When Richard Foreman of Endeavour Press asked me to write a short story about the Adventures of Mycroft Holmes, I was reluctant at first. True, I had been writing detective stories set in roughly the same period about my own fictional investigator called Lord Francis Powerscourt. True, I had always been a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. But something I remembered about Mycroft in the stories made me feel he would be a difficult character to write about. Mycroft never goes anywhere, unless in very exceptional circumstances. There is virtually no action in his life. Very little happens to him. His daily round takes him from his rooms in Pall Mall to the Government Offices in Great George Street and to the Diogenes Club where members are only allowed to speak in the Strangers Room. Not for Mycroft the charging about in cabs and trains, the crawling along the ground in search of footprints, the incessant movement of Sherlock Holmes when he is engaged in an investigation.
It was when I decided to read the Conan Doyle stories in which Mycroft appears again that I came across a dramatic memory from my childhood, a sort of Madeleine moment in the west of Ireland. When I was ten years old we lived in a small town called Westport in County Mayo.
I was a bookish little boy, always happy to read whatever I could find. One day my father produced The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. He said he thought I might like it. I did. I rushed on, through Silver Blaze and the Musgrave Ritual, the Crooked Man and the Resident Patient, the Greek Interpreter, where Mycroft plays a major role, and the Naval Treaty, until The Final Problem, the story of Sherlock Holmes’s Gotterdammerung with the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, where they both plunge to their death at the Reichenbach Falls. When I reached the end of that Memoir, I burst into tears. I couldn’t stop crying. Sherlock Holmes dead! I had so much wanted to be the great consulting detective, as I later wanted to be the Scarlet Pimpernel or Sandy Arbuthnot. (I still want to be Inspector Morse or George Smiley) I rushed downstairs, crying my eyes out, and rushed into my father’s arms.
"Whatever is the matter, David? Why are you crying like this?"
"It’s Sherlock Holmes, Daddy. He’s dead!"
My father explained that Holmes was not dead, that he had not been killed at the Reichenbach Falls. He promised me the next volume of the stories where Sherlock returns and solves many more mysteries. He must have employed almost Holmesian powers, my father, for the very next day he gave me The Return of Sherlock Holmes in which the great consulting detective re-appears in London in The Adventure of the Empty House. Westport, County Mayo, was not famed then, or now, for its bookshops. The most remarkable thing about the place in the 1950s was the combination of selling alcoholic beverages with almost all other commercial activities. Grocers and Bar. Butchers and Bar. Greengrocers and Bar. Hardware Stores and Bar.
All these years later, apart from The Greek Interpreter, I also re-read the Bruce Partington Plans, the other story where Mycroft plays a large part. And I realised that I would have to write the story for Richard as a tribute to my long lost youth and the father who sustained me. I invented a number of techniques to get round the problem of Mycroft’s immobility. Inspector Lestrade, who I always remember wearing a raincoat and twirling his hat in his hands in the Jeremy Brett TV series, re-appears. I have given Mycroft a young assistant called Tobias, who has, like Mycroft, a great mathematical brain like an early calculating machine. I have invented some more bizarre customs for the members of the Diogenes Club, like having to write messages to the waiters in the dining room if you want more vegetables or another bottle of wine.
It has all been great fun. I look forward to writing some more. The second story is already under way. I hope the public will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing The Adventure of the Silver Birches, the first story in The Adventures of Mycroft Holmes!
I still have The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes my father gave me back in Westport. It has a green and white cover. It cost two shillings and sixpence, twelve and a half pence in today’s money.
Publisher: Endeavour Press