Jarvis, Ian. Cat Flap. London: MX Publishing, 2017

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“The Stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost a fine reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime.”–SCAN

Sherlock Holmes is a master of disguise–not just in his use of dress, or make-up, or even fake jowly-bits. He can transform himself like few other men, to appear taller, or shorter, older or younger, or, well, not a man at all. This is why, in the realm of the detective story, you find him in so many different incarnations, under so many different names. In Ian Jarvis’ new MX series, he’s in 21st-century York, going by the name of Bernie Quist….

 

An Interview with Ian Jarvis:

 

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When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

I spent three decades as an operational firefighter in West Yorkshire where I wrote stories and magazine articles on a part-time basis from 1997. It’s only recently that I’ve become serious about this and swapped the fire hose for a laptop, partly due to my retirement, and the fact that a laptop is useless for extinguishing blazes. Any unknown new author who has tried to sign with a London agent knows it’s easier to become an astronaut, but I managed to find one for my first novel. Unfortunately, she couldn’t place the book and we eventually parted company. This, and a further two novels, were occult thrillers published by an American company. Cat Flap is something very different and was taken on board by MX Publishing, the world’s largest publisher of Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s a funny York-based urban fantasy.

How did you “meet” Sherlock Holmes?

Before I read the Conan Doyle’s books, I grew up with the old movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Jeremy Brett was the best and most accurate portrayal of Holmes, but my heart will always belong to this earlier pair, although why the genius detective would have Bruce’s character assisting him is a bigger mystery than any of his cases. Bumbling and dafter than a proverbial brush, Bruce’s Watson would make a wonderful friend, but he wouldn’t be your first choice as an ally when facing Moriarty or Dartmoor hell hounds.

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Aw, he’s shooting, though! Let’s give him that!

 

Why did you decide you wanted to write about Sherlock Holmes?

I’ve always had a huge love for Holmes and I decided to try a new take on the character with Bernie Quist – a different and original approach and hopefully both urban fantasy readers and Holmes fans will enjoy the idea. I wanted to write a series of novels with similar characters in a modern setting, but it had to be something a million miles away from the Sherlock television series. Quist, his assistant, and the other protagonists are likable and quirky, and the stories are humorous. Quist is a consultant detective operating from Baker Avenue in the city of York. His eccentric personality and deductive methods resemble Holmes and his assistant is named Watson, although this Watson is a black youth from a notorious housing estate and he’s definitely no doctor. The mismatched duo take on bizarre cases which invariably lead to the realms of the supernatural, a shadowy world Quist is all too familiar with. Reclusive and very much a loner, the consultant detective has a dark secret which eventually comes to light in the first novel Cat Flap.

What inspired you to write this particular book?

I’ve always been intrigued by the numerous sightings of big cats in the British countryside – the pumas and black panthers, such as the Beast of Bodmin Moor. The title of the book refers to the ‘flaps’ or minor panics surrounding these. To elaborate any further on this would be a spoiler. The novel is quirky and humorous without being an all-out comedy, and I wanted a title that was equally quirky and surreal.

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Look it up! It’s creepy. 10 year-old me is a believer.

Are you using Watson as a narrator?  Why or why not? If so, did you find it difficult to mimic his voice? Did you use any particular “tricks”?

There is no narrator, but much of the story is seen through Watson’s young eyes.

Can you provide a brief synopsis of your book?

The best thing here is to share the rear cover blurb…  A contemporary Sherlock Holmes, the eccentric Bernie Quist is a consultant detective in the city of York. Christmas is days away and, once again, the reclusive sleuth will be quietly celebrating alone. His new assistant Watson, a teenager from the Grimpen housing estate, has other ideas, mostly involving parties, girls and beer. Yuletide plans are halted when three chemists die and the fiancé of one hires Quist and Watson to look into her apparent suicide. After discovering the chemist wasn’t engaged, they’re drawn into the mystery when their employer is killed. Added to this, Watson has a puzzle of his own – Quist is clearly hiding something and he’s curious to know what. The investigation leads to a shady cartel of northern businessmen, a forgotten Egyptian cult and an ancient evil lurking in the medieval alleyways of York. Quist’s secret is also revealed, and Watson doesn’t know what terrifies him the most.

How would you categorize your book? Is it mystery, thriller, horror, romance…?

A humorous, supernatural detective mystery. Hopefully something for everyone there, apart from fans of cowboy westerns and spaceships.

 

 

What was the hardest part about writing your book?

The hardest part was to make it funny whilst still being believable. With comedies, the characters can get up to the most ridiculous things, but this had to be funny and still grounded in reality. I also wanted to include many tributes and nods to the Conan Doyle stories. Hardcore fans should enjoy spotting these. Watson, for example, lives on the infamous Grimpen housing estate – named after the Grimpen Mire in Hound of the Baskervilles and described there as one of the most awful places in Britain. Because of the modern setting, another main task was to keep this very different to the feel of the Sherlock television series. With the humour, the supernatural slant and various other factors, I’ve managed that.

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There may be nothing the Holmesian world loves better than a well-placed Easter egg.

Did your book require a lot of research? If so, did you uncover any especially interesting facts?

The Bernie Quist books are set in York. I’m fortunate to live a few miles from there which is very handy for visiting the locations and researching how plot points might work. I’ve travelled extensively, but this small city remains one of my favourite places by far. York rivals Prague, Vienna and Saltsburg for architectural beauty and medieval splendour. Every stroll through the cobbled streets and snickleways is a stroll through history, with each turn bringing you face-to-face with Elizabethan ramparts, Tudor buildings and ancient taverns. I’ve attempted to use the city as an actual character in the same way that the Morse and Rebus novels breathe life into Oxford and Edinburgh.

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Snickleways. An actual thing.

Can you share some of the reviews you’ve received for this book? 

5.0 out of 5 stars by Amazon Customer on 2 May 2017. Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase. Brilliant read. Will be buying the other books by this author

5.0 out of 5 stars. An excellent tale of a Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth. By Amazon Customer on 22 February 2017 Format: Paperback. An excellent tale of a Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth based in York – but with an unexpected twist ? Humorous with historical observations, and not a little intrigue. As you would expect from a “Conan Doyle type” – an excursion into the supernatural. Highly recommended !

5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars. By Matt on 22 February 2017. Format: Paperback. A fantastic novel with a twist or two. Five stars and a whole hearted recommendation. I can’t wait for the next one.

How did you feel when you first saw your book–in actual book form?

Hugely excited, that goes without saying. The cover is an excellent shot of the York Shambles by night, the narrow medieval street of Tudor architecture and cobblestones that winds through the centre of the town and features in the story.

What is your favourite Canon story and why?

The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s easy to see why this is the most famous and best loved of the Conan Doyle stories. It’s a truly fantastic novel. Many readers love the supernatural, and here they get their favourite detective involved in a seemingly paranormal mystery of ancient legends, misty moorlands and a terrifying spectral beast. A similar atmosphere permeates the Quist novels, but where the Baskerville hound turns out to be a real dog, similar to the ones owned by drug dealers on estates, the eerie situations Quist faces are genuinely paranormal.

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“You know, Watson, sometimes I want it to be an actual ghost.”

What is your favourite movie or television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and why? Were you inspired by any particular one of them?

As I mentioned, I love all the Rathbone movies, but I enjoy most portrayals of Holmes up to, and including, Sherlock. I’ve always had a soft spot for Billy Wilder’s “Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.” too. The superb music by Miklos Rozsa plays a big part in this. I think most writers imagine actors playing their characters and I originally had Basil Rathbone in mind for Quist, although the image and voice quickly transformed into Hugh Grant.

(Note: You can hear some of Rosza’s soundtrack for “Private Life” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5G2eEdznS2I)

Are you involved in any Sherlockian groups?

I read and post in various Facebook groups, but I’m not involved with any groups in the real world – so far.

Where can readers get a copy of your book?

Cat Flap is available through all the usual outlets – Waterstones, Amazon, the Book Depository, etc. The second in the series, The Music of Sound, is released by MX Publishing in September.

