130 Years of A Study in Scarlet: A Tribute

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

StudScar

To a great mind, nothing is little.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

130 years ago today, Beeton’s Christmas Annual took a chance on a story by new author, a doctor in his twenties who happened to be named Arthur Conan Doyle. A Study in Scarlet is a peculiar tale by modern standards, with its separated sections and unfortunate depictions of Mormonism. Even at the time, it didn’t create much of a splash at initial publication.

But there’s something about it.

It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

There’s something about the youngest, sharpest incarnations of two people meeting for the first time. It’s impossible now to read the story without knowing the context of what is to come, but I believe that if you could, it would still have the power to whet your appetite and make you crave more of the interactions between Holmes and Watson, as the doctor takes you on the roller coaster journey of trying to understand his new flatmate.

It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

There’s also something about the detection, the “attainable superpower,” as Benedict Cumberbatch once described it. Holmes is always ahead, but he’s not superhuman. This youngest, sharpest Holmes does what all of us do, but he does it better and more, and he makes us realize, or at least imagine, what it would be like to understand the world around us to a far fuller extent.

There is a mystery about this which stimulates the imagination; where there is no imagination, there is no horror.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet is filled with the sense of adventure and razor-edge plotting that would come to characterize Doyle’s short stories.   His ability to craft suspense, while perhaps not yet at its height, is certainly evident in the story’s most thrilling moments. Another Holmesian through-line is the question of vigilante versus traditional justice, the question of whether horrendous acts can be justified. The very young Doyle crafted an engaging mystery; but, characteristically, he couldn’t resist including the kind of moral dilemma that would pepper the pages of many of his greatest stories.

There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

Except it hadn’t been done before. Though few realized it at the time, when A Study in Scarlet burst onto the scene, it ushered in an era in which the world would be captivated by a detective who could be moody and kind, genius and ignorant, contemplative and frenetic. The Era of Holmes and Watson, when two men with disparate habits and personalities would forge one of the most engaging partnerships in literary history, came with more of a whimper than a bang.

I think that’s part of what makes today wonderful. I wish I could travel in time to tell Doyle that his manuscript isn’t going to linger in oblivion. Jokes related to his feelings about Holmes aside, I wish I could show him that the era he created would never end. Instead, I want to tell him, it will endure through changing tastes and mores, somehow remaining relevant and poignant no matter how much time elapses.

Happy 130 years to a story that started as nothing–and changed the world.

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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.

TV Review: Houdini and Doyle


Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew each other, and they had a conflict regarding the validity of spiritualism. Houdini and Doyle, the new ITV-produced miniseries, has this friendship at its core. Lest you expect any further historical accuracy than this general framework, however, let me disabuse you of the notion immediately: Houdini and Doyle is not without fun moments, but it is not a historical series in any respect.

The story wastes little time in getting to the heart of the premise, which is an antagonistically-friendly crimesolving partnership between Houdini and Doyle, who set out to solve the murder of a nun—a murder with supposedly-supernatural overtones. An (expectedly) uncooperative Scotland Yard assigns them the third member of their unit—a female officer named Adelaide Stratton. If you are a student of history, this is, well, an issue. The first female police officer was not hired until 1919, when Doyle was nearly 60. This series presents a younger Doyle, who is acutely mourning the loss of his wife Louise, who died in 1906 (without contending, at least initially, with the reality of his second wife, Jean Leckie, with whom he was already deeply in love when Louise died).

I belabored these points early to get the issue of history out of the way: This series is neither realistically accurate to its time nor is it accurate to its characters. It is both anachronistic and as violently murderous of timeline continuity as Doyle himself was in his stories.


However, and it’s a large however, that is not at all to claim that Houdini and Doyle isn’t very, very fun at times. Seen as a work of fanfiction in which characters loosely based on Houdini and Sir Arthur have been placed in a quirky AU world somewhat resembling turn-of-the-century England with equal parts Steampunk silliness, it actually somewhat works. It’s a bit like the world of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films taken to the next level of heightened reality.

Stephen Mangan and Michael Weston do a capable job as the believer Doyle and the skeptic Houdini, respectively, and Rebecca Liddiard plays an eager and self-possessed Stratton. Some of the first episode’s most enjoyable moments exist in the characters’ banter rather than in the solving of the mystery itself, which is fairly standard for a crime series.

 Houdini and Doyle presents some very pretty visuals and an amusing way to spend three quarters of an hour. It’s not exactly memorable, and it’s certainly not a work of historical significance, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out if you enjoy light mystery and entertaining procedurals.

Houdini and Doyle can be viewed on ITV Encore in the UK and will begin airing weekly on May 2nd on Fox in the US.

