Celebrating the Unpopular Arts


Frankly, this is just a bit of hit-and-run self-promotion this week. A bunch of annoying personal disasters kept me away from the keyboard– this one in particular.

The front axle just snapped when I was doing about forty on the approach to the freeway. Pinched the front door so it wouldn’t open, even. It was a terrifying few minutes followed by a day filled with dread at emptying our bank account. But we figured it out. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse; I shudder to think what we’d have been up against if it had happened last weekend on our way back from Port Angeles. Clearly Super Jesus was watching out for us.

(That was in the auto shop’s waiting room, and I have no idea how that particular bit of embroidery came to be; but I’m all about the theology of Super Jesus. Those are the only missionaries I’d give a hearing if they showed up on my front stoop.)

So with all that I don’t really have much for a column. But I did want to mention, selfishly, that the new Sherlock is out and I’m very pleased with how it came out.

I have two in this volume, both featuring Mycroft Holmes, and both also fulfilling my Junk Shop colleagues Jim MacQuarrie and John Trumbull’s requests to be murdered in a Sherlock story. The illustrations are by Rob Davis once again, and I loved this one so much I bought the original off him.

One of the ideas I occasionally play with is that during the Great Hiatus, when Holmes was traveling in Tibet under the name of Sigerson, he picked up a few martial arts moves. Not black belt or anything, but it’s documented in the originals several times that Holmes was a gifted amateur boxer and singlestick champion; and then of course there was the baritsu he employed against Professor Moriarty in their final struggle. Since Holmes was an expert in various forms of combat, if he had encountered, say, a group of Shaolin on a pilgrimage, he would have been interested in learning some new tricks. I put an instance of this in the new story… and this pic Rob did of Holmes massaging his karate hand delights me so much I had to have it for the office.

Here’s a little sample from that story, The Adventure of the Man Who Died Twice.


Over the years I have spent chronicling the exploits of my friend Sherlock Holmes, certain misconceptions about the two of us have taken hold in the public mind. This is distasteful to me and certainly to Holmes (whom I suspect would prefer not to be a public figure at all.)

For the latter annoyance, I must assume the lion’s share of responsibility. My only defense is that I thought I was acting to redress an injustice when I first submitted the record of A Study in Scarlet for publication. It seemed to me to be grossly unfair that Scotland Yard got the credit for solving such a sensational murder case when it was my friend Holmes that had actually done so. The eventual success of that effort naturally led to a request for another such chronicle, and I was happy to comply. I must admit that the supplemental income to my military pension was welcome, especially since my experiences in Afghanistan had left me in a physical condition such that I was not then ready to resume the practice of medicine. Moreover, I honestly felt that Holmes would be pleased at seeing his methods given public display. When Holmes informed me, rather acerbically, that he would have preferred a different manner of doing so than appearing as the hero of “a series of tales” in the popular magazines of the day, it was too late to undo the damage.

But we have both reached an accommodation with the small measure of fame that has come to us over the years, and for the most part both Holmes and myself are content to let the majority of the public misconceptions about us to go uncorrected. However, occasionally I feel it necessary to set the record straight.

For example, once Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs and took up bee-keeping, the impression appears to have taken hold that this was the end of our association, as well as the end of his active practice as a criminologist. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that we did not see one another as often, but the fact that we ceased to share rooms certainly did not mean that we also had ceased to associate with one another. Sherlock Holmes was the best and truest friend I ever had, and the thought that the inconvenience of a mere train ride from London to Sussex would be enough to put an end to such a friendship is an absurdity.

In any case, enough time has passed for me to safely reveal that there was another reason for Holmes’ retirement. Many have noted that it seemed rather sudden, particularly as his fame had spread throughout England and even to the Continent. Holmes’ well-known devotion to his work seemed incongruous with taking an early retirement from a career that clearly was on the ascent.

