Writing a novel is of necessity a solitary occupation. It is important to get out of the house sometimes. So it was that last Friday I headed off to Edinburgh to the Crime Writers Association conference. I was born and grew up on the north-east coast and am always happy to find myself heading north – and what a fabulous city Edinburgh is. And what a literary one: Waverley is the only railway station in the world named after a novel and the Scott monument is the largest monument to an author in the world. It’s the city too of Robert Louis Stevenson and Conan Doyle – and also of the notorious grave-robbers and murderers, Burke and Hare, and of Deacon Brodie, respectable cabinet-maker and town councillor by day, libertine and leader of a gang of burglars by night. He was hanged on a gibbet he had designed himself and may have been the inspiration for Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde.
And talking of crime, what a great bunch my fellow crime-writers are. Perhaps it is because we save our dark side for our writing, but in real life there is no friendly or more convivial group of people. And as always it was lovely to catch up with old friends and make some new ones, like Leigh Russell with whom I shared a table at an event in Blackwell’s. There were fascinating talks by distinguished pathologists, a former head of CID, and a retired Deputy Chief Constable; there was a cracking after dinner speaker, the Rt Hon Leeona, Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk.
What a pity it is only once a year. Roll on Shrewsbury next April!
Or to give its full title, The Seven Per Cent Solution Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., as edited by Nicholas Meyer (published 1975). It is of course a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and a clever and enjoyable one. Given recent news headlines, this is a somewhat timely blog for the seven per cent solution refers to the cocaine that Holmes inject. The novel begins with Watson’s realisation that Holmes has become hopelessly addicted and has descended into paranoid delusions in which he takes his old maths tutor, Professor Moriaty, to be a degenerate criminal mastermind. In collusion with Holmes’s brother, Mycroft, Watson tricks Holmes into going to Vienna, believing that he is on the track of Moriaty, and delivers him into the care of the foremost alienist of the day, no other than the young Sigmund Freud. What a brilliant idea this was, to build on Holmes’s tendency in the real Conan Doyle stories to resort to cocaine when bored and depressed between cases and to introduce a real historical character in the person of Freud, a detective of a very different kind, one devoted to solving the mysteries of the human mind. And Meyer does pretty much strike the authentic note. Freud invites Holmes to deduce his identity: ‘Holmes eyed him coldly.”Beyond the fact that you are a brilliant Jewish physician who was born in Hungary and studied for a time in Paris and that some radical theories of yours have so alienated the medical community . . . that you have ceased to practice medicine as a result, I can deduce little. You are married, possess a sense of honour . . .’ and so on. Despite their differences they are both acute observers of human behaviour and once Freud has cured Holmes of his addiction, they go on to solve a mystery together. The mystery itself is nothing special, but still the novel is a lot of fun and the end, in which Freud also uncovers the reason for Holmes’s hatred of Moriaty, is ingenious. I like a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche and this is among the better ones.