In this novel, Doyle strongly adheres to the axiom “write what you know”. In what seems more akin to a biographical piece, he gives us his thoughts (albeit via the fictional character John Smith) on a wide range of subjects - be it medical, art, literature, religion or war.
The medical bits seemed a bit too bogged down in detail for my liking (but that is no doubt down to my ignorance on the subject and nothing less), but the rest was easy to follow. The conversations held between the main character, John Smith and the old campaigner who lived upstairs, proved to be a highlight for me.
Instead of completing a novel that he knew wasn’t working, Doyle instead chose to let the parts he liked slowly filter into his subsequent stories (something that Douglas Adams would come to do with his own unpublished material, nigh on a century later), with the novel ‘The Stark Munro Letters’ and the short stories that made up ‘Round The Red Lamp’ benefiting most.
Unfortunately the most damning verdict I can give on this novel is that it cut off suddenly mid-point and I did not mind in the least. If that had occurred with any of Conan Doyle's other novels, it would surely have affected me a lot more.