Monday, 14 November 2011

Sunday, 9 October 2011


An enthusiastic reception of my second edition of In Search of Doctor Watson certainly cheered me up this week. A new, innovative shop dedicated to selling 'best quality books to discerning readers' in a small, bustling and crowded town in Wales welcomed it with open arms.   

Monday, 26 September 2011


Are they like gold dust? I have some lined up and am busy sharpening my quill pen

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Case of Belated Recognition?

The enormous Blogthon being oganised for November poses the question: 'What has done most for Holmes, that Film or that BBC Series? Well, the movie concentrates on  Holmes' physical rather than his mental agility. And while it is all there in the canon (Watson comments, in A Study in Scarlet, on  his new acquaintance's expertise with the singlestick, in the boxing ring and as a swordsman and Sherlock is sufficiently impressed by mathew's knocking out his left canine  in the waiting room at Charing Cross Station to record the fact in his common-place book under 'M')  I have heard Jude Law mentioned a great deal more than R. Downey, Jr. As for Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC series, well he is an engaging young fellow, but the small screen absolutely shone whenever  Martin Freeman appeared. Does this mean Watson is at last getting the kudos he deserves?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Same Again

I hope you all liked the reprise of an earlier blog, but I hadn't actually visited Ross before I wrote the first one!

Doctor Watson and Ross-on-Wye

    I felt so encouraged by the news from MX Publishing today that I took time out to trace John H. Watson's movements when he was left behind in the hotel at Ross while Holmes and Lestrade went to Hereford Jail to interview young McCarthy in what the Doctor has called 'The Boscombe Valley Mystery.' There's quite a lot about this investigation in my latest book to be re-issued: "In Search of Doctor Watson" but, alas, not mch remains of what he saw in the  'pretty town' after crossing 'the broad gleaming Severn.' The Great Western Railway Locomotive Engine Shed is now a cafe 'which is part of a garden centre, but the Station and the 'Hereford Arms' have completely disappeared under an untidy Industrial Estate. The old weighbridge and the Coal Office is now a recycling centre, but it is still possible to see the remains of a viaduct at a junction called Five Ways in the centre of the Town; and in a garden nearby preserved examples of broad gauge (7ft.) and standard gauge (4 ft. 8 inches) track.
    'Yellow-backed' novels were sold at all railway bookstalls and Watson, after seeing his friend off and wandering for a while round the streets,  is left at the hotel reading one while he waits for Holmes to return from Hereford. "But the puny plot of the story was so thin, however, when compared with the deep mystery through which we were groping...that I at last flung it across the room." 

Monday, 5 September 2011

Doctor Watson's Railway Journeys (1)

   "Have you a couple of days to spare? Have just been wired for from the West of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy. Shall be glad if you will come with me. Air and scenery perfect. Leave Paddington by the 11.15."
   Standing outside his house, complete with a hastily packed valise, one blast of the whistle carried in every gentleman's waistcoat pocket will bring Watson a four-wheeler, and two a hansom. In his first recorded railway journey with Holmes they are off to Hereford. Holmes will spend part of the journey reading newspapers, scattering them on the floor before rolling them into a ball and throwing it onto the luggage rack after the train has passed Reading. The date is between 1889 and 1894, and the train the 11.15 to Gloucester and from there to Ross-on-Wye. Watson doesn't mention changing trains anywhere along the route but one was probably necessary. The pair will make a lunch stop at Swindon. This was unavoidable before 1895 as the Great Western Railway had a contract with a catering firm which obliged it to stop its trains in Swindon for at least twenty minutes.
   After dealing with the newspapers Holmes gives Watson a run-down of the case but then retires behind his 'pocket Petrarch'. Was his companion bored? He says, "It was nearly four o'clock when we at last, after passing through the beautiful Stroud Valley and over the broad, gleaming Severn, found ourselves at the pretty little country town of Ross." Lestrade meets them at the station and takes the pair to 'The Hereford Arms'. Later, Holmes is reluctant to travel to the murder scene that evening. Instead he goes with the Inspector to Hereford jail to interview the prime suspect in 'The Boscombe Valley Mystery'.
   After seeing them off, Watson returns to the inn and tries to interest himself  in one of the 'yellow-backed ' novels sold at all station bookshoops. But "The puny plot of the story was so thin...when compared with the deep mystery  through which we were groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the fiction to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room."     

