|Don't let the cover fool you - it really is about Holmes and Watson.|
Like me, my sometime co-author Kieran McMullen is a charter member of the John H. Watson Society. His admiration for the good doctor is quite clear in his Holmes and Watson: The War Years trilogy, which he wrote on his own. But now he's written a controversial novel in which Holmes is asked to investigate the deaths of Watson's three wives.
What was the genesis of the story in your mind?
As you know, I have always had a fascination for Dr. Watson. We know so little about Holmes’s Boswell. That was why I wrote Watson’s Afghan Adventure, to fill in the early history that we did not have. The same can be said for Watson’s history while he lived with or was friends with Holmes. Some say that Watson was married once, others say three times, and I have even read one paper claiming seven marriages. I started to wonder just how many marriages there were, and if there was more than one, how did these marriages end?
I went back to the canon and pulled out what appeared to me to be the logical possibilities. But that is not quite true; I added one story to the canon, the play “Angels of Darkness.” This is the play that Watson’s agent Conan Doyle kept from being produced because it was the true story of the Study in Scarlet and contradicted Watson’s earlier fictionalization which he had already published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. As opposed to the made-up story, Lucy had survived the attack of the Mormons and she and Watson had married. Then, of course there was Mary Morstan, and finally Lady Frances. The question becomes – what really happened to all of them.
The other question I always pondered was what was the relationship between Mrs. Hudson and her boarders? We are literally told nothing about the lady in the canon, why? What was Watson hiding? In the Sherlock Holmes and the Black Widower, we find out the answer.
Holmes does a lot of traditional investigating in this book. Do you consider it more of a detective story than a “boys’ adventure story,” as you branded the novels in your Holmes and Watson: The War Years trilogy?
Yes, this is clearly a detective story. While I love boys’ adventure stories, this story is almost pure Holmes. The thinking man must set himself out to find the truth about the feeling man, Watson. It is a classic whodunit. All the clues are presented; nothing is hidden from the reader. I have tried to adhere to the 20 rules for mystery writers laid down by S.S. Van Dine. There are no tricks, no séances, no Ouija boards, and the butler did not do it. But who did? Or did anyone do anything? In truth, it has similarities to problems I saw as a police officer. Was there even a crime?
What were some of the unusual or difficult questions you had to research?
I actually love the research. I knew the time period I wished to use for the story. I then had to find out all that the canon could tell me about where Holmes, Watson and all the other principle characters would be in 1908. That was the easy part. Now I needed to know what was going on around them, what else was happening in the world, in England or on the Continent. Let me give you an example: We know that in ’08 Holmes was keeping bees in Sussex, had a south view and that there are tourist attractions that play on that. The problem of the real location to be used is the bees. Bees, it turns out, don’t like sea breezes. So I had to find a locale that was near the coast and good for the bees. The same was true when looking to find appropriate horse tracks and seaside hotels. Were they there at the time, what did they look like, what would Holmes have seen? It is more fun than it sounds like.
Some readers may find your identification of the various Mrs. Watsons dubious. Defend yourself!
The three marriages I propose that Watson made are actually quite in line with the findings of William S. Baring-Gould, though there are some deviations. The first marriage B-G claims was to Constance Adams. This was the stage name given to Lucy Ferrier by Doyle. In his original hand written copy of the “Angels of Darkness” the actual name was used, so I have deferred to the original. The second marriage, to Mary Morstan, stands alone and obvious but there is definitely a third marriage. While B-G does not name the woman, he places the date in October of 1902. The logical conclusion? Lady Frances Carfax, with whom Watson had been so intimately involved with in July of that same year.
The plot line of this novel begs controversy. How has it been received by Sherlockians?
To my delight, very well. It does take a moment to overcome some preconceived notions about Mrs. Hudson, but once that is done (and I think it is well handled early in the story) all else falls into place. I am very happy with the response both from Holmes and Watson fans.