Book Reviews: New Sherlockian Historical Fiction

This review was originally written for the Baker Street Babes and can be found on our website here.

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Richard T. Ryan’s The Vatican Cameos tells the oft-mentioned story alluded to by Watson. The phrase “Vatican Cameos”  became a military code after Doyle used it, but it’s unclear if it had been previously used or was derived from him. Ryan imagines the case as a literal allusion to the Vatican, and the story mostly takes place in Rome–in both 1501 and 1901.

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.

Order from MX PublishingThe Strand (currently on sale, at the writing of this review), and Amazon

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We previously reviewed Phil Growick’s excellent novel The Secret Journal of Doctor Watson hereIn The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes, he’s back with a thrilling continuation. Growick is masterful at writing Holmes, but he’s also an expert at weaving the stories of the Romanovs and other historical figures into his Sherlockian narrative.

This is definitely a novel for those with a tolerance for finding many real-life individuals entwined with their Sherlockian mysteries, but Growick is never at a loss for how to use the individuals he selects, and his writing style is confidently witty and doesn’t get bogged down.

Growick emphasizes Holmes as a man of action and conviction, and fans of the detective’s physical prowess and tougher side will enjoy his take on the character. Both of his books that we’ve reviewed are adventures more than strictly-traditional mysteries, and they’re simply great fun to take in.

Order from MX PublishingThe Strand (Currently on sale, at the writing of this review), and Amazon

The above-reviewed works were provided for consideration by the publisher. Opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.


How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

 

 

My Friend Holmes

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For several years now, I’ve been writing regularly about Sherlock Holmes, more than I’ve ever written about anyone else. That means that he (and Irene Adler, the co-protagonist of my novels) lives in my brain in a way that few characters, if any, ever have.

I’m currently in the editing process of my fourth Sherlockian mystery novel, but what many people don’t know is that I wrote the first draft of it while I was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. For a while each day, I escaped the pain, fatigue, and depression the drugs caused by jumping into Holmes’s world and walking with him. He was my companion in the cancer center and a friend who helped me through some very dark days.

Fiction matters, and stories are important, not just the heavy, sad ones. Being able to escape to a mental world populated by Adler and Holmes made one of the most difficult times in my life less bleak.

I have a special place in my heart for all of the stories and characters I encountered and enjoyed during my cancer treatments, but Sherlock and Irene dwarf the rest of them because I didn’t just read about them, I also wrote. I forced myself to enter their world by creating, and in so doing, I found a deeper purpose and a satisfying temporary respite from my daily struggles.

I know that nothing I write will ever be perfect. That is the curse and blessing of the author, because it means flawlessness is unattainable, but that, at the same time, improvement is always possible. Still, though I know I can’t reach perfection, I write–because I know how it feels when a story becomes more than just fiction and a character becomes a friend. The chance to offer that to someone else who might need a new world to escape into and an imaginary friend today? That’s a priceless gift.

 

.How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Humor in the Detective

I absolutely love this photo, which depicts the immortal William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes in a dramatic mood, while Watson looks, frankly, horrified. I could laugh at it for hours.

Quite honestly, there’s a lot about Sherlock Holmes I could laugh at for hours. One of my biggest discoveries when I re-read the Canon as an adult was a treasure trove of dry humor that had gone over my head as a child.

Recently, my fellow Baker Street Babe, acclaimed author Lyndsay Faye, commented that in her view, one of the surest ways for a Holmes pastiche/fanfiction story to fail is to be over-serious, because that’s simply not the tone Doyle created. Her thoughts made me realize that as a writer and reviewer, I completely agree. I can forgive a lot of things in Holmes stories, and generally, my reading experience is celebratory of the fact that we all have these characters we love that we continue to want to explore. However, I have a lot of trouble with stories that treat Holmes and Watson and their world as humorless; those lose me.