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Outstanding Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Gerard Kelly

Those fans of Sherlock Holmes (and they would appear to be in the majority) who dislike any deviation from the canonical style of the orginal detections will love this book. The reader can almost hear Sherlock himself speaking from the comfort of his armchair by the fire in Baker Street. The stories are good. Some are very good: and all are enhanced by the author's own illustrations. While these lack the tautness of Sidney Paget, their fuzzy outlines give them an eldritch quality which is quite pleasing, and one is used with great effect on the cover of what is a very well-produced article. Something  which we have come to expect from this publisher. My favourite story is perhaps the very short 'The Disappearance of the Good Ship Alicia', if one accepts that a whole vessel and its crew can become buried in the sand. The research here is familiar, and not so self-consciously 'clever' as in some of the other tales. Codes abound for Sherlock to solve, and riddles - some well-known, others invented by the writer, and all making 'The Musgrave Ritual' seem very small beer indeed. There are investigations which sound positively Dickensian, and one at least which is certainly not for the squeamish or for the recently bereaved. Altogether a good buy!

The Case of the Grave Accusation A Sherlockian Adventure by Dicky Neely Editor Paul R. Spiring

This is not so much a book as a 'conceit'. Holmes and Watson 'come off the [Victorian] page' and into our world to defend their creator against the charges of plagiarism, adultery and incitement to murder. It reads like a piece of ephemera, and as such sits somewhat uneasily with Mr. Spiring's careful and solid scholarship - so one is not surprised to learn that the tale first appeared in a (now defunct) Texas newspaper. Having said that, the whole thing is great fun - and was writtten well in advance of the Cumberbatch/Freeman 'modernisation' of the canon by the BBC. We have Sherlock showing Watson "a truly marvellous invention" called a desktop computer, and bringing him a suit of clothes "more in keeping with  the contemporary fashion." Watson says that, although showers were around in his day, "they were nothing like this one, which produced torrents of hot water for so long as I desired. What luxury!" The pair have travelled to Devon to refute the allegations of  'Roger la Pelure d'Ail' (a pseudonym for the real-life Rodger Garrick-Steele who in 2000 wanted Bertram Fletcher Robinson's body exhumed to prove he had been poisoned by Doyle because he was about to reveal himself as the real author of The Hound of the Baskervilles). Paul Spiring ably refutes this in a series of contemporary notes after Holmes and  Watson give d'Ail his come-uppence and then return "to the pages of books that were written long ago." Altogether a very refreshing piece of hokum which must (and should) be popular with all Sherlockians, and sell like the proverbial hot cakes.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Shall We Join The Ladies?

   Fictional female detectives in the nineteenth and early twentieth century had to have a very pressing reason for entering what was mainly a male preserve. Loveday Brooke, for example, was desperately poor. And as late as 1898 Dorcas Deane ("A real sob-sister was Dorcas") worked to support an artist husband who had gone blind. Even so, some women still  didn't escape becoming social outcasts, which is probably why the gloriously named Miss van Snoop made only one appearance. Florence Cusack, however, was an exception. Young, beautiful and wealthy, she travelled from country to country  trying  to clear her dead husband's name in a series of stories and (most unusually) "ended up in the arms of her narrator."
   Madelyn Mack, "the delightful, golden-haired and beautiful college girl" invented by the American writer  Hugh C. Weir, had to earn her own living and decided to copy Sherlock Holmes, referring to her "dissecting-room experiences" and using expressions which do credit to him as a model. She was also fond of staging dramatic denouments. But her admiration for the man wasn't exactly unqualified. In fact, she became somewhat dismissive of him. There were, said Miss Mack, only two rules in detection: hard work and common sense. "Not uncommon sense, like our friend Sherlock Holmes." However, like Sherlock, Miss Mack had "a grip of steel" and was not averse to drug-taking. Only she went in for coca berries as a stimulant rather than cocaine. She also had her 'Watson'. Miss Noraker ('Nora') was on hand to ask questions, and to say things like "I'm afraid I don't quite follow you. There is nothing at all out of the ordinary that I can catch." And, like John H. Watson, she doesn't  always know where Madelyn is  or what she's  up to. Nevertheless, Nora  too is prepared to go anywhere with little or no notice and at any time of the day or night. Her reference to "the tyrant of our city editor's desk" implies that she also wrote up Madelyn's investigations in the best Watsonian manner. Unlike the little helper of "Lady Molly of Scotland Yard." Mary appears to be a servant of some sort and has the very irritating habit of  referring to her employer as "my dear lady" at the end of every sentence. She sounds even more admiring than the Watson. But the road was being well-paved for today's feisty forensic females.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Let's Hear it For Bohemia!

