“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/