Archive for August, 2009

Mary Russell

charles-dana-gibson51-154x300I rarely stray outside the Canon but one series of adventures that I thoroughly enjoy reading, again and again, are those of Mary Russell.

Mary (or Russell as Holmes always refers to her) was 15 when she first stumbled across Holmes in 1915 in Sussex. Holmes was in his fifties (my literary agent had exaggerated his age somewhat). The Valley of Fear was being serialised in The Strand at the time, and I seem to remember Russell asking Holmes how it ended. He denied all knowledge of how it ended, suggesting I made more out of his cases than was necessary!

You can read Holmes view of his encounter with the young lady in Beekeeping for Beginners and Russell’s version of what followed in The Marriage of Mary Russell.

Russell and I met a few months later – September I think it was. Since that day, she has referred to the “sweet bumbly man” (as she described me in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) as “Uncle John”.

When not engaged with Holmes on some case or other she divides her time between his place in Sussex and her place in Oxford.

So far, fourteen volumes of her memoirs have been published. Her literary agent, Laurie M King, has published them in the following order although chronologically, O Jerusalem should be second in the series.

  1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – The adventures begin in 1915 as young Russell meets Holmes and becomes his apprentice.
  2. A Monstrous Regiment of Women – Russell is introduced to the leader of “The New Temple of God” a sect that appears to be involved in something sinister. Then several members are murdered, and Russell faces her greatest danger yet.
  3. A Letter of Mary – An amateur archaeologist brings Russell and Holmes a box containing a papyrus and then is murdered the next day. The scroll, apparently written by Mary Magdalene, could be a clue.
  4. The Moor – Russell and Holmes revisit the scene of one of the most celebrated of his cases. An old friend is troubled by sightings of a ghostly carriage and a dog on the moor. Has the Hound of the Baskervilles returned?
  5. O Jerusalem – Fleeing from England in 1918, Russell and Holmes enter Palestine with help from Mycroft to solve a series of murders that threaten the uneasy peace between the Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
  6. Justice Hall – Shortly after solving the riddle on The Moor, Russell and Holmes arrive at Justice Hall in England, but soon they are involved in a mystery leading them to Paris and the New World.
  7. The Game – Mycroft is gravely ill but has received a package containing the papers of the missing spy Kimball O’Hara (who was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”). They go to India in search of the missing Kim, and the game is very much afoot!
  8. Locked Rooms – Russell and Holmes are in San Francisco, and Russell’s past is catching up with her. A mysterious stranger is waiting for them who may have the key to the locked rooms that are haunting Russell’s dreams.
  9. The Language of Bees – The first part of an adventure which starts back in Sussex and an entire colony of bees has disappeared from one of Holmes’ hives. A bitter memory from Holmes’ past threatens their peace and Russell ends up on the trail of a killer that Holmes may be protecting. In
  10. The God of the Hive, the second part of the adventure, Russell, Holmes, and those they are protecting are scattered to the winds and Scotland Yard is after them on one side and a shadowy faction of the government from the other.
  11. Pirate King – When Mary is called upon to investigate the criminal activities that surround England’s silent-film supremo Randolph Fflytte, she finds herself travelling undercover to Morocco, as chaperone to the stars of his latest extravaganza, Pirate King, based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s masterful The Pirates of Penzance. Nothing seems amiss until the cameras start to roll and Mary feels a storm of trouble brewing…a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance – and where is her husband, Sherlock Holmes? As film fiction becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout...
  12. Garment of Shadows – In a strange room in Morocco, Mary is trying to solve a pressing mystery: Who am I? She has awakened with shadows in her mind, blood on her hands, and soldiers pounding on the door. She is clothed like a man, and armed only with her wits and a scrap of paper showing a mysterious symbol. Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north. Meanwhile, Holmes is pulled into the growing war between France, Spain, and the Rif Revolt. He badly wants the wisdom and courage of his wife, whom he discovers, to his horror, has gone missing. As Holmes searches for her, and Russell searches for herself, each tries to crack deadly parallel puzzles before it’s too late for them, for Africa, and for the peace of Europe.
  13. Dreaming Spies – In 1924, Russell & Holmes are on their way from India to California when they are swept into a case for Japan’s Prince Regent, involving blackmail, Imperial secrets, and delicate international relations. The case takes them from one spring to the next, across two oceans and into the Bodleian Library, where the secrets are just beginning.The
  14. Murder of Mary Russell – The following year, Russell is looking into the barrel of a loaded revolver. A short while later, Mrs. Hudson returns to find a pool of blood and a smell of gunpowder. There is death here, and murder. Nothing will ever be the same.

