Review: 'Paddington Pollaky' Private Detective

Sleuth Truths


So ubiquitous have the stories become of Sherlock Holmes and his pipe-smoking, deer-stalker profile, that many tourists visiting London believe that the fictional detective did actually inhabit 221b Baker St.

Even so, there were real 19th-century private detectives whose exploits brought them fame. Of these, none stood out more than Paul Ignatius Pollaky - a Holmes-esque figure whose life was worthy of the descriptive powers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Indeed, there is speculation that Polacky was the inspiration for the tales of Sherlock Holmes. And, in Bryan Kesselman's book, 'Paddington Pollaky' Private Detective (The History Press, £12.99), the accomplished, eccentric sleuth whose life story he has written is described as "the real Sherlock Holmes".

With a forensic investigation itself worthy of a clue-gathering master, Kesselman has discovered that Pollaky was born the son of a synagogue caretaker in what was then Pressburg in Hungary, now the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, before coming to London where he took rooms in Paddington.

Kesselman has unearthed much of Pollaky's correspondence, which allows us to follow his story in the detective's own erratic prose - reading his letters, you can almost hear his accent.

Pollaky investigated confederate agents in Britain at the time of the American Civil War and amassed evidence of aliens living this country. He also acted to foil those involved in sex-tracking and searched for abducted children.

Many tourists believe that Holmes did actually inhabit 221b Baker Street

He was also the London correspondent of the International Criminal Police Gazette, and was given to writing cryptic messages in the agony columns of The Times. He was even mentioned in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.

Kesselman has done well to uncover so many deeds of derring do of a man whose life deserves to be celebrated.

Although he has done so in an academic style that relies heavily on verbatim contemporary accounts, his is still a fascinating story, perfect material for a TV costume drama - you heard it here first.

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