The Golden Pince-Nez, the Bootmakers and that all-important coconut matting . . .

Whenever anyone mentions The Golden Pince-Nez, I always cry – ‘Ah yes, the one with the coconut matting!’ Never has a floor covering been so important in solving a crime.

I was honoured when The Bootmakers of Toronto, the Sherlock Holmes Society of Canada, asked me to be a guest speaker at their story meeting focusing on The Golden Pince-Nez. Established in 1972, The Bootmakers take their name from a reference in The Hound of the Baskervilles to a bootmaker in Toronto called Meyers. He made the boot which is stolen from Sir Henry Baskerville and used to train the hound to track and kill him. Thanks to Holmes’ intervention, the terrifying beast thankfully fails, and the boot provided a perfect name for this friendly and interesting society who noted in their early days that a ‘Mixture of scholarship and whimsy’ was needed at meetings. A tradition they have maintained ever since.

I was asked to provide the story commentary and loved delving back into the Pince-Nez. It has been some years since I last revisited this interesting tale and relished having an excuse to do so. Having shared my thoughts with the Bootmakers, I thought I’d share them again on the Barefoot blog as I suspect there are others who haven’t visited Yoxley Old Place and grumpy old professor Coram in a while. Maybe I can tempt you back because there’s so much more to The Golden Pince-Nez than difficult to pronounce eyewear and coconut matting.

The Pince Nez is one of the 13 stories to feature in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle had killed off his most famous creation at the end of ‘The Memoirs’ but a public outcry persuaded Doyle to resurrect Holmes in this wonderful series starting with The Empty House. 

By now the friendship between Holmes and Watson has depended and matured, their co-dependency acknowledged by them both – Holmes by paying above the odds for Watson’s Kensington practice just to have his friend returned to his side full-time, and Watson by being so quick to forgive the hiatus, give up his work and install himself back in 221b.

Holmes’ return heralds a successful and busy period of what Watson refers to in the opening of Pince Nez as ‘our work.’ By now, the consulting detective business has very much become a shared venture. The year is 1894 and Watson tells us he already has three massive manuscript volumes which contain their work for the year.

Holmes has indeed returned from the hiatus with increased vigour and enthusiasm, emboldened, I’m sure, by having his friend and biographer devoting all his time to their joint endeavours. And as they are now both living off the proceeds, it is fortunate that business is booming. No wonder Holmes took that cheque for £6000 from the Duke of Holderness in The Adventure of the Priory School – considering the average wage at the time was about £100 a year, that money would have been more than enough to pay Mrs Hudson her rent.

Watson tells us at the start of Pince Nez that Holmes has even gained the order of the legion of honour from the French President. This would certainly have added to his notoriety and therefore also his bankability. Even Lestrade’s attitude is softening, we have that lovely statement by him in Six Napoleons as Holmes pulled the black pearl from the shattered bust – ‘We’re not jealous of you at Scotland yard. No sir, we are very proud of you!’ prompting Watson to comment that Holmes was ‘more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him.’ I suspect this high praise meant more to Holmes than all the money in Holderness’s bank account.

In Pince Nez Holmes is on top form, and so is Doyle with yet another of his wonderful descriptions of stormy London weather – ‘outside the wind howled down baker street, while the rain beat fiercely against the windows. It was strange there in the very depths of the town, with ten miles of man’s handiwork on every side of us, to feel the iron grip of nature, and to be conscious that to the huge elemental forces London was no more than the molehills that dot the fields.’

How seamlessly Doyle can switch from the literary, with all its rich imagery and metaphors, to concise writing which rapidly moves a story forward – particularly his use of dialogue.

Pince Nez starts with the familiar set-up, Holmes and Watson sitting together in companionable silence as the storm rages outside, a fire burning in the grate as Watson studies a recent treatise on surgery and Holmes sits with his magnifying glass deciphering an inscription on a palimpsest from the fifteenth century. In walks Stanley Hopkins, a promising young detective. That raging storm rattling down Baker Street echoing the confusion in Hopkins’ own mind as he grapples with the apparently motiveless murder of a Mr Willoughby Smith, secretary to the reclusive Professor Coram, stabbed in the neck and left to bleed to his death in the professor’s study – clutching a golden pince nez snatched from the murderer during the struggle. When the maid finds him, he has just enough strength to mutter his final words – ‘the professor – it was she.’

Hopkins can now unburden himself of his troubles and find refuge from the storm in the cosy interior of 221b and the relief that comes from putting trust in Holmes’ unique method and superior mind.

