Einstein's lost daughter is a new case for Sherlock Holmes

PUBLISHED: 09:13 16 January 2014

Professor Albert Einstein in 1920.

Professor Albert Einstein in 1920.

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Albert Einstein is rightly regarded as one of the greatest minds of recent history, but it is far from popular knowledge that he also hid one of its most mysterious secrets.

Even today, it is not widely known that, at the age of 23, Einstein sired an illegitimate daughter, Lieserl, with Mileva Maric – a physics student he met at the Zurich Polytechnikum and later married. By the end of 1903, 21-month-old Lieserl had disappeared without a trace.

The young girl’s fate remains a subject of speculation to this day and researchers regularly trek to Serbia, the place of her ‘disappearance’, to investigate. Their findings have borne three major theories: Lieserl either died in an outbreak of scarlet fever, was adopted by family friends in Belgrade or was placed in a home for children with special needs.

Now, however, a Hampstead-born author has enlisted the greatest detective of them all to fictionally explore a fourth, scintillating possibility.

“I really liked the idea of a fictional character who an amazing percentage of the world thinks really existed – the great Consulting Detective Sherlock Holmes – in contention with a contemporary real-life person – Albert Einstein – whose reputation as a thinker has grown to near-mythic proportions,” says Tim Symonds. While researching ideas for what became Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Einstein’s Daughter, the 76-year-old writer found Einstein’s secret lovechild a perfect way to drive Holmes outside of his London “comfort zone”.

“When Einstein was pronounced Man of the Century in Time magazine, the American scientist Frederic Golden said, ‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation.’

“I felt the clue to Lieserl lay in a small, bustling Serbian town called Novi-Sad because the infant’s mother was brought up there. So just like my previous novel Sherlock Holmes And The Case Of The Bulgarian Codex, the new novel has Holmes and Watson plunging again into the mysterious depths of the Balkan Peninsular.”

Having read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels since he was a young child at boarding school, Symonds jumped at the chance years ago to write new stories for the detective and his loyal assistant Dr John Watson.

Ambitions threatened

Now onto the third of these stories, the new novel sees the dean of a Swiss university persuade Holmes to investigate the background of a would-be lecturer. To Dr Watson, it seems a very humdrum commission, but they become intrigued by the mysterious Lieserl and how her existence might threaten the ambitions of a technical assistant at the Federal Patents Office in Berne who goes by the name of Albert Einstein.

Mindful of the iconic status of Conan Doyle’s original stories, Symonds admits he tries to adhere more to their style than to newer realisations of the Baker Street legend.

“For decades, Hollywood and world cinema portrayed Sherlock as a man of great deductive power combined with intuitive flair, but essentially cerebral – he thought things out, sometimes not even leaving his comfortable chair at 221B Baker Street. Then came the wham-bang Holmes, all martial arts and physical aggro.

“My own comfort zone is with the original Conan Doyle Holmes, the Edwardian, striding like a colossus in the world of criminality, a true Redresseur de destins, a rectifier of destinies, but essentially thinking along logical lines.”

Of course, in recent times, the character of Sherlock Holmes has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity, not only with Robert Downey Jr’s Hollywood portrayal, but also with Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern-day interpretation in the BBC series Sherlock.

“It is certainly a most extraordinary phenomenon,” says Symonds, but it is one he believes is very welcome in contemporary times.

“It must mean that in a truly terrifying epoch in human history, with conflict raging everywhere, we want to believe that somewhere among us, hard at work, is at least one person who is single-minded and terrible in the pursuit and implementation of justice.”

Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Einstein’s Daughter by Tim Symonds is published by MX Publishing priced £9.23.

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