Angela Misri is author of Jewel of the Thames, the first book in the Portia Adams Adventure Series, which takes place in 1930s' London and borrows a famous literary address (Sherlock Holmes') for its setting and genealogical lineage (Watson's) for its protagonist. In this 49th Shelf exclusive, she tells us what it's like to pay homage to Sherlock Holmes and his world, and shares some additional reading recommendations which pay similar homage to Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, whether explicitly or otherwise.
hom·age (noun): something done or given in acknowledgment or consideration of the worth of another.
I know the exact moment when my detective, Portia Adams, appeared in my mind’s eye. I was reading Stephen King’s short story anthology Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and turned the page to “The Doctor’s Case.” In the story, we return once again to the well-known partnership of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as they arrive on the scene of a locked-door murder. As the title implies, it is Doctor Watson who manages to solve the case this time, to the astonishment of Inspector Lestrade, the Great Detective, and (poor fellow) Watson himself. Not only was this a clever twist on the relationship of my favourite detective duos, set in one of the most challenging types of mysteries to write (the locked-door cases), but King manages to do all that while being incredibly respectful of the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
That was the moment when I realized that Baker Street was up for rent—that there was a way for me to contribute to the non-canon world of Sherlock Holmes.
I had already read every Sherlock Holmes story written by Conan Doyle by this point, but I began to add to that bookshelf—reading pastiches and homages that were spun from those original stories. Some failed to suspend my disbelief, pulling too far away from the tone of the canon or eroding away at the personalities of the original characters. But the majority were original detective stories that took off from the second floor of that Baker Street flat and flew from the nest with confidence. Most of these were new cases involving Holmes and Watson, but there were the Mary Russell stories and the Amelia Watson stories to open the door to a more feminine view of London crime.
At first Portia was just a renter at Baker Street in the early 1900s, solving mysteries left to her through the journals written by Dr. Watson (hidden away in the attic because they were unsolved). I felt that was too constraining for my young detective, to always be solving the leftovers of her more famous flat mates. I decided she needed her own story, her own mysteries, and experimented with a new idea: could she actually be related to Dr. Watson? Was that temporally possible?
Loving the research that opened up into that window between the great wars, I began drawing out a bit of a timeline, trying to isolate when Portia would have been born, when her parents were married, and when Watson could have had a child from his first marriage.
It was the timeline that convinced me that Portia deserved a birthright, and that Baker Street was the place to discover and explore it. The photos of post-First World War Britain are stark and set a compelling scene, while the culture was changing so dramatically and the role of women with it. My Portia was officially born into an incredible legacy and she would inherit the most famous detective offices in the world.
The game, once more, was afoot. This time in sensible pumps.
About Angela Misri's Jewel of the Thames:
There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street. Set against the background of 1930s England, Jewel of the Thames introduces Portia Adams, a budding detective with an interesting—and somewhat mysterious—heritage. Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia is left puzzling over why she was she left in the guardianship of the extravagant Mrs. Jones. Portia is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her guardian, where she discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street—the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first one involving stolen jewelry, the second one a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.
Angela Misri's Sherlock Holmesian Reading List
Dead Kid Detective Agency by Evan Munday
The Boy Sherlock Holmes Series by Shane Peacock
The Tom and Liz Austen mysteries by Eric Wilson
Rattled by Lisa Harrington
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade
This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship Of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel
Rex Zero, The Great Pretender by Tim Wynne-Jones
The Devil’s Dust by C.B. Forest
The Agency series by Y.S. Lee
John Cardinal and Lise Delorme Mystery series by Giles Blunt:
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny
Angela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. These days she’s focusing on her writing but taking on freelance and digital projects along the side.
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