You can also find Mr. Jarvis on FaceBook, and here: https://www.ianjarviswriter.com/

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Next in the Bernie Quist series, out in September from MX

 

 

 

 

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Ryan, Richard T. The Stone of Destiny: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure. London: MX Publishing, 2017.

 

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One of the great things about Holmesian pastiche writers is their ability to find problems for their favorite detective almost anywhere. Today’s author reveals one of the most interesting source for an idea that I’ve encountered yet, and does something that not one of my interviewees has done in the five years this blog has been around: he adds (and answers) a question of his own!  Read on, and then pick up a copy of  The Stone of Destiny. It releases on June 5th and should be available online, as well as in select bookshops–Manhattan’s Mysterious Bookshop among them.

An Interview with Richard T. Ryan:

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How did you “meet” Sherlock Holmes?

I was a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. One of the men in my dorm had a large book under his arm. When I asked him what it was, he replied, “The Complete Sherlock Holmes.” He allowed me to borrow it that night, and the next day, I went to the bookstore and purchased my own copy. The first book I had published back in 1987 was a Sherlock Holmes trivia book. Obviously, the fondness that I felt for Holmes is still there more than 40 years later.

What is your favorite Canon story, and why?

My favorite novel is The Valley of Fear. The whole notion of Holmes aiding an American agent and then delivering his own brand of justice is intriguing. Plus, I just love the story of The Valley of Fear.  As for short stories, certainly one of my favorites is “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Irene Adler is such a great character, and she obviously impressed Holmes. As a result of our shared fondness for her, I have a small homage to her in The Stone of Destiny.

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What is your favorite movie or television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and why? Were you inspired by any particular one of them?

Although I am quite fond of all the Basil Rathbone films, I like the “Hound” best because it is set in the proper period. Most of the Brett episodes are quite well done, but there are a few that seem to have lost their way. As for Watson, I am impressed with the intelligence that Jude Law has brought to the character in the Robert Downey Jr. films.

What inspired you to write this particular book?

The Stone of Destiny grew out of a “Final Jeopardy” question. The category was “British History,” and the answer was: “The only time the English-Scottish border was closed was in 1954 when this object was stolen.” The answer was the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny), and everyone got it wrong. That question rattled around in the back of my mind for a few years, and then it hit me. What if that weren’t the only time the Stone had been stolen? And what if the government tried to hush up the theft rather than publicize it? So, I guess I owe Alex Trebek a tip of the deerstalker for this book.

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You can actually find an online account of this question at http://fikklefame.com/final-jeopardy-7-3-14/

Can you provide a brief synopsis of your book?

The book is set in 1901. During the elaborate funeral for Queen Victoria, a group of Irish separatists breaks into Westminster Abbey and steals the Coronation Stone, on which every monarch of England has been crowned since the 14th century. After learning of the theft from Mycroft, Sherlock Holmes is tasked with recovering the stone and returning it to England. In pursuit of the many-named stone, which has a rich and colorful history, Holmes and Watson travel to Ireland in disguise as they try to infiltrate the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the group they believe responsible for the theft. The story features a number of historical characters, including a very young Michael Collins, who would go on to play a prominent role in Irish history; John Theodore Tussaud, the grandson of Madame Tussaud; and George Bradley, the dean of Westminster at the time of the theft.

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Stone of Scone (Under the Throne)

 

How closely does your book hew to canon? Why or why not? Was this a conscious decision, or did it just happen?

 I think this is much closer to a Doyle tale than The Vatican Cameos. Watson serves as the narrator, and the story is linear, like The Hound of the Baskervilles. Moreover, The Stone is around 53,000 words, which is right in between the 43,000 of both A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, the 57,000 of  Valley and the 59,000 of  Hound. Robert Katz, the esteemed Sherlockian, suggested that if I were going to write pastiches, I should try to be true to the Canon in all respects, including length. I have tried to follow his advice. 

What did you most enjoy about writing your book?

I loved doing the research. I tried to make everything as accurate as possible, from how fast a horse can trot, to the speed of trains and boats in 1900. I also researched all the items mentioned from newspapers available, from street names in cities to railroad and shipping lines in service.

 

Did your book require a lot of research? If so, did you uncover any especially interesting facts?

I came across any number of interesting facts, many of which play roles in the book. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but I hope readers will find themselves saying, at least once or twice, “I never knew that!”

Can you share some of the reviews you’ve received for this book? 

I sent Ken Bruen, author of “The Guards,” “The Magdalen Martyrs” and many other novels, as well as the creator of the Jack Taylor character (which can be seen on TV with Iain Glen in the title role) an advance copy. He was kind enough to say: 

Sometimes a book comes along that absolutely restores your faith in reading. Such is the ‘found’ manuscript of Dr. Watson, The Stone of Destiny. Exhilarating, superb narrative and a cast of characters that are as dark as they are vivid. The machinations of the British political movers demonstrate why this manuscript was hidden for so long. A thriller of the very first rank.

WRS note:  Amy Thomas, Sherlockian author and a founding member of the BSB also got in touch with me about Mr. Ryan’s books. As this latest title won’t be released until 5 June, she hasn’t had a chance to read it, but had this to say about his previous Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Vatican Cameos (MX, 2016).

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History buffs will enjoy Ryan’s detailed research. It’s clear he knows what he’s talking about, and when he brings in Michaelangelo and Leonardo, he’s just as confident as he is in Watson’s and Holmes’s characters. The action is paced swiftly, and the story moves along at an engaging pace.

Ryan’s world pulls the reader in, whether he’s with Italian masters or the Baker Street detective, and he expertly weaves together action that is hundreds of years apart. The Vatican Cameos is a very enjoyable take on one of those stories from Watson’s Tin Dispatch Box that he never quite had time to tell. 

What is your favorite moment in this book?

To answer that would be to give away one of my biggest surprises.

Who is your favorite character in this book?

I think my favorite character is Eileen McMahon. As I said, I am fond of Irene Adler, and I had her in mind when I created the McMahon character. I hope readers will discern in her many of the same characteristics that make “The Woman” so memorable.

Are you involved in any Sherlockian groups?

I have attended meetings of The Priory Scholars, The Epilogues of Sherlock Holmes, The Copper Beeches and will be attending the next meeting of The Red-Headed League of New Jersey. I was also able to attend a few events at the most recent BSI convention in Manhattan.

When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

I’ve always been a writer of sorts, having worked in magazines and newspapers for nearly 40 years. I had attempted a few novels over the years, as well as a play that was produced off-Broadway. Finally, I just decided that I was determined to finish at least one book in my life, and that turned out to be “The Vatican Cameos.”

What is your writing philosophy?

I try to create a situation and then just let the book lead me where it wants to go. In creating suspense, I have found that if I paint myself into a corner, eventually, and it make take some time, I will find a way of extricating myself.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Just write. Don’t wait as long as I did to discover your voice because your voice can and should change as you do. I think I write with a certain maturity now, but I might have written much more passionately, had I started 20 years ago.

How would you categorize your book? Is it mystery, thriller, horror, romance…?

It’s best described as a historical mystery. It features Holmes and Watson interacting with various Victorian/Edwardian personalities such as Michael Collins, the Irish firebrand; Joseph Tussaud, grandson of Madam Tussaud, who ran the museum in London, as well as such groups as the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the precursor to the Irish Republican Army.

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A young Michael Collins, c.1915, some time after his meeting Holmes.

What sort of reader is most likely to enjoy your book?

I think it appeals to Holmes fans, obviously, as well as those who relish history. I try to incorporate the facts into the narrative much as Dan Brown does, so that it seems a natural extension of the events rather than a preachy aside.

Where can readers get a copy of your book?

It’s available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Strand Magazine and MX Publishing. It will also be available at The Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan.

And now, Mr. Ryan poses (and answers) his own question:

What concerns you most about the Canon?