This method is at once put to work analysing the pince nez which Hopkins has wisely brought to his mentor. Holmes treats us to another fine example of his highly tuned observational skills and power of reasoning inferring from such an innocuous object that the murderer is a woman, has a thick nose, eyes close together, and rounded shoulders. She has twice visited an optician. At first, Hopkins is astonished, likewise us readers, but as Holmes explains his reasoning all seems so obvious, simple. Elementary. Doyle plays this trick many, many times and we fall for it every time. The conclusions first, the explanations second, giving the former much greater impact. If Holmes had simply said, ‘The pince nez is very delicate, it must therefore belong to a woman,’ he wouldn’t be such an exciting character or betray that love of drama, that hint of vanity and need for praise always battling with his otherwise controlled emotions.

Another commonplace item also yields a vital clue when Holmes and Watson visit the scene of the crime, the professor’s home in Kent – Yoxley Old Place. Seeing that the corridor to the professor’s bedroom and that which leads from the front door to the study, are both of similar length and lined with coconut matting, suggests to Holmes the possibility that a person with poor eyesight could easily mix up the two. Other clues go on to support his growing suspicion that the lady must still be in the house, and the most likely hiding place is the professor’s bedroom. Could he be shielding her?

We are treated to observations such as the scratch on the bureau’s lock which Hopkins had missed, suspicious footprints, books piled up against every bookcase in the professor’s room except one – suggesting a recess behind. All forming links in a chain which Holmes carefully tests, such as asking about the professor’s appetite to ascertain whether he may have requested extra food to feed whoever he may be sheltering.

He’s a chain smoker, and Holmes uses this to full advantage by accepting his offer of fancy Egyptian cigarettes which he starts smoking copiously, dropping ash in front of the suspected hiding place.

But then Holmes has a rare moment of self-doubt when he takes a walk in the garden with Watson.

‘Have you a clue?’ Watson asks.

‘It depends on those cigarettes that I smoked,’ Holmes replies. ‘It is possible that I am utterly mistaken.’

For a man who usually insists that he does not guess, admitting that he’s taken a chance on a theory which may well prove to be wrong, is a rare moment of candour.

But, of course, he is right, and on returning to the professor’s room sees traces in the ash just as he’d hoped. Then the woman herself bursts from her hiding place and reveals the backstory of the case, until she is overcome by the poison administered by her own hand.

The professor is Russian and she his estranged wife. As with so many of the stories, mistakes and crimes of the past have come back to haunt those who have since reinvented themselves as respectable Englishmen. But in this case, it’s an innocent young man who pays the price – Willoughby Smith who the wife accidently stabbed when he caught her trying to retrieve stolen papers from the professor’s bureau. Now she herself has died, leaving the one-time violent Russian revolutionary, now cantankerous old professor, as the only survivor.

This has always felt like an unsatisfactory ending to me, the real villain of the piece survives. And though the story serves as a good example of Holmes’ method of deduction, how his incredible observational skills inspire chains of logic and reasoning which bring about conclusions which, once explained, are so simple the reader is left wondering why on earth they didn’t work it out sooner themselves. But I think there are better examples in the canon and can completely understand why Granada felt the need to spice up the story in their adaptation, as well as add a more satisfying ending. In their version, a member of the Russian brotherhood betrayed by the professor breaks into his room and murders him.

We also feel rather less sorry for Willoughby Smith in this version, he is portrayed as a womaniser sleeping with the innocent young maid while trying to win the hand of a spirited suffragette. We see him dismissing the woman’s suffrage movement in the most derogatory terms and hitting the woman he intends to marry. This then provides an extra layer to the story as police arrest her as an early suspect in his murder. Writer Gary Hopkins clearly felt the need to embellish this otherwise rather simple story and make viewers more sympathetic towards the wronged woman who was driven to extremes by her husband’s actions – especially as we now see Willoughby Smith as less of a victim, more of an abuser himself.  Another major change was replacing Watson with Mycroft because Edward Hardwicke was unavailable. Charles Grey stepped in, and the episode contains fun moments of rivalry and sparing between the Holmes brothers.

When I reviewed Pince Nez in my 56 stories in 56 days blogging series, I only gave it six out of ten. Revisiting it again I feel inclined to push it up to a seven. The tropes we all love are all there – the stormy night, the visitor who sits by the fire and brings a case, the observations which elevate the commonplace and bring about startling conclusions.

An official police detective would not have stood there greedily smoking Egyptian cigarettes and dropping the ash as a trap. But Holmes exists outside the official, he can use short-cuts and do things his own way to get results. He can’t resist a touch of the dramatic. And we love him all the more for it.

