Sherlock Holmes and the Knave of Hearts

Sherlock Holmes and the Knave of Hearts

by Steve Hayes, David Whitehead
     
 

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A brand-new Sherlock Holmes story finds Watson worried about his friend

Following a prolonged cocaine binge, Sherlock Holmes is closer to death than Dr. Watson has ever seen him before. Fearing for his friend's wellbeing, he arranges for the the pair to repair to France, to enjoy a leisurely convalescence at the home of Holmes's old friend Henri

Overview

A brand-new Sherlock Holmes story finds Watson worried about his friend

Following a prolonged cocaine binge, Sherlock Holmes is closer to death than Dr. Watson has ever seen him before. Fearing for his friend's wellbeing, he arranges for the the pair to repair to France, to enjoy a leisurely convalescence at the home of Holmes's old friend Henri Gillet. But even before they reach Paris they become embroiled in a perilous mystery of the like even they have never encountered before. Who, for example, is the strange man with the peculiar fascination for raindrops? And why does someone want one of France's most beloved novelists dead? Before the final explosive confrontation, Holmes and Watson must tangle with a cold and calculating brotherhood for which no crime is too ghastly, especially if it helps to further their own sinister ends.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/19/2013
The capable second Sherlock Holmes pastiche from western authors Hayes and Whitehead (after 2012’s Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds) finds the sleuth shut away in Baker Street, bored and depressed, with no cases to intrigue him. Watson comes to his rescue by insisting they take a holiday in France, where a friend—politician Henri Gillet—has a country villa. Holmes agrees to go because he’s eager to meet a correspondent he much admires, novelist Jules Verne, who lives in Amiens, which is near the villa. On arrival, Holmes and Watson are horrified to see a masked man shoot Verne in the leg during a street brawl, but Holmes soon subdues the gunman, who turns out to be Verne’s mentally disturbed nephew, Gaston. After interviewing Gaston in jail, Holmes gets on the trail of a sinister organization with the cryptic initials V.D.C. that may want Verne dead. The plot builds slowly to a satisfying, if predictable, ending. (Oct.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780719807947
Publisher:
Hale, Robert Limited
Publication date:
10/01/2013
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sherlock Holmes and the Knave of Hearts


By Steve Hayes, David Whitehead

Robert Hale Limited

Copyright © 2013 Steve Hayes and David Whitehead
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7198-1109-8



CHAPTER 1

The Answer to the Solution


Sherlock Holmes turned glazed eyes towards his tormentor and said drily: 'It is customary, I believe, to allow the condemned man one last request.'

His companion, John H. Watson M.D., snorted in exasperation. 'Aren't you being just a little dramatic, Holmes? Good grief, man, a holiday isn't likely to kill you. Indeed, it is your very death I am hoping to avoid!'

Ignoring him, Holmes closed his eyes and lay still.

His lack of response frustrated Watson. 'I would have expected more gratitude than criticism,' he grumbled. 'But sometimes, Holmes, I swear your gratitude is as hard to come by as your cooperation.'

Again, Holmes neither responded nor moved.

Around them, his room was dim and claustrophobic, the air tainted with a sickly odour that was faintly reminiscent of kerosene. The heavy burgundy curtains were closed and all that could be seen of Holmes himself was an indistinct stick figure almost lost amidst a tangle of sweaty bed sheets.

It pained Watson to see his friend in this sorry condition. Normally fastidious in his toilet, Holmes now lay unwashed and unkempt. Gaunt even at the best of times, he now looked positively skeletal, and somehow much shorter than his normally impressive six feet plus. His grey eyes, usually so incisive, now seemed flat and bloodshot, the oiled black hair that swept back from his high forehead in disarray.

What made it worse was that Holmes's condition was all of his own making.

Brilliant though he was, he was also of sensitive temperament and prone to depression. He lived only to solve the seemingly insoluble, and when there was a scarcity of problems to occupy the cool, analytical machine that was his mind, it was not uncommon for him to fall into a state of deep despair.