Russell’s literary agent has also drawn my attention to a story about Kate Martinelli, the San Francisco homicide detective, who encounters what appears to be a complete replica of our sitting-room in Baker Street. The owner of the house has been murdered and amongst his collection of memorabilia is a manuscript written by Holmes. Not quite the textbook that Holmes said, in The Abbey Grange, would be the focus of his declining years, but The Art of Detection is a thrilling adventure nevertheless!

King, Russell’s literary agent, has produced a helpful guide to Russell’s world as The Mary Russell Companion, and there is more information in this supplement.

You can contact Laurie King here.

Jeremy Brett

For some people, Jeremy Brett, will always be the Sherlock Holmes.

He portrayed my good friend over 40 times in what the creator of the Granada Series, Michael Cox, meant to be the genuine article.

There was a dangerous and eccentric edge to his playing of the role which fascinated men and attracted women. His portrayal included some mannerisms that are so uncannily similar to those of Holmes that I find myself fooled occasionally!

The programmes spanned six series plus five feature-length episodes and a short episode broadcast as part of Telethon ’92. The latter has never been officially released though it is available on the Internet.

The whole project started with the best intentions – of keeping true to the stories as I had recounted them – but the commercial considerations of the powers that be at Granada and Jeremy’s failing health meant that the promise was not to be fully realised.

Some liberties were taken with the Canon. For instance, it was decided that I should not be married! So at the end of The Sign of Four, Mary and I go our separate ways. In The Mazarin Stone (from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes), the penultimate episode to be shown, Jeremy was too ill for filming having collapsed at the end of filming (sadly somewhat prophetically) The Dying Detective (from His Last Bow). The script was rewritten using Holmes’ brother Mycroft in his place. The script also includes elements of the Three Garridebs (from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes) with the result that David Stuart Davies (see below) calls it “a mess”. There was also a lost opportunity to bring in the poignant moment from The Three Garridebs where Holmes thinks I have been shot. Mycroft also appears to take my role in The Golden Pince-Nez (from The Return of Sherlock Holmes).

Two of the feature-length episodes strayed too far from the Canon for most people’s liking. These were The Last Vampyre (based perhaps too loosely on The Sussex Vampire from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes) and The Eligible Bachelor (based on The Noble Bachelor from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

The Hound of the Baskervilles was another two-hour episode that was so disappointing that Jeremy Brett wanted to do it again. David Stuart Davies refers to the hound jokingly with a reference to Silver Blaze as “the dog that did nothing in the ratings”. The Sign of Four was the only feature length episode that provided a creditable performance.

In the midst of all this, in 1988 and 1989, Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke toured with a stage play entitled The Secret of Sherlock Holmes in which it is proposed that Moriarty is just a figment of Holmes fevered brain. I can scarcely put into words what I think of that!

You can judge for yourself as the Granada series is shortly to be available on DVD as Sherlock Holmes – Complete Collection.

If you want to know more about Jeremy Brett, his life and career, I can recommend two books. The first is my favourite as it’s written by someone who knows Holmes and I very well, David Stuart Davies, Bending The Willow. David’s enthusaism for Holmes led him to become a founding member of The Northern Mugraves Sherlock Holmes Society. He has also published Holmes of the Movies surveying the Great Detective on film.

The second is The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes by Terry Manners – his first foray into the world of Holmes.

None of these books appear to be available new so you will need to consult a good second-hand bookseller to obtain a copy – or maybe your local library. There is also a very good website devoted to Jeremy Brett called The Brettish Empire.

Few people realise that one other person called Brett also portrayed Holmes. It would be an erudite scholar who knew the answer to that little puzzle!

I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret writings [DANC]

Some of you may have been perplexed by the four character references that I usually put at the end of quotations from “the Canon”.

“The Canon”, by the way, is the term used to refer to the collection of sixty cases published on my behalf by Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1911, the Reverend Ronald A Knox, an Anglican priest, published an essay entitled “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes”. The article was a parody of a school of German Biblical criticism. He subjected my stories about Holmes to the same kind of “form criticism” as German theologians used on the Bible. He was the first to call the stories the “Canon” or “Sacred Writings” and the article is considered the beginning of the scholarship related to the sixty stories.

