have to travel very far back in time to ‘meet’ them.
Who do you consider your audience for the book to be?
I hope anyone and everyone who has an interest in history, crime and detective stories will enjoy the book. My aim was to recount Detective Caminada’s extraordinary adventures with all the colourful detail of Manchester’s Victorian underworld, so that it would be an entertaining, as well as informative, insight into the city’s past and the life of this great super-sleuth.
Will you be attending the Manchester Histories festival and what sort of events will you be involved in there?
I’m delighted to be attending the Manchester Histories Festival and I’ll be giving a talk about Jerome Caminada during the Celebration Day, on Saturday 29 March. There will also be a tour of the city centre, based on the book, at 1pm on the same day, led by Emma Fox of Manchester Guided Tours.
What was the main difference between producing say an article and producing a book?
I think one of the main differences of a book is the sheer effort required to keep going, especially through the middle part, where it’s easy to let the dramatic tension slip. I was lucky with Detective Caminada’s story, as his life fell naturally into a clear narrative arc. A very positive difference from article writing is having the space to explore themes and ideas in more detail and I’ve focused on specific aspects of his work in each chapter.
There is so much detail in your book, how long did it take you to research? Where did you mainly draw your sources from?
The initial research took about six months. I started with Caminada’s own memoirs, published in 1895 and 1901, and then I used contemporary newspaper accounts and court records. The online newspapers at the British Newspaper Archive were invaluable and formed the basis of my work. I also used the court records, prison registers and city council minutes at the Greater Manchester County Records Office, in addition to the archive at the Greater Manchester Police Museum, which was my favourite place to work!
After writing your book, do you now feel some sort of attachment to Caminada?
Spending so much time with one person inevitably brings you very close to them and I feel a very deep attachment to Jerome Caminada, despite the fact that we’re not related. Visiting his grave for the first time, in Southern Cemetery, was an emotional experience, and when his real family got in touch from South Africa I had an instant connection with them, as if they were long-lost cousins.
What is it like to track the history of one specific person rather than specific period of time or an event?
Tracking the life of one individual is an enriching and hugely informative experience. By exploring their family life, work conditions and social environment, it’s possible to gain a much deeper insight into the time in which they lived. It can be frustrating though, especially when you hit a brick wall, such as with Caminada’s siblings, but it’s well worth the effort. It’s one of the aspects of my work on Jerome Caminada that I’ve enjoyed the most, as it really does bring the history to life.
The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen & Sword Books, RRP £19.99. To order a copy visit www.pen-and-sword.co.uk or call 01226 734222. Quote 421217 to receive 20% off and free p&p (UK customers only).