Tag Archives: Sherrinford Holmes

Cypser, Darlene. * The Consulting Detective Trilogy, Part I: University. Morrison, CO: Foolscap and Quill, 2012.

“Of all ghosts, the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.”

When I was a kid, I loved reading in the car. So much so, in fact, that twice I missed my school bus stop because I was too engrossed in a book to notice. Now that I’m an adult, however, that’s changed. Not because I get motion sickness, or anything like that, but because I need to see what’s going on, and offer my helpful observations to the driver.**  On a recent trip back from the Gulf Coast, however, it was a wonder we made it home in one piece, because I was far too distracted to play co-pilot.

Distracted by this book.

In fact, once I pulled it up on my Kindle, during spring break, I was torn between the desire to “make it last” and the need to “readitallrightnow.” To achieve the former, I tried reading only when conditions were absolutely perfect–e.g., when everyone was in bed and I had the living room to myself with a bottle of real Coke. But then came the car trip home, and all self-discipline was lost. In fact, I wouldn’t blame you if you navigated over to your favorite bookseller right now and bought a copy, leaving me hanging in the blogosphere. But, since you’re polite enough to stay….

Darlene Cypser begins this first volume of her Consulting Detective Trilogy  right where she left off with its prequel, The Crack in the Lens.  At the conclusion of that book, Sherlock Holmes, still not recovered from the illness which almost took his life,*** struggles downstairs to his father’s study in an effort to salvage his opportunity to attend university. This scene is repeated in University, after which we follow Sherlock in his efforts to regain his mental and physical health in time to start his studies with the new term. Living as we do in an age where modern medicine both helps us diagnose, treat, and cure disease much faster than at any other time in history, it’s interesting to realize how long recuperation could last a century ago. However, his lungs are not Sherlock’s greatest problem. The events of November and December still haunt him, and it takes only his mother’s careless disclosure, a glimpse of the moor or a fencing bout into the shade of the outbuildings to throw him back into what his loyal manservant, Jonathan, calls an “attack” (and what we would call PTSD). Fearful of his father’s reaction should he find his son mentally compromised, Sherlock forces his way through these episodes until, by the time he leaves for Cambridge University’s Sidney Sussex College,† he believes he has them conquered.

Sherlock begins his college career uneventfully enough, settling with Jonathan into what seem to be very nice quarters, playing “the game” by observing his fellow students in chapel, and studying the mathematics his father has prescribed. He’s not overly thrilled with the subject, finding all of the memorization boring, but he wants out of Yorkshire, and becoming the engineer his father wishes seems as good a way as any. He doesn’t really mesh with the other young men at his college, and his reaction to their innocent questions about his illness puts them off even further. Still, things seem to be going well for him until, one day in November, he leaves the lecture hall and walks into a snowstorm.

There are some struggles that are never really over. Whether they have their roots in events, our own peculiar demons, or some unholy combination of the two, we are destined to fight and refight these battles throughout our lives. The ghosts of 1871 revisit Sherlock with a vengeance, taking him on a terrifying, dangerous journey through his unresolved guilt and grief, his only hope of recovery lying in the meager treatments available at the time. He doesn’t fight alone. Mycroft, the alienist Dr. George Mackenzie, university staff such as Senior Tutor Rev. John Clowe, Victor Trevor and his prescient father; and, most of all, Jonathan Beckwith, provide him with invaluable support. Still, in the end, it is Sherlock Holmes himself who discovers the one antidote which will keep his mind from “tearing itself to pieces.”††

It’s not what you think, people! Ok, not exactly what you think.

Perhaps in no small measure to Dr. Watson’s own efforts, we often come to see Sherlock Holmes as someone not quite human.††† He’s almost like a Victorian superhero–smarter than everyone else, able to bend pokers straight again with skinny arms and no exercise, defeating all comers with his expertise in fencing, single-stick fighting and baritsu. There’s the whole not-eating-or-sleeping thing, described by a man who needs humbugs on a stake-out. In his efforts to chronicle the detective’s exploits and (let’s be honest) sell stories, Holmes’ admiring Boswell sacrifices a bit of his flatmate’s humanity in the telling.

