Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Mycroft?

When I sat down to write a Sherlock Holmes story, I wanted to do something counter-intuitive. So, I wrote The Aristotelian with a mind to stick to the canon, but upend everything I could. For instance, we admire Sherlock's detective prowess. Let's start with someone deprecating it! Thus, Sherlock's father introduces the notion that policemen are undesirable characters--necessary--but undesirable nonetheless. Everyone gets upset with Sherlock's cocaine use, but perhaps his habit is not out of control, and other things bother his family more. We know from the canon that Sherlock thinks his brother Mycroft is smarter than he is. We know Sherlock is disappointed by Mycroft's disinterest in detection. Perhaps his family could be disappointed by his interest therein.

Then there's Watson, faithful Watson. I figure he's a 100-watt mind who only seems dim in juxtapose with Sherlock's brilliance. Let's show Sherlock before he's reached the peak of his powers, but just as arrogant. Like any teenager.

But we read Sherlock Holmes stories to be dazzled by brilliant characters who solve puzzles that perplex us. Thus, I decided to include a locked-room murder in The Aristotelian.

I love smart characters and nominally write about folks smarter than myself. Thus I decided to not only put Mycroft in this story, but to write it from his point of view. Smart guys can be insufferable, so I decided to keep Mycroft uncomfortable and insecure in his detective role. He knows detection is Sherlock's turf, but he doesn't want the kid to show him up.

Probably the biggest reason for centering the story on Mycroft is his vocation as a mathematician and cryptanalyst. Since I studied both subjects I figured that I could write from that perspective with a geekish flair.

Mycroft presented some problems. In The Adventure of The Greek Interpreter, Sherlock claimed his brother was a competent detective, but he never says what gave him that impression. I wrote The Aristotelian story to show how Sherlock came to think so.

Sherlock also maintained that his brother has no ambition and no energy. I wondered how Mycroft might have created this impression. The easy explanation is that Mycroft is lazy.

In the spirit of turning everything upside down, I started work on a second Mycroft story to explain how Sherlock might come to think this. After writing several hundred words, I realized this story would not fit into a short story. Thus I decided to write Steamship To Kashmir.

You'll find the opening scene of Steamship To Kashmir at the end of The Aristotelian if you can't wait until this fall.

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