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Posts Tagged ‘Sherlock’

The Case of the Exsanguinated Sleuth

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

As promised, in honour of the return of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ brilliant SHERLOCK, here is my cheeky Sherlock Holmes story… with a supernatural twist (Sherlockians, see if you can spot all the references to the Conan Doyle stories, and check out my previous post on Holmes and the supernatural below…)

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Mr Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearthrug and picked up the article our visitor had left behind the night before. Embossed in deepest crimson upon the calling card was a gothic letter ‘D’.

“Well, Watson, what do you make of it?”

Holmes was sitting with his back to me, and I had given him no sign of my occupation.

“I believe you have eyes in the back of your head,” I remarked.

“I have at least a well-polished, silver-plated coffee pot in front of me,” said he, and touching the lid he let out a sharp hiss as if the scalding metal had burned his elegant fingers.

As my eyes shifted to the pot itself, Holmes reacted with lightning speed and threw his napkin over it. Still, I had a fancy that I had glimpsed something curious before the linen descended. I had the strange idea that, although the chair in which he sat had been reflected, the face and form of Sherlock Holmes was missing.

“Watson,” he said, dragging me from my reverie, “would you have any objection to drawing the blinds?”

“None at all.” I crossed the room, all the while keeping a concerned eye on my old friend. “Tell me, Holmes, are you afraid of something?”

“Well, I am.”

“Of what?” said I, shutting out the morning glare. “Not air-guns again!”

“No. I no longer fear… air-guns.”

The detective gave a dry chuckle and curled up in his chair, knees drawn to his jutting chin. Despite his good humour he was even more gaunt and pale than usual. I approached, took hold of his wrist and attempted to gauge his pulse. I could find none. Similar difficulties had frustrated me when examining him after one of his cocaine binges, the soporific effect of his customary seven-per-cent solution having depressed the rigour of his circulatory system. He did not protest as I rolled up his sleeve and checked for the telltale signs that his miserable addiction had been indulged. Again, I could find nothing. And then I noticed something very strange: there were two puncture wounds, but not upon his arm.

“What have you been doing to yourself, old fellow?” I exclaimed.

“Peace, Watson,” Holmes muttered. “You will be pleased to hear I have no further use for the cocaine bottle.”

“Hmn. Well, something very odd has happened since I saw you last. Perhaps it is all to do with your visitor of last night. I am sorry I could not be at your side, my practice is rather busy of late. But come, tell me about him.”

Holmes stretched his long legs towards the fire and a great shiver ran the course of his body.

“Can’t get warm for the life of me,” he said. “As to my client, he was a nobleman of eastern extraction. A Count, no less.”

“Indeed? Well, I suppose we have hosted hereditary kings of Bohemia in Baker Street before, but what did this illustrious client want with you?”

“A trifling, if puzzling, business of persecution. He arrived in the town of Whitby on the Yorkshire coast some weeks back and was immediately set upon by a ragtag band made up of a wild frontiersman, an asylum physician and the eldest son of one of our noble families.”

“Good God, what had the man done to attract the hostility of such an unlikely crew?”

“That is somewhat unclear,” said the detective. “He is a foreigner, of course, and that may have been against him from the first. The Count is of the opinion that, as dangerous as these men are, their leader poses a far greater threat to his safety.”

“Who is this other man?”

“A Dutch professor with a very particular idée fixe that borders upon insanity. He is, however, a brilliant fellow with half the letters in the alphabet after his name. This obsession with the Count and his ‘kind’, as the Professor in his narrow-mindedness might term them, has diverted him from his true calling as an expert in obscure diseases.”

“Prejudice is a horrid thing,” I said shortly.

“Indeed. There are some trees, Watson, which grow to a certain height, and then suddenly develop some unsightly eccentricity. You will often see it in humans.” At that last word an uncharacteristic expression of condescension passed across my friend’s features; a certain aloof inhumanity which chilled me strangely. “Whatever the cause,” he continued, “the man has begun to go wrong.” 