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur & George Episode 3: Recap and Review

DOYLE 2014 LTD FOR  ITV ARTHUR & GEORGE Pictured: MARTIN CLUNES as Arthur and ARSHER ALI as George. These images are the copyright of ITV/DOYLE 2014 LTD.

The finale episode of Arthur & George brought the series to new heights in almost every area and left me wishing the entire series had been as well-written and tightly-plotted as Episode 3 was.

The story picked up at a perplexing moment, in which Sir Arthur had begun to have serious doubts about Edalji’s innocence and some of the seeming coincidences of the case. By doggedly following the clues, much like Holmes would have done, Doyle and his secretary finally uncovered the truth about a troubled young man and a grudge that had existed since childhood.

The series didn’t follow the narrative to the very end, but text-on-screen assured the viewer that Edalji was fully exonerated and resumed his work as a solicitor. From a character standpoint, Doyle’s forensic victory lightened his emotional load and gave him the impetus to declare his true feelings for Jean Leckie and become engaged to her.

The episode left a few perplexing questions, notably about oddities of Edalji’s life that were never explained. Most of these appear to be casualties of a total series runtime of only a little over two hours, and interested viewers can find answers is Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, on which the show is based.

Overall, Episode 3 dramatically increased my admiration for the series as a whole, and while I still believe the cast deserves the lion’s share of credit for making it all work, the subtlety and coherence of Ed Whitmore’s conclusion deserve a mention as well.

Arthur & George has been an enjoyable, if imperfect, look at a lesser-known event in an author’s life, one that had major historical implications in Britain (the creation of the criminal appeals court). A few more episodes would have fleshed out the details more, but as it stands, a stellar cast put heart and polish into a good script and created a series that will no doubt charm Holmesian audiences for some time to come.

The series is currently available for streaming at PBS.org

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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.

Arthur & George Episode 2 Recap and Review

Arthur & George

After last week’s origin story, it was refreshing to go deeper into the Edalji case this week in part two of this three-part series. In my opinion, some of the awkwardness of last week’s script was gone, and the story moved through the investigation a bit more seamlessly. At the same time, the greater focus on details of the story highlighted just how disparate the different plotlines are. The Edalji case and Doyle’s conflicted attraction to Jean Leckie just don’t really connect in any meaningful way. They’re both compelling and well enough written to be involving for the viewer, but they feel like separate anecdotes in a life, not intrinsically connected parts of a cohesive narrative, no matter how hard the series tries to make us believe they are.

The bulk of episode 2 is spent on detective work performed by Doyle and his secretary, and Martin Clunes and Charles Edwards continue to be extremely watchable and often amusing. In particular, the script put lines in Doyle’s mouth that were very close to Holmes’s own words, but to his credit, writer Ed Whitmore managed to escape making the references overly heavy handed.

This week also featured more intense scrutiny of George Edalji himself, who proved to be a potentially sketchier character than he originally appeared. Arsher Ali continues to hold his own, never overplaying the character. At this point, however, he’s still such an enigma that it’s difficult to be terribly emotionally invested in his plight.

Additionally, Episode 2 depicted an excellent confrontation between the cornered Doyle and strong-willed Leckie, who declared her unwillingness to accept his advances until he’s ready to make them on his own without coercion. I’ve read different views of Leckie, not all of them sympathetic, but Hattie Morahan certainly paints a picture of an engaging woman who is one of the most appealing parts of this series.

I’ll reserve judgment until everything plays out in episode three, but at the moment, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, Arthur & George is an interesting mystery adaptation of a historical event that is certainly worth 45 minutes a week. On the other hand, its occasional flirtations with brilliance keep making me wish it had reached just a little bit higher.

Episodes 1-2 are currently available to stream on PBS.org

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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.

Largest Anthology Ever

Anthology

I’m thrilled to announce my participation in a new anthology project that will contain the most new Holmes stories of any collection that has ever been published. The previous record was 30; this book will contain 60 new and traditional Sherlock Holmes tales, among them my new story entitled “The Adventure of the Traveling Orchestra.” I’m joined by fellow Baker Street Babe Lyndsay Faye and many other acclaimed Holmesian authors. The anthology’s proceeds will go to assist the renovation of Undershaw, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home.

Check out this Radio Times article about the project to learn more. To my surprise and delight, Lyndsay and I are both mentioned.

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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.

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.

FreeWatson

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.

Canon Thursday: The Klinger Decision, Myths, and Comic Books

CushingHolmes

Several months ago, the much-publicized case of Les Klinger versus the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate finally went before a lower court judge. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Estate had, for years, been extorting and attempting to extort money from authors and other producers of Sherlockian media, based on a totally fictitious idea that Holmes was still in copyright, even though many of the stories were already firmly in the public domain and free for use.

