When I was ten years old we lived in a small town called Westport in the west of Ireland. I was a bookish little boy, always happy to read whatever I could find. One day my father produced The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. He said he thought I might like it. I did. I rushed on, through Silver Blaze and The Musgrave Ritual, The Crooked Man and The Resident Patient, The Greek Interpreter and The Naval Treaty, until The Final Problem, the story of Sherlock Holmes’s Gotterdammerung with the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, where they both plunge to their death at the Reichenbach Falls.
When I reached the end of the memoir, I burst into tears. I couldn’t stop crying. Sherlock Holmes dead! I had so much wanted to be the great consulting detective, as I later wanted to be the Scarlet Pimpernel or Sandy Arbuthnot (I still want to be Inspector Morse or George Smiley). I rushed downstairs, crying my eyes out, into my father’s arms.
“Whatever is the matter, David? Why are you crying like this?” “It’s Sherlock Holmes, Daddy. He’s dead!”
My father explained that Holmes was not dead, that he had not been killed at the Reichenbach Falls. He promised me the next volume of stories where Sherlock returns and solves many more mysteries. He must have employed almost Holmesian powers, my father, for the very next day he gave me The Return of Sherlock Holmes, in which the great consulting detective re-appears in London in The Adventure of the Empty House. Westport, County Mayo, was not famed then, or now, for its bookshops.
Later crime writers have fleshed out their detectives with greater emotional hinterland than Sherlock Holmes. Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey has his shell shock nightmares from his time in the trenches and years of pursuit of Harriet Vane. Inspector Morse always has trouble with women. Inspector Wexford, a more complicated individual than he would seem on the surface, has problems with his daughters.
Neither Sherlock nor Mycroft Holmes have any emotional life at all. Perhaps that is part of the explanation of their eternal appeal. They are detectives: nothing more, nothing less. Nobody before or since has had their ability to deduce a man’s occupation and employment history from the way he walks down the street. Nobody before or since has been able to solve the extraordinary variety of crimes presented by Conan Doyle in his stories. They are, as it were, the platonic form of detective, the perfect embodiment, which others may try to emulate but will never succeed. That is why, for me, Jeremy Brett will be forever Sherlock - the perfect Sherlock. That forensic intelligence, the restless mind, the total, almost psychotic, determination to solve the case in hand; the lethargy, the cocaine, the boredom when there is no investigation under way.
I still watch the Jeremy Brett stories on cable channels from time to time. So, when Endeavour Press asked me to write a new Mycroft story I was thrilled. I re-read all the stories where he appears in the originals and my imagination was fired up in a way it has not been for some time. The enormous intelligence. The shadowy Government position. The idleness. Above all, oddly enough, I was attracted to the Diogenes Club, where nobody is allowed to speak at all.
When I began writing the story it all fell into place very quickly. Without giving too much of the plot away, Mycroft is charged with preventing the collapse of the British economy. Would he were alive today. I am currently writing the follow-up to Mycroft Holmes and the Adventure of the Silver Birches.
I still have the paperback of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes my father gave me all those years ago. There is a green strip at the top and bottom of the front cover with the title on a white background in the middle. On the last page at the back is a list of other crime writers published at the time: Margery Allingham, EC Bentley of Trent’s Last Case, Erle Stanley Gardener, Josephine Tey of the Daughter of Time, Freeman Wills Crofts, Ngaio Marsh. But who today has heard of Gladys Mitchell, David Dodge or Christianna Brand?
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is the price of my 1950s Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Two shillings and sixpence, it says on the front cover, or twelve and a half pence in today’s money. The book is now priced at £6.99, 56 times more than when I read the stories all those years ago in Westport, County Mayo. I wonder what Mycroft Holmes, Auditor of all Government Departments, would have made of that total collapse in the purchasing power of the pound?
The Adventures of Mycroft Holmes by David Dickinson is available to download as an ebook now; the book is out in February.