As a writer of new Sherlock Holmes stories, the best kind of compliment I can receive from a reader is to be told that my stories capture the feeling of the originals by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or that they would, as one reviewer said, “fit right into the canon.” That is precisely my intent every time I sit down to write a new one. I want to bring readers to that same comfortable place they go when reading Doyle’s work. What I do not want to do is reinvent the carriage wheel that rolls down Baker Street by revising, adjusting, or otherwise trying to make the legend of the world’s greatest fictional detective too much MINE rather than Doyle’s. Holmes belongs to his original author and to the generations of readers who have thrilled to his exploits. I’m just borrowing him (with the gracious permission of my editor and publisher, the public domain state of the character, and the readers who actually—and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around this fact—pay a bit of their hard-earned money to read my Holmes stories). The last thing I want to do is go too far and fundamentally alter Holmes and his cast of fellow characters in any way that drastically strays from canon. As I consider this state of mind today, I’ve thought of a list of some (but probably not all) the things I will never do within my Holmes stories.
I will never resurrect Moriarty. Doyle killed him off, so he stays dead. Yes, I might make postmortem references to him or even have Holmes involved in a plot of the evil professor’s devising if the story takes place before “The Final Problem,” but I will not have the Napoleon of Crime crawl out of his grave (I know he wasn’t given a proper burial; it’s a figure of speech).
I will never reveal what “really” happened in any of Doyle’s stories. I am not a Holmes revisionist and I have enough of my own stories to tell without having to mutilate the work of the original writer.
I will never insert explicit sexual details into my Holmes stories. Yes, I might hint at things or include light innuendo, but full-blown (accidental pun, there) erotica has no place in that world. If sex plays a role in a story, I will write of it as Watson would have written of it: discreetly.
I will never kill off one of Doyle’s major characters within one of my stories. This includes Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, the main inspectors like Lestrade, Gregson, and Bradstreet, and probably a few others that don’t come to mind at the moment. That would smack of me going for shock value and I just won’t go there. Of course, any character I create for a story is fair game and is never safe! I did write a story (featuring my 1930s British intelligence agent Hound-Dog Harker) in which an elderly Holmes appears and mention is made of Watson having passed away at some point in the past, but the death of the dear doctor is not a major plot point and does not happen during the events of the story itself. That story is also not part of my intentionally canon-like Holmes series.
I will never have Holmes face a supernatural threat in a story that is specifically about him. To do so would defeat the entire purpose of Holmes’ character and methods. He will not meet Dracula, werewolves, or zombies, or fight black magic or ancient gods! Yes, my novel Season of Madness hinted at the supernatural, but that book was about Watson without Holmes. Within my Holmes tales, events may seem to be supernatural, but will always have a logical, realistic explanation by the end of the mystery. Other characters may believe in the supernatural, but Holmes can distinguish between the improbable and the impossible. It is, after all, what he does best.
I will never reunite Holmes with Irene Adler. Their story begins and ends with “A Scandal in Bohemia.” If Doyle had wanted Miss Adler to be a recurring character, he would have brought her back. The whole point of her character is that she makes such an impression on Holmes that he henceforth refers to her as the woman. She is the one example to which he (either consciously or otherwise) compares all others. Irene Adler, post-Scandal, is an idea that lives on in the minds and memories of Holmes, Watson, and the readers. She must remain a ghost of the past to retain the potency of what she means to the lore of the canon.
I will never reveal how Watson’s wife Mary died. Doyle tells us that Watson met her during “The Sign of Four,” that they married, and that she died sometime later. That’s all we need to know.
Those seven items are the rules I’ve thought of today while pondering my personal philosophy for writing Sherlock Holmes. But I’m far from the only modern Holmes writer. Some others choose to do the things I’ve decided not to do, and that’s fine. If it works for them and their readers, it’s not my place to judge.
Now, back to my regularly scheduled Baker Street scribblings. I’ve recently finished my eight Holmes story, and I’m now working on a play featuring the Great Detective.
My Sherlock Holmes stories appear in volumes 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 of Airship 27 Productions' anthology series Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, all of which can be found on my Amazon page.