Delighted to have David Stuart Davies stop by for a natter. The Instrument of Death: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is published by Titan Books and is out now in paperback and Kindle.
The Instrument of Death: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Back of the Book
A brand-new Sherlock Holmes mystery from acclaimed Sherlockian author David Stuart Davies, featuring the sinister Dr Caligari
Sherlock Holmes has just uncovered the truth about the theft of a priceless ruby. The wealthy Lady Damury staged the theft and tried to frame her husband – but just as Holmes reveals the truth, Lady Damury is found murdered. Holmes deduces that this is no crime of passion, but the work of a ruthless killer with no connection to the jewel. With reports of a man in a strange, trance-like state, Holmes finds himself entangled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the sinister Dr Caligari…
David Stuart Davies
I have always been a storyteller. Even as a child I created little tales to entertain my mother. I used to ask her what kind of story would she like – a mystery, or a cowboy adventure or a ghostly tale. So even before I was a teenager I was developing my writing muscles. Then I encountered The Hound of the Baskervilles on the school library shelves when I was about twelve or thirteen and I became hooked on Sherlock Holmes – a fascination that has lasted all my life. He is the ultimate hero – self-contained, smart, and a brilliant solver of mysteries. He does not rely on super powers – all he has at his command is his great intellect. When I’d read all of Conan Doyle’s original stories, I wanted more and it seemed the only way I could get them was to write further tales myself – which I did. Of course these were creaky juvenile efforts but I had started on the road to being a writer.
I am now the author of eight Sherlock Holmes novels and Starring Sherlock Holmes, which details the film career of the famous sleuth. Dramatic presentations of Holmes are a particular passion of mine, which was initially stimulated by the wonderful Basil Rathbone movies I viewed on the TV in my youth. I still think they are wonderful. In the 1980s and 1990s I was lucky enough to meet and interview the brilliant Jeremy Brett about his performance as the great detective. He was determined to bring an authentic Holmes to the screen – the character as imagined by Arthur Conan Doyle. These meetings and talks led me to write Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, which explores Brett’s interpretation of the character and provides a detailed insight into the Granada TV series. I am delighted to say that it is regarded as the definitive work on the subject.
While I write other things – fiction and non-fiction (more of which in a moment) – the ghost of Sherlock Holmes hovers over much of my output. I have written three Sherlock Holmes plays, for example. Two successful one-man stage dramas starring Roger Llewellyn, Sherlock Holmes – The Last Act and Sherlock Holmes – The Life & Death which toured successfully for many years have been recorded on audio CD by Big Finish. This year saw the premiere of my new Holmes play, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Reckoning. I was lucky to secure the services of two talented actors – Michael Daviot andMark Kydd to play Holmes and Watson in this two hander, which explores the fragile relationship between the two men and the reality of the Holmes myth. I was thrilled have a chance to throw a new psychological spotlight on the Baker Street duo.
However, I have penned other works of crime fiction and created my own detective characters. I am particularly proud of my Northern Noir triology set in Yorkshire in the 1980s featuring DI Paul Snow, a gay policeman. Many of my readers say that these novels – Brothers in Blood, Innocent Blood and Blood Rites – would make a great television series. Any producer out there willing to give them a try? There is wonderful tension with Snow desperately trying to keep his sexuality a secret from his colleagues, essential in the eighties, while at the same time investigating a series of savage murders.
My latest non-Holmes novel is Oliver Twist and The Mystery of Throate Manor. This features an adult Oliver, who is now a solicitor. With his clerk, the partially reformed Artful Dodger, Jack Dawkins, Oliver investigates, a strange mystery involving ghosts, and murder. It was a fascinating challenge to bring a Dickensian flavour to a Victorian murder mystery. I enjoyed creating a series of weird and wonderful characters to parade in front of a colourful Victorian London backdrop.
I have other writing activities which help to keep me busy and that ravenous wolf from the door – a creature that threatens all working writers. I am the general contributing editor for Wordsworth Editions Mystery & Supernatural series and I edit Red Herrings, the monthly magazine of the Crime Writers’ Association which means that I have to be on my toes to bring out twelve issues a year – or else!.
I am privileged to be an invested Baker Street Irregular and a member of the prestigious Detection Club, an institution founded in the 1930s by the likes of G. K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers. Conan Doyle was asked to be their first president but he was too ill to accept. To be in the ghostly company of such literary greats makes me prouder than I can express.
I have given talks and dramatic presentations on Holmes and from my collection of ghost stories, The Halloween Mask, at various literary festivals, libraries, the Edinburgh Fringe with a one man Holmes presentation and conferences and have been a guest speaker on the Queen Mary II.