There are sixty works in all – four novels and fifty-six short stories. The fifty six short stories, after their serialisation in The Strand Magazine, were published in collections, namely:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes
  • His Last Bow
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

Just for completeness, the novels are:

  • A Study In Scarlet
  • The Sign of Four
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • The Valley of Fear

Jay Finley Christ devised a set of four-character abbreviations to conveniently refer to each of the sixty stories. Jay Finley Christ was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, an organisation of enthusiasts considered the pre-eminent Sherlockian group in the United States.

Here is a full list of these abbreviations:

ABBE Abbey Grange
BERY Beryl Coronet
BLAC Black Pete
BLAN Blanched Soldier
BLUE Blue Carbuncle
BOSC Boscombe Valley Mystery
BRUC Bruce-Partington Plans
CARD Cardboard Box
CHAS Charles Augustus Milverton
COPP Copper Beeches
CREE Creeping Man
CROO Crooked Man
DANC Dancing Men
DEVI Devil's Foot
DYIN Dying Detective
EMPT Empty House
ENGR Engineer's Thumb
FINA Final Problem
FIVE Five Orange Pips
GLOR Gloria Scot
GOLD Golden Pince-Nez
GREE Greek Interpreter
HOUN Hound of the Baskervilles
IDEN Case of Identity
ILLU Illustrious Client
LADY Lady Frances Carfax
LAST His Last Bow
LION Lion's Mane
MAZA Mazarin Stone
MISS Missing Three-Quarter
MUSG Musgrave Ritual
NAVA Naval Treaty
NOBL Noble Bachelor
NORW Norwood Builder
PRIO Priory School
REDC Red Circle
REDH Red-Headed League
REIG Reigate Squires (Puzzle)
RESI Resident Patient
RETI Retired Colourman
SCAN Scandal in Bohemia
SECO Second Stain
SHOS Shoscombe Old Place
SIGN Sign of the Four
SILV Silver Blaze
SIXN Six Napoleons
SOLI Solitary Cyclist
SPEC Speckled Band
STOC Stockbroker's Clerk
STUD Study In Scarlet
SUSS Sussex Vampire
THOR Thor Bridge
3GAB Three Gables
3GAR Three Garridebs
3STU Three Students
TWIS Man with the Twisted Lip
VALL Valley of Fear
VEIL Veiled Lodger
WIST Wisteria Lodge
YELL Yellow Face

I must admit, Watson, that you have some power of selection [ABBE]

In 1927, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was asked to select what he regarded as his favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.

His list, in descending order of merit, was:

  1. The Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Dancing Men
  4. The Final Problem
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Empty House
  7. The Five Orange Pips
  8. The Second Stain
  9. The Devil’s Foot
  10. The Priory School
  11. The Musgrave Ritual
  12. The Reigate Squires

Later, he considered the stories he wrote after 1927 and added seven more stories, again in descending order of merit:

  1. Silver Blaze
  2. The Bruce-Partington Plans
  3. The Crooked Man
  4. The Man with the Twisted Lip
  5. The Greek Interpreter
  6. The Resident Patient
  7. The Naval Treaty

The Strand Magazine challenged its readers to guess which of his Sherlock Holmes stories Sir Arthur rated as his very best. He said that when this competition was first mooted, he went into it in a most light-hearted way, thinking that it would be the easiest thing in the world to pick out the twelve best of the Holmes stories. But in practice he found that it was much more serious a task.

A Mr R. T. Newman of Spring Hill, Wellingborough, won £100 for successfully guessing ten of the twelve stories correctly.

Sir Arthur revealed his choice and, in his own inimitable way, explained his reasoning in an article for the magazine which has been published, along with the twelve stories, together for the first time in The Favourite Sherlock Holmes Stories.

This book, with Case Notes by Professor Robert Giddings of Bournemouth University and the twelve stories listed above, is a useful introduction covering Holmes’s cases. There appears to be a misprint in the reproduction of Conan Doyle’s explanation of “How I Made My List” as it refers to the first six of the list being republished in “The Grand Magazine” when it should be “The Strand Magazine”.

The Case Notes by Professor Giddings are bang up to date, covering the latest incarnation of Holmes and myself on the silver screen portrayed by Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law. I think I am more flattered by my portrayal than Holmes!

Perhaps I should consider what my favourite Holmes stories would be?

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