Sunday, April 8, 2012

Taken Over by the Ghost of Watson

I mentioned before why I like to write in other voices when doing a Holmes pastiche.  We've all seen so much of Watson and his view on Holmes that sometimes it's nice to actually get another point of view.  Angel of the Opera by Sam Siciliano is one such view.  Henry Vernier is the narrator, and he is Holmes's cousin.  While I can agree with others' view that the author seems to despise Watson and created this Henry character simply to paint his version of Holmes as the 'correct' one, it's still somewhat refreshing to see Holmes through new eyes.  However, without Watson being involved in any way, it takes something from the story.  Something feels incomplete.  Like there's a vital part missing.  And of course, that part is Watson.  That's why I liked Laurie R King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice.  It's been awhile since I read it, and I've yet to read any of her others, though I have been collecting them, but even though she has a young woman author the books, Watson is there.  He's still a friend of Holmes.  He's still present, even if extremely in the background.

That's why, with Holmes in Victorian England, I would never dream of not including Watson.  But I must confess that in my first two novels, Rendezvous at the Populaire and I Will Find the Answer, I was more interested in what the other characters were thinking and feeling.  Watson was more of a background character simply because he is a normal man.  He's not at the genius level intelligence of his counterparts, Holmes and Erik, the Phantom.  Nor does he in any way descend into the kind of madness that Jekyll experiences.  Especially the second one was about exactly that -- a descent into madness.  Unleashed.  Uncontrolled.  Completely chaotic.  And Watson, as a normal British man in the 1880's, would honestly have no concept of what that would be like.  Erik, having been a madman during his time at the Opera Populaire, but trying to come back from it now, would have an acute understanding.  Holmes, because he has examined the criminal mind, would have an acceptable idea.  And Jekyll, because he descended into the madness of Hyde, his other self, would know exactly what a toll madness would wreak upon the soul.  They were the characters I was more interested in investing with my second book.

This third one, however . . . Jack of All Trades has a very distinct difference from the other two.  Well, more than one.  With the others, there was a very definite beginning, middle, and conclusion, and just about anyone in the general public knows the story.  Phantom of the Opera: a deformed genius, obsessed with a chorus girl turned diva eventually kidnaps her and forces her to choose between her childhood love and him, culminating in (according to the play,) him letting them go.  Jekyll and Hyde: a doctor, obsessed with finding out the secrets to human nature, experiments on himself and subjects the world to the murderous madman, Edward Hyde.  Because of (in the novel,) an unclean chemical in his mix, he is unable to control Hyde.  Jekyll dies at the end, never seeing his experiment come to fruition.

Jack the Ripper, however . . .  Even if we know about the autumn of 1888, even if we know that there are five victims definitely thought to be killed by Jack the Ripper, and as many as six more thought to be possibilities, even if we think that he may have stopped killing in London because he escaped to another continent (as far as I've heard from a friend whose father apparently studied Jack for a bit, similar killings cropped up in India and then America in the coming years after 1888,) that's all we have.  We don't know what he looked like.  We don't know how tall he was, what his physical characteristics were, if he was fat, thin, muscular, scrawny, dark-skinned, light-skinned, Jew, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant . . .  Nothing!  We know nothing!  The only things known for sure are that prostitutes of the East End, in the Whitechapel district, were brutally murdered by someone the newspapers nicknamed Jack the Ripper.

Everything in this novel is going to be so chaotic already that unlike with the first two, I like writing Watson's thoughts.  He's pretty much going to be the one voice of sanity in this novel.  Holmes is dealing with the case, Erik is present after the second murder, but he has his own issues going on, and Watson, though I'm throwing him a curveball he doesn't see coming, he remains his normal British self, writing about the situations as they unfold.  A voice of reason amidst chaos.

I've been told that as good as some have found Rendezvous, I Will Find the Answer is that much better.  Jack of All Trades will up the bar again.  I wanted to release these novels every six months, which would mean I'd have to get Jack of All Trades done and sent so it could be released in May.  I doubt I'll make that self-imposed deadline.  But I'll try not to keep you waiting too long.  Though I will say . . .

It will be worth the wait.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say I'm REALLY excited for Jack of All Trades. Given that this is a premise you can take in all kinds of directions, I can't wait to see what you'll do with the characters and the mystery. You also make a lot of sense about Watson's roles in the series so far, and that while he is still an important person in Holmes' life, the novels aren't really about him. He can understand and comment only so much on matters of madness and the like. Nice to know he'll be in the limelight more for JoaT, at least.

    Something that intrigues me, though . . . I wonder how much literature (pastiche or not) there is out there about Holmes' pre-Watson days. And, more intriguely, I wonder what it would be like if Holmes investigated the Opera Ghost mystery as per its original setting (around 1881). It's just interesting to me that no one has considered that premise yet, even though it's the one that's most time-accurate for both universes. Then again, there are challenges to writing a mystery about Holmes before Watson came along.