My biggest fear is that with all the TV shows and films, such as “Elementary,” “Sherlock” and the Downey motion pictures, today’s younger audience may never come to fully appreciate the stories in the Canon. Although these adaptations are based on Doyle’s works, with some hewing much closer to the original than others, the simple fact remains that the 56 short stories and four novels are the wellspring. Younger Holmes’s fans need to understand that you ignore them at your own peril.

(The WRS adds her hearty agreement.)

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Salmon, Andrew. Queensberry Justice: The Fight Card Sherlock Holmes Omnibus. Fight Card Press, 2017

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Those of you who read pastiche are no doubt already familiar with Andrew Salmon and his work. I feel very fortunate to be able to present this interview about his writing career, his time with The Master and, of course, his new book, Queensberry Justice.

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Andrew Salmon 

How did you “meet” Sherlock Holmes?

We weren’t formally introduced until about 10 years ago. Ha! But he’s a character one absorbs through osmosis. He is everywhere and has been everywhere so I’ve known about him all of my life via movies, TV shows, comics, radio dramas–but it wasn’t until 2008 that I sat down and read through the entire Doyle canon. The rest is history.

What is your favorite Canon story and why?

I have two actually, “The Empty House” and “The Three Garridebs.” Not for plot reasons — there really are too many great mysteries Holmes and Watson tackle to pick a favorite. What sets these two apart are the great character moments: Watson’s reaction to Holmes still being alive in the former, and Sherlock’s reaction when Watson is shot in the latter. Actions speak louder than words and their respective actions in these two tales say all one needs to know about the duo.

What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiche and why?

Sadly for me, I can’t read the pastiches written by others. Not because I don’t want to, but, rather, because I lose my Watson Voice when I read it from other writers. As someone who loves writing Holmes and has had some success doing so, losing the Voice is not an option. The good news is I’ll have tons of Holmes tales to read when the time comes to hang up my deerstalker. I’m not a fan of tales told by anyone other than Watson as narrator, I should point out. There are a lot of really good ones, so I hear, but, for this reader, the greatest narrator in literature needs to tell me the tale.

What is your favorite movie or television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and why? Were you inspired by any particular one of them?

My dream team of actors to play these iconic characters consists of Jeremy Brett and Jude Law. Never having been a fan of the bumbling Watson portrayal of years ago, Law’s Watson, for me, really nailed the character. He’s the Watson I see in my mind when I’m pounding away on a new Holmes tale. What can one say about Brett that hasn’t already been said? He IS Holmes.

Personally, this works for me.

When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

Way back in 1982 — after seeing a movie! Hard for me to believe myself when I look back, but I was not a reader back then. Except for comics. Reading a book was the biggest waste of time imaginable for my 16 year-old self in ’82. Until I saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. With no background in prose reading, and certainly no interest whatsoever in writing, I came out of that movie wanting to write the sequel! The movie simply changed my life forever. The need to write, at that time, a Star Trek story consumed me. Watching the film, I was able to see, for the first time ever, the machinery of a story. How the plot unfolds, the weaving-in of themes, etc. So naive was I as I glimpsed behind the curtain, that I thought these techniques were unique to Star Trek! It wasn’t until later that I saw how the engine of a story worked for ALL stories. It has been a long haul since then, with many an interruption, but I kept plugging away and now I’ve been part of 29 books to date and many, many more on the horizon. My work has received great reviews and won awards. And it all began that June day in 1982.

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Oh, the similarities….

Why did you decide you wanted to write about Sherlock Holmes?

It was by invitation – – and I turned it down! I was writing for a small press publisher, Airship 27, having a blast writing tales featuring public domain pulp heroes of the 30’s and 40’s — The Black Bat, Secret Agent X, G-Man Dan Fowler and the like. Great characters, great fun to read and write. When they decided to throw their deerstalker into the ring and produce a Holmes anthology of all original tales, I was well-known to them and they immediately offered me a spot in the book. Well, for the reasons stated above, I was not familiar with the canon at that time, so who was I to write a Holmes story? Working in writing and publishing, I had so much respect for what Doyle had achieved — a true literary phenomenon that has stood the test of time. Who was I to potentially muck up that tremendous reputation in any way? So I politely turned down the offer.

Then some time passed and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had been offered a chance to not only write the two most popular characters in the history of fiction but, also, if done right, a chance to ‘contribute a verse’ to the Holmes legacy. Really, how could I pass it up? I had to at least try. A quick email to my editor at Airship, and he was glad to sign me on. Obviously it was time to get the Doyle canon off my wife’s bookshelf and read it for the first time. What followed was an epiphany similar to that bright June afternoon in the movie theater in 1982. I was immediately hooked by Holmes and Watson, as so many have been in the past, and today. But I was coming to the material more as a writer than as a reader. Could I WRITE these characters in the Victorian setting? Coming to the material with so much respect and trepidation, imagine my feeling of relief when the feel of a Holmes tale: language, setting, pacing, plotting, everything, just clicked in my mind. I just knew how to do it. I’m not saying I thought it would be easy — writing Holmes and Watson well is never easy — but I just KNEW I could do it. The Victorian voice popped up in my mind as if it had always been there. I’ve read my Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Collins, Thackeray, Flaubert, Hardy and Conrad and enjoyed them all. Learning to write in Watson’s Victorian style came with reading through the canon. The tools came easy to me, the crafting of the tale presented some problems, but I just felt comfortable in the world Doyle had created.

I finished up the tale, sent it off. My editor loved it and in the book it went. Imagine my surprise when the reviews started to come in and readers lauded my tale! Then it went on to win Best Short Story that year at an awards presentation. I couldn’t believe it! From that moment on, Holmes, Watson, and I have been intimate friends and I’ve since gone on to see published 7 more tales, which have also been nominated for awards and won an additional one. Holmes is where the heart is for me.

What inspired you to write this particular book?

QUEENSBERRY JUSTICE: The Fight Card Sherlock Holmes Omnibus is a collection of 3 short novels I wrote for Fight Card Books between 2013 and 2016. An imprint which focuses on re-creating the novella-length pulp action stories from the glorious days of fight fiction from the first half of the 20th century, Fight Card Books had produced many fun, punchy [“punchy”–haha] tales when they considered expanding the line. At a pulp fiction convention, editor Paul Bishop was kicking ideas around for expansion, and the concept of doing Fight Card Sherlock Holmes popped up. Of course, Holmes was an accomplished boxer as we know from “The Solitary Cyclist,” The Sign of Four, and “The Empty House,” and they thought they were on solid ground in placing Holmes in the ring.

But who was going to write it? My name came up as, like I said, I had begun to carve out a small corner of my own in the Sherlockian world and all agreed I was the writer to tackle the challenge. This was humbling news when I spoke to the editor on the phone when he pitched the idea. It was also inspiring. The challenge of creating a tale which would fit nicely within the Doyle canon while, at the same time, coming at the material in a slightly different way was daunting and took a LOT of research and pondering, but it all came together in the end. I wrote the first book, Sherlock Holmes: Work Capitol, and it was something of a hit with Sherlockians and fight fans alike. Readers and Sherlockian reviewers took to the tale and it snagged another award nomination for its writer. Having gotten off on the right foot, I wrote a total of three such tales over the next several years, bringing the trilogy to a close last year with Sherlock Holmes: A Congression of Pallbearers. This prompted editor Paul Bishop to consider collecting the three popular tales into an omnibus to feature a lot of behind-the-scenes information about the trilogy, cover and art galleries and so on. As characters crossed over from book to book, I thought I would include 3 brand new Holmes shorts stories to tie the tales together in the omnibus. Brilliant artist Mike Fyles got in on the action by designing the iconic, wraparound cover, and Queensberry Justice was born!

Can you provide a brief synopsis of your book?

The back cover blurb says it best:

Fight Card Books added a bold, new chapter to the rich literary tradition of Sherlock Holmes with the publication of the first Fight Card Sherlock Holmes tale, Work Capitol. The book was an instant hit and two more followed. These tales covering the years Holmes spent honing his fighting skills in and out of the boxing ring struck a chord with readers and garnered great reviews.

