Barbara Roden, Author of “The Things That Shall Come Upon Them”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“The Things That Shall Come Upon Them” is, I like to think, a classic Holmes adventure about mysterious happenings in a country house, but with a twist. In several of the original stories there’s a suggestion, at the beginning, that the story could have a supernatural explanation, but Holmes always comes up with a rational solution. I thought it would be interesting to devise a Holmes story where the supernatural, instead of being dismissed at the end, is a very real possibility; although Holmes can’t possibly acknowledge this!

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I wanted Holmes to investigate a “haunted” house, but come up with a completely rational solution, while at the same time the same set of clues was capable of supernatural interpretation. I didn’t want to cast Watson as a detective, so came up with the idea of having Holmes work — however inadvertently – with another detective; and the idea of a psychic detective was a natural. I chose the character of Flaxman Low because he’s roughly contemporaneous with Holmes, he’s the first true psychic detective, and his co-creator — Hesketh Vernon Hesketh-Prichard — was a good friend of Conan Doyle’s. The story’s setting — Lufford Abbey, former home of Julian Karswell of M. R. James’s classic “Casting the Runes” — came after I watched, with our son, the film version of “Casting the Runes,” Night of the Demon, and found myself wondering what happened to Karswell’s home after he died, in somewhat mysterious circumstances, in France. The involvement of a “Dr. Watson” in James’s story was a gift from the writing gods.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I love reading mystery stories, in part because I marvel at the authors’ ability to weave these wonderfully cunning plots. When I began to write my own mystery story I realized how difficult these are to write, especially when, as in the case of my story, each clue has to be able to be interpreted two ways. The aspect that was fairly easy, at least for me, was capturing Conan Doyle’s tone and language. I get annoyed when so-called Holmes pastiches sound nothing at all like ACD’s originals, and was determined not to let that happen. It was lovely to be able to slip into the voice of so accomplished a storyteller as Arthur Conan Doyle.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’ve been a Sherlockian since I was twelve, and relished the chance to write about characters I’ve admired for more than three decades. And it was enjoyable to immerse myself in a world so different to our own. It’s a mistake to glamourise the past, but that world where it’s always 1895 is a very appealing one.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I know the Holmes canon pretty well, and also the Flaxman Low stories and James’s “Casting the Runes;” so it was mostly a case of re-reading James’s tale in order to get a better idea of what precisely Karswell might have left behind. I also re-read some of the Low stories to get a better glimpse of the world of the psychic detective.

What is the appeal of Sherlock Holmes fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

As I said, that world where it’s always 1895, in the words of Vincent Starrett, is a very comforting and appealing one in many ways: the idea that no matter how bad your situation is, Sherlock Holmes can help you. This is, I think, one of the great strengths of the Holmes stories: the fact that Holmes is the court of final appeal, and can solve the seemingly insolvable. The Holmes-Watson partnership is also a very enduring friendship; one of Conan Doyle’s strokes of genius was to create these two characters who are so unlike each other, yet complement each other so brilliantly. Of course, the Holmes adventures translate brilliantly to screen: the set-up, the mystery, the clues, and then the dénouement, where the criminal is revealed and all is explained. It’s wonderfully cinematic.

What are some of your favorite examples of Sherlock Holmes fiction (either original Doyle works or contemporary works), and what makes them your favorites?

Of the Holmes canon, The Hound of the Baskervilles has to be a favourite, because of the four Holmes novels it’s by far the most memorable. The other three have their moments, but Hound stands above them by virtue of the setting and the mystery at the heart of it. Of the short stories, “The Speckled Band” is wonderfully Gothic and mysterious, with some of Holmes’s best deductions; and while it doesn’t contain much mystery, “The Final Problem” is a favourite, because of the introduction of that Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty; a wonderful, and worthy, antagonist.