Sherlock Holmes is a character whose time has come. It’s odd to say that of a figure who’s been popular ever since his creation, in the 19th century, but then he was an epitome, and now he’s an outlier. Holmes was the perfect Victorian gentleman, the classical idea of rationality utterly in control of passion. People forget, but in his original form he was also sociable, partaking of the arts, very much part of his civilisation. His drug-taking was not illegal. His status as a confirmed bachelor not at all unusual. He was not an eccentric, but, as the years went by and the world changed around him, and a hat only used for long walks in the cold of the country got stuck to his head even when he went to the opera, he became one.
But the world around him was changing in other ways too. The rationality that Holmes represented became increasingly challenged by irrationality, in the form of everything from heartfelt belief to the power of the big lie and the amplification of social media. So now the myth of the perfectly rational being who is able to see society as just a string of equations (and modern people are aware in their bones of how chaos theory says it can’t be reduced to that), who is a human Snopes or Mythbusters, able to deduce, rather than pursue or break or intuit, the right answer…well, that’s now incredibly attractive.
So of course I had to kill him. In the world of my Shadow Police novels, ghosts are the memories of all Londoners, living and dead, made manifest, at least to those with ‘The Sight’. They include fictional and mythological characters, as well as the deceased. So when I came up with the title Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? it all fell into place. In the book, the ghost of Holmes, a flickering conglomeration of every different version of him, is found, still intangible, face down in the Museum at 221b Baker Street, with a ceremonial dagger in his back. My down to earth Metropolitan Police heroes have to initially ask themselves an almost existential question: what does it mean to murder a ghost? Is it connected to whoever’s re-enacting the crimes from the Conan Doyle stories, in order, at their original locations? And is the fact that three different Holmes productions are all filming in town at once? (Allowing me some fond satire of the modern Holmes industry.)
Along the way, we cover a lot of what makes Holmes relevant today, from the point of view of actors, detectives, even other fictional characters. I hope the novel both forms part of the current Sherlockmania and comments on it. Holmes may be dead, but he’s also very much alive.
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? is published by TOR UK on 19/07/2016 TOR.
Someone has murdered the ghost of Sherlock Holmes. But who is responsible - and will the murderer strike again? A small team of Met detectives with the ‘Sight’ find themselves assigned to this twisty new investigation. Quill and his team pursue a criminal genius, who lures them into a Sherlockian maze of too many clues and too much evidence, while also battling their own, and all too real, demons. It looks like the game is afoot…
Paul Cornell has been Hugo-nominated for his work in TV, comics and prose, and is a BSFA award-winner for short fiction. He has also written some of Doctor Who’s best-loved episodes for the BBC, and has more recently written for the Sherlock-inspired TV show Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. He lives in Gloucestershire. Find out more www.paulcornell.com and @paul_cornell.