Ms. Cypser’s Holmes, however, is extremely relatable. Unlike other writers who take on the project of exploring Sherlock Holmes’ unrecorded youth, she doesn’t bring in unusual characters or spectacular adventures. Sherlock’s dilemmas are, instead, familiar to all of us. He wonders how to reconcile his skills and interests with the courses and careers available to him. He has difficulty making friends and runs afoul of a student known for his ability to destroy reputations with a few well-placed rumors.  He tangles with authority, both academic and familial, building the confidence he needs to make that final, necessary break. In the second half of the book, he begins to try his hand at detective work, but his “cases” are such as one might expect to find in a university setting; not a stolen jewel or secret weapon among them. Most importantly, however, he grapples with the puzzle of his own mind. Without asking for a show of hands, I imagine that quite of few of us have come to realize the uncomfortable truth that, due to trauma, biology, or a nasty concoction of both, our minds can venture into places we would never willingly go. And while psychology was still in its infancy some 140 years ago, you’ll likely find Sherlock’s attempts to regain control of his mental health very familiar–and will come to see how they may have continued to affect him in as an adult. None of this is spelled out for the reader. Instead, Ms. Cypser skillfully and subtly takes the events of Sherlock’s university career and, just as she did in The Crack in the Lens, leaves it for the reader to deduce how they helped to create the detective of Baker Street. Some, such as the experimental medication Dr. Mackenzie prescribes to help Sherlock through an especially difficult time, are obvious. Others are less so.

Which is great, because, like its predecessor, University stands up well to re-reading. As a matter of fact, the reading upon which I am basing this review is my fourth–since April.  University is impressively well-researched and documented; several characters are based on actual people, and there is an essay on sources in the back of the book. When it comes time for Holmes to spend time with Victor Trevor and his father at Donnithorpe–a crucial event which Watson records as “The Gloria Scott”–canon and book are expertly combined. Ms. Cypser’s own prose is plain and workman-like. She will likely never be accused of waxing rhapsodic about moss-covered brick walls.‡ Still, Holmes’ world is vividly drawn and compelling; once you enter, you won’t want to leave. Occasionally, I found myself wishing for a little more detail. When Sherlock goes home for the Christmas holidays during his first year at school, for instance, I had to wonder what the local young women thought of him. Was he desirable, as the son of a Squire with at least a few prospects in life? Had the rumors of his relationship with Violet Rushdale and his subsequent illness damaged any cachet he might have had with them? Does he have to avoid them? Were there awkward encounters? Wouldn’t Mrs. Holmes, with her social instincts and lack of perception, push both Sherlock and Mycroft to come away from the punch bowl and mingle? Ms. Cypser does briefly address Sherlock’s (and Mycroft’s) views of women in two instances, and I am sure the question will figure in future volumes, but I felt there was a missed opportunity here. What I loved most about University, however, was the suspense. Although I enjoyed The Crack in the Lens immensely, there were times when I wondered why a particular scene was included and, for me, this slowed down the story.  University presents no such problems. Every scene has an ultimate purpose, and nothing is wasted. I was pulled in from the first, and had no desire to resurface. During one particularly suspenseful chapter (there are several), I found myself beginning to worry about Sherlock–then realized with a start that *spoiler alert* the very existence of the canon meant that he would be able to fight his way through. My advice? Forget chores, ignore the laundry, order takeout for dinner and just settle in for the ride. You’ll miss it when it’s over.

Have you read either The Crack in the Lens or University? Got a comment or question to share? First commenter wins their choice of either book–plus a copy of one of several books for which the authors have designated profits to go to the Undershaw Preservation Trust’s efforts to save Arthur Conan Doyle’s home. A list of these books will be provided for you with your notification e-mail.

The Consulting Detective Trilogy, Part I: University is available at all major online booksellers, and a large number of brick-and-mortar shops. For a comprehensive list, see http://www.foolscap-quill.com/booksellers.html. It can also be had in e-book format. Both of Ms. Cypser’s Sherlock Holmes books have Facebook fan pages. Other information is available at http://www.foolscap-quill.com/.

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

Notes:

* In the interests of full disclosure, I will tell you that the author asked me (and several others) to read her book and make comments pre-publication. Other than providing a list of typos, I contributed nothing to its content. I am reviewing the published version of the book.

**This is how I prefer to see it. My husband calls it being “an annoying control freak,”  but long drives make him irritable.

***It started out as pneumonia, but became something much more serious. Although it isn’t absolutely necessary to have read The Crack in the Lens before University, I do think it helps the reader understand Sherlock’s struggles in a more visceral way.

†Doyle tells us that Holmes attended university, but exactly which university is up for spirited debate. For a good Cambridge (and Sidney Sussex) argument, see: Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “Holmes’ College Career” in her book, Unpopular Opinions.  For Oxford, consult Nicholas Utechin’s Sherlock Holmes at Oxford. Both books are available at a reasonable price from Amazon. For a nice online write-up on the history of Sidney Sussex College, see http://www.sid.cam.ac.uk/aboutus/visitors/history.html. And, by the way, University explains exactly why we have to have this debate at all.

††”The Man With the Twisted Lip”

†††In some instances, he isn’t human at all. See Robert Lee Hall’s Exit Sherlock Holmes.

‡See Watson’s description of just such a wall in “The Retired Colourman.”