“Well, it seems a most interesting case,” I ventured.

Holmes smiled, and in that instant I had the uncanny impression that his teeth, particularly the canines, were of a peculiarly pointed, I might even say feral, appearance. In all the chronicles I had made of our adventures together, of all the sketches of his person contained therein, I had not remarked upon, for I did not remember ever observing, this singular feature before.

“Interesting indeed,” Holmes nodded, “though I remain sanguine as to the problems the mystery presents.”

“Well then,” said I, “shall I leave you to ruminate upon it?”

“No, Watson. I should like you to stay and give me your assistance in certain matters.”

Holmes’ eyes glowed with a sudden fire and he rose and slipped across the hearthrug. Within three steps he was at the door of our Baker Street sitting room, turning the key in the lock. Then he spun round and, fixing me with that peculiar smile, he said:

“Indeed, I fully expect this to be a three pint problem…”

With sincere apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Bram Stoker!

 

No Ghosts Need Apply

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

 

The latest Holmes & Watson

The latest Holmes & Watson

In honour of the return of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ brilliant Sherlock, I’ll be reprinting a cheeky short story from my back catalogue, a pastiche called THE ADVENTURE OF THE EXSANGUINATED SLEUTH. The story will be posted Monday, but first a discussion of that most rational of detectives and his attitude to my favourite genre, the supernatural…

The question I always get asked at signings and school events: what did you read when you were a kid? I then bore the audience to death (sometimes literally) with a huge list of favourite books and stories. Always at the very core of that list is the ‘canon’ of 56 short stories and 4 novellas that make up the adventures of Mr Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes was my first real literary passion, and I use the word ‘passion’seriously. Whenever I sat down with one of those stories, I found my young heart racing as I followed the Great Detective and his faithful companion and chronicler, Dr John H Watson (formerly of the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers) into the dingy alleys of Limehouse, over the hound-haunted moors of Devonshire and across the cantons of Switzerland, all the way to that fatal encounter at the Reichenbach Falls… (SPOILER ALERT)… and beyond!

From the age of 5 to 14, the cosy sitting room of 221b Baker Street was as familiar to me as my own bedroom. All I had to do was close my eyes to see Holmes’ Stradivarius violin propped up on his chair, his correspondence pinned to the mantelpiece with a jack knife, the tobacco-stuffed Persian slipper, that patriotic ‘VR’ done in bullet holes in the wall, Watson’s bull pup lounging on the hearthrug (probably poisoned by Holmes in one of his unethical experiments), a chalkboard covered in strange ‘dancing men’, and on the side table: a dark lantern, Watson’s service revolver and Holmes’ burglar kit all ready and waiting for the next thrilling adventure.

A lovely chill raced down my spine whenever those famous words – ‘The game’s afoot!’ – were uttered or when I read some wonderful line like: ‘Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound…’

Of course, in the end (SPOILER ALERT!) there was no demonic hound haunting the Baskerville clan, just a big dopey dog covered in luminous paint. You see, unlike his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes was an arch rationalist who did not believe in the supernatural.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes shrugs off the legend of the ghost dog as interesting only to ‘a collector of fairy tales’ while in The Sussex Vampire, another story that at the beginning seems to be dipping its toe into the world of mythical monsters, Holmes makes it clear that his work as a detective ‘must stand flat-footed upon the ground… No ghosts need apply’.

But despite Holmes’ scepticism, Watson’s accounts of their adventures together often contain a frisson of what might be called supernatural or uncanny terror, and despite this terror always being rationalised and made sense of at the end of the case, a hint of eerie impossibility seems to linger in the mind of the reader. Maybe this is because, very often, Holmes’ cases teeter on the edge of gothic literature, a sub-genre that was the first to treat the supernatural as a real threat and which did much to birth the detective story.

All of this, as I say, is by way of an introduction to my very short Sherlock Holmes story that will be appearing on the blog Monday. It’s a parody really, my way of poking a bit of fun at the Great Detective’s insistence that ‘no ghosts need apply’…