I am happily married to Kathryn who reads and comments on everything I write – even my shopping lists! Her observations are invaluable. In my spare time I enjoy watching old horror movies, reading, listening to music, eating out and socialising with friends. Simple pleasures – but they enrich my life.
Who would the book be perfect for?
Obviously any enthusiast of Sherlock Holmes, but also readers of crime fiction, lovers of the gothic and admirers of the silent movie, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
Do you have a favourite character to write?
With my track record with Sherlock Holmes both in fiction and fact he has to be up there at the top. Doyle provided such a fascinating template with this character that there is so much one can do with him. I always think of Holmes as a portrait presented as one of those paintings by numbers where not all the sections have been filled in, allowing a writer to add interesting new aspects to the picture without altering the main effect.
Of my own creations I have a fondness for both Luther Darke, a louche Victorian ‘puzzle solver’ who appeared in my collection The Darke Chronicles. He has some of the qualities of Holmes but he is a far more flamboyant and eccentric character with a definite touch of Oscar Wilde’s wit and extravagance.
Then there is Johnny Hawke, ‘Johnny One Eye’ the private detective operating in London during the World War II. Hawke appeared in six novels, most of which are now available as ebooks from Endeavour Media. Johnny is one of my favourite characters because he is the most like me. He is a little bit cynical but able to see the funny side of life; at times he is witty and though not naturally brave will always step up to the mark when required. He also has a strong sentimental streak. Val McDermid called him ‘a hero with a heart’.
What inspired you to write the book?
I relish the challenge of bringing Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to a modern audience. While I strive to be faithful to the concept of the characters created by Doyle – Holmes, Watson, Mycroft, Mrs Hudson, Lestrade et al – I have always attempted to introduce new elements into the plots to add a certain freshness to them. I am a great admirer of the German Expressionist movie The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and the idea struck me that this demon hypnotist would make a fascinating foe for Sherlock Holmes. He is a creature who is completely evil and murders without motive and yet he never quite perceives himself in this light. To him his crimes are mere scientific experiments. The events in The Instrument of Death take place before those in the movie. Caligari makes a fine nemesis for Holmes, a character unlike any other that he has encountered. I had originally called the book Sherlock Holmes & The Caligari Murders but it was thought the name would puzzle some readers. In writing my new book I believe I have been true to Doyle and Sherlock while also presenting drama, suspense and a little bit of horror. I do hope you’ll give the book a whirl.
A photo from 2018 that tells a story.
It was good to meet up again with Sir Christopher Frayling. Although he is known as an advocate of the higher arts – he is an ex-chairman of the Arts Council – he is also a great fan of popular culture. We share a love of gothic fiction and he is also an avid Sherlockian. An hour’s chat with him enriches the day!
What has been your proudest bookish moment?
Gosh – there have been so many, so please forgive me if I rattle off the first five that come to mind:
- Having my first book published, when I was still at university, and realising that I was now a ‘proper author’.
- Being asked to edit Red Herrings for the Crime Writers’ Association, a monthly publication that reaches over 900 crime authors. I have been doing it for 19 years.
- Seeing my first play, Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act performed to an appreciative audience. Watching a talented actor bring something you have created to life on the stage is a huge thrill.
- Being invested as a member of the Detection Club, a social gathering of some of the most respected crime writers in Britain.
- Any time a new book of mine is published and I see it in a bookshop – especially if someone is buying it!
Do you have any questions for your readers?
A few questions, I guess.
Which of my Holmes novels have you liked the best?
Is there a mystery that you would like to see Holmes involved in?
What fascinates you about old Sherlock?
What is your favourite read of all your life and why?
The Hound of the Baskervilles. This novel introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, his world and exciting fiction. Reading that book sold me into pleasing Sherlockian slavery for life. With eight novels, three plays, numerous non-fiction efforts all dealing with Holmes, he has been a significant part not just of my writing career but also my social life. I have made many friends through Sherlock and I even met my wife through Mr Holmes. All this because I picked up a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was a short-trousered schoolboy. It is a book that I reread from time to time.
What are you working on now?
A novel featuring Luther Darke in which he investigates a series of gruesome murders where the victims are burnt to death. The working title is The Burnings. It is in the early stages but once again I am enjoying the challenge of creating a mystery which not only baffles and surprises the main character but the reader also. My other definition for crime writer is ‘page turner’ – this is what I aspire to be.
Thank you David Stuart Davies, for such an in depth and wonderful feature.
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