As a writer, all of my Holmes stories are partially tongue-in-cheek, and I’m not sure readers always get the jokes. Author intention vs. reader interpretation is a topic for another time, but rest assured, if you’re ever reading one of my books and something strikes you as funny? It’s absolutely supposed to be.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think I could have sustained this many years of ardent love for these 60 stories if they weren’t funny. People often ask me and other writers why the stories have endured in popularity for so many years. I wouldn’t argue that humor is the only or primary reason, but I think it’s an important one.

So next time your love of Holmes starts to get over-serious, whisper “Norbury” to yourself and get over it 😉

(See “The Yellow Face” for context)

.How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

 

Holmes for the Holidays

I just finished writing “The Adventure of the Missing Irregular,” a Christmas-themed Holmes story that will be published in the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part 5, a holiday story collection coming out later this year.

When one of Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars vanishes, Wiggins joins forces with his employer and Dr. Watson in a heartwarming tale perfect for reading by a (fake or real) Christmas fire.

My previous story, “The Adventure of the Traveling Orchestra,” is featured in Part 1 of this collection.

Being Watson: Appreciating the Genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Jude Law Watson

This past Saturday, I finished writing a story I’ve been working on for several weeks, a Sherlock Holmes short story that will become part of an anthology to be published later this year. The challenge of the project is that the stories have to be completely traditional mysteries in Watson’s voice.

For those who may be unfamiliar with my books, Watson’s voice is not something I normally write, In fact, I never write it. My novels, while traditional in setting and characters and running alongside the canon, include the perspectives of Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes. Watson appears as a character, but his perspective isn’t the focus.

I took on the anthology project as a personal challenge, something new to build my authorial muscles. I did it; I wrote a completely traditional Sherlock Holmes mystery in Dr. Watson’s voice; those who have read it for editing purposes have enjoyed it, and I’m excited to share it with lovers of traditional stories.

I’m still wiping the sweat from my weary brow. The story took me longer to write and was far more difficult than I ever would have expected. Ultimately, I gained a new perspective on the challenges that traditional story writers face and a new appreciation for the incomparable Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Here are some reasons why:

1) The Narrator versus the Main Character Issue–There’s a reason that Sherlock Holmes famously says he would be lost without his Boswell. Like Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, the Holmes stories are about the man in the name, not the narrator (though, of course, both are also about a relationship). Normally, when I’m writing my own books, I know that I will periodically reach a section where I can explore Holmes’s point of view. Writing as Watson, I was limited both in what Watson knows and what Holmes is allowed to show. I found myself, at times, needing to excise Watson inserting his thoughts where Doyle’s Watson never would have. I also found that I had to be careful not to have Holmes be overly obvious about what he knows before it would be logical for him to do so, since his point of view is not a direct part of the narrative.

2) The Secondhand Discovery Issue–Sometimes, both in the original stories and in the ones that come after them, Holmes and Watson make a discovery at the same time. Often, however, Watson is the secondhand discoverer of information Holmes already knows. This makes the pacing and plotting of a traditional story an intricate exercise in keeping things straight. Watson needs to be writing about the actions of a man who is often at least a few steps ahead of him, while maintaining the integrity of his own knowledge level. In other words, a huge part of what makes traditional stories interesting is that Holmes and Watson don’t have the same brain, and they are not usually able to have long conversations about exactly what Holmes knows the moment he knows it. As a result, for a writer, this means maintaining a narrative voice that is in a slightly different place in the story than the man he’s constantly writing about.

3) The Watson is No Idiot Issue–John Watson is not stupid. This is a fact, borne out by his actions in many of Doyle’s stories. He is, however, not the deductive reasoning expert that Sherlock Holmes is. As a result, barring unusual situations, he needs to be firmly in the dark about certain facts that are relatively easy for Holmes to grasp. For a writer, this means having to think like Sherlock Holmes. Stay with me for a second. What I mean is this: if a writer writes a deduction for Holmes that is overly simple, but Watson doesn’t get it automatically, Watson looks stupid, which is a bad result. In order for Watson to take his rightful place as audience stand-in and conductor of light, his deductive abilities need to look average compared to Holmes’s abilities seeming brilliant. This means the writer of a traditional Holmes story has the burden of coming up with something brilliant enough to seem like an average person wouldn’t get it right away. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Ask me how I know…

The above are just a few of the challenges inherent in writing the traditional Holmes and Watson dynamic of the original Sherlock Holmes canon. My own attempts to navigate them made me marvel, in a totally new way, at how easy Doyle made it look. That’s the true mark of genius, isn’t it?


