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Interview: Amy Thomas, Author of The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes seems to be on everyone’s mind lately… including Amy Thomas’. She’s recently released a book entitled The Detective and the Woman, a tale of Holmes’ interactions with Irene Adler. Following my review of her novel, I got to chat with Amy, who provided some brilliant insights into Doyle’s stories.

The Sherlock Holmes stories seem to be experiencing a particular boom of popularity lately, with the films and numerous TV series. Why, do you think, is Sherlock Holmes so popular, and why has he endured?

Sherlock Holmes has always had a wide fanbase, even during the years when he wasn’t quite as much of a cultural trend as he is right now. I think the current boom has to do with the excellent job the BBC Sherlock series and the Guy Ritchie films have done of introducing the character to a new generation.

I believe one reason the Sherlock Holmes stories are enduringly popular also applies to Shakespeare, in that both contain a great deal of truth about human nature and the human condition, and that truth is timeless. In the case of Holmes, the presence of suspense, clever solutions, and humor makes the stories and characters irresistible for all time.

Relating to the first question, what is it about the Holmes stories that drew you in and attracted you to writing about the detective?

I re-read the Holmes canon in 2010 after having not done so for many years, and I was captivated by the detective’s character—his cerebral, logical nature that somehow coexists with a dreamy, musical side and a bitingly dry wit. I have also been a fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series for a long time, and she was my entrance into the world of pastiche and the realization that an entire genre of Holmes-based derivative fiction exists.

Both of these things, my love for the character and the realization that Holmes pastiche exists as a literary genre, gave me the push I needed to write my own story about Holmes and The Woman.

Taking on writing Sherlock Holmes is quite a challenge – he’s an iconic character, after all. Did this make you nervous about writing about him, or were you reassured by the fact that Doyle himself said “you may marry him, or murder him, or do whatever you wish”?

In my view, the idea of writing about Holmes is a little bit humorous in the sense that his own creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, did not enjoy being known for him and seemed to have little reverence for his own creation. In spite of that, few would argue that he failed to create a masterpiece. The Holmes I wrote is the one I see when I read the Doyle stories, but I attribute my chutzpah in actually writing him to other pastiche authors who went before me, notably Laurie R. King and Nicholas Meyer. I didn’t imitate their styles, but I drew confidence from knowing that they had written about Holmes successfully.

Your book deals with Holmes’ interactions with Irene Adler, one of the more complex and intriguing characters of the Holmes cano –the only woman who beat him. Tells us about your interpretation of her and why you chose to go in the direction you did.

When I was re-reading “A Scandal in Bohemia” in 2010, I was particularly struck by the transformation of Sherlock Holmes’s view of Irene Adler from the beginning of the story to the end. He begins with the impression that she is heartless and dishonorable and ends up thinking that she is both clever and honorable, more so than his client. At the end of the story, I found myself wanting to imagine a future for the two of them in which they came to know and understand each other as intelligent equals.

I chose to portray Irene in a largely non-sexual capacity. The idea of her as a primarily sexual character has been hashed and re-hashed in numerous stories and adaptations, and I wanted to do something different. I explored her character as someone who is intelligent, flawed, and witty, with the ability to go toe-to-toe with Holmes. I emphasized her basic humanity and personality, rather than making her a femme fatale, and I had great fun developing the friendship between her and Holmes.

Your story takes place during the Great Hiatus (Holmes’ three-year disappearance after his “death”), when Holmes was off exploring the globe. Why did you decide to situate the story in America, in Florida, of all places what was it about that time and place that attracted you? Why did you choose to include Thomas Edison as a character?

The story is set in Fort Myers, Florida, which is my home town. I’ve been interested in local history for a long time, particularly because I live ten minutes from the winter home of Thomas Edison. A great deal of lesser-known history happened here, and the stories are not widely told. I was extremely interested in the concept of the great detective meeting the great inventor, though I chose not to make Edison as large a character as I might have done, since I didn’t want to stretch history any further than necessary.

Atmospherically, the setting was inspired by Fort Myers’s position on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I have lived in the tropics for most of my life, and I find that the pulse of life on the edge of the ocean is different from life lived elsewhere. I wanted to introduce Holmes into the coastal setting and explore his reactions to Florida at the turn of the century, when it was still quite wild in many ways.

In addition to writing stories about Holmes, you’re also a member of the Baker Street Babes–can you tell our readers a bit about what that is and why they should go over and check out your podcast?

The Baker Street Babes are a multicultural group of young women who love Sherlock Holmes and podcast about him. We discuss everything from the original stories to the BBC series and everything in between. The episodes are humorous, informative, and just plain fun.

And, finally, with all these recent adaptations on screen and television, I must ask, which is your preferred interpretation and why?

The BBC Sherlock series is my current favorite adaptation. Before the show first aired, I found the idea of a modernized Sherlock Holmes a bit strange. However, two series later, I am delighted that the spirit of the characters and original stories has been preserved beautifully and presented in a way that has attracted a whole new generation’s worth of fans.

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About Anastasia Klimchynskaya

My mind rebels at stagnation. Find the rebellious thoughts of that constantly racing mind at my blog, Monitoring the Media.