"The rough-and-tumble of Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man"- Watson in 'The Musgrave  Ritual.'

"It was not a collection of residential flats, but rather the abode of Bohemian bachelors" - Watson in 'The Three Garridebs.'

As Holmes went out to pursue the elusive Mrs. Sawyer, Watson passed the time "skipping over the pages of Henri Murger's Vie de Boheme." A Study in Scarlet.

Murger's sketches of the true bohemian life, which he had lived himself, enjoyed enormous success as a series of newspaper articles. These later came out in book form, as a play and finally, half a century later, an opera by Puccini. Talented young artists, writers and sculptors with no money hung out in a derelict farm- house near the Barriere d'Enfer (one of the gates of Paris) coming regularly into the City hoping to earn the price of a cup of coffee at the Cafe Momus. Murger later became respectable, deserting the Momus for the Cafe Riche but continuing to write novels which painted the really bohemian existence in the grimest of colours. It led, he said, to The Academy, the hospital or the morgue. There was nothing for it but extremely hard work, and young men without talent who simply wanted to sample the life did so knowing they could return home after a short, romantic and not too painfully poor stay in a garret, drinking in noisy taverns with genuine artists and sleeping with little grisettes.As soon as the game palled they could go home, as Murger put it, "to marry their cousins and set up as solicitors in a town of thirty thousand souls where, sitting by the fire in the evening, they boasted of their poverty-stricken artist days with all the exaggeration of travellers describing a tiger-hunt."

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Taking Watson Seriously

In 1987 the Radio Times for December 5-11 printed a series of articles in honour of the first appearance a hundred years earlier of A Study Scarlet in Beeton's Christmas Annual. Tim Piggott-Smith, one of the few actors to have played both Holmes and Watson, had this to say about the latter: "You always have to take [him] seriously as a practising doctor, and some of the bits that work best are when Watson is examining a victim and naming the bones which have been damaged." While this is a moot point for some of us and may have been made in stage productions rather than stressed in the canon, the Doctor "represents the average reader". He is there "so that Holmes can think out loud." But for Piggott-Smith, the most important point about Watson is that he stands for decency and straightness -the perfect upright citizen. "It all serves to throw the character of Sherlock Holmes into even sharper relief." A strange man, with something chilling about him, a sense of cruelty beneath the surface. "If you had to choose between Holmes and Watson as holiday companions, you might find Watson a little dull, but a much easier person to be with [and] I think it's pretty terrific what Conan Doyle has achieved with him."    

