“Shaken. Not stirred, my dear Watson!” Imagine that! Two of England’s finest, fictional sleuths combined into one (well…technically, one sleuth and one secret agent). But…. what an amalgamation of mystery-cracking skills that character would be! All the prowess he would possess, all that charisma, and…all those brawns and brains in one tight package. The tuxedo-wearing secret agent who sports a deerstalker cap & smokes a pipe would likely drive around in his Aston Martin (with his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, of course), using the powers of deduction, observation, and hi-tech gadgetry to solve complicated international crimes. In all seriousness, though, what is it we find so compelling about these two literary (and cinematic) figures? Is it their mannerisms? Is it the way they speak or think? Or is it their unmatched confidence, competence, and prowess for stealthy problem-solving? Let’s look closer.
Sherlock Holmes is the brainchild of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle thrived as a boy on the tales of high adventure, history, and historical deeds that his mother read to him. He attended various schools and universities- including Stonyhurst College and Edinburgh University- where he rejected Christianity in favor of spiritualism, met a colleague named Moriarty (a name he’d later give to Holmes’ archenemy), and studied medicine5,6,7.
At Edinburgh, he met Dr. Joseph Bell, a physician who could diagnose his patients’ various conditions (and the histories and circumstances surrounding those conditions) with pinpoint accuracy8. Conan Doyle used Dr. Bell as his main source of inspiration for the now-renowned fictional detective from 221B. Arthur was married twice, he operated various medical practices, and, over the course of his career, he wrote 4 novels and 56 short stories. He served in the Second Boer War (1899-1902), for which England knighted him, and he passed away on July 7, 1930, in Crowborough (United Kingdom)9,10.
Sherlock Holmes. What an idiosyncratic, enigmatic character! “I’m brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix,” he tells his partner-in-solving-crimes. Holmes is about as left-brained as you can get. His soul isn’t overflowing with passionate, emotional, poetic feelings and thoughts, but, instead, it is jam-packed with cut-and-dry, objective information. Holmes knows chemistry, botany, and ballistics. He has a working knowledge of British law, an accurate understanding of anatomy, a “practical but limited” knowledge of geology, and he enjoys various sports (which include boxing, swordsmanship, and singlestick playing). He also loves to play the violin, he smokes tobacco, and he frequently uses opium. At the core of his cognitive processing is a potent mixture of deep observational skills, skepticism, and probabilistic thinking. At every crime scene, he takes with him a magnifying glass- situating him at the forefront of forensic science.
In A Study in Scarlet (1887), when Dr. Watson (Conan Doyle’s literary stand-in for the readers) initially meets Mr. Holmes, Holmes says right off the bat, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” How did Holmes know that? Holmes observed that Watson had the “air of a military man.” His face was dark and yet his wrists were pale (indicating he was deeply tanned). Watson had a “haggard face” that clearly showed years of sickness and hardship, and he carried his left arm in a “stiff and unnatural” manner (indicating that he’s been injured). Holmes knew Watson was involved at the Battle of Maiwand (July 1880), during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
What are some of his other brilliant deductions, observations, and conclusions? In The Sign of Four (1890), he deduces that Watson has gone to the Wigmore Street Post Office to send a telegram based on his untouched stamps, postcards on his desk, and mud on his shoes. Holmes quickly sizes up Jabez Wilson in The Red-Headed League (1891): his right hand is “quite a size larger” than his left, and his muscles are very developed. He wears an arc-and-compass breastpin (the Freemasons’ emblem). Wilson has a tattoo of a fish (“quite peculiar to China”) and a Chinese coin on his watch chain. And, finally, his left cuff has a smooth patch near where the elbow rests upon a desk, and his right cuff is very shiny.
