Chasing the Ghost of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock HolmesAs I write this I am surrounded by the ghost of Sherlock Holmes.

I am wearing a t-shirt for the BBC show Sherlock. You can also find the Blu Rays for the seasons behind me, alongside the box set containing all of the films starring Basil Rathbone and the series with Jeremy Brett (my favorite television Holmes).

Over to my side is my Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat that I bought at 221B Baker Street in London many years ago. I remember that moment vividly.

Why?

Well, honestly, I have a big head. I can’t really buy hats since it is rare I find one that fits my large skull. After spending an afternoon walking through the properly messy rooms of the museum, I assumed I would be going home with just a copy of an illustration from the original books (now on the wall in my kitchen), but to my utter surprise there was a hat that fit me. My large head? Really? It was a glorious moment, as if the great detective was prepared for my arrival.

Let’s see what else…. Well, there is the Sherlock Holmes action figure on my desk, my numerous copies of the books (as well as a few biographies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) on my bookshelves, and my collection of the different Sherlocks that have appeared on radio (from Basil Rathbone to John Gielgud- possibly my all-time favorite performance of the character).

When I look back at my long adoration of books and characters, usually I can point to a person or an event that drove me to become a fan. Many times it was family (my parents are big readers and always had a lot of books), but Sherlock Holmes? Nah, that was all me.

Once one of my cousins dressed as Sherlock for Halloween. I was horror-struck, appalled. And I remember saying to him, almost cruelly, “You are nothing like him.”

See, I didn’t share the master detective with anyone.

Like I said I can’t put my finger exactly on why or how this obsession began.

It was just there, almost like I tripped into it. It was definitely when I was in elementary school, I can say that. I clearly remember convincing my parents to buy me the big complete set hardcover and going through a story a night by myself in sixth grade. It felt like I was doing something so very important since the book was so large.

I also remember discovering the different old-time radio productions.  There is a certain level of glee in the performance of both Basil Rathbone and John Gielguid and their respective shows. They take pleasure in a case and an adventure, making it all seem like so much fun.

Who wouldn’t want to come along? It’s an adventure!

I have always dreamed of writing a Sherlock story or creating a character with that kind of an impact. I once actually attempted a story of the great detective, but it was hardly a real mystery. Maybe it was me getting freaked out by the prospect, but it turned into a radio comedy called “The Dating Dilemma.” It was based on the premise that Sherlock was actually very interested in ladies, but very bad at dating. The lack of relationships mentioned in the stories was Watson trying to protect his image. I have had the pleasure of hearing this adventure performed by a few different radio troupes around the country. I do like it, but it didn’t inspire me to take on the detective a second time.

Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, CoverThe biggest impact of Sherlock on my writing can be found in my new novel MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE. Yes, it is set in Victorian England with its cobblestone roads and dense fog, but Maximilian Standforth is not Sherlock.

Maximilian is a pampered aristocrat, womanizer, enjoys being the center of attention, and relishes far too much in the seedier elements of society.  And while the story takes place before the time of Sherlock’s adventures, I couldn’t help but make one or two references to those stories. I won’t say more, leaving that there for my fellow fans to catch in their reading.

It is all so close and yet so far…

It’s strange how much comfort we all find in these stories. Consider for a moment that each tale, each adventure has someone in peril, maybe there is a murder (possibly done by a great hound), or simply the potential for thievery. Whatever the case, for the participants of the tale, they would rather be anywhere but in the apartment of 221B Baker Street.

Are we taking pleasure from their pain?  As they frantically ramble off their tragic tale, explaining their arrival and need of assistance, we as readers listen impatiently trying to gather clues; missing, just like Sherlock, the emotional distress of the character in front of us. How we all enjoy Sherlock’s banter during these moments. Frankly, Watson should chide us just like he does the detective in so many stories (something they especially love to play out in the show Sherlock).

Yet, in each of us mystery readers, we kind of wish we could have a reason to step into those stories, be escorted up those stairs by Mrs. Hudson.

A dark wish surely, and you realize that quickly when a real unsolved case happens to you like it did to me.

The Adventure of the Broken Christmas

I was once robbed.

During our first Christmas with a new baby, my wife and I decided to stay at my parents’ over Christmas Eve. It felt easier than having to make the trip with a baby and dog in the night, plus it gave the new grandparents a treat. However, when we arrived back at our house late that holiday morning we had quite a surprise waiting for us.

