Darrell Schweitzer, Author of “The Adventure of the Death-Fetch”

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

This story has playful elements, including a lot of Lovecraft references and an Indiana Jones joke, but it actually addresses a serious point: How would Sherlock Holmes, hardened rationalist that he is, cope with a mystery which proves to be incontestibly irrational and supernatural? Would it destroy his usefulness, the way that, in a sense, extreme credulity destroyed Conan Doyle himself? Doyle at the end of his life could hardly have investigated anything logically. He was too inclined to discover fairies at the bottom of the garden. If Holmes admits the irrational into his worldview, wouldn’t that put an end to his famous detective methods? Would he still be able to function?

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

It’s an intriguing concept. For years I thought of the title, “The Adventure of the Doppelganger,” for its sinister resonance, but when I came to write the story I decided that “Death-Fetch” worked better, because that was what I was really describing. Not all doppelgangers are death-fetches. This one is.

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

The difficulty in any Sherlock Holmes pastiches maintaining Watson’s voice in a convincing manner. It is even more difficult in a story like this, where things go very close to over-the-top several times. An American writer is at a particular disadvantage because of a tendency of Americanisms to creep into the language of the story. I did my best to crib the vocabulary from Doyle himself, and also to keep both the setting and the cast of characters narrow, to avoid making egregious blunders in my depiction of Victorian English society. The adventurous part of the story, prior to the main action, the “told” part, takes place in the remote jungles of Asia, where I can get away with considerably more.

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

The only thing I can see that is personal is that, while I was very much of a motormouth as a young man, I also knew how to listen, and would have been thrilled and respectfully silent if some older person like Dr. Watson had taken me aside to tell me a story like this.

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

Not a lot. I reread some Holmes stories to refresh my acquaintance with the idiom. I suppose I may have checked a point or two in Jack Tracy’s Encyclopedia Sherlockiana and similar reference books.

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?

One of the commonest and most surefire of all story strategies is, “This was the most extraordinary person I ever met.” The Holmes stories are all about how extraordinary Holmes is. Dr. Watson’s function is very important. We identify with Watson, not with Holmes. Most of us do not flatter ourselves into believing that we could be such an extraordinary genius, but we might be able to believe that we could have met him, and it would be really exciting if this exceptional person so respected us that he took us into his confidence and made us his trusted colleague. That’s the core fantasy, not that we could be Sherlock Holmes but that we could be his friend. There is an element of hero-worship in the Sherlock Holmes stories, which is also a clever way for Doyle to hint at the brilliance of Holmes without having to show the inner workings of the man’s mind, which he, not being a genius of similar magnitude cannot actually present. I would never attempt to write a story from Sherlock Holmes’s point of view. Doyle himself did it at least once, and it was a mistake.

So, the appeal of the Holmes stories is that we are brought as close as we conceivably can be to a mind greater than our own, not someone we could ever be, but just possibly someone we could have known. The plots hardly matter. It is the character of Holmes which fascinates.

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

“The Musgrave Ritual” is surely one of the great ones, for its resonance, a mystery reaching back into the depths of time. This is a lot more interesting than who killed so-and-so or what became of milady’s diamonds. A inherent problem in the mystery story is to avoid much ado about something trivial. There should be real passion and real drama. The Holmes stories, in particular, while they are not (at least the ones written by Doyle) fantasy almost partake of the grandeur of myth. That may be the secret of their timelessness.