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Sherlock Holmes Sporcle quizzes keep my brain active, but how would the man himself have coped with forced confinement?

It’s been a surreal couple of months as COVID-19 spread across the globe and forced us all into months of lockdown. What would the Great Detective have made of all this?
Forced to stay at home without a case to occupy his finely-tuned brain, I suspect Watson would have been watching in horror as his friend reached for the seven per cent solution.
There would be a few more bullet holes in the sitting room walls at 221b that’s for sure. I can’t imagine Holmes tidying his spice drawer or doing DIY like so many of us have to alleviate boredom. I suppose he may have written a monograph or two, perhaps a follow-up to his work on identifying different types of tobacco ash or perfume. What would he have made of all the conspiracy theories, such as –  it’s all down to 5G or a manufactured virus which escaped from a lab?
Would he have considered any of them worthy of investigation (albeit from his armchair.) Investigating from a sitting position is far more Mycroft’s style, I imagine he would have rather enjoyed lockdown but his brother would have struggled with enforced stagnation. Perhaps Holmes would be at his chemistry table working on a homemade vaccine, using poor Watson as a guinea pig? As a key worker, would Watson be out there working in the hospitals? Probably glad to get away from his fractious house-mate. ​
I’ve spent lockdown working on a new novel, walking in the countryside and, yes you’ve guessed it, tidying the spices and working through that long list of DIY jobs i’ve been ignoring for so long. But there’s been one fun discovery I wanted to share, just in case there are fellow Holmesians out there yet to experience the joys of Sporcle. It’s an online quiz site full of every topic from naming all the countries of the world to popular culture and history. There are lots of Sherlock Holmes quizzes relating to both the canon and all the TV and film adaptations. My favourite is the one which gives you ten minutes to name all the original 56 short stories and 4 novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I admit it took me four goes to name them all in the alloted time. So, if you haven’t discovered the joys of Sporcle yet – do check it out. ​
It’s also worth remembering that MX Publishing has many fantastic Sherlock Holmes pastiches, stories and academic books available covering all aspects of the Holmesian world. Many are available as ebook, audio etc with new launches happening frequently. Lots of great offers too, some books available at half price. You can even get a Sherlock Holmes-themed face mask!
For every book you buy (or two clearance books) MX will plant a tree at the Happy Life orphanage in Kenya, which owner Steve and his wife Sharon have supported for many years. Many of the trees will be fruit trees to provide vital food for the 100+ children including apples and bananas. They have raised enough for 500 trees so far. Check out their website or follow on social media for more info. ​

Keep safe everyone, better days will surely come.

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Elementary finale – when is a waterfall not a waterfall?

The answer, it seems, is in recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

In BBC Sherlock it was a fall from grace, a metaphor, rather than Holmes plunging towards an actual swirling abyss. In Elementary, Reichenbach is a person (the villainous Odin Reichenbach) rather than that famous watery grave that claimed Moriarty in The Final Problem and almost Holmes himself. Not a waterfall in sight. It’s as if everyone is falling over themselves trying to come up with a clever way of doing something that worked just fine in the original. A bit like when fancy chefs present their unsuspecting dinners with a de-constructed cheesecake involving chocolate soil. At least Granada let Holmes play out his final battle with Moriarty atop the Reichenbach Falls, as per the original, and was all the better for it in my opinion.

I think my biggest issue with Elementary remains unchanged. It’s a perfectly fine and enjoyable drama, but why make it Sherlock Holmes? It’s too far removed, too diluted to really be a Holmes series. Give those central characters other names and it would work just fine – albeit so much more difficult to market and publicise.

In the beginning, I didn’t like Elementary. I thought it was a poor relation to BBC Sherlock and too distant from the original canon. Over time I came to enjoy it’s rhythms, it’s formulaic nature – there’s comfort in that. You know what you are getting, unlike BBC Sherlock which seemed to switch genres a few series in. The crimes are generally very clever with a good sense of the macabre, ‘pretty’ little problems that stay at the heart of each episode. The producers make a reasonable fist of demonstrating Holmes’ method and of all the modern adaptations, I think they portray the friendship between Holmes and Watson in the most sensitive and authentic way. But it remains a police procedural and the central characters work in an official capacity with the NYPD. Original Holmes was always on the margins, brought in by sceptical police when all else failed and often ridiculed until the final reveal.

In Elementary we see Watson working alongside Holmes as a detective, almost his equal, and though I really like the character, it misses the point. Watson should be capable, brave, loyal but remain the everyman/woman character who the reader can associate with. He is always a doctor, an assistant and biographer, but never a detective.

