Time for Sherlock Holmes

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Published by Dodd, Mead in 1983. Hardcover.
Reissued by Wildside Press in 2000. Trade paperback.
Reissued via CreateSpace in 2011. Trade paperback.
Ebook edition published via Smashwords in 2010.
New hardcover edition published in 2020.

When Sherlock Holmes gives up the adventurous life of a consulting detective and retires to the Sussex countryside to raise bees, little does he or his old friend Dr. John Watson realize that their greatest adventure lies ahead — an adventure spanning centuries and extending across the solar system.

The future of civilization is at stake as Sherlock Holmes finds himself moving inexorably toward the final and most terrible confrontation with his ancient enemy, the time-jumping Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty.

A Very Nice Mention of the Book

Lauren Sarner's October 27, 2015 article in Inverse suggests a different approach Steven Moffat could take with the BBC program Sherlock. The article talks at some length about Time for Sherlock Holmes, specifically about the time-travel element.

The Hat, the Pipe, the Author's Despair

"Despair" may be a bit strong, but I'm trying to sound auctorial and dramatic and to act the way people think authors should act - you know, like spoiled little kids playing a role.

But to the point. I have no visual artistic ability. Fortunately, I know that. So when Dodd, Mead asked me for cover ideas, I wisely demurred. However, given that I had striven - with, I dare say, some degree of success - to write the book as I deemed Conan Doyle himself might have written it, and indeed to write a book that I hoped Conan Doyle would have enjoyed and of which he would have approved, I was adamant that the cover not include that damnable deerstalker hat and droopy pipe. (I'm sure there's a technical name for that type of pipe, and quite possibly back when I was a pipe smoker I knew it, but I no longer remember. And I digress.) That hat and pipe, now always associated with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, originated in a stage play about the Great Detective (written and performed by an American actor, as a matter of fact), and although Conan Doyle enjoyed the play and liked the actor, and although that hat and pipe subsequently migrated from the stage to the cinematic incarnation of Holmes, the particular type of hat and pipe are nowhere described in the canonical works. All we know is that Holmes smoked a pipe and that he wore a hat when outside - both of which are to be expected of a gentleman of his times.

"You betcha," the editor said, scribbling notes audibly as we discussed this on the phone. "Nix on the goofy hat and the loopy pipe. Set your mind at ease. We'll do a cover you'll love. Promise."

The cover arrived. Goofy hat and loopy pipe. Despairing author. But many years later, Wildside did a bang-up job on the cover of the reissue, and much more recently I did an even banger-uppier job on the e-book cover, so it worked out all right in the end.

Only the Name Is the Same

While Dodd, Mead was preparing the novel for publication, they decided, as a courtesy, to contact the Conan Doyle family to ask for their imprimatur. I think that at the time Conan Doyle's widow was still alive, and she, along with their daughter, claimed the right of guardianship over the Conan Doyle legacy. Through their lawyer, the two gentleladies asserted that their husband and father would never have approved of involving Holmes in a story having to do with time and space travel. Quash it, they said. Kill the book. Or we'll sue.

Dodd, Mead was still a family operation, under the control of a member of the Dodd family, a man whose name I don't recall but whom I'll refer to as Junior Dodd. Junior Dodd explained to the two ladies that, whether or not they had a legal right to prevent publication in the U.K. of a Sherlock Holmes pastiche of which they disapproved, he was sure they had no such right in the U.S., so go ahead and sue.

They didn't.

To me, the real irony is that Conan Doyle wrote some excellent science fiction, and I really do feel that he would liked the plot I cooked up, time travel and space travel included. I suspect that the heirs who grumbled about what I was doing with Holmes hadn't actually read very much of their husband/father's fiction.

All I Want Is My Fair Share

After the publication of the novel was announced in various places, including descriptions of some of the main plot points, I received a letter from a woman who had published a short story which, she said, used the same gimmick as I did to resurrect Moriarty after his apparent death at the Reichenbach Falls. I didn't see how this could be, and I asked her to send me a copy of her story. She did, and I was disturbed to see that the gimmick was indeed almost indentical to mine. I didn't remember reading the story before, but what if I had read it, consciously forgotten it, and then reused her gimmick, not consciously aware that I was plagiarizing? I remembered that Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that he never read other writer's unpublished works because he was afraid of committing exactly that kind of unintentional plagiarism.

So I asked her when her story was published. Big relief! It turned out to be well after I'd come up with the original outline, including the Reichenbach Falls gimmick, and I had letters to prove that. I was innocent! Yay! So I wrote to her and told her all of this (without the exclamation marks), and I pointed out that such odd coincidences had happened before in our genre, and that's the way it goes, etc.

She wrote back, with copies to Junior Dodd, saying that all she wanted was her fair share of my royalties. I ignored her. I assume Junior Dodd did, too.

P.S.: The royalties were less than huge.


The Arizona Republic
"[D]elightfully preposterous. ... Somewhere, Arthur Conan Doyle may be loving all of this. For us, it's a lot of fun."

New York Times Book Review
"[A] really wild one. ... So off the old pals go, into outer space, to save mankind again. Doyle to Wells to Dvorkin - nice triple play!"

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