Zach Dundas

Author of The Great Detective and Editor in Chief of Portland Monthly

Zach Dundas grew up in Montana, published ‘zines, played in bands, and made his start in journalism at the Missoula Independent. After working as an editor and reporter for Portland’s Willamette Week from 1999 to 2005, he wrote for Monocle, Maxim, Good Magazine, and others. His first book, The Renegade Sportsman, was published by Riverhead Books in 2007. He is now editor-in-chief of Portland Monthly and a correspondent for Monocle.

About the Book

The Great Detective, published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, explores the pop-cultural history and multimedia evolution of Sherlock Holmes, from 1887 to 2016. The Globe and Mail called the book “an entertaining new cultural biography.” In the Washington Post, acclaimed Arthur Conan Doyle biographer Daniel Stashower wrote: “Dundas knows his material, and he’s an amiable guide, placing more than a century of Sherlockiana into an appealing modern frame. Most surprising of all, he finds something new to say.”

The Great Detective appeared in paperback in June 2016, was nominated for an Agatha Award, and received the Sherlock Holmes Society of London’s annual literary award.

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The Great Detective — Excerpt


I climbed a narrow staircase in an old house in London, trying to count the steps. Eleven, twelve, thirteen—but I was amid a large and constricted crowd, and its jostling interrupted my humble attempt at observation. We started and stopped as we climbed toward our shared destination, a small and dimly lit room furnished in a style out of time.

This chamber's walls bore florid, red-flocked paper, punctuated by shelves overflowing with dusty and battered books. A pair of fusty old chairs flanked the hearth. And everywhere, everywhere, clutter in its most elaborate form: old chemical instruments, exotic mementos, a violin, a curved pipe of intimidating size, a funny hat with brims on either side, a Persian slipper. Why just one Persian slipper?

I navigated a gigantic children's science museum, a place of glaring light and thousands of very young, very loud voices, in my adopted city, Portland, Oregon. The noise faded as I made my way into a series of vast half-darkened rooms. At last I entered a much smaller space -- again, lined with ancient tomes and strange apparatuses, once more centered on a fire's hearth and mantel and two empty old armchairs, obviously placed for the cozy convenience of two intimates. Above the fire, a jackknife—a jackknife?—impaled a pile of disheveled papers to the mantelpiece.

In a far corner stood a life-size bust rendered (or so it appeared) in pale wax, depicting a tall man of aquiline features and commanding presence, his high forehead punctured by what looked— with just a little imagination—like a bullet wound.

On another day, I ducked out of the rainy streets of a neighborhood not far from my place of employment in Portland's city center, a sleepy pocket of old Masonic halls, dowager hotels, throwback cocktail lounges, and brick apartment blocks, almost all built before the Great War. I entered an empty theater. The stage had a familiar look to it. Flocked wallpaper. Fireplace. Jackknife. Persian slipper. Violin.

I climbed the stage and crossed an imaginary line into 221B Baker Street, Marylebone, London, the home of Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective, and John H. Watson, his companion and chronicler. This theatrical set contained an agglomeration of Victorian, pseudo-Victorian, exotic, and just eccentric ephemera, piled and nailed up everywhere to achieve the effect of the legendary bachelors' lair first depicted in the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1880s.

A curious sensation, standing in a slightly ersatz reconstruction of a place that never existed. The real nonreal place where I stood was just the latest in an endless series of reconstructions of the 221B sitting room, the starting point for most of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective adventures. In his stories, Holmes and Watson sit by that fireplace, awaiting the clients who come to tell them their peculiar and often deadly problems. Now, well over a century after the world's most famous tales of crime and deduction first appeared in print, a certain compulsion has developed around that room. Versions of 221B Baker Street crop up everywhere, all around the world. The creators often claim that their particular reconstruction is the most "authentic" or "accurate" -- though compared to what, they never say.

The lair of Sherlock Holmes might be a unique phenomenon: the world's only viral room. As I discreetly fondled the knife that impaled a stack of random papers on the Portland stage set, it seemed that I was not standing in a place so much as briefly inhabiting a revenant corner of Arthur Conan Doyle's mind -- a fragment of a long-dead man's imagination that somehow detached itself from his physical brain.


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In The Renegade Sportsman, published in 2007, Dundas explores the vibrant world of American underground sports, from classic-but-esoteric pursuits like fencing and the full-throttle Cresta Run to off-the-radar treasures like the TransIowa bike marathon and the roller derby title known, magnificently, as The Hydra.


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Literary Agent: Melissa Flashman, Trident Media, (212) 333-1518