Elementary’ s final episode threw in everything, as if this was the last chance to get in as many canonical refs as possible. We have Moriarty, Watson writing a book, Altamont, Sigerson, Adair and a corrupt card game, they came thick and fast. Too little too late perhaps?

For all my criticism, I will miss dipping in and out of this inventive and comforting modern interpretation. I like Elementary, I applaud their bravery even though for me, the show is 20% Holmes and 80% good quality cop drama. And at the last, I would have liked a big thunderous waterfall with a tangle of flailing arms and legs falling into its terrible depths. To the next crop of Holmes writers, I cry – ‘Bring back the waterfall!’

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Villains, Victims and Violets – a new publication shining light on the women of Sherlock Holmes’ world

Kitty Winter has long been one of my favourite characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories. She bursts out of the pages of The Illustrious Client like a vengeful whirlwind of hate and complexity.

A strong, brave and proactive woman who is honest about her own failings, not seeking the reader’s sympathy but instead focusing entirely on one thing – revenge against the man who wronged her, revenge at all costs. She of the infamous acid-throwing incident, mutilating the evil Baron Adelbert Gruner because death would have simply been too good for him, divides opinion and remains a controversial figure.

When I was approached by Tamara R Bower and Resa Haile, fellow writers and members of The Studious Scarlets Society, about a project looking at the woman from the canon and just such ambiguities, I suggested Kitty straight away. Here we have a character who can be easily perceived as either a victim, cast aside by Gruner and condemned to a life of poverty, or a villain – a vengeful jilted mistress whose final horrific act can have no justification.

I was asked to take her on, to write an essay examining these complexities both in the context of the narrative and the wider society at the time.

It was a joy to write and I’m delighted that my essay has been included in the anthology –  Villains, Victims and Violets, which has successfully secured a publisher (Brown Walker Press) and will be launched in August this year. Alongside 28 other female writers we have each contributed an essay to this exciting publication analysing women from the canon – their motivations and complexities in both a Holmesian and historical context. I’m honoured to have been included as part of this fantastic collaboration of talented and interesting authors.

‘The female characters in Sherlock Holmes’ world are faced with unique situations,’ write Tamara and Resa when describing VVV. ‘The answers they often find involve Holmes, who is repeatedly deemed sexist by modern writers. Holmes’ fictional biographer, John Watson, reports in one adventure that Holmes has an aversion to women.

Is this consistently true? As for the women, coming into his world can be lifesaving or hazardous. So it’s long since time to apply a different lens to the women who engage and motivate Sherlock Holmes. The centre of each essay is agency—the opportunities for independence and self-determination, which were few and far between in Victorian England. What we find all too often are silences around the women. And yet, women in the stories—clients, villains, victims, and Violets—are pivotal in the world of Sherlock Holmes.

To understand his world is to gaze unsparingly into the lives of the women who lived in it: the villains and what drives them astray; the victims Holmes races to rescue; and the violets, who make up the strongest and most pivotal characters from Holmes’ unforgettable cases. The authors behind this book pull back the curtain on their small, private spaces, revealing their “proper”–and not so proper–place as women in a man’s world at the dusk of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th.’

A great project, an interesting addition to any Sherlock Holmes collection and for anyone with an interest in the experiences of women during such a pivotal time in our history. Very proud to be part of it.

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The Continuity Girl brings together Sherlock Holmes, the Loch Ness Monster and a touch of romance – no easy feat!

A gentle romantic novel with a hint of Sherlock Holmes, The Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid is a must-have addition to any Holmesian collection. And if you have no interest in Holmes and no knowledge of him beyond the fact that he wore a silly hat and hung around with a doctor, it’s no barrier to enjoying this heart-warming tale of love, friendship and Loch Ness Monster hunting.

Following two separate stories set 45 years apart, The Continuity Girl starts in 1969 when a young marine biologist’s fastidious research into Nessie is interrupted by the arrival of Hollywood director Billy Wilder and his film crew, who descend on the loch to film the now much-loved movie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The quiet and serious young man’s irritation is tempered by a growing romance with the film’s spirited and beautiful continuity supervisor, April Bloom.

Skip to 2014, film studies lecturer Gemma MacDonald is delighted when a lost print of The Private Life is found. It’s her all-time favourite film and she decides to stage a special screening at the Inverness Film Festival, including an interview with an original member of the crew – none other than April Bloom herself (now Korzeniowski.) As old friends reunite, and memories abound, the story winds to a satisfying, heart-warming conclusion.

