Can there be two more quintessential British names than Arthur and George? Arthur, the legendary king; the madness of King George III. How many English boys are named Arthur or George, or both? And, let us not forget Saint George, who slew the dragon and is the patron saint of England, for there are plenty of "dragons" to slay in this novel. Saint George is also revered for his sense of honor, and honor is a recurrent theme in this beautifully wrought novel, published to critical acclaim in Great Britain in 2005.
The disclaimer on the title page clearly says it is a work of fiction, the characters fictional, and the names and incidents are used fictitiously. The "Author's Note" at the end makes it very clear, however, that letters and "quotations from newspapers, government reports, proceedings in Parliament, and the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" are authentic. This is a fictionalized dual biography. Bigger truths than mere historical fact are explored here.
In alternating passages, Arthur & George introduces us to two boys whose very dissimilar lives would suddenly intersect much later in life. Arthur's earliest memory was of the waxen corpse of his dead grandmother. He was permitted to give free rein to his imagination, his mother telling him endless stories of chivalry. Sent off to boarding school, he retold these stories, learning to stop at crucial moments and receiving an apple in payment for continuing. At university, Arthur met Dr. Joseph Bell at the Edinburgh Infirmary. Bell was renowned for using logic to diagnose medical patients, and it was this trait which was to later set the famous Sherlock Holmes apart from all other detectives.
George claims no early memory. A shy, dutiful boy, he is the only son of a Parsee who is married to a Scottish woman and is the vicar in a small village outside Birmingham. George is considered "dumb" in school until his poor eyesight is discovered and he is moved to the front of the classroom where he then excels but earns no friends. At Mason College, he studies the law but continues to live at home in strange circumstances. When his sister Maud gets sick, his mother moves into her bedroom and George sleeps in the room with his father who locks the bedroom door each night. He even uses his father's straight razor to shave. George is no sportsman and has no friends and little or no social skills.
Suddenly, vicious anonymous letters begin to arrive at the vicarage. They increase in number and intensity. Animals are mutilated in the fields, their bellies sliced sufficiently open so they bleed to death. George becomes the focus of the investigation and is jailed, but the letters and attacks continue. He is tried and convicted of harming the animals and sentenced to 7 years in prison.
While in jail awaiting trial, George was given a copy of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" by a new author. Years later George writes this now lionized author and includes a spate of news clippings about his case. The letter arrives at a propitious time for Arthur. His wife has just died and he is at loose ends because, due to the bedrock of chivalrous behavior instilled by his mother, he cannot decide when to marry again. He has loved another woman platonically for nine years while his wife was ill. The letter galvanizes him, providing a prod to action. It is the unraveling of this mystery and miscarriage of justice which propels this beautifully conceived novel forward.