Friday, 3 June 2011

Doyle on Doyle

    Given the continuing complusion to mine what by now can only be the minutiae of our hero's writing, perhaps it's time to consider what Conan Doyle himself said on the subject. In a letter to the Critic, New York, in 1893 objecting to the unauthorised publication of some of his early short stories, he said  they were meant to have the ephemeral life they deserved, and "it is slightly annoying to an author when work which he has deliberately suppressed is resuscitated against his wish."
    The main thrust of his letters to the press shows a robust common sense, curiosity and, on the whole, a fair amount of liberal-mindedness. How foolish to let loose a detachment of diseased prostitutes on soldiers returning to Portsmouth harbour after service in India because the suspension of the Contagious Diseases Act prevents doctors from affending the women's modesty by giving them medical examinations. How idiotic to give publicity to a woman  who objects to members of the Young Men's Christian Association (the Y.M.C.A.) singing 'worldly songs' in church. "What, because Mr Young is Vicar of St. John's, shall there be no more cakes and ale in the land?" What right had W. H. Smith to exclude George Moore's controversial novel Esther Waters from its railway station bookstalls? It was the duty of a distributor to distribute, not act as an unofficial censor.
    Nothing if not practical, Doyle wanted to see cavalry replaced by bicycles in the interests of speed and efficiency, as well as expense. But he would never believe the change had taken place "until I see100 lightly equipped men, with rifles slung on their backs, and bandoliers across their chests, riding behind the King's State Carriage, in place of the present picturesque but medieval guard."
     Many of his later letters to the newspapers deal with the more outre aspects of spiritualism, as well as his firm belief in the existence  of fairies. But it's pleasant to know that his very last letter, printed in the Daily Telegraph on the day he died,  is a perfectly lucid comment on the disastrous expedition to the Dardenelles during WW1.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Aside Arthur Conan Doyle

This fine compilation by Paul R. Spiring does a great deal to reinstate Bertram Fletcher Robinson and bring him before a wider public. A prolific journalist, it details the surprisingly large and varied amount of work Robinson published: and raises the question how much more he might have accomplished if his life hadn't been so tragically cut short. His detective Addington Peace, although no Holmes, is competent and interesting and demonstrates the nineteenth century fashion (along with Sherlock) for giving odd names to one's sleuth. The editor of 'The Lady's Home Magazine' (later renamed 'Home Magazine of   Fiction') in which Peace appeared, made full use of Robinson's connection with Doyle, something which has been rather played down over the years, by  repeating at the head of each tale that he was "Joint author with Sir A. Conan Doyle of his [Doyle's] best story, 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. Other stories from such magazines as Pearson's, Cassell's, The Windsor and the lesser-known Appleton's are also included in this book - some of them whimsical ('The Battle of Fingle's Bridge'), others more dramatic; but all a good read and giving a fair  idea of Robinson's range. The size, almost A4 and with a floppy cover, makes it difficult to handle and the punning title is decidedly  off-putting. But, once inside, the reader is rewarded by a large number of interesting illustrations and the charm of a writer rescued (thanks to Mr. Spiring) almost from oblivion.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Author's Note

When I first started writing about Sherlock Holmes I, rather naively as it turned out, thought the titles explained themselves. The Sign of Fear, A Study in Crimson, these would surely bring Conan Doyle and his The Sign of Four and  A Study in Scarlet to mind? But, partly due to the beautifully feminine cover of book number one (drawn from suggestions by me and provided by the brilliant, it was seen as a romantic novel by some - a 'woman's book' Catherine Cookson style. That's why the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes appears on the cover of the second book in the series, and even on In Search of Doctor Watson who shouldn't need that kind of help, although it's best to cover all eventualities. Sherlock will appear again on the cover of my'current work in progress' The Noble Spinster, and I notice other writers of the genre have taken the hint and made sure he's lurking about somewhere on their  covers. Footnotes will also guide readers to the original inspirations behind most of the adventures which befall the two women who run the Watson-Fanshaw Detective Agency: so that the book can be enjoyed both by fans and people new to Holmes and Watson, hopefully causing the latter to read Doyle and become fans themselves.       


I would like to thank Felicia Carparelli and Tracy Revels for their favourable notices of my books, and Paul Spiring and Alistair Duncan  for sending me  'thank you' emails after I reviewed their books.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Shadowfall by Tracy Revels

My husband, a retired physicist, said this was beautifully produced, very well-written - and complete rubbish. Fortunately I rescued the book and discovered rather to my surprise that it's remarkably readable, although I must admit the two witches hurling fire-balls at each other was a bit hard to take. There were some sly digs at the canon (as when Watson asks if there's to be a burglary) and the whole enterprise was a real page-turner. A great if quick read, I found only three mistakes: Maitwand for Maiwand, stationery for stationary and distain for disdain. I feel, however, that the book would have worked just as well with Merlin and Wart or Dr Who and one of his sidekicks. Bringing in Holmes and Watson could be rather restrictive if the former has a wider readership. But then the work appears to be doing so well, it does seem somewhat churlish to carp! 