Now, for the first time, ALL three tales: Work Capitol, Blood to the Bone and A Congression of Pallbearers are collected in one action-packed volume. And more!

Exclusive to this collection:

3 Brand new Fight Card Sherlock Holmes short stories!

Foreword by Paul Bishop, the co-creator of Fight Card

New Introduction by Andrew Salmon

Cover Galleries for all 3 books

Sample pages from the handwritten manuscripts

An alternate version of one of the trilogy’s most dramatic scenes

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ACD would approve.

How closely does your book hew to canon? Why or why not? Was this a conscious decision, or did it just happen?

I’ve written 9 Sherlock Holmes tales, 8 of which have been published to date. In every one of them, I have tried to stick religiously to the canon. It is very much a conscious decision. I don’t see any other way to do it. Some examples from Queensberry Justice: In Work Capitol, I include the scene Doyle alludes to in The Sign of Four when ex-boxer McMurdo mentions having fought an exhibition bout with Holmes a few years ago. Work Capitol opens with that bout. In “The Empty House,” Holmes remarks how a man named Mathews knocked out one of his canines in the waiting room at Charing-Cross. That fight is in Work Capitol. Watson teases us with a future relating of how Holmes met his personal doctor, Dr. Moore Agar in “The Devil’s Foot.” But never revealed it. Holmes, Watson and Dr. Agar meet for the first time in A Congression of Pallbearers, which rounds out the omnibus. Yes, the canon is of paramount importance to this writer and fan.

What did you most enjoy about writing your book?

There were two crucial components I had to nail down before I could even think of writing the tales in this collection. The first was steeping myself in the rich history of Victorian boxing, learning the terminology, and reading accounts from sports writers of the time to learn the fight language of that time, the rules and so on. Once I knew how Victorians described bare knuckle boxing bouts, the second problem kicked in. With Watson as my narrator, I had to then learn how HE would describe a bare knuckle boxing bout. Of course he would have access to the same sources as I did — though they were a wee bit more contemporary for him. Ha! Luckily I had so familiarized myself with Watson’s voice over the years writing Holmes tales, that it was challenging but ultimately rewarding to be able to slide the boxing into Watson’s manner of telling a tale. I’ve heard from many reviewers and Sherlockians that this new element has blended nicely and, for some, they felt as if they were reading Doyle’s Watson as they made their way through the tales. As there is no higher compliment that can be paid to a writer of Holmes tales; it is gratifying and humbling to be mentioned in the same breath with Doyle.

What was the hardest part about writing your book?

The description of the first fight. So many balls to keep in the air: the old terminology, filtering that through Watson, what technique would Holmes use, choreographing the fight, ensuring the fighters used the rules and methods of that time and so on. Nothing like this had ever been done with Holmes before and the pressure was on to get it right. The first Guy Ritchie film had scenes of Holmes fighting, but not with the true boxing rules thrown in; it was more of a backroom fighting pit. So to put Holmes in the boxing ring, fighting a true boxing match (with McMurdo from The Sign of Four in this case) that would ring true with boxing fans and Sherlockians was a great challenge and more than a little daunting. Once I’d pulled it off, I knew the future bouts would be easier. But that first one — Phew!

 Where did you get the idea for this book?

As I mentioned above, the concept was pitched to me by editor Paul Bishop. Regarding the plots, my initial research provided me with the plots for the 2nd and 3rd books in the omnibus before I landed on an idea for the 1st! I always try to draw my plots from the historical record. I adore sifting through history until my instincts latch on to something that seems particularly interesting and unknown today — such as the history of women’s Victorian boxing. Then another piece comes along, and another until your brain begins to piece together the elements drawn from all over the map so to speak and a plot begins to emerge to tie them all together.

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Oh my goodness, yes! It was a thing! (1887)

Do you have a particular writing process? Would you like to share it with us?

Lots of research before writing word one. Whether it be historical research or just attaining a level of knowledge of the genre I’m working in, I prefer to lay in a solid foundation. After that it’s a matter of wrestling with the muse and keeping yourself surprised as you write that first draft. Be open to anything. I never outline, generally, other than a basic overview of what the story is about, and this keeps me free for that first draft. I don’t really know what my stories are about until that first draft is finished. My method for Holmes is to approach the writing as a reader. I’ll start out with a general overview: Holmes and Watson investigate a smuggling ring. That’s it. From this I consider elements that will, hopefully, make the investigation exciting and interesting to read (here’s where the research comes in). Once I’ve got a clue or two, I start writing. I let Holmes and Watson find these clues, examine and study them by their tried and true methods. Holmes doesn’t know the significance of these clues and neither do I! With my deerstalker in place, I consider what Holmes would do when presented with these clues. What would be his next step? And I write that scene. Then what?  And I write that. And so on. My thinking is that, if I don’t know where this is all going while I’m writing, then readers won’t know either, because I can’t give anything away in these scenes. Once I’ve reached the end of the draft and know what my story is as a whole, then I can go back during the revision process and smooth out any rough spots. The results, so far, have been a hit with readers.

Are you involved in any Sherlockian groups?

Not to any great extent, though I wish I were. I would love to attend the conventions as well. It’s a matter of time, I’m afraid. With so many writing projects, series in development, etc. I just don’t get to enjoy the fandom as much as I like. I do haunt various groups with an online presence on Facebook at other venues and it’s great fun. These groups are lively and spirited and truly enjoy the Sherlockian world. The best fans in the world.

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“Our fans, rock, Watson.” “That they do, Holmes, that they do.”

Did your book require a lot of research? If so, did you uncover any especially interesting facts?

The tales in the omnibus required a LOT of research. I was well-grounded in Sherlockiana from my past Holmes tales but these were different as they were dealing with Victorian bare-knuckle boxing. With some digging, I found mountains of information, which surprised me, but also enabled me to re-create the look and feel of boxing at that time. The biggest surprise was discovering how prevalent women’s boxing was at that time. The sports writers of the time refused to cover it and thus very few accounts have survived and the rich history of women’s boxing has fallen through the cracks of history. Portraying this world through my female boxer, Eby Stokes, was a good way to honor these incredible women who fought and won championships in a vacuum. It was only two years ago that the best of these fighters were honored with induction into the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame with their male counterparts. The world is only just beginning to discover this forgotten history and I’m proud to be doing my part, through the omnibus, to shine a long overdue spotlight upon it.

women bnb

See footnotes for links.

Are you using Watson as a narrator?  Why or why not? If so, did you find it difficult to mimic his voice? Did you use any particular “tricks”?

I most definitely use Watson as the narrator. The greatest narrator in the history of fiction! You don’t leave a resource like that on the shelf. Watson humanizes Holmes who, let’s face it, is not always the most pleasant of people. But if Watson can be his stalwart friend, then so can we. I found his voice came quite naturally to me, which was a surprise going in. A pleasant surprise. As for ‘tricks’, my goal is to sound so much like him, you’re not sure if you’re reading Doyle or a pastiche.

Can you share some of the reviews you’ve received for this book?

The individual books have been reviewed by readers but were also featured at The Baker Street Babes, Pulp Fiction Reviews, and I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. As the omnibus contains the books these sites reviewed, I thought snippets from them would apply. Here are some quotes:

“In Blood to the Bone, Salmon tells a tale that not only would fit within the accepted canon of Holmes, but transcends pastiche and becomes a full-blooded rival to Conan Doyle’s work” — I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere

“Salmon writes beautiful prose… but what sticks out most about this story is the lady fighter who is written as a much more complex character than Doyle usually wrote his female characters. She is strong and vulnerable, loving and vengeful, independent and a team player, and she gets an ending very deserving of her character” — The Baker Street Babes

“The female pugilist in the tale is Eby Stokes, and while this may upset some Holmes fans, she actually comes to overshadow the great detective. There is something highly compelling in Stokes, and she simply took over the book in many ways for me” — Yorkton This Week

“As is typical of all Salmon fiction, the plot bolts forth like a rocket propelling the narrative along at breakneck speed, all the way delving into the personalities of the players with a deft, often heart-warming perspective.  His ability to bring Holmes and Watson to life while at the same time lavishing us with local color, history and action galore is at its zenith in this offering.” — Pulp Fiction Reviews

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What is your favorite moment in this book?

