David Stuart Davies is an expert in Sherlock Holmes, but it’s the 1980s, not the 1880s, that provide the backdrop for his latest novel. Tony Earnshaw reports.
Having spent the best part of 40 years immersed in the world of another writer’s creation, eminent Sherlockian David Stuart Davies decided to invent his own.
Enter Detective Inspector Paul Snow, an angst-ridden, 30-something gay policeman solving brutal crimes in 1980s Yorkshire. Innocent Blood, the second slice of what’s been tagged “Yorkshire noir”, focuses on the apparently motiveless murder of a child and is firmly rooted in Huddersfield and the surrounding area.
It was, perhaps, a natural leap. Davies has always been interested in storytelling with his inspiration provided by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Nearly all his fiction has been of the detective variety beginning with Holmes pastiches and before he moved on to plough his own personal and distinct literary furrow.
Davies is the prolific author you’ve possibly never heard of. An English teacher for 20 years he wrote his first book, Holmes of the Movies, while still at university. There followed a flood of others. He quit the day job when he was offered the editorship of the crime fiction magazine Sherlock. It was then, away from marking and lesson planning, that he concentrated on writing full time.
In the years since Davies has penned novels, biographies, plays, short story anthologies and innumerable lectures, essay and appreciations of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. He first created Johnny One-Eye, a sleuth in war-torn London and a young man with a self-deprecating sense of humour. Then came Paul Snow,
“Having produced a number of Holmes novels I wanted to create my own memorable sleuth – to throw away the crutch of Sherlock,” says Davies. “Oxford has Colin Dexter’s Morse, Edinburgh has Ian Rankin’s Rebus and Brighton has Peter James Roy Grace. I thought Yorkshire, and in particular Huddersfield, could have it’s own policeman hero in Paul Snow.”
He determined that his characters had to be completely different in personality and placed in a different period from Sherlock Holmes. Thus Snow, a brilliant detective, is living in the closet to protect his reputation as a good, honest copper. “He knows that if his secret came out, his career in the force would crumble,” explains Davies. “As a result he is a solitary character who, away from the job, lives a fairly Spartan existence.”
Prior to delving into his own characters’ worlds Davies revisited the fog of 1880s London as one of a battalion of writers who have evolved the world of Sherlock Holmes.
His novels have included The Tangled Skein and The Devil’s Promise, which came out last year. Another, The Ripper Legacy, is scheduled for 2016. Did he ever feel hamstrung by having to adopt another writer’s style?
“In all my stories featuring Holmes I’ve always tried to stay true to the spirit of the originals but also to include my own slant - to add a freshness to the formula. The BBC’s Sherlock series is on the same trajectory.”
In fact Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss provided the foreword for The Devil’s Promise referring to its author as “the great Davies”. Praise indeed.
Adds Davies: “Writers approach novel writing in different ways. P.D. James, for example, planned her novels meticulously before actually starting writing, while Ian Rankin starts with an idea and runs with it. I’m of this latter school.
“Crime fiction is the safe way for readers to enjoy some dark excitement. The detective hero is someone we can look up to, envy and cherish. I love my own characters. However Sherlock Holmes never leaves me alone. When I say I’ll not write about him again, I either get an offer from a publisher or I have an idea for another story.”
Innocent Blood is published by The History Press.