Full of facts about the film, (a favourite of Mark Gatiss and now seen as an iconic interpretation of Holmes on screen) and littered with canon references, there is much to love for the Holmes fan. It’s a refreshing and highly original addition to an already very crowded marketplace.

Patrick is a superbly visual writer, painting wonderful pictures with words. Sentences effortlessly turn into images in your head – be it a gorgeous Scottish loch or the timeless beauty of a mature woman. Complex personal longings, the agony and impact of lost opportunities and love unfulfilled are adeptly deployed in gentle, subtle waves of clever similes and poignant descriptions.  And then there’s the humour, such a tricky thing to get right in a novel. Here, the humour stays true to the characters, it’s subtle and observational.

The Continuity Girl reads so easily, you have complete confidence in the writer throughout. You happily go wherever he takes you, you drift contently into the world he has created and enjoy the time you spend with this diverse and authentic bunch of characters. Patrick has worked very hard to achieve this affect, but writes so effortlessly that you’d think he scribbled out the manuscript while having a cup of tea and a nice biscuit one rainy afternoon – which is in fact the perfect way to read this novel; curled up with a cuppa as Patrick’s words lull you gently away into the wilds of Scotland.

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Mr Holmes – the gentle giant of screen adaptations

I finally got around to watching Mr Holmes, a film based on Mitch Cullin’s wonderful book, A Slight Trick of the Mind. It stars Ian McKellen as an elderly Sherlock Holmes fighting the onset of dementia and struggling to remember the details of his very last case, the one which pushed him into retirement. Now living on the Sussex Downs with just his beloved bees, a housekeeper and her young son for company, Holmes is far from the vital man-of-action we are used to seeing on screen.

I’ve come to the party a bit late with this one, which is a shame because I loved the film so much. It was gentle, refreshing and so much better than I thought it would be. When it came out I think I was suffering from a Holmes-overload, the juggernaut which is BBC Sherlock, the Guy Richie films, Elementary – I couldn’t see this new film offering anything more than just another leap on the bandwagon. But that was unfair and wrong. I should have given it a chance.

The film is a touchingly authentic portrayal of an aging Holmes, exactly as I would imagine him to be. The crime element was weak, in my opinion, but this didn’t really matter because the emphasis was elsewhere. It was a story about friendship, the debilitating and frustrating effects of old age, of loneliness, loss and regret. It was billed in one of the TV mags as a crime-drama, but this missed the point. It wasn’t a crime drama at all but instead a beautifully imagined human-interest drama. It was a refreshing antidote to the slick action-filled offerings we’ve had of late. It was quiet, sensitive and said so much more by saying so much less. There was a lightness of touch, a subtly, and an authenticity because of its clever use of canonical references. There was even a cameo from Nicholas Rowe who played Holmes in Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. A reminder perhaps that we’ve now had a version of every stage of his life from young through to old. The setting was beautiful and McKellen was superb – not just as Holmes but as a dementia suffer too. I might be a late-comer, but I’m completely won over. Mr Holmes was well worth the wait.

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Review: Unquiet Spirits by Bonnie Macbird

The second Sherlock Holmes pastiche from writer Bonnie Macbird tries to answer two questions which have haunted (get it?) Sherlockians for as long as the ‘Great Game’ has been played. They are simply: ‘where was he educated?’ and ‘why does he have such an aversion to romantic attachments?’
Countless pastiches have tried to answer these questions with theories as wild as they have been varied. It’s very hard to answer without delighting one half of the fandom while equally upsetting the other half at the same time. It’s brave but enticing territory and I applaud Macbird for daring to tread such well-trodden but risky ground – as dangerous as the Grimpen Mire some might say.
What I think makes this foray into young Sherlock’s early experiences of school, university and even love successful, is Macbird’s lightness of touch. They are neatly woven into a greater mystery which gives them purpose and significance. This makes such experiences entirely believable in the context of the story and they are written with such care that they don’t jar with what we already know about Holmes.
Unquiet Spirits is written in the traditional style, purporting to be a lost tale written by Doctor Watson’s own hand. It follows on from Macbird’s first novel, Art in the Blood, and sees the welcome return of lovable scoundrel French detective Vidocq. Again, Holmes and Watson travel to France at the beginning of the case, but for me, Unquiet Spirits really gets going when the action moves to the beautiful, atmospheric Scottish Highlands.
One of the writer’s great strengths is the detailed research that goes into each of her novels. Here we have the most wonderful, vivid descriptions of the Highlands, of the castle at the centre of mystery and of course, its whiskey distillery. The information about whiskey production, the distillery itself and the whiskey industry is fascinating and give the novel a rich, multi-layered authenticity. Everything is so beautifully described, you really are transported to another world. 
Told through the voice of a very loyal, warm, self-deprecating and brave Watson, we follow Holmes as he tries to unravel three interconnecting mysteries. Through the course of this, we get a glimpse into the Holmes of childhood, of his struggles at university and a young woman who captured his heart.
All the elements expected from a good pastiche are here; Holmes’ brilliant observations and deductions, the blundering police force, the unbelieving and difficult client, danger, false accusations and light being shone into darkness. But what stands out for me is the depiction of the friendship between Holmes and Watson, the fun they have sharing these adventures, the humour between them (in-jokes about Watson’s gambling and how transparent he is being favourites.)
Watson really lets Holmes shine, he functions exactly as a Watson should – a facilitator and biographer, medical man and friend. He remains an auxiliary figure unlike some recent incarnations where I think his role has been overstated and he/she (Elementary) has been put on an almost equal footing to Holmes. Here we have a Watson whose love for Holmes is so touching, their easy friendship though tested at one point, remains solid and strong, the linchpin on which all else hangs.
Unquiet Spirits is an excellent addition to any Holmesian collection and a very enjoyable read.
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Great Canadian podcast ‘I Grok Sherlock’ references Barefoot blog on issues of Doyle and race