There’s a scene between Holmes, Watson, and Eby Stokes about halfway through Blood to the Bone, which makes it about the halfway point in the omnibus as well, that I’m especially proud of. I had originally written it from Watson’s perspective, then re-wrote from the perspective of Holmes as he described an important fight between Eby Stokes and an opponent. It culminates in Holmes uttering the title of the book, again a line from Doyle’s Rodney Stone. For me, it culminates all that is Fight Card Sherlock Holmes. It’s a boxing scene. It’s pivotal to the plot. It has a Doyle creation spouting a line from a separate Doyle work. It establishes Eby Stokes and her abilities for the first time. It’s character- driven. It even throws a nod to the recent movies. If I had to sum up the omnibus with one scene, this would be it. Fitting that the scene comes right in the middle of the omnibus because it’s everything the collection is about. The alternate version of the scene is included as an exclusive in the bonus material of the omnibus.

Who is your favorite character in this book?

Normally, Watson is my favorite character in any Holmes tale I write. I love the guy. But, for this collection, I created a character very near and dear to me who immediately struck a chord with readers. I’m referring to the female boxer, Eby Stokes, from the second book in the omnibus: Blood to the Bone – -a title, by the way, which came from Doyle’s Victorian boxing novel, Rodney Stone. My research for the first book in the omnibus, Work Capitol, revealed to me the unsung, utterly forgotten world of women’s Victorian boxing. I’ve heard from some readers who, while reading Blood to the Bone, thought I had created women’s Victorian boxing out of whole cloth only to find in the essays which accompany the book (and are included in the omnibus) that women did indeed box in Victorian times! Who knew? While writing the book, I created a female fighter, Liz Stokes, who enlisted Holmes and Watson to find her missing husband as they were part of a tag-team carnival boxing outfit.

I was just getting going on the tale when a dear friend of my wife’s and I, Linda Gavin, unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack. We were devastated and the book was put on hold while we tended to our grieving, her memorial service and so on. During this terrible time, I thought I would honor her legacy by renaming my female fighter Eby Stokes after Linda, whose maiden name was Eby.

This decision breathed life into the character until she leapt off the page! This was not totally unexpected from my standpoint while writing because I had given her a very personal connection to myself. Things got creepy when artist Mike Fyles stepped in. When it came time to design the cover, I sent him a few shots of Linda in her younger days (boxing is a young man’s and woman’s sport after all) with a request that he make Eby Stokes look like Linda on the cover to complete the homage. This cover is part of the cover gallery for the book in the omnibus and he caught her likeness beautifully. Only a little spookily as well. For, you see, he had her gathered hair running down over her left shoulder on the cover. In the photos I sent, her hair was always ran down her neck, out of view in the straight on shots I’d sent. And he chose to place her hair over her left shoulder. Well, for decades, Linda ALWAYS had her hair run down over her left shoulder. In EVERY photograph, she’d make a point of placing her hair that way before the photo was taken. I had never mentioned any of that to Mike! How could he have known to place the hair in that position? Like I said, spooky.

What surprised me was how quickly and how passionately readers took to Eby Stokes! She was near and dear to me but how could I have known she’d touch the hearts of readers! And continues to do so with her appearance in the third book collected here, Congression of Pallbearers.

Every writer dreams of creating a character that touches readers and becomes unforgettable. One can’t sit down and say “today I will create such a character”. If it was that easy to do, every character in fiction would be unforgettable. You do the best you can and the rest is up to the readers. I created and wrote Eby Stokes to honor my friend’s memory — that is all I could consciously do. The rest is between Eby and the readers. They adore her and want to read more about her. They will, that’s a promise. So for this omnibus, Eby outshines my good friend Dr. Watson.

Did you find that using Conan Doyle’s characters made this story easier or more difficult to write?

Easy, in that I have written Holmes and Watson so often now, they have become old friends. Writing Mycroft is a lot of fun as well. I do feel I need to do more with Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade, as there wasn’t much room for them in the 3 books that make up Queensberry Justice. However, familiarity doesn’t mean complete ease. One always has to strive to keep those characters in character. Sherlockians expect nothing less.

Did you include any original characters? Can you describe them for us?

I created ex-boxer Ben “Big Ben” Brophy to be Holmes’s and Eby’s boxing teacher, though he trained them separately. He’s a big, big-hearted man with a lust for life. He doesn’t appear much in the tales, but I felt he was worth mentioning.

The other is Eby Stokes. I’ve described how she came to be and the impact she has had above. She’s a brunette with deep blue eyes. She’s tall for a woman of that time. And an accomplished boxer and master of French Savate fighting — kickboxing in other words. She has been around, via her carnival life and general boxing career. She’s been to the continent and speaks German. Holmes is immediately drawn to her intellect — he does not suffer fools as we all know — and is content to have her along on their investigations to bounce ideas off of and get insight from. Watson is taken with her as well ,as she is a smart, capable woman who can also drop you on your backside if you annoy her. She’s methodic, well-mannered, practical, and determined. And she has a destiny which will play out in the omnibus. No spoilers! Ha!

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What is your writing philosophy?

Know the genre you’re working in. By that, I mean be extraordinarily familiar with it through voracious reading of that genre. Also, in general, know the tropes and clichés intimately, so you can avoid them. Write hard, revise hard. I also try to avoid ramping things up too much, unless working in a genre that specializes in that. I’ve found through research that real life can be pretty damn exciting and fiction based on events or circumstances that actually happened provide a better read because, since they actually happened, they feel real to readers even though they may seem unbelievable. Truth is always stranger than fiction. Fiction is just more fun. It’s also very important to me to play straight with my characters. If you put a heroic character through the wringer, then give them a moment of triumph. They’ve earned it. If your character is an evil villain, he or she should pay for their crimes. Characters should get what they deserve while avoiding clichés in the process.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

There are only two things one has to do to be a writer: 1. READ, 2. WRITE. That’s it. If you are already a voracious reader, you’re a quarter of the way there. Not half — the writing takes up 75% of your education. And one must read critically. When a story snatches you up and takes your breath away, you have to go back to it and determine WHY you got caught up in it. Figuring out the story engine — as was revealed to me when I watched Wrath of Khan decades ago — will allow you to use that engine to take your breath away in YOUR stories. Once you’ve got a solid foundation in what makes a story work, then you’ve got to write such stories until your hands fall off from the practice. That’s it. I’ll add a crucial 3rd step: You have to love every minute of it! Because you’ll be doing it for 1000s of hours before you’re anywhere good enough to be taken seriously. And don’t be lured by the ease of self-publishing. Sure, you can publish anything you want, BUT, if it’s not good enough, no one will read it. Those who do will put you on their list of writers to avoid. You’ll only be hurting yourself if you publish too early. Get the practice in, be omnivorous in your reading and study the masters.

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How did you feel when you first saw your book–in actual book form?

Queensberry Justice is the 29th published book I’ve been fortunate to either be a part of, or to write myself. Don’t let that number fool you. It is always special to see one’s work in print. A true writer never gets over that and savours it every time. This one was extra special because the team at Fight Card Books (myself, Paul Bishop, artists Mike Fyles and Carl Yonder) were able to create a truly original Sherlockian niche. As far as I’ve been able to determine, no one has ever written Sherlock Holmes tales centered around Victorian boxing before. Given the long, storied tradition of Holmes and Watson and the endless array of pastiches over the decades, to break new ground which adheres so closely to Doyle’s vision, is an accomplishment I’m immensely proud to be a part of. The collection, from design to content, was the best we could make as we felt nothing less than our best efforts served Doyle’s legacy. The omnibus was created with respect, love, pride and consideration. Holding the paperback in my hands for the first time was truly a wonderful moment.

