He’s been around since the 1860’s, has had adventures with Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and is the star of several Hollywood blockbusters. Yes, Sherlock Holmes is a name almost every child will recognise even if they’ve never picked up a copy of the original books he featured in. Now the release of a new series of Young Sherlock Holmes novels – the very first to be commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate – will shed light on the detective’s teenage years.
Sherlock Holmes, eh? Did you have to do much research?
Actually, no. That’s the beauty of it. My interest in him started when I was 12, and the first book I ever bought with my own pocket money was a Sherlock Holmes book. It was from a church jumble sale in East London and it was entitled A study in Scarlet – the first book Sir Conan Doyle ever wrote. The funny thing was that at that point, I really didn’t know who Sherlock Holmes was – I was just aware that his character existed. I guess in those days, and probably still, everyone just knows roughly who he is and what he does.
So this is your passion?
Absolutely. Without wanting to give my age away, I’ve been doing the research for fun for about the last 30 years. And because of that, I knew the original character inside out and back to front, which has made it much easier to create a convincing young Sherlock Holmes.
What’s your favourite Sherlock Holmes adventure?
The Hound of the Baskervilles. In a literary sense, it’s probably the best thing Conan Doyle ever wrote. Some of the descriptive passages in there are lovely. And there’s a large chunk of the book where Sherlock Holmes actually isn’t there. Watson’s driving the investigation, which makes a nice change because so often he’s cast as the comic buffoon. Funnily enough, The Hound of the Baskervilles isn’t a mystery at all. At the beginning of the book, someone says – ‘this man was killed by a gigantic hound’. And at the end of the book, it turns out that he was indeed killed by a gigantic hound.
What things have you considered while creating the character?
He’s a pretty bizarre person. He’s what we might term now as autistic, or with some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. His eye for detail is immense. For example, in one original story, Sherlock Holmes solves an entire mystery through a single clue – namely, how far the parsley has sunk into the butter on the dinner table. Now that’s not normal. Nobody does that. So I needed to elaborate on his background and answer questions like why he has the ability to see such minute details, how he came to play the violin, how he knows martial arts, boxing, fencing and so on – and why he has a specific taste in music. Over the years, Sherlock Holmes has been embroiled in some pretty far out adventures created by other authors and, though exciting, these often bore little resemblance to the original mysteries. For example, there won’t be any werewolves, vampires or monsters. All the new adventures are about good old-fashioned detective deductions.
Is that going to satisfy the tastes of today’s young readers?
It was one of the risks we took when we decided to make the books true to the original stories, but thankfully, Death Cloud, which was released in June, has been very successful.
How do you come up with all those complicated mysteries?
I wish I knew. Perhaps if I analyse it too much it will fall apart! When I watch things like CSI Miami, and there’s a really complicated crime, I think ‘Help! How did they develop that?’ But actually, if you start off at the far end with the murder, add a bizarre element, then work backwards, it makes the process much easier.
If you ever wanted to know exactly how Sherlock Holmes gained the reputation for being a master detective, then Death Cloud is a good place to start. The story opens with a 14-year-old Sherlock, who’s a bit of a social outcast and hates his austere boarding school. Unable to return home for the summer holidays, he finds himself staying in a grim and lonely country house belonging to a distant uncle… and then the fun really begins. Tight plot aside, it’s the character traits of the young detective that Andrew Lane has so cleverly constructed that adds to the overall intrigue. From the very first chapter, we are reminded that Sherlock is no ordinary lad. In fact, he already has such extraordinary observation skills that he is able to deduce many facts – the simplest of details the rest of us mere mortals would never even notice. Galloping along at a faster pace than Conan Doyle’s originals, Lane creates a romping plot with plenty of action (think chases, escapes and a smattering of blood and gore) that will appeal to younger readers. We love the brilliant fight scene when Holmes does battle with his arch-villain, the gloriously demented and physically gruesome Baron Maupertuis. Lots of action, mystery and adventure, peppered with plenty of fascinating historical facts, we give this one a big thumbs up.
Available from most major bookstores.