Jabez Wilson is a Freemason, he has worked manual labor, he’s been to China, and he’s done a lot of writing. In A Case of Identity (1891), Holmes deduces that Miss Sutherland is a short-sighted typist (who wrote a note before leaving her home) based on three observations: she has a double line above her wrist and dents of pince-nez on her nose, she is neatly dressed but wears half-buttoned odd boots, and her finger and glove are clearly stained with violet ink.
Holmes dabbles in typography, cryptography, ballistics, linguistics, and geography. He even detects clues based on the various types of cigar ashes he discovers. When one of his clients- in The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1891)- relays to Holmes that his father cried “Cooee” and spoke of a “rat” before dying, Holmes later deduces that a secondary character traveled to Australia. “Cooee” is an Australian cry, and “Ballarat” is a place in Australia. In The Adventures of the Speckled Band (1892), Holmes recognizes that the “speckled band” in question is a venomous Indian swamp adder (used to commit murder), and in The Adventure of Silver Blaze (1892), Holmes picks up that a criminal perpetrator was familiar with a given household based on a “curious incident.” The dog in the home didn’t bark at him.
Holmes embarks on numerous assignments. He works with every echelon of English society- lords, dukes, princes, kings, sailors, sultans, financiers, vagrants, widows…and so on! His missions take him across London and beyond. His warm-hearted and good-humored friend/partner, Dr. John Watson, always accompanies him, Inspector G. Lestrade of Scotland Yard frequently encounters him, and Professor Moriarty, a mathematical genius and criminal mastermind, ultimately faces off with him at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland (The Final Problem, 1893). Other notable figures in the Sherlock Holmes canon include Holmes’ beautiful, smart, assertive, and confident female (intellectual) rival, Irene Adler, as well as his equally clever, older brother, Mycroft Holmes.
Numerous incarnations of Sherlock Holmes have been produced over the years (both film and television). Some of the most memorable adaptations have included Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes franchise (2009, 2011) starring Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes) and Jude Law (Watson); BBC’s Sherlock (2010-2017) with Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Watson); and even Fox’s House (2004-2012) borrows from Conan Doyle’s classic. Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a brilliant but misanthropic physician with supernaturally proficient diagnostic skills (not unlike Dr. Joseph Bell). House even has a trusted friend and confidant that mirrors Dr. Watson—Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), an oncologist. House’s apartment address– 221B.
If Mr. Holmes is the detached intellectual powerhouse, then Mr. Bond is the inverse. Not unintelligent by any means, but far more proficient in the “brawns” category than Mr. Holmes. Bond—Ian Fleming’s epic brainchild—can accomplish virtually any task that England demands of him. He’s basically an honorary Navy SEAL.
Bond will run along a sky-crane. He’ll skydive, rock climb, scuba-dive, fight on top of a plane, fight on top of a train, bungee jump into a dam, and ride over rooftops on a motorcycle. Bond will mush down a snowy mountain on a single ski, drive a Ford Mustang sideways through an alley, leap off an oil rig, escape a crocodile-filled swamp, zoom across an ice lake in a convertible Jaguar, and he’ll perform plenty of other stunts that defy all laws of physics. He’ll do it all before dusting off his tuxedo and enjoying a nice vodka martini.
Bond is smooth…. very smooth! Women love him. He’s confident and unaffected, and his focus is singular- accomplishing the missions that MI6 assign him. The author- Ian Fleming- envisioned Bond as a “blunt instrument” of sorts. He doesn’t ponder his existence, question his vocation, or prevaricate to his friends or enemies. He simply acts on behalf of Great Britain!
Bond’s author, Ian Fleming, who was born May 28, 1908, in Greenstreet, Mayfair (London), came from an influential family11. His grandfather, Robert Fleming, was a successful banker and businessman, and his father was a Member of Parliament for Henley, Oxfordshire12,13,14. Ian studied at a preparatory school in Dorset (which he hated) and at Eton (which he loved)15. He also loved drinking, smoking, womanizing, gambling, playing cards, and driving cool cars. He studied languages at Tennerhof in Kitzbuhel (Austria), and he also matriculated at Munich University and the University of Geneva12,15.