How would you categorize your book? Is it mystery, thriller, horror, romance…?

I would certainly place it in the mystery/thriller genre. Fast-paced, a snarl of a mystery unfolding and the two best sleuths in all of fiction. And even a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure. It’s a collection of Sherlock Holmes mysteries done in the classic style with modern highlights.

What sort of reader is most likely to enjoy your book?

My respect for Holmes and Watson exceeds my respect for Doyle. Yes, the dynamic duo has become quite real to me and often carry out conversations in my head when I’m doing other things. Fascinatingly annoying, as I have to stop what I’m doing and write down what they say. And, no, I’m not deranged. I’m merely a writer. This is how we roll. I prefaced my response to the question with the above because I want to make it clear that my primary goal for any Holmes tale I sit down to write is to entertain the Sherlockian reader. If that’s not one’s primary focus, why bother writing Holmes? I’m confident Queensberry Justice accomplishes this for the most part. One can’t please everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that. Secondly, my aim is to engage readers of mysteries, action stories, thrillers. From my days writing the fast-paced action tales from the pulp years, I always want my stories to move. Hook the reader and keep things moving until they are breathless at the end. In short, this book is aimed at Holmes fans and anyone who likes to get caught up in a tale. 

Where can readers get a copy of your book?

The print edition is available wherever books are sold – Amazon Worldwide, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, etc.  or, if it’s not in stock, it can be ordered from your favorite book shop if you prefer. The ebook is at Amazon Worldwide.

What’s next for you and Sherlock Holmes?

I plan to continue writing Holmes tales. I have one scheduled for potential publication in 2018 as part of a large anthology where I get to rub literary shoulders with some great writing talents. But before I get back to Holmes, I’m working on a series with Eby Stokes and other characters from the Queensberry Justice omnibus. This new series springs right from the pages of the collection and she will be working under the watchful eye of Mycroft Holmes, so the Holmes connection will persist in this new venture. I’m working on the first novel of the Eby Stokes series now and hope to see it published before the end of the year. I think it’ll be a lot of fun for Sherlockians and mystery fans alike.

To purchase the paperback via Amazon, paste the link in your browser:  https://www.amazon.com/Queensberry-Justice-Sherlock-Holmes-Omnibus/dp/1545370516/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Footnotes:

To read more about women in bare-knuckle box, see this link (and, of course, the notes in Queensberry Justice!):  http://historyofbkb.weebly.com/various-articles.html  and http://www.fscclub.com/history/fame-prize-e.shtml

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Sims, Michael. Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017

arthur-and-sherlock-cover

I know, it’s kind of a big image, but I adore this cover.

Ages ago, when I was eight, I read a book by Penelope Lively called The Ghost of Thomas Kempe–a million times, because I was that kind of kid. Now, as an adult, I vaguely recall the ghost-y bits, and the way I thought the poltergeist’s voice should sound, but what I really remember is a line from the sub-plot, when the hero,  James, realizes that “people have layers, like onions.” *

Books have layers, too–at least the best ones do. Out of all people, Sherlockians should know this. After all, most of us probably did not become Canon devotees solely  because we love creepy hounds, murderous snakes, and wall-climbing professors, even if the mysteries, puzzles, and adventures were the initial attraction. Survey any large group of Holmes fans and you’ll find myriad reasons why they love our detective, but the top reasons will likely include “a scientific detective,” “relatable heroes,” “literary innovation,” “sheer escapism,” and, possibly the most popular, “the devoted friendship” between Holmes and Watson. See? Layers.

In fiction, those layers can be intentional or slip in via the writer’s (or the reader’s) subconscious–remember the endless discussions of “what the author meant” in literature class? In non-fiction however, layers tend to be planned; like a good presentation, you can’t wing it. Instead, you have to know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, and what you’re going to say it with. Then of course, you have to say it entertainingly enough that people will stay with you for the entire thing. It’s no easy job, which makes it even more remarkable that, in Arthur and Sherlock, not only has Michael Sims achieved it–he’s done it in less than 200 (fast-moving) pages.

Arthur and Sherlock is not, as it might seem at first, another biography of Conan Doyle. In fact, in the first two chapters, the reader learns more about Dr. Joseph Bell than his most famous pupil, who doesn’t take center stage until chapter four.

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Both Bell and Holmes had “high-pitched” voices. Bell’s came from a serious case of diphtheria, which makes one wonder about Holmes’s health as a young man.

Even then, Arthur and Sherlock ends  c.1892, just as the Great Detective has taken over The Strand Magazine and Conan Doyle dedicates the first collection of Holmes stories to his former professor. In between, Sims give us glimpses into both the youth and the man. We see young Arthur as a scrapping boy in the poorer part of Edinburgh, a rebellious student getting more than his fair share of beatings at school, and a young man who impetuously courted danger, whether by (inadvertently) swimming with sharks or testing a known poison (gelsemium) on himself, to see if it was possible to build up a resistance to it.

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FOR SCIENCE!

Then there’s the physician Arthur–the medical student, the exhausted assistant and the struggling young practitioner. We get a glimpse of Arthur the family man, both through his relationships with his parents and siblings and his experiences as a new husband and first-time father. As you might expect, however, Sims spends the most time examining Arthur as, well, an author. We watch him grow from his friends’ favorite story-teller, to  enthusiastic submitter of photography articles (even as a novice, he couldn’t wait to share his techniques) and often-anonymous short stories, until finally we see him in the process of creating the characters which still outlive him. In far less time that it would take longer-winded biographers to get our boy through medical school, Sims covers nearly half of his life, giving the reader a portrait with perhaps less detail, but more insight.

onions-renoir

Layers. Like onions.

Thinking about it, while using onion layers as a simile for human life is (I think) perfect, it doesn’t quite match what Sims is doing with Arthur and Sherlock. Instead, of requiring us to peel away layers of meaning, he very kindly provides them pretty much all at once. Like, say, a cake….

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Obligatory.

So, right along with the Arthur layer, Sims gives us a delicious history of the detective story (and detectives), specifically examining how Holmes, whether he liked it or not, was influenced by his predecessors: Zadig, Vidocq, Dupin, Bucket, LeCoq–even the Comte d’Artagnan.** As he does so, he also illuminates the connections between Conan Doyle’s literary inspirations, and those from his medical training, showing how all came together–with its instigator’s conscious planning–for that one meeting in the laboratory at Bart’s.

If this were all of Arthur and Sherlock, it would already be a great book. Michael Sims provides, arguably, the essential background every Sherlockian or mystery aficionado should know, and he does so succinctly. If Arthur and Sherlock hasn’t yet been marketed as a potential university text, it should be.

But then he adds one more layer…..

When I was growing up, my days had a soundtrack: Simon and Garfunkel, my mother’s favorite group, played on reel-to-reel tapes which arrived regularly from Columbia House.

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Up until this very moment, I thought they were wearing choir robes and were surrounded by poinsettias.

This  particular album has two songs which use counterpoint to, well, make a point. The best-known, “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” combines the traditional English folk song with a song written by Paul Simon on the waste and futility of war. The other, “Seven o’clock News (Silent Night)” sets the Christmas carol against a “newscast” from August 3, 1966 mentioning, among other things, the Richard Speck murders; Cicero, Indiana police planning to call in the National Guard to handle a civil rights march led by Martin Luther King; and a report on the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings on Vietnam War protesters. Even for a pre-schooler, this was pretty powerful stuff.

Sims uses counterpoint for his final, most compelling, layer. Most Sherlockians are, I think, at least vaguely aware of Charles Altamonte Doyle, Arthur’s father, an architectural draftsman and artist whose struggles with alcoholism and mental illness eventually left him unable to care for his family in any meaningful way. In traditional biographies, such as Stashower’s Teller of Tales  and Lycett’s The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes, the story of his tragic life is overshadowed by those of whom, through his flaws, he unintentionally forced into roles which changed the course of their lives.