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Filed under Darlene Cypser, Five-star reviews, Foolscap and Quill, Holmes and Drugs, Holmes and Love, Holmes and Sex, Holmes as a Youth, Holmes Family, Real Historical Personages

Cypser, Darlene. The Crack in the Lens. Morrison, CO: 2010.

Yes, Watson, We Were Shocked, Too

As one reads through the canon, it’s easy to believe, along with Watson, that Sherlock Holmes is “an isolated phenomenon,” that he simply sprang forth a wholly-formed adult from…well, somewhere. And even after we’ve gone to the Diogenes and met Mycroft in “The Greek Interpreter,”* and learned the few facts Holmes provides about his family and youth, we really don’t know that much more about them. “My ancestors were country squires,” he says, “who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class.” To spice things up a bit, he then tells Watson that his grandmother was a sister of the French artist, Vernet,** and that, “art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.” And that’s pretty much all Watson ever tells us, thereby whetting the imaginations of pastiche writers everywhere.

Because, of course, Sherlock Holmes didn’t just appear one day. He has a family, a childhood, an adolescence, all three of which have inspired plenty of creative speculations in both film and print. In today’s book, The Crack in the Lens, Darlene Cypser takes her turn, taking us back to the year 1871, when Sherlock, then 17, faces two critical events which force him to learn hard lessons about the darker side of human nature, loss, and resilience.

Of course he has no idea what’s coming. He’s just returned to his native Yorkshire with his parents, Squire Siger*** and his wife, from a two-year sojourn among his maternal relatives in the south of France, where they travelled in hopes of improving Sherlock’s delicate health. He has a tendency towards serious lung problems and, to his ex-cavalry officer father’s consternation, has been labelled “delicate” by the family physician. Despite this, he’s an active, intelligent young man, who can’t wait to take his horse and dog out for a ride on the moors around the manor house to explore his old childhood haunts, like an old stone hut. But the Holmes family is in transition, now. Sherlock’s oldest brother, Sherrinford✝ is about to be married and is taking on many of the duties that will one day be his as squire, while Mycroft is living and working in London as a government accountant. The squire is in the process of hiring a tutor in hopes of preparing Sherlock to gain admittance to university, where, he hopes, his youngest son will study engineering and find gainful employment in the rapidly expanding British Empire. This won’t be the only change in Sherlock’s life this year; on this, his first ride out onto the springtime moors, he encounters Violet Rushdale, the daughter of one of the Holmes’ tenant farmers.

The North Yorkshire Moors. Much More Interesting Than Mathematics.

She’s shot a hare, and her hands bear evidence of hard work, which makes no sense to him, as his father’s tenant farmers tend to be fairly prosperous. She claims that poor harvests have caused everyone hardship, but he doesn’t quite believe her. From Sherrinford, who took care of manor business while the squire was away, he learns that Violet’s mother died of cholera a couple of years before, and her father took to drink in response. Godfrey Rushdale is now barely functional, and it’s fallen to Violet to try to keep their lives together. When Sherlock visits the now-ruined farm himself, he learns that she’s done so by gathering herbs for some village women, and selling off livestock and family belongings–now in short supply. He helps her take some furniture to town, and to get a good price for the Rushdale wagon, thus beginning a friendship which deepens as weeks pass.

He is, in fact, much more interested in Violet than he is in the Greek, Latin, mathematics and astronomy lessons presented by his new tutor, James Moriarty (who has this strange, oscillating tic). Still in his twenties, Moriarty has already gained academic acclaim for his papers on the binomial theorem and asteroidal dynamics. Sherlock wonders why the professor resigned his chair at Westgate University, apparently giving up on a promising career to become a tutor.  He has an almost instant, intuitive distrust of the man, which he can’t explain; Moriarty seems nice enough, and works hard to curry favor with the family. When Sherlock begins to suspect Moriarty of subtly cruel manipulations, such as making it impossible for him to finish his work, then complaining to the Squire that he is lazy–or worse, altering the work itself– no one believes him. For his part, Moriarty  wonders why, exactly, Sherlock is so eager to have his afternoons free, why he wants to go out riding on the moors so often.

The answer, of course, is Violet. Sherlock finds her fascinating enough all by herself, but he also relishes the freedom and time away from his cold, demanding father, mentally absent mother and the reptilian Moriarty. One thing leads to another, with the predictable result and its predictable consequences. What could have just been a small family scandal, however, with Moriarty’s cruelty added to the mix, becomes a tragedy that threatens four lives and forces Sherlock out of childhood towards the man he will become.

