Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a keen sportsman -and inded once displayed his cricketing prowess by taking the wicket of the era's greatest batsman W G Grace .Boxing was an especial interest and he wrote several fine short stories about the sport ;these were collected in the volume Tales of the ring (any Complete Short Stories or Collected Short Stories by Doyle will include them and they repay reading by devotees of the noble art in particular)
He also regarded himself as -in the literary sense -first and foremost an historical novelist and in Rodney Stone he sought to combine two of his passions -a novel about boxing in the first half of the nineteenth century .Stone is the first person narrator ,writing in 1851 ,and looking back on his boyhood in the first decade of the century .His father is a naval officer away fighting the French and he lives with his mother in a small Sussex village where his best frioend is Boy Jim ,the son of the local blacksmith "Champion"Harrison,a former highly regarded bare knuckle bruiser .Boy Jim aspires to follow his father into the ring but his mother is vehemently opposed to the whole idea and has frequently stopped her husband from returning to the sport .
The book opens with a leisurely account of the boyhoods but things change when Rodney is "taken up" by his well to do and well connected uncle ,the dandy and man about town Sir Charles Tregellis .He accompanies tregellis to London where he moves in copurt circles and meets The Prince Regent ,Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton and other key figures .Tregellis is more than he seems -a fop and snappy dresser with a languid exterior he is also a shrewd politican ,a palin dealing man and a member of "the fancy " ,the sporting crowd ,with a particular eye for a good pugilist . There is a hint of Sir Pecy Blakeney -the Scarlet Pimpernel-about him indeed .When challenged to produce a "champion "for a high stakes wager against his bitterest enemy he is forced through circumstances to use Boy Jim who noe re-enters Rodney's life
The fight is bitter and vividly described and before the novel drwas to its close a great wrong is righted and an ancient mystery solved .
The book is undeniably episodic and moves through childhood to adulthood ,from the ring to the court and has an old fashsioned "haunted mansion" theme too.It is kept going by lively weriting and likeable heroes and a truly vile villain
I disagree with Doyle's own assessment of his talents seeing his works of historical fiction as inferior to the Holmes and Professor Challenger books but nothing he wrote was negligible and this is apleasingly old fashioned book that repays reading for tjhose curious about sport,sporting history and the nineteenth century history of Britain