The truth of the matter was that relocating from the bustle of metropolitan London to the peaceful countryside of Sussex had proven necessary for his health. Holmes’ disregard for his own well-being in the relentless pursuit of the solution of a case is well-documented, and this careless attitude towards his health had finally caught up with him; to the point that he was forced to make radical changes in his mode of living. I was not just his friend but also his physician, and my professional ethics forced me to make it clear to him that his casual attitude towards nutrition, to say nothing of his abuse of tobacco and other stimulants, would prove to be the recipe for an inevitable medical disaster.

Holmes did not accept this diagnosis gracefully, of course. It was not until I enlisted the aid of our loyal housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, who agreed to accompany him to the cottage we had secured in Sussex, that he finally gave in; though still with considerable ill temper, and a number of acid remarks. “Really, Watson, after the number of criminals actively attempting to end our lives, to be so concerned over a cough….”

“I retrieved this from your bedroom floor just this morning.” I held up a kerchief flecked with blood. “Someone once suggested to me that I needed not just to see, but to observe. I have done so. Your attempts to muffle the bronchial distress you are experiencing have not deceived me. You forget that I am not just a trained physician, but I have also roomed with Sherlock Holmes for over a decade, which teaches one something about the value of evidence.” I sighed. “Holmes, you know perfectly well that it is not ‘just’ a cough. The blood on this kerchief indicates tissue damage to the lungs, possibly even the onset of chronic bronchitis. You pride yourself on following only the observable facts of a situation and disregarding preconceptions. Your knowledge of human anatomy is probably more detailed than mine-—certainly you have conducted more autopsies than I have! The fact is that your lungs are bleeding. You must let them heal-—and that will require not just a temporary visit to the country, but a complete change of environment and habit. That is the only scientific conclusion to be drawn from the evidence.” I must admit that the last comment held a slight edge of exasperation.

Holmes scowled fiercely, then let out a bitter chuckle. “Very well, Watson. I surrender. You have beaten me. It seems I have succeeded rather too well in demonstrating my methods.”

“It is not a competition.” I added quietly, “I am only seeking to keep my best friend alive and well. Holmes, you cannot honestly deny to me that in your heart you know this to be true, and also that you know I am right. A man who can read so much from a trouser-knee or a shirt-cuff must recognize the signals being received from his own body. Do you wish the pain and the breathing difficulties you are experiencing now to become permanent? Because they will.”

“I have surrendered, Doctor. You need not keep hammering at a man who is already down.” At my expression, Holmes looked deeply chagrined. “Watson, forgive me. You are of course correct in all particulars. If I sought to deceive you at all about my condition, it is only that I also sought to deceive myself, because the idea that I cannot continue as a detective is intolerable. To give up my work, after all the years creating and refining—-”

“Holmes.” I grasped his shoulder. “Listen to me. For once, believe that this is something I know more about than you. I have had many patients develop similar conditions in my years of practicing medicine, and many of them have made changes that allowed them to live long and happy lives. Please, I beg of you, understand that change is not the same thing as cessation. You will still have work—-meaningful work. Your life is not ending. Nor is your career. You have often complained of a lack of time to devote to scientific study, to writing, even just to reading on subjects of interest unrelated to crime. Seize this opportunity to do all of those things, or even new things you have yet to consider. You must not measure your worth solely in terms of the aid you give to London police work.” I smiled. “You will admit that young Hopkins has done quite nicely using your approach, and even Lestrade has grudgingly adopted your prescribed methods for securing the evidence at the scene of a crime, among other things. Scotland Yard will manage.”

Holmes smiled at that, but it was a sad smile. “Of course they will, Watson. But what of me? How will I manage? That is what I dread. Becoming an old man rusticating in the country, daydreaming of past glories.”

“That will not happen.” I said this with firm conviction. “I will not allow it.”


So there you go. I hope you’ll check us out, my colleagues did good stuff too. Amazon link is here — downloadable PDF is here. And should you be interested– after all, if you’re going to shill, REALLY shill– the whole Hatcher backlist is here.

Back next week with something cool. Probably the Port Angeles trip, or possibly an interesting little rabbit hole I went down with The Immortal. See you then.

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