Sims takes a different path. Instead of analyzing Doyle pater, or focussing his attention on the (considerable) influence of Arthur’s mother, Mary, he interweaves Charles’ story with that of his son, so that, as we see Arthur’s star rise throughout the book, we also watch as his father’s falls, slowly, wobbling into the dark. Showing what is (to me, anyway) remarkable restraint, Sims refuses to analyze this contrast, leaving readers to ask and answer their own questions. Who might Charles Doyle have been, had he been born in the 21st century, with its more sophisticated understanding of the differences hidden in human brains? Who would Arthur have been, had he had the example of a stronger, more capable father? Would his gift for story-telling have been nurtured, and if it had, would he have then bypassed medical school–and the scientific mode of thinking which inspired the detective who outlives him? Or would his more whimsical, romantic side, in keeping with both his father’s and mother’s leanings, have prevailed, leaving him to create a shelf of medieval epics (à la The White Company), and fairy stories?

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Like his son, Charles Doyle was fascinated by fairies.

How did the effective loss of his father at a young age affect Arthur? Did it make him more daring and rebellious, more eager to prove himself, more open to mentors like Joseph Bell? Did it push him to take risks–sailing to the Arctic, opening a medical practice on virtually nothing, deciding to ditch medicine altogether for a writing career? And, lest we lay everything at the feet of nurture, what kept Arthur (and all of his siblings, actually) from ending up like his father? As much as Conan Doyle liked to play the bluff, hearty soldier-type, it’s easy to get a glimpse of someone much more sensitive and emotionally vulnerable, particularly as he aged, a deep thinker whose own “hidden fires” drove him just as surely as they did (do?) Sherlock Holmes.

That is, of course, the true and beautiful mystery of it all. By examining a writer’s life and literary influences, we can see, clearly in Conan Doyle’s case, where his stories and characters came from. The layers are all deconstructed and spread before us. But the spark that animates the body, the “breath of life” that stirs the dust, remains invisible, discernible only through its unique creation. There will only ever be one Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, and aren’t we glad we had him?

Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes is available as a hardcover and eBook from all of your favorite online and brick-and-mortar booksellers. Michael Sims is the author of books on Thoreau, E.B. White, the sun, and a variety of other topics, as well as an essayist and an editor of Victorian anthologies. He is a sought-after speaker who has appeared at various Sherlockian events. His website is michaelsimsbooks.com.

Star Rating: 5 out of 5–“This is a wonderful book that gets it right.”

Canon Rating: n/a

Footnotes:

*The actual quote is, “‘People,’ said James, ‘People having layers, like onions,'” but I had to edit the grammar to make it fit. It’s a great book if you want to check it out:
Lively, Penelope. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe. Oxford: Heinemann, 1973, (p.134).

**If you notice, there are a lot of French names there. Holmes seems to have French ancestry no matter which angle you take. (And if you don’t think that “Bucket” is French, well, then, I have it on perfect authority (via slimline telephone) that you’re not pronouncing it correctly.)

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Thompson, A.C., ed. Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2017

 

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Q: How did you “meet” Sherlock Holmes?

A: I first met Sherlock Holmes when my older sister took me to the opening weekend of the movie “Young Sherlock Holmes.” She wanted to see it and she was babysitting me, so I really had no choice. At eight years old, I was extremely impressionable and was immediately in love with Nicholas Rowe’s Sherlock. After that, I couldn’t get enough and became obsessed with the Canon and mysteries in general (let’s not even discuss all the copies of Encyclopedia Brown that still line the shelves of my childhood bedroom). I also began a lifelong love of all things Egyptian after that as well.

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Yes, our pre-teen selves can see the attraction.

 

Q: What is your favorite Canon story and why?

A: The first Canon story I remember reading was Hound of the Baskervilles. I loved the spooky, supernatural feel of it that still colors my writing and reading preferences today.

Q: What is your favorite movie or television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and why? Were you inspired by any particular one of them?

A: For years my favorite was Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox in “Young Sherlock Holmes,” but then, after much prodding from friends who were saying, “ You have to watch the BBC Sherlock!” I gave in and became hooked in the first 5 minutes. Cumberbatch and Freeman are just so good—it’s just fascinating to watch. They managed to bring the Canon into the 21st Century, but those glimmers of the original characters are always there shining through. Not to mention that the cinematography and clever use of camera tricks to illustrate Holmes’s thinking is just brilliant. I would definitely say that I’ve been inspired by that version in my own writing. I love the clipped, irreverent, yet human tone of Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and I can’t help incorporating that in my dialogue. When I’m writing Holmes, it’s his voice I’m hearing, so I’m sure it colors the story. He also brings this leonine sexuality to Holmes that is just so much fun to play with.

Q: Can you provide a brief synopsis of your book?

A: Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures is the follow-up anthology to An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2015). Fifteen authors contributed stories of speculative fiction starring Holmes and Watson. Their only requirements were that they could not be in the original Victorian setting and they had to stay true to the character. So we have weird westerns involving dragons, cyborg Sherlocks, an alternate London plagued with vampires, dystopian futures—all keeping the essential characteristics of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson intact. It’s a huge variety of stories that should satisfy both dedicated Holmesians as well as newcomers.

Q: Where did you get the idea for this book?

A: My husband and I were having lunch (he’s a big Sherlockian) and we were talking about how the vast majority of Holmes stories had been released from copyright. I was excited because of the possibility of the market exploding with new Holmes stuff and how I wished it wasn’t all pastiche. We came around to talking about how cool it would be to write a bunch of Holmes stories with that same supernatural feeling of Hound of the Baskervilles except at the end there would be no “Scooby Doo moment” where the mask was pulled off and Holmes gave us the perfectly logical explanation. My husband suggested that if that was the kind of book I wanted to read, then I should just put one together myself. And the rest is history.

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Seriously. Why couldn’t have been a real ghost, just once?

 

Q: What is your favorite moment in this book?

A: It would have to be either the initial meeting of Holmes and Watson in Lucy Blue’s 1940s Noir story, “The Case of the Burning Man,” or the scene with the vampyres trading their blood in the Cattle Market in Liese Sherwood-Fabre’s story, “The Case of the Tainted Blood.”

Q: Did you find that using Conan Doyle’s characters made this story easier or more difficult to write?

A: My own story in the anthology, “The Final Solution,” (under my pen name Alexandra Christian) was challenging not because of the characters, but their circumstances. Sherlock is very limited in his physical abilities at the very beginning. He is only able to observe what he can see with a single cybernetic eye, so writing those deductions was very tricky.

Funny story: I wrote a Sherlock Holmes novella last year entitled Chasing the Dragon. Mostly as a challenge to see if I could write a romantic Holmes story. I think I pulled it off, but when I began writing it, I thought writing in 1st person from Holmes’s POV would work best. However, I had never considered how awkward it would be writing a sexy scene from his POV. Believe me when I tell you—it’s awkward. In that case, I had to go back and rewrite the whole story.

Q: How would you categorize your book? Is it mystery, thriller, horror, romance…?

A: Uhm… all of the above? As I said, it is a widely varied anthology that crosses many different genres. However, there is a mystery at the heart of each story.

Q: What sort of reader is most likely to enjoy your book?

A:  Readers that embrace all things strange and unusual. Readers that love it when their beloved characters push the envelope. I really think there’s something in both this anthology and An Improbable Truth for readers of every genre.

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Editor (and author), A.C. Thompson

Q: Where can readers get a copy of your book?

A: Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures is available as an eBook and in print from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. The publisher website should take you there: http://mochamemoirspress.com/curious-incidents-more-improbable-adventures/

 

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Lawler, W.P. Mystery at Saint Andrews. London: MX Publishing, 2013 Author Interview

Note: This interview was originally published on 31 January, 2017.  However, when I went to post a new entry, I found that this was unaccountably missing. I am therefore re-posting it and, well, I guess we’ll see what happens!

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Q:  How did you “meet” Sherlock Holmes?

 A: Like many people, I first came across the extraordinary Sherlock Holmes in school. We read Doyle’s “The Speckled Band.”

Q:    What is your favorite Canon story and why?