Fleming became a journalist for Reuters News Agency, covered the trial of six engineers from the British Company Metropolitan-Vickers in Moscow (his first introduction to communist, Stalinist Russia), and, during World War II, served as a personal assistant (codenamed “17F”) to Rear Admiral John Godfrey12,16, 17. Godfrey was the Director of Naval Intelligence in the British Royal Navy12. Fleming’s various liaisons included the Secret Intelligence Service, Joint Intelligence Committee, Special Operations Executive, Political Warfare Executive, and he even worked with the “Father of American Intelligence,” Colonel “Wild Bill” Donovan (under Roosevelt). With Donovan, Fleming helped draft the blueprints for the Office of the Coordinator of Information12,18. The Office of the Coordinator of Information later became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and, eventually, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Fleming both led and assisted various covert operations, including Operation Goldeneye and the 30 Assault Unit (30AU)19.
When the war ended, he purchased a plot of land in Jamaica (which he fell in love with) and arranged the construction of a home he’d spend every winter writing in. The name of this home—Goldeneye20. Fleming was also an avid birdwatcher and derived the name of “James Bond” from an ornithologist whose guidebook he frequently read21. Some of Fleming’s most notable works include Casino Royale, Diamonds Are Forever, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, From Russia, With Love, Thunderball, Moonraker, and Dr. No. The film adaptations became beloved classics within the genre of espionage thrillers (and later franchises like Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Jason Bourne soon followed suit).
Sean Connery…Timothy Dalton…Roger Moore…Pierce Brosnan…Daniel Craig. We all know their names, and we know all the infamous villains who vied against Bond (Ernst Blofield, Le Chiffre, Raoul Silva, Auric Goldfinger, and so on), and we know all the beautiful ladies who accompanied him (Vida, Zora, Honey Ryder, Vesper Lynd, Tiffany Case, Pussy Galore, and more). We are intimately familiar with his “humble vehicles that transport him from point A to point B”: the Chevrolet Bel Aire, Bentley 3.5 Liter, Ford Mustang, Rolls-Royce Phantom III, Mercury Cougar XR7, BMW 518i, Ferrari F355, Jaguar C-X75, and… am I forgetting any? Oh yes… of course…the Aston Martin DB5!!
Last but not least- where would England’s favorite spy be without all his nifty gadgets- his briefcase, bug-detector, dragon tank, and Geiger counter…his jetpack, skyhook, biometric fingerprint scanner, cigarette gun, solar agitator, and “golden gun”? Bond wouldn’t be Bond without his poison pen, spy camera, wrist-mounted dart gun, revolving sofa, Dentonite toothpaste, bagpipe flamethrower with machine gun, avalanche ski jacket, explosive keychain, EMP watch, and magnetic bodysuit!
Mr. Bond has been to virtually every city and every climate on earth. He’s driven fast cars and piloted airplanes, and he’s seen Paris, Rome, Dubai, London, Moscow, Manila, and beyond. Bond is the kind of archetypal “cool” and “sexy” person every young man aspires to be!! Let the horns diminish and then increase in volume as we peer through the blood-covered gun-barrel view. 007 will take us on his next adventure!
Spies and Private Eyes
Espionage is virtually as old as civilization itself. A spy disguised as a diplomatic envoy allegedly infiltrated the court of King Hammurabi (who died in 1750 B.C.E.). The ancient Egyptians developed espionage, and acts of spying have been included the Bible, The Iliad, and The Armana Letters 1. Sun Tzu wrote about espionage and intelligence in The Art of War, and the Ancient Indians wrote about it in the Arthashastra. Spying continued throughout the Middle Ages in Europe (when European countries funded codebreakers to obtain intelligence through frequency analysis), as well as the Renaissance era in the Italian city-states (and Elizabethan England). The first notable American spies included Revolutionary War figures George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and Nathan Hale2,3,4.