(Lest this seem like a small problem, I have personal friends and acquaintances who were harassed, either personally or through their publishers, and there are myriads more, many of whom paid up just to avoid a legal fight.)

The Estate lost in court, but, as usual, did not know when to say uncle and appealed, all the way up to the US Supreme Court, who didn’t even deign to give a reason for refusing to hear such a ridiculous case that had already been firmly decided according to the rule of law. This past week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals put the icing on the cake by ordering the Estate to pay a large chunk of Klinger’s legal fees, while calling Klinger a public servant and the Estate frivolous.

What I want to discuss is the philosophical component of the Doyle Estate’s argument, the idea that all the stories should stay under copyright because Sherlock Holmes, as a character, is incomplete without every single one of them. Now, this argument predictably didn’t hold up in a court of law, and I suspect the Estate’s legal team didn’t think it would. I sense major straw-grasping when the house of cards started tumbling down. Everything worked fine when they were scaring people into paying money they didn’t owe. When Klinger, who knew the law well enough to know he could fight, stood up and challenged them, they were like a schoolyard bully left without his mojo.

Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let’s evaluate the actual defense as if there’s someone, somewhere, who truly believes in it, the idea that Sherlock Holmes is somehow incomplete as a character without every last story Doyle wrote about him. (Even if this were true, it’s hardly a copyright argument, since copyright law is not based on character completeness, but bear with me.)

I have a somewhat unusual origin story when it comes to my affinity for Sherlock Holmes. I read the stories as a child and enjoyed them, but it was the pastiches of Laurie R. King that really hooked me. She was the signpost that pointed me back to the originals, but what truly intrigued me was the idea that there could always be more. Holmes’s world, I learned, would never be static is long as lovers of the character chose to write about him in new and interesting ways. It was that huge, expansive world that drew me in.

Since the beginning of the current Sherlockian wave, my story has become less and less unusual. Lots of fans, these days, are coming at Holmes through doorways marked “Sherlock” or “Elementary” or “Watson & Holmes,” a racebent comic that puts the characters in an urban American setting. Some are even coming through a door marked “fanfiction,” their literal first experience being one gifted to them by another enthusiast choosing to share their passion with the world.

This week, after seeing the film Guardians of the Galaxy, I did a little bit of research on protagonist Peter Quill. What I discovered is that, like most comic book heroes, Quill has more than one origin story, and the filmmakers picked the one they liked best. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the main X-Men characters–they’re all this way. At different times and places and cultural moments, a writer chooses to reinvent them in a way that he or she feels is relevant.

The thing is, Peter Quill wasn’t any less complete as a character when his stepfather tried to kill him (original story), and he’s no more of a character now that he was raised by a single mother (current story). Loki is no less Loki when he’s a woman, a kid, or the iteration we now know from the Avengers films.

The point is, modern heroes are our own equivalent to oral tradition, like the stories sung by poets like Homer, that changed and expanded and contracted based on ancient contexts. In an ironic way, the ever-changing nature and impermanence of the Internet facilitates similar changes and expansions. The current craze has swept Sherlock Holmes into this kind of existence.

Fanfiction writers, show producers, and comic illustrators take Sherlock Holmes as the basis for their myths, and they expand him, change him, and sometimes even contract him. I do this in my books, less aggressively than some, but my stories would have nowhere to go if I refused to expand the character or his world. Laurie R. King showed me that this was possible. Her Holmes is (intentionally and self-awarely) just off the original, like a dialect derived from a language. But he’s a complete character in his own right. As is my interpretation. And as is the Holmes in the fan fiction some high school student somewhere is writing in her bedroom as I type this. When you love a character, change and expansion are not disrespect. They’re homage. But they also don’t add or take away from the character as he originally appeared, either.

Some might throw up their hands and wail at the idea that Holmes is in any sense like a comic book hero, but it’s an honor for him to be lifted into the pantheon of characters so passionately loved that fans cannot resist continuing to write new things about them, new stories that reflect new places and times. But no new iteration takes anything away from the old ones.

Perhaps the biggest reason the Estate’s philosophy fails to resonate with me is a personal one. You see, I may not be a guardian of any galaxies or the wielder of the Tesseract, but I’m a character in the story called life, and my time hasn’t ended yet. I’m not the same person I was yesterday, and I’m not the same person I’ll be tomorrow. And yet, I’m a 100% complete person today, just like Sherlock Holmes is in A Study in Scarlet, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, and every story in between.

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How to get my newest book:

(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.

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.