The Official Papers into the matter known as The Hound of the Baskervilles(DCC/1435/89 refers) by Kieron Freeburn

This is a real labour of love, and I would like to stress the word labour. Some may find the different fonts difficult, and the mistake at the beginning is certainly unfortunate. It was Sir Charles who died from a heart attack and not Sir Henry. But this lends an air of authenticity to the 'book' and makes it doubly interesting to anyone who, unlike the author who I understand is a retired detective,  knows little or nothing of police procedure. Definitely an original idea.  

Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Devon by Brian W. Pugh Paul R Spiring and Sadru Bhanji

This book, an extended version of an earlier edition, won't be on your bookshelf. Why not? Because it will be tucked securely inside  your rucksac as 'a complete tour guide and companion'. The first four chapters are detailed accounts of the main characters: Conan Doyle, George Turnavine Budd, Fletcher Robinson and George Newnes -  without whose 'Strand Magazine' Doyle might never have achieved such world-wide fame. These are followed by detailed maps with which to reach a large number of the relevant locations, some fascinating facts about each area and a very comprehensive bibliography. This imaginative venture is most definitely for anyone who loves walking in Devon, with Sherlock Holmes the icing on the cake so to speak.

Eliminate the Impossible

Mr Duncan scores heavily with the above, on which I admit to being immediately and thoroughly hooked. Short, pithy accounts of the main characters in the Holmes' canon appear near the beginning of the book to include the delicious anomaly of Inspector Lestrade taking all the credit for solving crimes, at the same time as Watson is blowing the gaff elsewhere. There is a useful time-line and the synopses of the stories are clear and concise, with interesting discussions of the problems which have been encounted by Sherlockian Scholars over the years. Having dealt with Holmes 'on the page', the author then proceeds to discuss his portrayal 'on screen' - dealing impartially with both the best and the worst performances. A great addition to any bookshelf.  

Close to Holmes

This book by Alistair Duncan is well-written and well-produced. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will perhaps  be familiar with much of the material, but I feel even they will  find something new. Footnotes, bibliography and index are more than adequate, and the photographs are superb. On the subject of these, the author seems to have stretched a point. We have Charlie Chaplin - and a photograph of the cab driver named Netley (a distinct if fortuitous echo of Dr Watson) who may or may not have driven Dr Gull, who may or may not have been Jack the Ripper, round Whitechapel. But every chapter contains something of interest and I have to say that I  enjoyed a thoroughly good read. An extremely useful addition to any Sherlockian's library.

Monday, 25 April 2011

On Being Reviewed by a Person in Publishing!

An American reviewer recently said of  'The Sign of Fear':  "Molly Carr's Adventures with Mrs Watson are great fun, and especially so if you know Holmes and many of his stories. A second read of the book is even more enjoyable as you realise more of what the writer is really doing in this book. She obviously is  a person with a great sense of humor and clever mind which shows in her book and makes it a great read."
As Sidney Smith once said about something completely different: definitely "a sight for sore eyes." And even sore hearts. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Olga Katsin-Miller writing as 'Sagittarius' has this to say about John H. Watson:

Holmes left one unsolved mystery,
The case of the strange M.D.
Was he ever qualified?
Had he anything to hide?
And why was he always free?
Facts of his previous history
Researchers fail to trace.
But there's something queer in his medical career,
For he never had a single case!