Our backdoor was shattered, presents were gone as well as my laptop (containing a lot of new writing now lost) and many other personal items.  Every room was ransacked and searched from the baby room down to the basement.  And for us it all immediately felt dirty, attacked, broken, ruined; like finding a wonderful meal being nibbled on by a rodent from Sumatra.

Yet, something else was stolen from us that day, a sense of security, a percentage of the warmth of the holiday season (that has yet to come back completely) and the memories we should have had as our first Christmas as new parents.

No, we did not have the picturesque day of dangling new presents in front of our baby, under a perfect tree, candles lit, Nat King Cole playing quietly on the stereo. My memory of my first child’s holiday was watching the police enter our house with guns drawn (in case the burglars were still in there), walking the officers through the house pointing out what has been changed, and watching them “work.”

(Yes, I put work in quotes.)

The thieves were never caught and to this day I don’t think it is because they were expert criminals or anything. No, I put the blame firmly on the shoulders of the cops.

They interviewed only one neighbor (one!), only asking about noises, not about strange vehicles or maybe strangers knocking on doors that day before. They did look for fingerprints but only in one room (and even that search was lackluster). And when the cops were leaving that afternoon, with my family standing in the middle of the living room, destruction around us, they had no problem telling us that this happens all the time (a relief?) and usually no one gets caught.

No one?  Have they never heard of Sherlock Holmes?

I did! And I was on the case!

SherlockThe ghost of Sherlock was over my shoulder as I went from neighbor to neighbor, taking the time to listen, sharing only so much, and taking notes.

Some spoke of a heavy-set woman trying to collect for an unnamed charity. Others brought up a mysterious rusted white van that was parked around the neighborhood. A few even pointed the finger immediately at a disgruntled and questionable family that had just been foreclosed on, forced to move from the area.

For me, I kept returning to the one clue I believe I had. In the front lawn near my door, a twig was stuck in the ground, straight up. Now there are no tree nearby with branches like that. And really, tree branches when they fall don’t get stuck in the ground like that. They lay there, even with force (I’ve been through tornadoes, I know this). They don’t fall and stick straight up!

That branch was a marker! Placed there as a sign for someone later.

That branch tells me that my house was scouted, probably the day before (Christmas Eve). So did anyone see anything the day before that could lead us to the criminals? Did anyone knock on the door? Touch the door?  Could this have been related to the heavy-set woman a few neighbors brought up?

The next day, I called the officer in charge of the case to share my clues. Yes, I was excited, and I am sure he could tell it in my tone. In my mind I imagined I was Watson relating my findings to Holmes, but, sadly, I was talking more to Lestrade.

Yes, the officer was more a Lestrade and dismissed each of my clues, and stated that I don’t need to worry. They rarely return to a house. And that phone call was the last time I heard from him.

I think back to this conversation yearly even though I am sure the cop doesn’t. It is usually the last thing I think of each Christmas Eve after the presents from Santa are placed under the tree, the cookies are bitten into just right, and I, once again, attempt to fall asleep.

I rarely sleep well on Christmas now.

One of the thing I learned from my episode with the robbery is I am not a Sherlock Holmes.

I am not even a Doctor Watson, playfully bumbling or otherwise.  My days involve daydreaming and kids, two things Mr. Holmes would never have had the patience for. No, I am not at all like the great detective, nor will I ever be.

It is all frightfully disappointing.

And yet, my deerstalker hat still sits next to me just in case.

I did say it fits perfectly, right?

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

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11 responses

  1. Very enjoyable read. Ah, Sherlock Holmes. Great reads, fun times.

    I’m about 50% through “A Jane Austen Daydream,” and am loving it. It’s like reading Jane’s autobiography. You’ve captured her voice almost. Job very well done.

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you are enjoying it!

      When you are done would you consider writing a review or a blog about it? I would love for more readers to find the book and word of mouth really helps a book grow, especially when you consider how many books are being published these days.

      Thank you again and I hope you enjoy the big surprise coming up in the book.

      Cheers!

  2. Sorry to hear about your son’s first Christmas – that’s a raw deal. Hopefully you’ve at least been able to channel those feelings of anger and indignation into your stories, from the urge for dectective-ness you mention to knowing just how your wronged characters might feel.

  3. Yeah – a real Sherlock would be great. Have you seen ‘Elementary’? another Sherlock modern take TV series? it’s very good. I like the sound of your new book – all the best for the launch.

  4. Pingback: Discover the strange new book MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

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