At such times Holmes would shut himself away in his spartanly furnished room at their upper Baker Street lodgings and endure the agony of his growing frustration until he could endure it no more. Then, much to Watson's dismay, he would seek solace in a seven per cent solution of cocaine – which explained the sickly, kerosene-like smell that now permeated the air.

The opiate gave Holmes an escape of sorts from the dark thoughts that plagued him. He saw no harm in the practice of injecting it. As a doctor, however, Watson viewed the drug and its after-effects much differently.

It was all well and good for the armies of the world to extol cocaine's ability to lift the mood and reduce fatigue. Even Freud, the Austrian neurologist, had recommended it for the treatment of certain mental and physical conditions, claiming that it brought about a feeling of 'exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from the normal euphoria of the healthy person'.

But as the weeks had passed and still no new or intriguing cases had presented themselves, Watson was forced to watch Holmes's dependence upon the drug grow even as his constitution diminished.

He had lodged with his trusted companion now for more than half a decade, and held tremendous affection for him. Holmes was the finest man he had ever known; one for whom he would willingly lay down his own life. And so it had quickly become impossible for him to stand idly by and watch Holmes slowly but surely kill himself.

Something had to be done to draw him back from the abyss. At first Watson had tried to reason with him. But of course, Holmes had never been a man to reason with. When argument proved similarly futile, Watson was forced to take a tougher stance.

'I am taking you out of London for a few weeks,' he declared, limping unannounced into Holmes's room that chilly March forenoon. 'You have pushed your body to its very limits, and if we are to restore your constitution you need a period of good, clean country air, simple, rustic food and to be among the joys of nature.'

From the sweat-stained bed, Holmes had croaked: 'Leave me be.'

But Watson intended to do no such thing. 'Were I to do that I would be negligent not only to my profession, but also to my dearest friend,' he replied. 'Hear this, Holmes. I will not take no for an answer – your health is far too important. Now, you may pack for yourself or I shall ask Mrs Hudson to do it for you. But make no mistake about it – you are taking this holiday.'

Through the poor half-light Holmes gave a thin, disparaging smile. 'However bracing the air may be in Worthing or Eastbourne at this time of year,' he said, 'I fear it will do little to alleviate my condition. I need work, Watson! My brain rebels against stagnation. But where is the challenge? I do not think I shall find it there.'

'We are going farther afield than Eastbourne, Holmes. We are going to France.'

Holmes looked aghast. 'France? What on earth for?'

'Because you have a friend there – a good one – and it will do you good to visit him.'

Holmes's long, chemical-stained fingers gripped at the rumpled sheets. 'You refer, of course, to Henri Gillet?'

'Yes. Gillet. I wrote to him last week and received his reply this very morning. As I expected, he will be delighted to have us.'

Although Watson had taken it upon himself to contact Gillet about Holmes's condition, he still wasn't entirely sure of the connection between the two men. He knew only that Holmes had performed some unspecified but vital mission for the French government several years earlier, during the course of which he had been called upon to liaise with Gillet, who was then a middle-ranking civil servant working within the Ministère de la Justice.

'It's all arranged,' he continued, hoping his enthusiasm would be contagious. 'We will be staying at Gillet's country villa, just outside Amiens.'

'Where I shall be forced to listen to all manner of boring political chit-chat,' complained Holmes.

Ignoring his friend's pessimism, Watson said: 'I've heard that Gillet keeps an excellent cellar, and I'm sure Madame Gillet employs an equally excellent cook. We shall dine well there, I think.'

'I have no appetite at present.'

'The clean country air will soon remedy that. And then, of course, there are the children – Arnaud, Victor and Sophie, I believe. There is nothing quite like a child for helping one put things into their true perspective.'

'I detest children.'

'Then you have my sympathy, Holmes, because it is a done deal,' said Watson soberly. 'The answer to the solution, if you will.' A smile stirred his sandy moustache, for he was pleased with the pun. 'And no amount of argument will change it. Now, clean yourself up, man, or shall I ask Mrs Hudson to give you a sponge bath while I'm at it?'

He started to leave.