I Grok Sherlock is a great podcast full of canon-based shenanigans, detailed analysis, humour, and a very special mention of yours truly . . .

Canadian Sherlockians Mike Ranieri and Geordie Telfer set up the I Grok Sherlock podcast ‘To have conversations with other Sherlockians who share our sense of humour and sensibility toward not only the TV shows, games, tie-in products, but also the canon stories themselves.’

Their canonical knowledge and insight is very impressive, but it’s their humour and the fluid way they meander from one topic to something totally different that makes the podcasts a joy to listen too. The latest one begins by focusing on The Five Orange Pips but dives off into a discussion about Conan Doyle and his attitudes toward race. This is where they refer to my blog on the same topic and say some jolly nice things about my writing.

I love the extra detail these guys add at every possible turn, from the history of the KKK to research into unbreakable bicycle tyres (the invention which gave the Openshaw family their wealth in The Five Orange Pips.) They are also very good at picking up on the key points of the canonical stories. In talking about The Pips they highlight Doyle’s beautiful description of the storm battering London, how it is one of those intense storms which ‘Shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation like untamed beasts in a cage.’ There is also much talk of the unpublished stories alluded to in The Pips and how they have inspired countless pastiche, and of course, they mention that crucial line in which Holmes admits to having no friends except Watson.

The section on race is very interesting. They grapple with trying to understand the opinions of the age and how they would have influenced Doyle’s writing, separating Doyle’s opinions from those being expressed by his characters and how his actions in real life contrasted with some of the notions conveyed in the canon. I do recommend having a listen. The knowledge, humour and detail squashed into each podcast is pretty impressive – and I’ll never look at a bicycle tyre in quite the same way again!

Here is the link to the latest podcast. The race discussion starts after 36 minutes but I really do recommend listening to the whole thing. Enjoy!

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Sherlock Holmes-related book ‘The Continuity Girl’ showcases a novel way of publishing

charlotte-and-patrickWhat if you could get involved in the next bestseller in the Sherlock Holmes universe right from the start?

There’s no use phoning up the likes of Mark Gatiss or Guy Ritchie and saying, ‘If I give you a tenner, can I be part of your next project?’ because they’d probably tell you to get lost – assuming you could even find their phone number in the first place. But give author Patrick Kincaid a tenner, and he’d be cock-a-hoop, and you’d get your name listed in the back of his book as a patron.

Patrick is looking for pledges on the Unbound publishing platform towards his new novel, The Continuity Girl – a book set around the filming of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Billy Wilder in 1970. You can pledge as little as £10 to become part of the project, and have that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping someone – even if you are secretly thinking, ‘If this becomes a film, I might get to hob nob on set for a few days…’

Husband says: ‘Yes but why are you writing about it? There are loads of Holmes books and projects out there, so why this one?’ In other words, ‘Why have you given ten of our hard-earned pounds to some bloke from Coventry who’s done a book?’

Well, I do see his point. There really are so many books and short stories out there involving Holmes that it’s becoming a landslide. But for me, this one stands out as offering something a little different. It’s a fusion of things Holmes fans will love, and an altogether different story with universal appeal. Could this be the sort of palate-cleansing treatment we need after the emotional roller coaster ride of Sherlock series four?

