The decision to include references to Sherlock Holmes in SHADOWS ON THE NILE was an easy one.
Once I had constructed my plot, I knew I needed one character to lay a trail of clues for his sister to follow. So I had to find a subject for these clues that would resonate with the reader.
Instantly the inimitable Sherlock Holmes leapt to mind. He is the supreme master of spotting clues and interpreting each stain on a sleeve or scuff on a shoe. Who else could conjure up such realities out of flimsy hints and fragile threads? I decided that Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street was the perfect subject on which to base my own clues.
I have always loved his adventures, so the chance to make use of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories in my own book was irresistible. I first fell in love with Sherlock (I feel I know him well enough to presume to use his first name) when I was about nine years old. I was at school and my teacher was off sick that day, so a spare student-teacher was dragged in to keep us quiet, and she did so by perching on the front of the table that acted as the teacher’s desk, crossing her knees nervously and reading to the class the story of The Adventure of the Speckled Band. I was spellbound. Never had I encountered such rational thinking or such intensity of purpose. Exactly the qualities I now want in my heroine, Jessie Kenton.
Over the years I devoured the rest of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion, Dr Watson, which during Conan Doyle’s lifetime were published in The Strand Magazine – illustrated by the beautiful line-drawings of Sidney Paget.
It comes as no surprise that films, television and radio all jumped onto the lucrative bandwagon to immortalise his name for each new generation. I have loved so many of them, but my two favourite portrayals came from the great Basil Rathbone – he shared with Sherlock a perfect profile and a penchant for disguise which served him well when he worked as an intelligence officer in World War I – and from Benedict Cumberbatch, with his quick intelligence and high cheekbones. For the purists among you out there, you might like to know that seventy-four different actors have so far played the part of Sherlock Holmes on film and stage.
My decision to use pointers from some of the stories meant that I had the perfect excuse to dust off my set of Sherlock Holmes books (four novels and fifty six short stories) on the shelf and once again relish crossing swords with the indomitable Irene Adler. Once I got started, it was tempting to scatter clues like confetti – it became a game that gave me pleasure – but I restrained myself and most of them ended up on my study floor. But I do believe that it is important for an author to entertain herself/himself while writing, as much as to entertain the reader. That way, we both enjoy the book!
Conan Doyle’s stories were so popular at the beginning of the 20th century that it is perfectly feasible that Jessie and her two brothers would be very familiar with them. There is no doubt in my mind that the logical reasoning of Sherlock Holmes would particularly appeal to Georgie’s orderly mind. It all slotted into place in a way that I feel Sherlock would have been satisfied with, and I hope you will enjoy this added layer of intrigue as much as I did.