'Watson.'

Watson paused and looked back at him. 'Yes?'

'Surely, as a condemned man, I should be allowed one last request.'

'I would hardly consider you a condemned man, Holmes, but ... very well, make your request.'

'It is a simple one,' Holmes said weakly. 'There is a man who lives in Amiens, a friend I have long admired. He is one after my own heart, a man of science, intellect, instinct and foresight. I cannot pass through Amiens without introducing myself to him. What's more, I believe he will be altogether more stimulating company than poor Henri Gillet!'

Watson frowned. 'I don't understand. In one breath you call this man a friend, and in the next you imply that you have never even met him.'

'I haven't. And that is why I cannot miss the opportunity now. We have corresponded for years, he and I, albeit irregularly. I am a great admirer of his work, and it pleases me to say that the admiration is mutual. Indeed, I venture to say that you will find him equally fascinating, Watson.'

'Why so?'

'Because he, like you, is a writer,' said Holmes. 'His name is Jules Verne.'

CHAPTER 2

The Man Who Watched Raindrops


'Jules Verne?' Watson exclaimed. 'The Jules Verne?'

'I know of no other.'

'By God, Holmes, you never fail to surprise me. I had no idea you knew Jules Verne!'

'We are correspondents,' Holmes repeated. He rose up on one elbow and – to Watson's delight – appeared to warm to the subject. 'As you know, my taste in fiction is usually deplorable. And yet in Verne I have always found the most interesting, challenging and forward-thinking mind at work. His book Journey to the Centre of the Earth, for example – and here I refer to the original French text and not the abridged English translation – is an exceptional study. After Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – again, the original version, and not Reverend Mercier's bowdlerized and wholly inaccurate conversion – I resolved to write and tell him so. He favoured me with a reply and we have been swapping news occasionally ever since.'

'Well, clearly I should value the chance to meet such a great man,' said Watson. He had just returned from booking their holiday at Cook's in Ludgate Circus, so their itinerary was all set, but he could see no reason why they shouldn't break their journey at Amiens for a day or so in order to meet Verne. 'Obviously I am delighted to grant your request.'

'Then you had better telegraph ahead and forewarn him,' Holmes advised. 'And also tell Henri we shall be delayed for a time.'

'I shall do so this very minute. Now, stir yourself, Holmes. We leave first thing tomorrow morning.'

His hand was on the doorknob when Holmes again called his name.

'Yes, Holmes?'

A rare smile narrowed Holmes's tight white lips. 'It is as well that someone in this world has my best interests at heart,' he said softly. 'Thank you, old friend.'


After registering their luggage so as to avoid delays in Calais, they caught the boat train from Charing Cross Station early the following day; and as the morning wore on, so London, Lambeth, Lewisham and Bromley gradually yielded to the orchards and woodlands of picturesque Kent.

The day was cool and cheerless. A heavy drizzle fell steadily from the leaden sky. But nothing could dampen Watson's spirits. Holmes's friendship with Jules Verne had come as a very pleasant revelation to him.

Though the prolific author had yet to find true recognition in Britain, he was held in high regard in his native France, where his many exotic fantasies – including From the Earth to the Moon, The Floating City, Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon and others – had made him a wealthy man. It was going to be a true privilege to meet him.

Holmes, by contrast, was now quiet and withdrawn. Watching him covertly, Watson suspected that his friend was undergoing the effects of opiate withdrawal.

Although his use of cocaine was infrequent, Holmes had taken far more than was wise over the past several weeks. Now, as he stared out of the window at the passing smudge of Kentish countryside, he alternated between restlessness and fatigue, agitation and a generalized malaise.

Suddenly Watson had mixed emotions. He wondered if this holiday had been such a good idea after all. Holmes was clearly not up to it, and as a doctor he should have realized as much. Then again, Holmes needed distraction at the moment, and that was certainly what this break promised to provide. Watson decided to make no comment and merely monitor Holmes's condition as the days progressed.