This may be poetic license, of course. Or it may not. We think we know from the canon that Watson treated Vincent Hatherley for a severed thumb, and a railway official for 'itch-mite' or scabies. But it's interesting that his credentials were being called into question over sixty years ago.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

On Hearing the First Sherlock in Spring

    "I hear of Sherlock everywhere," says Mycroft Holmes [GREE]. And so do I, from F. E. Benson to John Buchan –and even P.G. Wodehouse in Do Butlers Burgle Banks as well
as a number of his other hilarious books. For example Cocktail Time and Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. But then Wodehouse was a cricketing friend of Conan Doyle, and if you can't give a friend a leg-up… 
   There are references to Holmes in Ngaio Marsh's detective novels, as well as those of G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and many others including, somewhat surprisingly, the now almost unknown Osbert Sitwell, who says the Adventures have "that sense of truth to an epoch that memorably distinguishes several books." And any character, whatever his name, who keeps company with a fictional detective for any length of time is likely to be called 'a Watson' or 'my Watson' at least once during the proceedings.  
   It all began with Conan Doyle's brother-in-law E. W. ('Willie') Hornung, who created Raffles the gentleman burglar. He made one joke which delighted Doyle, about a runner who was said by a newspaper to have completed a 100 yard race in ten seconds: "It must be a sprinter's error." But he said of Sherlock, "Though he might be more humble, there is no police like Holmes."
   Or it could have been Doyle's friend J. M. Barrie who started the ball rolling by sending Doyle a Sherlockian Christmas card. Michael Cox, in Victorian Detective Stories, says "Throughout the 1890s and into the early twentieth century the short detective story could not rid itself of Baker Street. In many cases, at least to begin with, it had no wish to do so: public appetite appeared to be insatiable and there was no shortage of publishers to supply it."
   In The Real World of Sherlock Holmes Peter Costello says about Agatha Christie, "She owed him [Conan Doyle] a great deal. After all, Poirot and Hastings are based on Holmes and Watson; her use of detail owes much to Watson; and both had written books on and about Dartmoor." 
   Hastings (called by the detective writer Emma Lathen "An all-purpose stooge") has, like Watson, been invalided out of the services. He is given a war pension for a short time and spent a few "depressing months" in a convalescent home. At a loose end, he tells a friend (in The Mysterious Affair at Styles) "I've always had a hankering to be a detective." The friend asks if he means the real thing, Scotland Yard, or Sherlock Holmes? Hastings' reply to this is "Oh, Sherlock Holmes by all means. But really, seriously, I'm awfully drawn to it."  
   However, my favourite reference of all comes from a character in Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, who says of her detective Maud Silver, like Miss Jane Marple a compulsive knitter, "She has old Sherlock boiled!"

   This article first appeared in 'The Baker Street Bugle'