I bumped into Patrick in his home town of Coventry and we had a good old natter about all things Sherlock Holmes, publishing and The Continuity Girl. He’s a thoroughly decent bloke, a writer going it alone without the backing of an agent or large publisher – writing away furiously while still holding down a full-time job as an English teacher. It’s hard, I should know. He has a PhD in Shakespeare Studies from the Shakespeare Institute and used that research to write his first novel, a detailed historical book about the run-up to the Gunpowder Plot. This gave Patrick a thirst for writing which has remained a passion. His story, ‘The Doll and His Maker’ was published as part of the ‘Sherlock’s Home, The Empty House’ anthology and remains my favourite in the collection.

Patrick describes The Continuity Girl as, ‘A comic love story with two plots that eventually converge. In 2014, the discovery of a full cut of Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes leads film scholar Gemma MacDonald to make contact with the movie’s continuity supervisor, April Korzeniowski (she’s my invention – it was really Elaine Schreyek). In 1969, dedicated Loch Ness monster hunter Jim Outhwaite is put out by the arrival of a film crew in the vicinity, until he meets the film’s continuity girl, April Bloom… Nothing is quite how it seems, however, and – much as in a Billy Wilder film – it’s not always clear who you can trust.’

Patrick was inspired by a trip to the Highlands on his honeymoon, and a boat tour of Loch Ness complete with a real-life Nessie hunter who was there during filming of The Private Life. Patrick is a life-long Sherlock Holmes fan and feels that the film has become very important to the way we view Holmes, as well as inspiring Mark Gatiss and being key in the development of BBC Sherlock. ‘It’s very Millenial, it’s fan fic before there was fan fic. It doesn’t just give us more of Holmes, it tries to unpick what lies behind his character. And of course, it’s interested in his sex life!’

Always a devotee of the canon, I had to ask whether anything from it features in The Continuity Girl. ‘At the beginning, my main protagonist, Jim, has never read a Sherlock Holmes story,’ Patrick explains. ‘His boss recommends them to him when he gets upset about the arrival of the film crew, and over the course of the novel he becomes a fan. I use a couple of the stories as a way of commenting on what’s going on in his life: The Man with the Twisted Lip (my personal favourite) and A Scandal in Bohemia.’

Patrick’s had lots of interesting support so far. The satirical novelist Jonathan Coe (What a Carve Up!, The Rotter’s Club) has promised an interview about his own obsession with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Kim Newman (Anno Dracula, Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles) has also been supportive. There has been interest from others connected with the film and funding on Unbound has now reached 64%. But it needs to reach 100% for the book to be published.

‘Unbound are a fairly new publisher created by John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard (creators of TV show QI) and Dan Kieran,’ says Patrick. ‘It punches above its weight by crowdfunding all projects initially, whether they’re by a newbie like me or an established writer like Terry Jones or Raymond Briggs. Because authors post articles about their process in their writer’s ‘Shed’, it feels like you’re in constant dialogue with the people who want to read the finished book. That’s very exciting.’

Here, Unbound is giving a chance to get involved with an interesting Sherlock Holmes project by a new author. Certainly, in the Holmesian world, you only tend to hear about the next big thing once it’s already too big for you to interact with. But, now you have chance to give support and link up with a talented author before he, and his book, hit the big time. Head over to Patrick’s page on Unbound for more information –

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BBC Sherlock: The Final Problem – review

**final_problem_*Spoiler Alert***

The problem with The Final Problem was trying to follow what the hell was going on. I scratched my head so much during the ninety minutes my scalp felt like I’d had an attack of nits.

Crime/mystery solving was put on the back-burner for lots of emotional Holmes family stuff, Sherlock-John bromance, more dialogue than Shakespeare, lots of shots of Sherlock looking emotional, Mycroft trying not to look emotional, and John somewhere in between. We had a plot that made little sense, and a mish-mash of genres, (horror, action, melodrama, Kafkaesque nightmare.)

Turns out there’s another Holmes sibling and, yes, you’ve guessed it, she’s also an extraordinary genius. Mr and Mrs Holmes were kicking out some incredible genes. And she’s not just any old extraordinary genius, oh no that would be too simple – she’s an ‘Era defining genius’ with what appears to be supernatural powers, the ability to influence people’s behaviour within minutes of talking to them. She can predict the dates of major terrorist attacks after just five minutes on Twitter, even though she’s spent most of her life in a high-security prison.