The train finally steamed into Dover and they hurried through the rain towards the eastern docks. Here, following a brief wait, they caught the ferry to Calais. Shortly thereafter England's famous white cliffs fell behind them and Holmes shrugged out of his damp double-breasted frock coat and finally began to doze.

The choppy Channel crossing took just under two hours. By the time they set foot on French soil the sea air had sharpened Watson's appetite. Even Holmes seemed somewhat invigorated. They ate a light meal at the Grande Café on the corner of Boulevard Jacquard and Rue Lafayette, then caught the train to Boulogne-sur-Mer, where they would have to change for Paris.

Forty minutes later it was raining even harder as they and their fellow passengers took shelter beneath the platform awning at La Gare de Boulogne-Ville and waited to make their connection. Watson shifted his weight from one foot to the other and cursed the old leg wound that still plagued him in damp weather.

Beside him, Holmes's attention was focused on a young man who stood apart from everyone else. Protected from the downpour by the edge of the awning, he seemed to be staring up into the grey sky with unusual intensity. Holmes watched him for several moments before realizing that the young man was actually watching the rain dripping steadily from the awning's serrated eaves.

'What do you make of that fellow, Watson?' he asked with a subtle wave of his cane.

Watson looked and saw a man in his mid-twenties with a high forehead above dark, brooding eyes and a sober, thin-lipped mouth.

'A school teacher, perhaps?'

Holmes sighed. 'Look again.'

Watson studied the young man more closely. 'Ah-hah,' he said shortly. 'Now I have it, Holmes. He's an amateur meteorologist. See, he has a distinct interest in this dismal weather.'

'I suspect that it is rather more serious than that. In fact, I believe him to be in no small emotional distress.'

'How so?'

'There is something about his expression, a look of fear that is, perhaps, aggravated by no small degree of paranoia.'

Watson's eyebrows arched in surprise. 'And I fear that you, Holmes, have been reading too many of Emil Kraepelin's papers. Kraepelin may be the founder of modern scientific psychiatry, but I must remind you that he is also roundly criticized for his wild claims that schizophrenia is a biological illness —'

'— in the absence of any detectable histological or anatomical abnormalities,' concluded Holmes irritably. 'Yes, yes, I am well aware of that. Nevertheless, this young man is distressed. You will note that he has set himself apart from the rest of the passengers. Clearly he wishes to be alone. Furthermore, he holds himself with considerable rigidity, which is suggestive of muscle tension. He displays an unhealthy pallor and his eyes are both bloodshot and ringed with dark shadows. The fact that he is swaying slightly suggests a degree of light-headedness. He is constantly wetting his dry lips, and flexing his fingers nervously. And observe, if you will, the sorry state of his coat and trousers. The poor fellow has neglected his appearance for some time now.'

'So he is not especially interested in the weather?' Watson said, crestfallen.

'On the contrary, he is fixated upon it.'

'And that implies some sort of emotional distress to you?'

'My dear fellow, it is beyond dispute.'

Watson pondered this briefly before saying: 'You are familiar with the concept of Occam's Razor, of course?'

'That one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything? Of course.'

'Then may I suggest that the simplest explanation is also probably the most likely? I put it to you that he has set himself apart from the crowd because he is by nature a loner. The flexing fingers could be a subconscious habit of long-standing, or signify anxiety about a forthcoming appointment – which would also explain the constant wetting of his lips. As for the muscle tension, that is most likely because his line of work requires him to sit or adopt an unusual posture for considerable lengths of time.' He chuckled. 'That is the problem with the layman, Holmes, and as a locum I see it on a daily basis. Based upon your observations, you could as easily diagnose that poor fellow with shingles as with a herniated disc.'

'Nevertheless, he is a man with problems,' Holmes muttered darkly.

Watson replied profoundly: 'Show me one who isn't.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Sherlock Holmes and the Knave of Hearts by Steve Hayes, David Whitehead. Copyright © 2013 Steve Hayes and David Whitehead. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Steve Hayes is a screenwriter and a prolific writer of westerns. He lives in Huntington Beach, California. David Whitehead is also a western writer. They previously collaborated on Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds.

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