How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

The Detective, The Woman and The Silent Hive: My New Book

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As much as I’m having trouble believing it, tomorrow is D-Day for my third novel The Detective, The Woman and The Silent Hive: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes. Like my other two, it stars Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.

Here’s what it’s about:

The mysterious death of Irene Adler’s bees leads to a consultation with Sherlock Holmes and the discovery of a sinister connection to a case many years in the past. When this threat imperils the safety of everyone the detective holds dear, he and The Woman are forced to use every ounce of their ingenuity to save their friends.

If you’re a fan of the canon, you’ll enjoy how this story ties into Doyle’s “The Five Orange Pips.” If you’re unfamiliar with that story, though, this one stands alone. It follows on The Detective and The Woman and The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree, but you needn’t have read those to understand and enjoy it.

If you’re planning to attend 221b Con in Atlanta from April 4-6, I’ll be there with a few copies of each of my books for sale and would love to meet you.

I’d really like to hear about your experience reading the book. Hashtag #SilentHive or tweet me @Pickwick12 to let me know how you’re getting on. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

How to get Silent Hive:

If you’d like to catch up on all three books, Dr. Watson’s Lounge has a 3 books for 2 deal here.

Individually, The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

How to get the previous two books in the series:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

 

Canon Thursday: Why Pastiche?

Yesterday marked a milestone for me, the conclusion of the first draft of my second novel starring Sherlock Holmes and the indomitable Irene Adler. MX Publishing has given me the greenlight, and I’ll be getting it ready for publication.

Possibly as a result of this, I’ve been thinking for the past few days about why it is that we write Sherlock Holmes pastiche. (For the purposes of this post, a pastiche is any work that stars Sherlock Holmes that was not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

The canon itself is not exactly short. Conan Doyle was prolific, and fans have fifty-six short stories and four novels to sink their teeth into. And yet, people have been writing Holmes pastiche ever since the detective was created, and in today’s Internet-focused world, we see more and more fanfiction, or pastiche that is published for entertainment rather than profit. (Yes, I believe that in many cases, this is one of the only major differences between fanfiction and pastiche.)

Pastiche, of course, is not only a Holmesian phenomenon. Numerous sequels to Pride and Prejudice exist, and Scartlett, the fan-written sequel to Gone with the Wind is regarded by some as a modern classic, to name a couple of examples. In these cases and others, however, readers seem to be responding to the brevity of the source material. Margaret Mitchell only gave us one book about Scarlett O’Hara, and Jane Austen only wrote about Mr. Darcy one time. Holmes, on the other hand, stars in story after story.

In my view, it’s not so different. Sir Arthur gave us many stories about Holmes, but told us very little about the private man. What we learn, we glean between and around and under the lines, trying to grasp whatever morsels we can find. The short story format, in particular, facilitated this, each tale providing just enough room for a case, with personal details wedged in here and there.

Though ACD wrote much more extensively about Holmes than Jane Austen did about Elizabeth Bennett, there’s still such a lot we don’t know about him. It seems, as we read, that our minds are always wanting to move outward, to know more about the personal side of the detective and his world and more about the tantalizing details the author only wafted in front of us, such as the immense intrigue of Mycroft Holmes, a character so fascinating in his brief canonical appearances that entire books have been written about him.

The reason I write about Sherlock Holmes, which I believe I share with others, is the need to know more about him, whether about his work or his character or his world. ACD revealed just enough to keep us hooked, but never quite enough to make some us feel satisfied with the amount of Holmes we have. That’s why I pastiche.

How about you?

The Detective and The Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available through Amazon, Amazon UK, and The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide).