by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we have a review of a very different sort of Sherlock Holmes book, along with an interview with the author Gordon McAlpine. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Holmes Entangled , and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Holmes Entangled by Gordon McAlpine
Review by Lorie Lewis Ham
I have been a Sherlock Holmes fan ever since I was a teenager. If it’s something involving Holmes, I will check it out-but I am very picky and they must stay true to the characters. When I learned about the release of Holmes Entangled by Gordon McAlpine, a very different sort of Sherlock Holmes book, I was intrigued.
Holmes Entangled is a metafictional book with a very complex plot that uses the premise that there is more than one dimension. In this story there is one world where Holmes is a fictional character, and another where he is a real person and Conan Doyle is just a writer who never created Holmes. We get glimpses into both of these worlds in this book.
The story begins and ends with the visit of Jorge Luis Borges to the office of a Buenos Aires private investigator in 1943. Borges possesses a manuscript so valuable that there have been attempts on his life–he came across this manuscript accidentally and it appears to have been written by Sherlock Holmes. The bulk of this story is the text of that manuscript which is set in 1928, long after Holmes has given up being a detective and supposedly retired to Sussex to keep bees. However, instead he has been living a whole other live in disguise, most recently as Heinrich von Schimmel, a historian of classical physics at Cambridge. Doyle is still a writer, and finds Holmes because of a message he believes came from an apparition of the Prime Minister, though the Prime Minister did not quite seem himself. Doyle wants Holmes to figure out what is going on and Holmes reluctantly takes the case, assuming that a simple fraud has been committed. However, he finds that there is much more going on here then he could ever have imagined. Joining him on his investigation is his old housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, who later married Watson so is now Mrs. Watson. Sadly, John Watson has passed on.
While Holmes keeps telling us that he is different from how Watson portrayed him, for me this Holmes was very believable. I very much enjoyed his banter with Mrs. Watson and getting to see another side to her character, which made up for the fact that Watson was no longer around. There is definitely a harder edge to the story than those that Watson “wrote” though. Gordon also weaves several other real and fictional characters into the story such as Edgar Allan Poe, Mycroft, and Baudelaire.
For someone who loves the fantasy/mystery combo like I do–taking Holmes and putting him into a fantasy/scifi kind of world was wonderful! While there isn’t a lot of physical action (which is befitting of a Holmes book), there are a lot of twists and turns and suspense. This was a very quick and very enjoyable read. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan who is willing to diverge from the canon in new ways, don’t miss this book!
Interview with Gordon McAlpine:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Gordon: I first attempted to write a novel while in the fourth grade. As ordinary, lined notebook pages aren’t the same size as book pages, I cut the paper to proper size (this was long before computers or even a typewriter in our home). The unfinished novel involves a UFO invasion and was called Invaders on Blackrock Island. I completed around 50 pages. It is my only foray into pure science fiction. Perhaps I’ll get back to it one day…
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called, and can you tell us a little about it?
Gordon: My first novel was published by Dutton in 1989. It’s called Joy in Mudville and, while it begins with a Babe Ruth home run in the 1932 World Series, it is less a baseball novel and more a road novel, celebrating mythic American figures, including Ruth, Capone, Woody Guthrie, Clark Kent, the Wizard of Oz and others, who come together on the page.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Gordon: The largest departure I’ve made from literary fiction or literary mystery fiction was a trilogy of juvenile novels published by Viking in 2013-2016 called The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe written for middle-readers (ages 9-12), the books were a joy to write and to share with young readers all over the country. The Tell-Tale Start, Once Upon a Midnight Eerie, and The Pet and the Pendulum. It’s funny now to consider that maybe writing those books was my way of finishing that abandoned novel I started so long ago when I was a “middle-reader” in fourth grade.
KRL: Why did you decide to write a Sherlock Holmes book? Why did you decide to go with a paranormal twist like this and how did you come up with the idea for the book?
Gordon: A purely literary idea came to me unbidden (I’ve no recollection of where or when this actually occurred, though it was likely while driving, showering, walking the dogs, or engaging in some other moment of mild distraction). The conceit was as follows: an author walks into a room and requests the help of one of his characters, the literary nature of their relationship being wholly unknown to both but evident to the reader. Interesting… At this early stage, I might have created a fictitious author and his character, but to do so would have required considerable backstory/set-up to establish the “unrecognized” literary relationship between the two. Additionally, it would have required an omniscient narrative voice capable of explaining what neither character could know. Contrarily, a single sentence, “Arthur Conan Doyle walks into a room to request the assistance of the great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes,” economically accomplishes this metafictional setup with no explanation necessary. So, having arrived at the specifics of my unusual author/detective relationship (Conan Doyle/Holmes), I considered how such a metaphysical occurrence might be possible, which suggested to me the radical Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics (the Many-Worlds Theory), which is not technically paranormal. Hence, I had arrived at a challenging and mysterious predicament.