Refining the Search

   We have been led to believe Watson's first experience of detection began with A Study in Scarlet. So when exactly did the former Sergeant of Marines appear in Baker Street with a letter from Inspector Gregson telling all about the 'bad business' in Lauriston Gardens? We know from internal evidence that the date was March 4th, but what year was it? When exactly did Watson get home from India?' When, precisely, did he land at Portsmouth Jetty? How long did it take him to "gravitate" to London? He stayed for "some time" at the hotel in the Strand, it took him "a day or two" to settle into Baker Street once he'd decided to share lodgings with Holmes, and perhaps was not there long before A Study in Scarlet intervened.
   This might mean that the unfortunate Doctor, if he was sent to the wrong Base Hospital, spent even more time in Peshawar trying to recover his health than we thought. He may not have arrived in England until more than a year after the Battle of Maiwand, which took place on July 27th 1880, between a British Force and one led by Ayub Khan, the Governor of Herat Province and brother of the Amir of Afghanistan. Having unexpectedly won this Battle, and inflicted great losses on British and Indian troops, Ayub and his Army then laid siege to Kandahar.
   So, in the light of the above, can the plaque on a wall near the Pathology Laboratory at Bart's be correct? It reads 'At this place New Year's Day 1881 were spoken these deathless words "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive," by Mr Sherlock Holmes in greeting to John H. Watson at their first meeting'. There has been some confusion about the actual date on which the battle took place. Tracy and Thomson opt for the twenty-seventh of June, which is obviously a mistake. Other sources mention men returning from hostilities on the morning of July 27th, confusing them with General Burrows' reconnoitring force sent out the day before. The Court Circular published in The Times for August 18th 1882 records the date as 24th July 1880.
   However, General Frederick Roberts' reprisal with Ayub Khan's Army took place on September 1st, after the former had arrived in Kandahar from Kabul with his Relief Force at the end of August. Taking these dates – July 27th and September 1st 1880 – as a starting point, Watson couldn't have made up his mind to change his way of life as early as the commonly accepted date. He says of his stay in hospital that he only rallied enough to walk about the wards and to bask a little on the verandah before being struck down by fever, in which case he was lucky to be alive at all. The area around Peshawar was known to European troops as the valley of death, and those who went there couldn't wait to leave. Either he has exaggerated the length of his illness, his period of recovery and his stays at various venues before being introduced to Holmes, or the supposed date of their meeting should be considerably advanced.
   Even if we accept that he muddled up the names of the base hospitals and was one of the eighteen invalids who left Karachi in the Orontes with Surgeon-Major Alexander Francis Preston (said to be the model for Watson) roughly six weeks after the Kandahar Garrison was relieved by Roberts, and arrived in England in November 1880, he would still have to go some to meet Sherlock on the first of January 1881.
   For example, how long after he docked at Portsmouth Jetty did he stay in Hampshire? 'Gravitating' to London implies a period of doubt about what to do next, and his "comfortless, meaningless existence" in the hotel in the Strand lasted for quite a while. It is only when he realises that he is living beyond his means, and feels the need to retrench, that he uses the word "soon". And even healthy combatants who took part in the Battle of Maiwand didn't get back to barracks in Britain until February 18th, 1881.
   However, it makes for better 'theatre' to fix the famous meeting for New Year's Day. The laboratories were empty, apart from Sherlock, and the streets thronged with people. January 1st didn't become a bank holiday until 1971, and in the nineteenth century most people worked on Saturday mornings, even professionals. Was 'young Stamford' on his way out to lunch after finishing a morning's stint as a newly qualified doctor at Bart's when he met Watson? Were the streets crowded with Saturday afternoon shoppers? For anyone who thinks, in the light of all Watson's difficulties as a soldier and as a civilian, that it's more likely he met Holmes a year later than he said, it is useful to know that in 1882 January 1st fell on a Sunday.
   Sherlock, when the mood for action was on him, wouldn't care what day, or what time of day, it was, and may have obtained permission to conduct his own private enquiries into cadavers and/or bloodstains on Sunday as much as Saturday afternoons. This permission, once Holmes was accepted as a visitor, would not be difficult to get since, in a large hospital such as Bart's, the laboratories were probably nearly always in use by others anyway. Holmes either invites Watson to meet him next on a Sunday or on a Monday.
   Whichever it was, Watson moved out of his hotel "that very evening" and Holmes joined him the following morning. It took a short time for the two men to arrange their possessions. But in Watson's words they gradually adapted to their new life. There were many occasions when Holmes worked hard at something mysterious. But for days on end there were "intervals of torpor", when he lay on the sofa not uttering a word or moving a muscle. Weeks went by as Watson, whose health forbade him venturing out "unless the weather were exceptionally genial", wondered what Sherlock could be doing for a living. Taken with all the other imponderables, the weather's keeping Watson in points to the possibility of the season being autumn or winter; but fixing his meeting with Holmes for the first day of 1881 allows very little flexibility when trying to sort out a timetable for him after Maiwand...

Read on in In Search of Doctor Watson by Molly Carr, MX Publishing 2010

A longer version of this article first appeared in The School Report, the journal of "The Priory Scholars of Leicester"

Refs. The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana by Jack Tracy, NEL 1977
         The Secret Journals of Sherlock Holmes by June Thomson,
         Constable  1993


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

An Interview with Mr. Conan Doyle

First of all we would like to thank you for consenting to be interviewed by us. In your circumstances...

Think nothing of it, my dears

How do you feel about two women setting up a detective agency?

