I’ve spent a great deal of my writing life in the company of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve penned articles, film books, plays and six novels all featuring the Great Detective. Some time ago I thought it was time I came up with my own Victorian sleuth. In doing so, I knew that he had to be as different from Holmes as chalk is from that comestible made from pressed curds. Of course my tec’ would, like Holmes, be bright and perceptive, seeing clues and possibilities where his dimmer companions failed, but there the similarity would end. My detective character would not be a misogynistic, buttoned up aesthete. He would be flamboyant, effusive, a bon viveur, dangerous and very unpredictable. And in possession of a sexy and beautiful lover. And so Luther Darke sprang to life.
Here is a bit of his biog:
‘Luther Darke was the son of a duke but because of his undisciplined and outrageous behaviour he had become estranged from his widowed father at an early age. He had been a rebel and hated the arrogance and pomposity of the aristocracy. Although Darke had inherited a considerable amount of money on his father’s death, he had passed over the title and the family home to his younger brother of whom he saw little. Ducal respectability and responsibility were abhorrent to him. He now occupied most of his time in being an artist – a portrait painter – and was gaining a growing reputation for his work. But even here his energies were erratic. On a whim he would drop his brush half way through a painting in order to follow up one of his other passions, which were very varied and eclectic. He had a fascination for the unexplained and the unknown. He took a great interest in the work of spiritualist mediums and in unsolved crimes’.
These unsolved crimes are often brought to his attention by his friend Inspector Edward Thornton of Scotland Yard, a sensible, intelligent and likeable fellow who is both fascinated and frustrated by Darke:
‘Luther Darke took another gulp of whisky. ‘Ah, we see the world from different hill tops you and I, Edward. You are the professional, scientific detective with a demand for rationality and feasibility; whereas I am the amateur, an artist, doomed to view things from a different angle and able to see shifting and often unusual perspectives. We are two halves of the perfect whole.’ He grinned at his own conceit and his eyes glittered mischievously. He had a broad, mobile saturnine face that possessed a wide, fleshy mouth. Dark, expressive eyebrows topped a pair of soft brown eyes that radiated warmth. His head was framed by a mane of luxurious hazel-coloured hair. He would have been handsome but the crooked nose, broken in one of the many fights he had at school, robbed him of the classical symmetry of male beauty. He was not handsome then, but he had a magnetic presence that compelled one to watch his face with fascination as Thornton did. Every conversation was a performance. It was as though he was acting out his life.’
Sometimes this enigmatic sleuth is accompanied on his investigations by Carla, his lover, who is a novelist and a staunch feminist. Unlike this author, Luther is fond of cats and possesses a slinky creature called Persephone.
Now I had created my detective and his satellites, I needed to concentrate on the stories, the plots. I wanted these to be real mystifying puzzles which would challenge the reader as well as Luther so I set about constructing a set of apparently impossible crimes. While some of the stories appear to flirt with the supernatural, all the criminal acts, their perpetrators and the solutions belong to this world. The Darke Chronicles (The Mystery Press) contains seven of Luther’s investigations and features amongst others a locked room mystery, a case where the murderer disappears into thin air before witnesses and the visitation of an angel.
Above all, I believe the stories are great fun, capturing the milieu and darkness of fin de siècle London. Certainly, Luther Darke wanders in the same territory as Sherlock Holmes – but he is very much his own man. The strapline for the collection is: ‘If you like Sherlock Holmes, then you will love Luther Darke.’ Why don’t you test out this bold claim?
The Darke Chronicles is published by The Mystery Press