KRL: Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan?
Gordon: I’m a great admirer of Conan Doyle’s creation, and I share with Sherlockians the impulse to fancifully consider Holmes as real in the historical sense. However, for Holmes Entangled, I attempted to provide more than mere imitation, creating a Sherlock Holmes who was at each turn a plausible interpretation of the original while also providing readers with sufficient variation and nuance, expressed through Holmes’s own first-person narration, that a newly-revealed character would emerge. My rationale was as follows: none of us would seem the same person by our own reckoning as we’d seem to be through someone else’s (i.e. Watson’s) interpretation. Likewise, we are all invariably altered by circumstance and the passage of time. The protagonist of Holmes Entangled is now 73 years old and quite self-consciously living in the age of the “Moderns”; additionally, he has recently lost Dr. John Watson, his chronicler and friend. In this light, it seems to me implausible that this could be a Holmes who is identical to the one portrayed by Conan Doyle/Watson in the decades before.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Gordon: Entertainment is essential, but I hope to leave readers with a sense of unexpected wonder as well. And if they are moved by moments of human connection or disconnection… well, that’s all to the good.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Gordon: I prefer to write from the late morning to the late afternoon, with countless short breaks wandering around the yard, trying to figure out the next sentence.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Gordon: I have written books with no outline, with brief outlines and one book with an outline that was more than 9,000 words long. Somehow, the initial concept of the book dictates the approach. Regardless, even an extensive outline always serves me as a mere suggestion, or marketing/pitch, as the novel truly comes to life only in the language of the actual text.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Gordon: I hope to keep surprising myself. If I do that I believe I’ll hold the interests of readers too.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Gordon: The list is long. Here’s a short version. The contemporary Latin American masters were a great influence on me, particularly Garcia Marquez and J.L Borges. Dashiell Hammett exhibited for me the true literary potential of the hardboiled mystery. Robert Louis Stevenson inspired me because he did not regard genre borders as important, writing children’s classics, historical romances, travel books, fantastical tales, mysteries, horror, and poetry. Finally, I admire Emily Dickinson for the spiritual and emotional courage of her work.
KRL: What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
Gordon: I did extensive research. I understand Holmes is among the most beloved characters of all time and has an enormous following among readers who demand respect and consistency. To feel justified, suggesting any unexpected developments to such an iconic character, I had to first be fully prepared and comfortable with Conan Doyle’s classic original.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Gordon: There’s lots of great TV out there these days. I loved The Wire and The Sopranos, but that’s not exactly breaking news. I was also a big fan of the Kenneth Branagh series Wallander. My current favorite is an intensely stylish offering called Peaky Blinders. It’s a cool crime show set in Birmingham, England in the 1920s. Watch it!
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Gordon: Read, read, and read! Work hard to find your own voice on the page. Put in the time at the keyboard, and don’t be afraid to be different – it’s what sets you apart!
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Gordon: Well, since you ask…
From the Edgar®-nominated author of Hammett Unwritten and Woman with a Blue Pencil comes a startling novel told in the voice of Sherlock Holmes. Set in 1920s’ London, Cambridge, and Paris, Holmes’s final adventure leads him through labyrinths of crime and espionage in a mortally dangerous inquiry into the unseen nature of existence itself.
Sherlock Holmes, now in his seventies, retired from investigations and peaceably disguised as a professor at Cambridge, is shaken when a modestly successful author in his late-sixties named Arthur Conan Doyle calls upon him at the university. This Conan Doyle, notable for historical adventure stories, science fiction, and a three-volume history of the Boer War (but no detective tales), somehow knows of the false professor’s true identity and pleads for investigative assistance. Someone is trying to kill Conan Doyle. Who? Why? Good questions, but what intrigues Holmes most is how the “middling scribbler” ascertained Holmes’s identity in the first place, despite the detective’s perfect disguise. Holmes takes the case.
There is danger every step of the way. Great powers want the investigation quashed. But with the assistance of Dr. Watson’s widow, Holmes persists, exploring séances, the esoterica of Edgar Allan Poe, the revolutionary new science of quantum mechanics, and his own long-denied sense of loss and solitude.
Ultimately, even Sherlock Holmes is unprepared for what the evidence suggests.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Gordon: I don’t know that it should come as any surprise, but I am a proud, native Californian.
To enter to win a copy of Holmes Entangled, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “entangled,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 7, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.
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