Sherlock Holmes appeared in 1887 in the book A Study in Scarlet and the world has been fascinated by Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation ever since. We’re all familiar with his appearance thanks to the wonderful artwork of Sidney Paget. His Victorian pictures illustrated the detective’s adventures in the Strand Magazine and he brought the literary description to iconic life with the aquiline nose and a high forehead to rival Anthony McPartlin of Ant and Dec.
William Gillette was the first actor to play him, over 1300 times on stage, and he cemented the image of deerstalker hat, magnifying glass, violin and curved calabash pipe. In the books, Holmes smoked a simple briar pipe, but the actor felt this obscured his mouth and adopted the elaborate curved pipe instead. Later actors maintained this image on film through the decades, including the superb Jeremy Brett, Peter Cushing and my personal favourite Basil Rathbone. It’s a tribute to the enduring love of Holmes that he’s been portrayed on screen over 250 times, with around 100 actors having now played him.
We also see Holmes in many other incarnations, such as private detectives and screen characters like the Mentalist. He’s recently been updated too in the amazing Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch. With all this in mind, I decided to try a new take on the character with Bernie Quist. This is a different and original approach and hopefully mystery readers and Holmes fans will enjoy it. Quist, his assistant and the other protagonists are likable and quirky, and the stories are humorous without being outright comedy.
It’s easy to see why the Hound of the Baskervilles is the most famous and best loved of Conan Doyle’s stories. It’s a truly fantastic novel. Readers get their favourite detective involved in a seemingly supernatural mystery of ancient legends, misty moorlands and a terrifying spectral beast. A similar atmosphere permeates the Quist novels, but where the Baskerville hound turns out to be a real dog similar to the ones owned by drug dealers on estates, the eerie situations Quist faces are genuinely paranormal.
A contemporary Holmes, Quist is a consultant detective operating from Baker Avenue in the city of York. His looks, eccentric personality and deductive methods resemble Doyle's sleuth and his assistant is named Watson, although this Watson is a black youth from the notorious Grimpen housing estate and he’s definitely no doctor. The oddly mismatched pair take on bizarre cases which invariably lead to the shadowy world of the supernatural, a world the mysterious Quist is all too familiar with. Reclusive and very much a loner, the consultant detective has a dark secret which eventually comes to light in the first novel Cat Flap.
Cat Flap begins days before Christmas and once again, the sleuth will be quietly celebrating alone. His new assistant has other ideas, mostly involving parties, girls and beer, but Yuletide plans are halted when three York chemists die and the fiancé of one hires the pair to look into her apparent suicide. After discovering the chemist wasn’t engaged, they’re drawn into the mystery when their employer is killed. Added to this, Watson has a puzzle of his own - Quist is clearly hiding something and he’s curious to know what. The investigation leads to a shady cartel of northern businessmen, a forgotten Egyptian cult and an ancient evil lurking in the old alleyways of York. Quist’s secret is also revealed, and Watson doesn’t know what terrifies him the most.
Beginning as a murder investigation, Cat Flap soon develops into a paranormal thriller, set against a backdrop of Manchester and York, a beautiful city of historic buildings and medieval fortifications that has seldom been used by mystery writers.
Cat Flap is published by MX Publishing on the first of February and will be the start of a series. Assuming, of course, that Quist and Watson survive their first adventure, the second book, the Music of Sound, revolves around the British music industry, an enigmatic pop star, the Titanic and voodoo.