You have my blessing, but as I wrote somewhere no man likes to come home after a day's work to a wife proud of her independence -and spouting about it. I remember calling Mrs St. Clair 'a dear little woman'. Now I find she's anything but dear, and certainly not little!

But you are happy about it?

It's been going on for years. Ever since Holmes became famous. I even wrote a pastiche myself for the Edinburgh students' rag. Called it 'The Field Bazaar'. And the number of stories being found in Watson's battered old tin despatch box! It would have to be as big as a removal van. But, as I remember, it was the standard army issue. The whole thing's getting out of hand and some of his supposed tales bear very little resemblance to what I asked him to write, apart from the names.

Come now, Mr. Doyle, some of it can pass muster and, with respect, it certainly keeps your name before the public. But we would like to hear what you really think of our work.

Well you certainly get around. Rome, Lausanne, Baden-Barden, the west coast of Scotland, and there are  some sharp exchanges between you. Which I for one find very entertaining. But if there's nothing else you want to ask me...

Oh but there is. Were you ever in Beverley Minster?

That would be telling. But now I must...

"That's the trouble with ghosts," said Emily crossly, putting away her writing materials. "Liable to disappear at any moment."

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Carvery Cartoon

This was on the wall of a well-known chain of restaurants. Who is it, and why is it? Anyone who can give information...

The Northumberland Fusiliers

   This regiment was formed in 1674 to help the Dutch fight the French and given  a succession of names through the years. Originally known as the 'Irish Regiment' under Lord Clare, command was later taken over by a Northumbrian, Sir John Fenwick, a fervent Jacobite who was eventually executed for treason during the reign of William 111. Sir John introduced so many  North Country officers to his new command that the character of  The Fifth Regiment of Foot, 'The Fighting Fifth' or 'The Old and Bold', ceased to be Irish and later asked to be known informally as 'The Northumberland Regiment',  after its Colonel the 2nd Duke of Northumberland. This was some years before all regiments lost their numbers and became geographically oriented. The Fifth was sent to Boston in 1774 and fired some of the first shots at Lexington. The men took part in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown and General Bourgoyne said of them that they "behaved the best and suffered the most."
   The Regiment saw service in India and took part in the Relief of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-59, when Sergeant Grant and Privates McHale and McManus (the last two names strangely reminiscent of the long-gone Irish Brigade) were awarded Victoria Crosses. Doctor Watson's assertion, in A Study in Scarlet,  that he joined The Northumberland Fusiliers in 1878 (the name given to the Regiment after it was issued with muskets) by travelling up from India to Kandahar is highly unlikely.  The Fusiliers fought on the North West Frontier so he obvously meant to write 'Kabul'. Which meant, of course, an enforced removal to another regiment (The 66th Foot, later known as The Berkshires) if he was to be at The Battle of Maiwand. H.M. Walker in her book The History of the  Northumberland Fusiliers 1674-1902, published by John Murray in 1919, says that instead of taking part in an organised military engagement in Afghanistan the 5th was split up into companies "to hold the forts, guard the road, and bear with cheerfulness the trials of hill warfare with none of the compensations of a good fight."
   During the 20th Century, after serving in Kenya, Borneo, Aden and Suez, the Regiment was merged with two others and became The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. The muskets had long since gone, to be replaced by more modern weapons of war. But the name lives on.

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Formulary

I'm very pleased to see my fellow Friend, Philip K. Jones, has mentioned 'The Sign of Fear' in a long and interesting article for the March 2011 issue of  'The Formulary', the Journal of  'The Friends of Doctor Watson'. He says "It clears up much of the confusion about timing and events in the Canon, as well as the source of many of the Untold Tales." Thankyou for that, Philip, and for your very encouraging review of the book in 2010.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Good Old Watson

A recent review of  'In Search of Doctor Watson'  called it "An excellent example of Fictional Narrative", which is very encouraging, and I'm busy working on a fuller version which I hope will  meet with an equally positive response. Can anyone provide feedback on another great book about the Doctor by Partha Basu?