I was lucky to have found Sherlock Holmes when I was very young. I was one of those kids who went to the public library every week and brought home a stack of books – a week’s worth of reading. I graduated quickly from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout and Josephine Tey. I particularly love the classic period of mystery and romance. Make mine mystery, even when I was a kid.
One week I read the story The Musgrave Ritual. I was hooked. The world’s first consulting detective entranced me, and I quickly read every story. Thankfully there were many! Conan Doyle himself interested me as well. I liked his intriguing characters and found it fascinating that Holmes was based on a real person, Dr Joe Bell. I loved Doyle’s writing style and his clever plots and the clues he used. Doyle accomplished much more than just writing the Sherlock Holmes adventures. He led an amazing life, introducing downhill skiing into Switzerland; proposing a tunnel connecting England and France; drove one of the first auto-mobiles in England – he named it Billy; helping to change the judicial system by calling for an appeals process; and he was also an energetic champion of divorce reform. He and the Canon fuelled my lifelong interest in the Victorian age, in the Restoration, in puzzles, codes, and in manners, murder, mystery and mayhem.
This keen interest in Sherlock persisted and spread. At school, everyone knew I was an avid Sherlockian and while others my age were dating and listening to rock ‘n roll, I was doing scientific experiments. (To this day, don’t ask my family about planaria and the State Science Fair.) As a young girl, posters of Sherlock Holmes and his London filled my walls. Even my brother Albert (who became a noted wildlife artist) had to sketch out a scene from 221B Baker Street.
My first ambition was to become one of the Holmes Irregulars. When I got a job, my first checking account was with Barclay’s bank because they offered Sherlock Holmes checks. When I married, my husband Tom and I joined Chicago’s Criterion Bar Association, where we produced definitive proof, including a genealogy, that Mycroft and Sherlock were the last of the deposed Stuart line. (Remember in BRUC, Mycroft “will receive neither honour nor title, but remains the most indispensable man in the country.” “His position is unique. He has made it for himself. There has never been anything like it before, nor will be again.” “Again and again his word has decided national policy.” It was a fact!)
Given my fascination with Sherlock Holmes and crime (not to mention a Masters in 17th century literature), it was inevitable that I try my hand at writing. I started the DD McGil Literati Mystery Series which uses events in well known authors’ lives and projects the results to current times and crimes, all to be resolved by heroine DD McGil. After publishing several books, I was looking for another plot. My husband Tom, knowing my lifelong interest in Sherlock Holmes suggested Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I initially rejected the idea as being presumptuous, but encouraged by my brother Albert, began considering it. I tackled the mystery of why Conan Doyle had nothing to say about the identity of Jack the Ripper, even though the case caused a sensation in London and throughout the world, and even though Doyle had a penchant in later years for solving real cases. The result was my book, THE CONAN DOYLE NOTES: THE SECRET OF JACK THE RIPPER. Using the Sherlockian Method, I assembled a series of clues - clues I believe that Conan Doyle and Dr. Joe Bell – and by extension Sherlock Holmes – would have used to help solve the case.
As might be expected, this wasn’t the end of the story. While researching the CONAN DOYLE NOTES, I was struck by the variety of Holmes stories, and how the outcomes varied – some perpetrators were severely punished, while others, even murderers, were excused by Holmes and never faced the law or punishment. So I had to write a book on my findings and musings, and CRACKING THE CODE OF THE CANON: HOW SHERLOCK HOLMES MADE HIS DECISIONS is just out from MX Publishing. Coincidently, the jacket cover is that very same sketch my brother Albert made back in high school of Holmes and Watson in 221B where “it’s always 1895.” I was so pleased that my publisher was able to use it.
While I was working on “CRACKING THE CODE,” it slowly became clear that many of my current likes, dislikes, passions and prejudices can be traced to those I formed early on reading the Canon those many years ago. I still enjoy reading the Holmes adventures, and was recently captured by the idea that Sherlock Holmes had gotten himself engaged to Agatha the housemaid in Charles Augustus Milverton, so I am writing a Holmes pastiche entitled, “SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE QUEEN OF HEARTS.” I do hope that future generations will get the same enjoyment and become enthusiasts of Mr. Holmes and Mr. Doyle as I have been.
One day I want to visit England and Scotland and see many of the places I've read about and researched and meet the contacts I've made through my research. I plan on hoisting a pint at the Sherlock Holmes Pub and spending a night at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel and seeing 221B Baker Street and Simpson’s on the Strand. It would be like walking in the footsteps of Doyle and Holmes and Watson. In Scotland I’d love to visit fascinating Edinburgh Castle which sits on a volcano. I want to see the basement strong room where Sir Walter Scott found the Scottish Regalia in 1815. The Regalia – the crown, sceptre and a sword – had been hidden there since 1651. Surely Conan Doyle too must have found this a fascinating story.
Written by Diane Gilbert Madsen
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