A: I would have to say “A Scandal in Bohemia.” I was truly captivated by Irene Adler and the clever storyline.  The Hound of the Baskervilles also merits consideration.  I read it on a yearly basis!

Q: What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiche and why?

  A:  (Aside from my own….ha-ha)  I enjoyed reading David Marcum’s short stories.  I feel that he has done a very commendable job in his portrayals of Holmes and Watson in all of his writings.

Q: What is your favorite movie or television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and why? Were you inspired by any particular one of them?

 A:  My favorite Holmes will always be Jeremy Brett. He is always in my mind’s eye as Sherlock.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

  A: I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a storyteller.  I’m a retired elementary teacher who loves “words.”  I’ve previously written two golf books, self-published, which consist of many tournament experiences and funny encounters I’ve had playing that infernal sport! As far as my first effort at composing a novel, I suppose that having read and re-read all of the Canon, I decided to try to write a pastiche myself.

Q: Why did you decide you wanted to write about Sherlock Holmes?

  A: That was easy.  I’ve loved reading and watching Holmes and Watson stories all of my life!

Q: What inspired you to write this particular book?

   A: Loving the Canon and the game of golf, I thought it might be fun to try to combine the two just to see what might happen.

Q:  Where did you get the idea for this book?

 A:   I’m not sure, but as previously mentioned I have always loved Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures and have a deep appreciation and love for the game of golf.  Perhaps, it was because golf can be most addicting, much like the chemicals Holmes chose to use from time to time…

Q: How would you categorize your book? Is it mystery, thriller, horror, romance…?

  A:  Definitely a mystery…..

Q: Can you provide a brief synopsis of your book?

 A:  The story takes place during the “Great Hiatus.” Watson is visiting the quaint old village of St Andrews in 1894 on a much-needed holiday.  Still saddened by the loss of his good friend and companion, Sherlock Holmes, he seeks to put his life back in order.  Believing that some golf on the famous “Old Course” might just be the tonic that is needed, travels to the Kingdom of Fife and the Royal Hotel to test his theory.

While there he meets a former adversary(Irene Norton) who can use his sage counsel. Willingly, he agrees to help in all ways possible….There are some twists and turns along the way that serve to challenge the reader’s ability to solve the mystery.

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St. Andrew’s, Scotland, as Watson would have seen it in 1894.

Q:   How closely does your book hew to canon? Why or why not? Was this a conscious decision, or did it just happen?

A: I believe it fits nicely into the missing years and, yes, it was a conscious effort to adhere to the Canon.

Q: Are you using Watson as a narrator?  Why or why not? If so, did you find it difficult to mimic his voice? Did you use any particular “tricks”?

  A: Due to the plotline that I chose to employ, the second half of the book is where the “familiar” Watson  begins to tell his side of the story.  The first half of the book is written from the omniscient perspective.

As far as portraying Watson’s voice is concerned, I believe I actually did a creditable job…

Q: What did you most enjoy about writing your book?

  A: Just about everything. Researching the timeline, trying to stick to Doyle’s descriptions of Holmes and Watson, making every effort possible to try to write in the wonderful manner of ACD….

Q: What was the hardest part about writing your book?

  A: Anxiety, I suppose. I was so eager to put the story in print, I kept coming up with other ideas that had to be reined in…

Q: Did your book require a lot of research? If so, did you uncover any especially interesting facts?

 A:  I spent a great deal of time perusing many of the books which described golf on the fabled course of St Andrews and the history of the town.  I did discover that originally there were only 13 Rules of Golf as established by the Honourble Company of Edinburgh Golfers, as opposed to the many, many rules that now overcomplicate the game these days.

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And here they are!

Q: What is your favorite moment in this book?

  A: My own favorite moment occurs in the last chapter, where all is revealed to Watson.

Q: Who is your favorite character in this book?

  A: My favorite character is Charles Hutchings, known in the story as “The Quiet One”.

Q: Did you find that using Conan Doyle’s characters made this story easier or more difficult to write?

  A: Interesting question….Being so familiar with Doyle’s depictions of the main characters made it easy to write.  On the other hand, I found it most challenging to properly do them justice in my portrayals.

Q: Did you include any original characters? Can you describe them for us?

  A: Well, I created a character named Andy Kirk who plays a major role in the first half of the book.  He was a kind-hearted, cooper who befriended “the Quiet One” when others were very critical of that man. There were some other characters, locals, who played important roles, as well.

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W.P. Lawler (The Author)

Q: Do you have a particular writing process? Would you like to share it with us?

 A:  Lots of brain-storming of ideas, plots, locations…. I then create a story timeline and try to follow it carefully..

Q: What is your writing philosophy?

 A:  Hmm…Everyone has stories to tell. Whether it’s a person’s life story or even some peculiar happening that they’ve enjoyed or witnessed, it will appeal to someone…

Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?

   A: I guess that my suggestion would be to write “something”every day….even if it’s only a paragraph. Make multiple copies and don’t be afraid to “edit” (make that CUT) wherever necessary!

Q: How did you feel when you first saw your book–in actual book form?

   A: Great joy….Pride…..Happiness that the work had been completed!!!!

Q: Are you involved in any Sherlockian groups?

A: Not actively, although I follow Hounds of the Internet and The Well-Read Sherlockian on-line.

Q: Can you share some of the reviews you’ve received for this book? 

  A: My book, Mystery at St Andrews, was originally self-published, but MX Publishing found it interesting enough to publish it.  I was truly touched that such a fine company chose to do so.  I have to admit that I did not make any major effort at promoting my work and so, there were not many reviews.  However, Philip K. Jones and Raven were kind enough to review and comment on my work.  You can find these reviews on Amazon.com

(WRS note: Both Philip K. Jones and Raven are prominent  and prolific Sherlockian reviewers on Amazon)

Q: What sort of reader is most likely to enjoy your book?

   A: Most people who like Doyle’s characterizations of Holmes and Watson will appreciate the book.  However, if I had to select a particular group, I would have to say people who love ACD, the game of golf and twists and turns….

Q: Where can readers get a copy of your book?

  A: It is available on Amazon as well as Audible.  The audible version of Mystery at St Andrews was extremely well done by David Collins. Really a hoot to listen to his rendition!

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Changes are Afoot with a New Review Policy!

So many books, so little time....

                 So many books, so little time….

 

When I first started this blog, I was very ambitious. I honestly thought that I could, in a few decades, read and review every Sherlock Holmes pastiche out there–at least, that was the goal. The very next year, however, thanks to the Robert Downey, Jr. movie and the arrival of BBC’s Sherlock, there was a veritable explosion of new Holmes books, and I came to realize that there was no way I could ever read them all, so I revised my goals: I would introduce my readers to new authors, celebrated classics–and the occasional oddball story. I had fun with this, but it wasn’t long before the demands of family and my own writing life started to make writing reviews as thoroughly as I like, less and less achievable. For the past few years, I’ve barely been able to put up more than two, if that. Review requests have gone unanswered as I try to cover, at least, books from larger markets, which is truly unfair to those writers. I love my blog, and I want other writers, no matter who their publishers, to have the same chances to find readers that I’ve been given.

So I’ve come up with a solution.

I may not be able to read your book, but who knows it better than you? I have included a list of interview questions at the link. If you would like your book to be featured on this blog, please read the review policy at the link. If you fit the criteria, select the interview questions you wish to answer, and send them to me, along with an image of your book (and an optional photo of yourself) at the email address provided. Please be sure you follow the guidelines. If I find that your book is not about Sherlock Holmes, or falls into the exceptional gore/explicit sex categories, I’ll delete the post. Featuring your book in this manner does not guarantee that I will review it–but I may at some point. It doesn’t constitute an endorsement of any kind, but you are free to share the link. It is my hope that in this way, you’ll be able to reach more readers, make more connections and, well, have more fun as an author. Because writing is super hard work–but it should be fun as well.

Here’s the link:

https://wellreadsherlockian.com/2012/01/19/review-policy/

 

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