Houdini, the magician who debunked magic, could not bear to see the great rationalist [Arthur Conan] Doyle enchanted by ghosts and frauds. And so he did what any friend would: He set out to prove spiritualism false and rob his friend Doyle of the only comforting fiction that was keeping him sane. It was the least he could do.
In the darkest corner of a darkened room, all Sherlock Homes stories begin. In the pregnant dim of gaslight and smoke, Holmes would sit, digesting the day's papers, puffing on his long pipe, injecting himself with cocaine. He would pop smoke rings into the gloom, waiting for something, anything, to pierce into the belly of his study and release the promise of adventure; of clues to interpret; of, at last he would plead, a puzzle he could not solve. And after each story he would return here, into the dark room, and die day by day of boredom. The darkness of his study was his cage, but also the womb of his genius.
On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic.
On westminster Bridge, Arthur was struck by the brightness of the streetlamps running across like a formation of stars. They shone white against the black coats of the marching gentlefold and fuller than the moon against the fractal spires of Westminster. They were, Arthur quickly realized, the new electric lights, which the city government was installing, avenue by avenue, square by square, in place of the dirty gas lamps that had lit London's public spaces for a century. These new electric ones were brighter. They were cheaper. They required less maintenance. And they shone farther into the dime evening, exposing every crack in the pavement, every plump turtle sheel of stone underfoot. So long to the faint chiaroscuro of London, to the ladies and gentlemen in black-on-black relief. So long to the era of mist and carbonized Newcastle coal, to the stench of the Blackfriars foundry. Welcome to the cleasing glare of the twentieth century.