In The Crack in the Lens, Ms. Cypser, long-time Sherlockian and current president of the Denver scion society, “Dr. Watson’s Neglected Patients,” has written a book which should appeal to both newbies and seasoned fans. There are plenty of nods to both canon and William S. Baring-Gould’s biography of Holmes (although she does not follow the latter slavishly), but one does not need to have either memorized to follow the plot. As a young man, Sherlock has many characteristics of the Great Detective already in place: he’s observant, for instance, and he and Mycroft play a little game of deduction which Sherrinford is not very good at. Cypser works glimpses of these traits into “slice of life” episodes, such as a visit to the Lammas Day Fair in Yorkshire, where Sherlock, serving as his sister-in-law’s escort, makes a fool of a thimblerig con and, through his kindness in discouraging some young purse-snatchers, ends up inspiring their loyalty later in the day. It’s during this trip that Sherrinford points out that his younger brother has a morbid streak–a fascination with the Newgate Calendar.✝✝ Some readers may find that these sections move a little slowly, but it’s interesting to imagine the Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street ribbing his brother about his wedding jitters, complaining about his annoying little cousin, George Challenger;  shooting grouse, teaching a dale boy to fence, looking for fossils, or working in area fields during the harvest.

This last, of course, isn’t what a country squire’s son would normally be doing. In fact, he’s sent there as a punishment for what Moriarty leads Siger Holmes to believe is laziness. One gets a sense of why Holmes doesn’t speak fondly of his parents in later life; with both father and mother too caught up in their own interests and  duties, the young Sherlock gets his only real familial affection from his brothers, and it shows in their interactions. While the scenes between Sherlock and Violet are sweet and natural, those involving either the Squire or the Professor are  unpleasantly electric, particularly as the conflict escalates. Sherlock is keenly aware that he will never be able to please his father; it doesn’t help that Moriarty is not a villain with comprehensible motives, but a different creature entirely. Each time Sherlock brings an accusation against his tutor, the reader is bound to ask, along with Mycroft, Sherrinford, and their father, “Why? Why in the world would anyone do that?” The answer, of course, is one that gradually becomes clear to Sherlock and, unfortunately, to many of us in our own lives: he does it because he can. Because some people are simply evil.

Some readers may be surprised to find that, in the final chapters, Sherlock Holmes is not the calmly cerebral person they envision from Watson’s stories. I thought that myself, the first time I read it–at least, I thought he was a little over-dramatic. Then, however, I thought back a few decades to my own adolescence. To my own very emotional reactions to events both small and traumatic, and to those of friends and classmates. It’s easy, as an adult, to forget how it felt to be dependent on parental actions and support, to not have the confidence earned through experience, or the sad yet resilient assurance that the sun will shine tomorrow, and we’d best get on with it. No one is born with this knowledge; it’s gained through living, and living much longer than 17 years. And at any rate, as his friend continually points out, Watson sees, but does not observe, and those “hidden fires” are never so secret as he imagines they are.

The Crack in the Lens is exciting and enjoyable, highly recommended for anyone who doesn’t mind extra-canonical speculation in their pastiches. And if that’s what you particularly enjoy, you’ll be pleased to know that a sequel, which follows Holmes to university, is due to be released this spring. I, for one, am looking forward to it. And I would love to know what happened to Professor Hastings.

Well, this ends our February exploration of  Sherlockian romance. There will be more later, never fear! But for now, the first to comment on this post wins a copy of The Crack in the Lens, or if you already own it, its sequel when available (most likely in March). So don’t be shy–let me know what you think!

The Crack in the Lens is available from Amazon and other major online booksellers, as either a print or e-book. For more information, including a list of sources, see www.thecrackinthelens.com

Star Rating: 4 out of 5: “Highly enjoyable; worth your time and money.”

Footnotes:

*Sherlockian convention dictates that, for brevity’s sake, each story be generally referred to by an abbreviation of its first four letters. “The Greek Interpreter,” for example, is therefore written as GREE.

**Typically, he does not tell us which Vernet. Baring-Gould picks Antoine C.H., aka Carle, 1758-1835.

***Baring-Gould got the name “Siger” from the alias Holmes uses during the Great Hiatus, “Sigerson,” which, in the Norwegian it was purported to be, means “Siger’s Son.”

✝ Baring-Gould invented Sherrinford to explain why Mycroft and Sherlock, sons of a country squire, were not actually living in the country. As the eldest, Sherrinford would inherit, and his brothers would need to find other occupations.

✝✝ This used to be a monthly record of executions in Newgate Prison. By Sherlock’s time, it was a collection of moral stories, rather dramatic, based on the misdeeds and sorry deaths of famous historical criminals, and apparently a common book in English homes.



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Filed under Darlene Cypser, Foolscap and Quill, Four-star reviews, Holmes and Love, Holmes and Sex, Holmes as a Youth, Holmes Family, Moriarty