Why does everything have to be so extreme? Like Mary being a super-spy/assassin? Isn’t this a rookie mistake, like when A level media students are let loose with a camera for the first time and make a dramatic piece filmed in the school bogs full of swearing, fighting and smoking, a sort-of Tarantino meets Grange Hill? The Final Problem just felt like one big adolescent, over-excited, student film – except for one key difference, the BBC had given them millions – not the school camcorder which had a crack in the lens and had to be returned to the drama cupboard by 3.30pm.

It’s a mistake many new writers make, you get too excited, too carried away with your own characters and loose critical distance – I know, I’ve done it myself. But, over the years you learn to take those all-important steps back, to be critical and rein yourself in before unleashing your work on the world. Why didn’t Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss do this here? Are they just surrounded by too many infatuated ‘yes’ people and a BBC too terrified of losing the show to another channel that all the usual checks have been removed, no one dares to say, ‘But it doesn’t make any sense, it’s too implausible, too extreme…’

I wanted to enjoy this episode, I had enjoyed the previous two. But, I can’t enjoy something I don’t understand, something so implausible, nonsensical, that it made me feel stupid and frustrated because I couldn’t follow it. And all that melodramatic, high-angst emotion, it was too much.

Could Sherlock really have forgotten he had a sister? Forgotten his best mate Trevor and how she threw him down a well? Was it really that easy for Eurus to escape her high security prison island and cause all this mayhem? Why did Mycroft take her back there as she had found it so easy to escape before? How did Mycroft arrange for her to be there in the first place when he would have only been a child himself at the time?

Who’s been looking after John’s baby while he’s away helping his mate (who he’s obviously now forgiven for causing the death of the child’s mother) defeat evil-genius sister? Why doesn’t he even mention the poor child, even when facing his own death? How did he survive Eurus shooting him at the end of the last episode? (Oh, I do know that one, it was a tranquiliser dart.) How did they survive the blast at Baker Street? And what about all that stuff with the little girl on the plane? It was a metaphor for Eurus’ loneliness – Really? Sherlock hugged her and now she’s fine? No longer an evil-genius just a plain old violin playing genius? ARGGGGGGG! Brain-freeze!

Perhaps we are just meant to look at it as a beautiful work of art and not understand it. That’s not really what I pay my TV licence to the BBC for though.

The canon got put on the backburner completely, names were thrown in but their use bared no resemblance to the original at all. Musgrave Hall has now become Sherlock’s ancestral home (a bit like Skyfall in Bond – more Bond references), The three Garridebs popped up but as three brothers suspected of murder and then killed by Eurus Holmes. Poor Victor Trevor became a childhood friend of Sherlock’s who Eurus pushed down a well. And the episode itself, though bearing the name The Final Problem, bore absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the Final Problem in the original canon. Don’t just throw the names in, that’s not enough.

As always, the acting was great – Sian Brooke did her very best to make Eurus as believable as she could. Benedict Cumberbatch had to do so much non-stop emotion that the poor lamb must have been exhausted by the end and in need of therapy. Art Malik did a great job of playing everything straight while all around him was chaos. It was beautifully shot, great cinematography, very dramatic with explosions, murders, scary clowns, a concrete prison on an island in a stormy grey sea. It wasn’t devoid of positives and I do want to try and write a balanced review but honestly, I’m struggling.

Perhaps this will be the last-ever series. The ‘everything-is-back-to-normal-now’ ending would suggest otherwise but perhaps they are just leaving their options open. If this is the end, I do think that despite all the criticism, we must acknowledge what a fantastic achievement the show has been.

The first two series were, in my opinion, some of the best television I have ever seen. The show has won massive critical acclaim, many awards, achieved consistently high viewing figures, been sold to 240 different territories, generated thousands of press articles, blogs, online reviews, the excellent fan site Sherlockology, inspired thousands of works of fanfiction, fan art, a devoted following. It’s boosted sales of the original cannon and re-invigorated interest in all things Sherlock Holmes.

It’s been a phenomenon, divided opinion but certainly got everyone talking. Moffat and Gatiss are clearly highly creative individuals with a genuine love of the canon, they have assembled a fantastic cast who have gone on to become huge stars. I salute their vision, their creativity and thank them for Sherlock, particularly those first two series – A Scandal in Belgravia being as close to perfection as I think any episode of a TV show has ever been. If Sherlock ever comes back, please let it come back to that.

And finally, the big question – did Husband stay awake? No, lasted about ten minutes. So, that’s two out of three for series four on the Tim sleep-o-metre. So close guys, so very close…  

Agree with my thoughts? I thought not. Post your review and comments below.

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