In the 20th century, at the height of World War I, civilian espionage systems and national military establishments that worked with intelligence were mainstays of all great powers except the United States. The United States did pass the Espionage Act of 1917, though, aiming to prohibit interference with military operations or recruitment and prevent insubordination in the military. Ever since World War II, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used espionage and intelligence to confront the threat of the Soviet Union (USSR). Major cases included figures like Alger Hiss and Francis Gary Powers (whom the U.S.S.R. shot down during a 1960 U-2 reconnaissance mission).
What methods do spies (or, “assets”) typically use? They often employ concealment devices (the gun or camera hidden in a book, e.g.), bugs, wires, and secret surveillance. “Dead dropping” is another common method, as are impersonations and physical disguises (ball cap and shades, prosthetics and make up, e.g.). Spies also frequently set up inconspicuous “safe houses.” Many spies are given an “official cover” (an ostensible identity and/or role to play on their mission while keeping their real identity secret).
Before Sherlock Holmes became the world’s most prominent fictional detective, Edgar Allan Poe created his own– C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin solved crimes in both The Purloined Letter and The Murder in the Rue Morgue. Then came along Hercules Poirot from Agatha Christie’s various novels/novellas (including Murder on The Orient Express and Death on the Nile).
Holmes’ (fictional) forensic work was ahead of its time. 19th-century London constables would have had no understanding of blood types or DNA, but they may have been familiar with handwriting, footprints, handprints, and ballistics. The methods of acute deduction and observation are timeless skills. Just watch any police interview, and you’ll notice the detectives pick up on the slightest nonverbal cues that their interviewees give off.
What would you rather be- a spy or a detective? Maybe both. Both come with an enduring allure and sexy reputation. You operate confidently in the shadows, concealing who you really are and extracting clandestine intelligence/data.
It makes you wonder—how much of the world really does pass right under our noses? Think about the phones and computers we use…or AI systems like Alexa and Siri. How does Google Maps really work? The intricacies of the world we interact with daily are too complicated for most of us to understand (unless we specifically devote ourselves to a specific trade/vocation). This is true even for the most seemingly pedestrian innovations. How do our cars, televisions, microwaves, and refrigerators really operate? If we ever had to build an automobile or a washing machine or even a simple wristwatch from scratch, could we?
It would take superhuman talent for the average person to completely understand all the ins-and-outs of computer science, botany, chemistry, airplane mechanics, and so on. It’d probably take a figure like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond!! Until then, we can only try our best to deduce what we can from the unfathomable depths of the world around us and the multitudes of people who occupy it! Don’t worry, though, as it’s all “elementary, my dear 007s!”
Ñaco del Hoyo, Toni (November 2014). “Roman and Pontic Intelligence Strategies: Politics and War in the Time of Mithradates VI”. War in History. 21 (4): 401–421
 Danieli, Raymond Francis (April 29, 2010). “THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR SPY AS HERO AND THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR HERO AS TRAITOR”.
 Allen, Thomas. “Intelligence in the Civil War” (PDF). Intelligence Resource Program, Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved September 3, 2021
 “Espionage Facts”. International Spy Museum. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
 Pascal, Janet (2000). Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Baker Street. New York: Oxford University Press.
 Hume, Robert (4 November 2011). “Fiction imitates real life in a case of true inspiration”. Irish Examiner. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
 England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. Vol. 1a. United Kingdom: General Register Office. 1837–1915. p. 420a.
 “Fleming, Ian Lancaster, (28 May 1908–12 Aug. 1964), writer”. WHO’S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2007.
 Gant, Richard (1966). Ian Fleming: Man with the Golden Pen. London: Mayflower-Dell.
 Chancellor, Henry (2005). James Bond: The Man and His World. London: John Murray.
 Rankin, Nicholas (2011). Ian Fleming’s Commandos: The Story of 30 Assault Unit in WWII. London: Faber and Faber.
 Griswold, John (2006). Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations And Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse.