Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Sherlock Holmes

Just Reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s “Endings and Beginnings” at SBR

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Folks, I’m glad to pass along a teensy bit of good news tonight, as I was able to review Stephanie Osborn’s THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS (otherwise known as book four of her Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day via the World of Myth hypothesis) tonight over at Shiny Book Review (SBR).


Well, sometimes it’s refreshing to read a romance, especially when it’s about two unabashedly smart, talented, thoughtful individuals. Much less two romances.

You see, there’s a romance going on between our universe’s Sherlock and Skye Chadwick-Holmes (Skye being the hyperspatial physicist who brought Sherlock to our world in the first place, natch). They’ve recently married, are on their honeymoon, and are also investigating a crime (as that’s what they do).

But the other romance between the secondary universe’s other-Sherlock and other-Holmes isn’t going nearly so well.

And our Sherlock and Skye know this and want to fix things between their counterparts. Which is something you see all the time in romance, but you only rarely see in science fiction . . . but as well as this works, I wish we saw more of it.

To see a couple in deep distress (in this case, other-Sherlock and other-Skye) figure out a way to rectify their distress and fix their relationship is the hallmark of a great romance. Which is why I’m urging you to go read Stephanie Osborn’s ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS just as soon as you can if you love Sherlock Holmes (as brought to the modern-day), if you love intelligent romances, and/or you love intelligent science right along with your intelligent romance.

You won’t regret it.

An Excerpt From Stephanie Osborn’s Newest Novel, “A Case of Spontaneous Combustion”

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Folks, I’ve been without the Internet for most of the past five days. Because of this, I wasn’t able to take part in Stephanie Osborn’s online book release party for her latest novel, A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION. This book is the fifth in her Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern day, and is a must-read for lovers of intelligent fiction.

So what follows is the blog I’d hoped to put up last weekend, to help celebrate Stephanie’s newest release. It’s a book excerpt, with a bit of set-up to help get you up to speed . . . at any rate, take it away, Stephanie!

* * * * *

A Case of Spontaneous Combustion: An Excerpt

By Stephanie Osborn

I am pleased to announce the release of book 5 of the Displaced Detective Series, entitled A Case of Spontaneous Combustion!

This book continues the science fiction/mystery adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who has been yanked from an alternate reality in the which he exists, into our modern day reality by Dr. Skye Chadwick, chief scientist of Project: Tesseract. Unable to return to his own place and time, Holmes is forced to adapt, learn, and grow. With Skye’s help, he succeeds admirably.

But when an entire village on the Salisbury Plain is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, Her Majesty’s Secret Service contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Unfortunately Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Dr. Skye Chadwick-Holmes, have just had their first serious fight, over her abilities and attitudes as an investigator. To make matters worse, he is summoned to England in the middle of the night, and she is not — and due to the invocation of the National Security Act in the summons, he cannot even wake her and tell her.

Once in London, Holmes looks into the horror that is now Stonegrange. His investigations take him into a dangerous undercover assignment in search of a possible terror ring, though he cannot determine how a human agency could have caused the disaster. There, he works hard to pass as a recent immigrant and manual laborer from a certain rogue Mideastern nation as he attempts to uncover signs of the terrorists.

Meanwhile, alone in Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and tames a wild mustang stallion, all while believing her husband has abandoned her.

Who ― or what — caused the horror in Stonegrange? Will Holmes find his way safely through the metaphorical minefield that is modern Middle Eastern politics? Will Skye subdue Smoky before she is seriously hurt? Will this predicament seriously damage ― even destroy — the couple’s relationship? And can Holmes stop the terrorists before they unleash their outré weapon again?


 Prologue — Changes in Routine


Stonegrange was a little old English hamlet in the County of Wiltshire in the Salisbury Plain of England, much like any other such ancient British village: a tiny central square in the midst of which crouched a hoary, venerated church, surrounded by a few small shops, and residences on the outskirts tapering off into the surrounding farmlands. On Sundays the church was full, and on Thursdays the outlying farmers brought their produce in to market. The occasional lorry carried in other supplies, and the Post Office ran every day but Sunday. So small was the village that the constable wasn’t even full time.

Still and all, it wasn’t very far from a main thoroughfare, the A338, that ran through Salisbury and on down to Bournemouth and Poole, and it wasn’t uncommon for lorry drivers to stop for a bite in the local pub, or even park their rigs in an empty lot just off the square for a good, safe night’s rest. Sometimes they even used the lot to hand off cargo from one freight company to another.

So no one thought twice when a flat-bed trailer showed up overnight in the lot, a large wooden crate lashed firmly to its middle. The locals figured it was either a hand-off, or someone’s tractor rig had broken down and been hauled off for repair, while leaving the cargo in a safe place.

* * *

Dr. Skye Chadwick-Holmes, horse trainer, detective, and one of the foremost hyperspatial physicists on the planet, answered the phone at the ranch near Florissant, Colorado.

“Holmes residence,” she murmured. “Skye speaking.”

“Hi there, Skye, Hank Jones here,” Colonel Henry Jones, head of security for Schriever Air Force Base, greeted the lady of the house from the other end of the line. “If you don’t mind, grab Holmes and then hit the speaker phone.”

“Oh, hi, Hank,” Skye replied warmly. “Good to hear from you, but I’m afraid I can’t oblige. Sherlock’s not here right now. Billy Williams called him down to the Springs to update him on some new MI-5 HazMat techniques; I completed my certification last month, but Sherlock had a nasty little cold and missed out.”

“Oh,” Jones said blankly. “Well, are YOU available?”

“Um, I guess so, for whatever that’s worth,” a hesitant Skye said. “Depends. Whatcha got?”

“Murder in the residential quarters at Peterson,” Jones noted, grim. “Suspects and victim were all Schriever personnel, though, so I get to have fun with it. Joy, joy.”

“And you could use a bit of help?”

“‘Fraid so,” Jones sighed. “As usual, I’m short-handed right now. The Pentagon never seems to get the fact that ‘Security’ means ‘document control,’ ‘police force,’ ‘guard duty,’ ‘investigation,’ and half a million other different jobs all rolled together, on a base like this.” He sighed again. “Listen, is there any chance you could meet me down there in about an hour or so, have a look around the crime scene yourself, then call your husband in when he’s available if you need to? As a favor to me? I need to get rolling on it A.S.A.P.”

“Um, okay,” Skye agreed after a moment’s thought. “Yeah, I can at least get started on it, and collect the initial data for Sherlock. Maybe even come to some basic conclusions and formulate a theory for us to work on. Gimme the address and I’ll buzz on down…”

* * *

The trailer remained where it was, off Stonegrange’s central square, for two days, and still no one thought to question. After all, tractors had mechanical difficulties just like the residents’ own autos and lorries, and sometimes those difficulties took a few days to repair. So no inquiries were made. The trailer was ignored.

Until, at precisely 11:02 p.m. three nights after its arrival, the crate emitted a soft, reverberating hum. No one was near enough to hear it, however—at least, no one curious enough to bother checking it out. Exactly five minutes later, a loud zap! sounded from the box.

Stonegrange was as silent as the tomb the rest of the night.

The next morning, the flat-bed trailer was gone.

~~~End Excerpt~~~

Again, folks, if you want to read the rest of Stephanie’s newest novel A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, please go here and take a gander.

All I know is, I plan to review both her fourth book in the Displaced Detective series, ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS, and her newest very soon over at Shiny Book Review . . . so do stay tuned for that.

A Guest Blog from Stephanie Osborn: The Differences in Writing British and American English (and How to Write Both)

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Folks, Stephanie Osborn is no stranger to the Elfyverse (or my blog, either, though sometimes they seem to be one and the same). She’s previously written a few guest blogs (here and here), and as her latest book in her popular Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick, has finally arrived — this being A CASE OF SPONTANTEOUS COMBUSTION, it seemed like a good time for Stephanie to write another one.

So without further ado, please welcome writer extraordinaire Stephanie Osborn back to the Elfyverse!


A note from Stephanie Osborn:  It is my great pleasure to make another guest appearance in the Elfyverse. Barb is an amazing writer and editor, and I am so happy to have made her acquaintance through her review of several of my novels; she has become a special friend. We’ve been able to help lift each other up at times when things were down, and that’s so much better than trying to haul oneself up by one’s own bootstraps! I hope you enjoy my little cameo.


American English and British English, and Learning to Write Both

By Stephanie Osborn


I’m sure you’ve all seen it.

We in America would say, “I don’t recognize this caller ID on my cellphone; I thought this app specialized in emphasizing identification. Could you wake me up at seven in the morning? Everything has been taken care of, but I have to run over and see Mom before the announcement is publicly known.”

But a Brit would say the same thing like this: “I don’t recognise this caller ID on my mobile; I thought this app specialised in emphasising identification. Would you knock me up at seven in the morning? It’s all sorted, but I have to pop over and see me Mum before the announcement is publically known.”

It’s the difference between the American version of English, and the British version of the same language. Sometimes people who travel back and forth between the two countries — the US and the UK — have been known to remark, “We speak the same language, but we don’t.”

And the difference encompasses terminology, slang, and even spelling.

Did you know that J.K. Rowling was made to change the name of the very first book in the Harry Potter series before it could be published in the USA? The original title, the title you’ll find on bookstore shelves in London, is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But publishers felt that Americans might not recognize the alchemical reference, and so it was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And you may, or may not, be familiar with the use of “trainers” to mean athletic shoes, or “jumper” to refer to a pullover sweater. Cell phones are “mobiles” and refrigerators, regardless of brand, are “Frigidaires.” (I suppose this is analogous to our referring to all disposable facial tissues as “Kleenex” and cotton swabs as “Q-Tips.”)

Americans may call it a plow, but Britons call it a plough — that was even a major clue that Holmes found in one of the original adventures, denoting the suspect wasn’t British as he claimed. There is, it seems, and has been for something like a century and a half at the least, a tendency for Americans to eliminate so-called silent letters and spell more phonetically than our British counterparts. But at least Sir Arthur Conan Doyle only had to write in one version thereof.

When I started writing the Displaced Detective series, which has been described as, “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” I made a deliberate decision: If the speaker was American, dialogue (and later, thoughts and even scenes from that character’s point of view) would be written in American English. If the speaker (thinker, observer) was from the United Kingdom, dialogue etc. would be written in British English. This has held true right down to the book currently being released, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, book 5 in the series (with at least 3 more in work, and more in the planning stages).

The series itself traces the exploits of Sherlock Holmes — or one version of Holmes, at least — when he is inadvertently yanked from an alternate reality in which he exists in Victorian Europe, into modern, 21st Century America. Because in his particular alternate reality, he and Professor Moriarty were BOTH supposed to die at Reichenbach, if he is returned, he must die. So he wisely opts to stay put and come up to speed on the modern world. Working with Dr. Skye Chadwick, her continuum’s equivalent to Holmes and the Chief Scientist of Project Tesseract (the program responsible for his accidental transition), Holmes ends up being asked to investigate unusual and occasionally outré situations.

In his latest foray, after an entire English village is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, London contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Holmes goes undercover to find a terror ring. In Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and mustangs, believing Holmes has abandoned her. Holmes must discover what caused the horror in Stonegrange and try to stop the terrorists before they unleash their bizarre weapon again, all the while wondering if he still has a home in Colorado.

And the cast of characters includes an American FBI agent, several members of the US military, two entire units of MI-5, and more. All of whom have to be rendered in their appropriate version of English.

Simple, you say? Just set Word to use the British English dictionary.

Right. Except then Skye, Agent Smith, Colonel Jones, and the other Americans would then be speaking Brit.

“So set both dictionaries operational,” you suggest.

Great idea. I’d love to. But Word doesn’t have that option — the two dictionaries would conflict. And even if it could use both, how would it know whether an American or an Englishman were speaking? More, one of those characters — Holmes himself — actually uses a somewhat archaic form of British English, in that he is a man of the Victorian era, and speaks in such fashion. So I am really using three different forms of English.

Well, the end result is simply that I have to make sure I read back through the manuscript very carefully, looking for places where either I’ve slipped up, or autocorrect replaced the British with the American equivalent (which it does every chance it gets). I’m also pleased that my publisher has assigned me a regular editor who is quite familiar with the British version of English, to include the euphemisms, exclamations, and general slang. She’s been amazingly helpful, and I do my best to stay up to speed on the latest version of slang in both the US and the UK.

So what has been the response?

Well, I’ve had one or two Amazon reviews refer to “misspellings,” and there’s one venerated author (of whom I like to refer as one of the “Grand Old Men of Science Fiction”) who is currently reading the first couple of books in the series and is amazed that I even attempted to pull such a thing off, let alone that I’m doing it.

But other than that, it’s rather strange; not one reader has volunteered the observation that I am writing in two different forms of the English language. Yet the sense among fans of the series is that I have captured Doyle’s tone and style, despite the fact that I do not use a first-person Watson narrative, despite the fact that we see what Holmes is thinking, at least to a point.

I believe the reason is because, subconsciously, readers are picking up on the fact that Holmes speaks, thinks, and observes in proper, Victorian, British English. And even when referring to more modern conveniences, maintains a solid British presence. Consistently. Throughout.

And that’s precisely what I intended, from the very beginning.

I love it when a plan comes together.

* * * * *

And that concludes Stephanie Osborn’s latest guest blog! (Insert another hearty round of applause here.) Thank you again, Stephanie . . . as always, I enjoyed your guest blog heartily.

For the rest of you, please do yourselves a favor, and go check out Stephanie’s  intelligent novels of Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day by hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick — and who later marries him, becoming akin to Dr. Watson in the process. They are truly SF novels, contain solid science and world building and characterization, and yet even with all this somewhat “heavy” subject matter are gripping and full of suspense.

That’s tough to pull off. But if you’re like me, you won’t recognize this in the heat of finding out just how Sherlock and Skye are going to solve the case this time . . .

A Guest Blog by Stephanie Osborn, Author of the ‘Displaced Detective’ Series Featuring Sherlock Holmes

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Folks, I feel like that guy on the José Cuervo ads (the most interesting man in the world): I don’t often have guest blogs, but when I do, I feature the most interesting, passionate writers writing today.

The Arrival coverCase in point is today’s guest blog for Stephanie OsbornShe’s previously discussed her “Displaced Detective” series here at my blog, but wanted to discuss the origins of her excellent series today, especially as her book THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL is on sale right now over at Amazon for ninety-nine cents (yes, only $.99!) in e-book form.

In case you haven’t read her wonderful novels yet, here’s some links to my reviews of THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL, THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED and THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT over at Shiny Book Review.  (Because I’m now a Twilight Times Books author, I cannot review the fourth book, THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS, via SBR as it would be a conflict of interest and we frown on such things.  I do plan to review it soon here at my blog and over at Amazon.)

Stephanie’s written mystery, fantasy, children’s stories, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, speculative fiction — in short, she’s a writer.  She’s also been a rocket scientist, which makes her novels about Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern day by hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick all the more realistic.

Stephanie’s novels deserve a wider audience, which is why I’ve again turned my blog over to her.

Now, without further ado . . . here’s Stephanie Osborn!

*************** Drum Roll Sounds Here **************

A note from Stephanie Osborn:  It is my great pleasure to make another guest appearance in the Elfyverse. Barb is an amazing writer and editor, and I am so happy to have made her acquaintance through her review of several of my novels; she has become a special friend. We’ve been able to help lift each other up at times when things were down, and that’s so much better than trying to haul oneself up by one’s own bootstraps! I hope you enjoy my little cameo.


The Origins of the Displaced Detective

By Stephanie Osborn,

The Interstellar Woman of Mystery


I suppose the first thing you should know about me is that, well, I really AM one of those rocket scientists you hear about. With degrees in four sciences and subspecialties in a couple more, I worked in the civilian and military space industries, sitting console in the control centers, training astronauts, you name it; and I lost a friend aboard Columbia, when she broke up over Texas. So yeah, I’m the real deal.

The second thing you need to know about me is that I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan… aficionado, whatever word you prefer… since I was a kid. Someone gave me a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles for my birthday one year. I was in, what, third grade? With a hyperactive imagination. Scared me to death when I read it. But I loved Holmes immediately. If I could have done away with the scary story about the Hound, I’d have adored that book even then. It’s one of my favorites now.

By the time I was in high school, I’d discovered that big, single-volume compendium ― you know, the one with the rust-and-mustard dust jacket? If you’re a Holmes aficionado, you know the one I mean. If you don’t, go find it! I read it cover to cover. Wagged it around to every class with me, and every time I had 2 consecutive spare minutes, my nose was in it. Oh, I was devastated when I read The Final Problem. No, really: I went into mourning, like I’d lost family! And I could have turned handsprings for joy when I read The Empty House! Many years later, I acquired that same rust-and-mustard volume and placed it on my own shelves, where it has been read cover to cover many more times. I picked up what are known as “pastiches,” too, efforts by other authors to carry on the adventures, or create entirely new ones, or fill in gaps. (What did Holmes and Watson do when the Martians invaded? What about Jack the Ripper, and why did Watson never chronicle an adventure about him? Didn’t Holmes go after him? What really happened with the Giant Rat of Sumatra?) I watched television and movies ― to this day, I watch the BBC’s Sherlock, and CBS’ Elementary, and even the Guy Ritchie film franchise starring Robert Downey, Jr. And I have the complete set of the Grenada series starring Jeremy Brett, and a bunch of the Basil Rathbone films. Good, bad, or indifferent, they’re all Holmes!

Now, back in Arthur Conan Doyle’s day, they didn’t have all the breakdown of literature into genres that we have today. Today we have science fiction (or SF, with its many subdivisions), fantasy, horror, and such. But all those, in the Victorian era, were lumped together and considered speculative fiction, or “specfic” as it’s known today. As it turns out, many if not most of the Holmes adventures would be considered as specfic ― and I started thinking…

…Other people have “done” Holmes in Victorian-era science fiction…

…But I want to be different. If I write Holmes, I want to do something that’s never been done before…

…Aha. What if, somehow, I could manage to drag Holmes into the modern world to go adventuring?

How to do it…how to do it…

I researched and I studied. And then it hit me.

What if I use the concept of alternate realities, which more and more scientific data indicates are real, and I combine that with something called M theory in order to be able to access them…

…And I was off!

I already had several novels written but unsold by that point, and there was publisher interest in my first one, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. (Yes, I like to mix science fiction and mystery. It seems to come naturally to me; I’ve always thought a good SF story has a distinct element of the mysterious. That’s why I got dubbed The Interstellar Woman of Mystery by certain media personalities.) So I knew about writing novels: See, it isn’t about page count, it’s about word count.

Different genres define book length by different word counts. YA is relatively short, say 50,000-80,000 words. The romance genre generally defines a novel at roughly the same word count. But SF and mystery, for instance, consider a novel to run from about 80,000-110,000 words, maybe a smidge more. (Think about the thinness of a typical Harlequin Romance as compared to, say, a Baen military SF novel.) There’s an arcane formula that ties word count to final page count, and another that determines the list price from the page count. So these are important numbers, these word counts.

Now that’s not to say that you can’t go over; you can… provided your last name is something like King, Weber, or Rowling. Because publishers know those names will sell books regardless of length. Everybody else? Don’t be too short OR too long.

So I sat down to write The Case of the Displaced Detective, the first story in what has become my Displaced Detective series, described rather aptly as, “Sherlock Holmes meets the X-Files.”

Two months ― yes, you read that right, months, not years ― later, I’d completed the rough draft… and it stood at 215,000 words. Writing that manuscript was kinda like tryin’ to hold a wide-open fire hose all by yourself. I ate at the computer. I all but slept at the computer. That story just came pouring out. I couldn’t stop until it was all written. By the time I’d polished it, it had ballooned up to around 245,000 words, and I managed to whack it down to about 230,000.

But it was too big for a single book. And nobody could figure out how to cut it down without cutting out essential parts ― not me, not agent, not editor, not publisher. See, it was really two stories in one: it was an “origin story” of sorts, how Holmes came to be in the 21st century, AND it had a mystery. It needed all of those 230,000 words to tell the story properly.

In the end, my publisher and I decided to make two volumes of it. That’s why, when you look at the covers, you don’t just see The Arrival, or At Speed. You see The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival, and The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed. There’s not a hard and fast break between the origin story and the mystery; in fact the mystery starts within days of Holmes landing in the 21st century in The Arrival, and he is still trying to come to terms with everything in At Speed.

Then I went on to write the next story, The Case of the Cosmological Killer.

And durned if the same thing didn’t happen! Only this one took a smidge longer, because it was interrupted by an illness. All told I think it took about a year or so. And so books 3 & 4 are The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident, and The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings.

I swear they’re not all going to be two volumes! In fact I just turned in A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, and it’s one volume only! I’ve started on book 6, A Little Matter of Earthquakes, and book 7, The Adventure of Shining Mountain Lodge, is mostly finished and awaiting the publication of 5 & 6. And I’m planning for adventures beyond that.

So in a manner of speaking, I suppose I’m still adventuring with my old pal Sherlock Holmes… only now he’s investigating mysteries that are more on MY turf! And I plan to do so until we both retire to the Sussex downs to keep bees!

* * * * * * * * * * * * (Insert hearty round of applause here.) * * * * * * * * *

Once again, thank you, Stephanie. I greatly appreciated your second guest blog, and I hope it will help you find a few more readers for your excellent books.

And if you haven’t read Stephanie’s books yet, take a gander at chapter one of THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVALchapter one of THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, or if you’re just not in the mood for Sherlock Holmes today, take a look at the first chapter of BURNOUT.  (Then, for heaven’s sake, go buy her books.)

Guest Blog by Stephanie Osborn About Her Displaced Detective Series

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Folks, it’s Sunday. And as promised, it’s time for a guest blog by novelist Stephanie Osborn, who’s written three of my favorite novels: THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL, THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED, and THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, all featuring the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick. (My reviews of these novels are available here and here over at Shiny Book Review.)

Stephanie has kindly agreed to discuss her rationale for this series, plus some of the research that went into it and her plans for the near future, which include the hotly-awaited book four of the Displaced Detective series, THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS. So without further ado, I give you . . . novelist and rocket scientist Stephanie Osborn!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  (Insert drum roll here.) * * * * * * * * * * * *

A note from Stephanie Osborn:  It is my great pleasure to make a guest appearance in the Elfyverse. Barb is an amazing writer and editor, and I am so happy to have made her acquaintance through her review of several of my novels; she has become a special friend. We’ve been able to help lift each other up at times when things were down, and that’s so much better than trying to haul oneself up by one’s own bootstraps! I hope you enjoy my little cameo.

The Displaced Detective series, which Twilight Times Books debuted in late 2011 and which now includes 4 books with more on the way, involves bringing Sherlock Holmes from an alternate reality (supported by judicious use of M theory) into “our” modern world. (In actuality, even the spacetime continuum depicted in the books isn’t really ours, but it’s close enough to hardly tell the difference. The only way one can tell this is in knowing Colorado Springs, CO and environs, especially the geology, which I studied intensively during my trips there some years back. Also, the Sherlock Holmes museum, depicted in Book 3, has statues of Holmes and Watson in real life.) Currently the books comprise The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival, The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed, The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident, and the soon to be released The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings. Future books already in work include A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, A Little Matter of Earthquakes, and The Adventure of Shining Mountain Lodge. I plan on writing in this “world” for as long as I can, because I love it!

Anyway, the Displaced Detective series was my way of bringing my two favorite genres, SF and mystery, together, and using my favorite detective into the bargain. But it wasn’t a simple task.

The first thing I had to do was to determine if Holmes was in the public domain. That’s a long story right there in itself. It seems that the initial copyright on all of the stories expired 75 years after Doyle’s death as per normal, and then was, through much legal wrangling, pulled back under copyright again by the estate, but THOSE copyrights have now expired entirely in the UK, and all, except for the Casebook collection, have expired in the US as well. So Holmes was in the clear for me to use as a character, despite much controversy on the subject. (The gist of the controversy seems to stem from the estate wanting the Holmes stories to be placed in the same category as, for instance, the Tolkien stories. However, Tolkien set up a trust to maintain possession of the copyrights in the case of the Lord of the Rings books; Conan Doyle made no such provision.)

I’ve read Holmes since I was young. In fact I was given a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles for my birthday when I was still in elementary school. This actually set me back a bit, because frankly it scared me half to death. But it never quite got me to stop reading them, and I’m now so familiar with the stories that I can, and have, beat the average person hands down in a trivia contest. (Another Holmes aficionado, maybe not quite so readily, but I can make it a good horse race.) I’ve also read a lot of the aficionado studies, and much of that stuck in my memory too. But I wanted to make sure I got the character right, so throughout the writing of the books, I’ve periodically immersed myself in the original Conan Doyle stories. I’ve joined the Nashville branch of the Baker Street Irregulars (“The Scholars of the Three-Pipe Problem”) under the so-called canonical name “Boswell,” and I participate in their activities whenever possible, which adds to the ability to study and get more perspective.

But that’s hardly all I’ve done.

I acquired several broken-in pipes, ranging from a long-stemmed pipe to a half-bend pipe, in everything from apple-wood to briar-wood to clay. (Contrary to popular belief, Meerschaum Calabash pipes are not the pipes that Holmes actually smoked, in all likelihood; they were introduced by stage actor William Gillette, because that type is well balanced for hanging from the mouth while he delivered his lines.) And I learned to smoke them. It turns out that there is a distinct talent to smoking a pipe; it is not easy, and it almost always requires lighting twice. The first time seems to heat the tobacco, and goes out quickly; the second time actually lights the pipe properly so it will stay lit – if properly attended. A pipe ignored for more than a minute or so will go out entirely and require the whole double lighting protocol all over again. Tobacco is an interesting substance; the smoke is very soothing to the smoker, and aids in putting aside things that one does not desire to think about, and I can see why it would have helped Holmes concentrate. Unlike most, however, I was fortunate not to find myself becoming addicted to the stuff.

As brandy is one of the more commonly mentioned liquors in the Holmes stories, I also researched the brandies in existence at the time. Now, brandy is the common English term for cognac, and it was developed by distilling wine. Given the long periods of time required to transport kegs of wine via ship, often the wine spoiled, or turned into vinegar, by the time it arrived. Transporting bottles was a poor idea; should the ship encounter high seas, the bottles would break. Converting the wine to brandy was a way to keep the liquor from spoiling. It was intended to be reconstituted back into wine at its destination, but proved to be tasty in and of itself.

Myself, I thought Holmes might be a bit of an Anglophile, and so I selected Hennessy as the brand I would drink with my pipe; my research demonstrated that it existed in Holmes’ time, and was easily obtainable now. (Interestingly, Glenlivet, a popular old single malt Scotch, was a relatively new label back then.) However, as Holmes was related to the French painter Horace Vernet (a real person in our own timeline) via his grandmother being Vernet’s sister, it is entirely possible he might have favored French cognac. Watson referenced brandy, however, not cognac. And so I felt my selection was reasonable for my research.

Unfortunately one night I discovered the reason why so many Victorian gentlemen retired to the study after dinner for a smoke and a drink. Firstly, you should know that I emphatically do not like the sensation of being drunk, on the few times it has ever happened by accident, and so I stop when I feel the buzz hitting, if not before. But it seems that tobacco “potentiates” (multiplies) the effects of any drug with which it is used. I later found that this is the reason that hookahs using a blend of opium and tobacco were used in opium dens; it provided a bigger high for less quantity of drug. In my case, the tobacco rendered the alcohol in the brandy much more potent than I had expected. It is the first, last, and only time I have ever been so drunk I threw up. I immediately decided at that point that I had more than enough knowledge of pipe smoking to write Holmes effectively, and while I still continue to collect pipes as an eclectic hobby, I no longer smoke them. Brandy, not so much either.

As mentioned, Holmes and Watson were both smokers – pipes, cigars, and cigarettes. But the cigarettes were hand-rolled, and all were lit with either matches or hot coals, or possibly at the jet of a gas lamp. The fusee, a type of flare or flintlock, was the first kind of automatic lighter, and was not particularly safe, especially, I have gathered, for men with facial hair.

There are other things that I had to take into consideration, such as the items of everyday existence. When Holmes was introduced to the modern day, he discovered that simple things like personal hygiene had changed considerably. Whereas we take the modern disposable razor for granted, as well as shaving foam or gel, Holmes would have used a straight razor, shaving soap, and brush, and would periodically have visited his barber for a beard touch-up. The beginning of what would become our modern razor was developed about that time, and was termed a “safety razor,” because the blade was contained within the head and it was more difficult to produce a serious wound with it. (No Sweeney Todd types with that.) Toothbrushes looked much the same, but were made of different, more natural, materials – when they were used at all. There was no such thing as toothpaste, per se. Various tooth powders were used, ranging from baking soda to literal powdered stone, e.g. pumice – which often eroded the tooth enamel, undermining their purpose. Deodorants existed; one of the first that was introduced (as “Mum”) later became the brand “Ban.” But they were typically pastes or creams applied with the fingers and as such, rather messy. After-shaves, while in use, would have been basic preparations of alcohol or witch hazel, possibly lightly fragranced, blended and provided by the local apothecary, or as known in London, “chemist.” Likewise any personal fragrances, colognes, etc.

Then there was the matter of furniture. Holmes’ flat at 221b Baker Street contained an item of furniture known as a tantalus. My research indicates that the tantalus still exists today, but we know it by different names: the wet bar, or liquor cabinet. That liquor cabinet would contain multiple decanters, likely of crystal, which in and of itself might not have been so healthy: crystal in those days contained lead, and alcohol is a solvent. How many people suffered from lead poisoning as a result, I have not researched. These decanters were probably marked with a metal sign hanging around the neck of each, denoting its contents. The cabinet also would have contained a “gasogene,” the early form of a seltzer bottle. It consisted of two bottles held together with wicker or wire, one containing tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate which reacted to produce carbon dioxide, and the other containing water. When the handle was depressed, carbonated water emerged for mixing into drinks – when the thing didn’t explode from pressure, that is.

A proper gentleman, such as Holmes, would be attired from the skin up as follows: vest and pants (these today would be called boxers and undershirt – NOT a t-shirt, but a tank top style), stockings (socks), a shirt with replaceable collar (ring around the collar? Throw it away and get another), button-up trousers (modern pants, trousers, or slacks, but with a button fly) held up by braces (suspenders), a double-pocketed waistcoat (“WES-kət,” now known as a vest), and if in public or with visitors, a suit-coat of various styles, and a tie of some sort, approximating the modern bow or regular tie, or something even fancier. The tie was often referred to as a cravat. Shoes were leather, usually ankle height, and buttoned up, or possibly laced. Note also that some men of the era wore corsets, although there is no evidence that Holmes or Watson did so.

Accessories would include cufflinks and a pocket-watch. The watch was properly placed in one waistcoat pocket; the chain was threaded through a buttonhole in the waistcoat and over to the other pocket. On the other end of the chain would be some necessary trinket such as a pipe tool (for cleaning and/or tamping one’s pipe) or a jack-knife (pocket knife), and this would be tucked into the waistcoat pocket opposite the pocket-watch. If the gentleman were well-to-do, had a special keepsake/heirloom, or inclined toward ostentation, a decorative watch fob (in Holmes’ case, the gold sovereign coin Irene Adler presented to him while he was in disguise) might dangle from the watch chain. In addition, when going out, no London gentleman would be caught dead without his cane (young or old, handicapped or no), kid leather gloves, and silk hat (top hat). Optional accessories included studs instead of shirt buttons, a stick pin for the cravat, spats (to protect expensive leather shoes from the mud on the streets and in the gutters, which not infrequently still contained the contents of chamber pots, at least in certain parts of London), and overcoats and wool scarves in winter.

The only skin which showed on a Victorian male or female in public – if they were of any station at all – was the skin of the face and upper neck.

So imagine Holmes’ surprise to be in our modern society: women in trousers and jeans, short sleeves on everyone, low necklines, sport coats, shorts, tank tops, halter tops, and so forth. Hats are rarely seen except for cowboy hats in some circles, and baseball caps in others; top hats are only stage props. Canes are for the elderly or injured; t-shirts are worn as outerwear – and let us not even mention swimwear! To quote Dr. Skye Chadwick, Holmes’ foil and the other protagonist of the series, a Brazilian string bikini would “make your Victorian sensibilities run away screaming, if not outrightly curl up and die.” Holmes actually finds the military uniform much more comfortable mentally, as they are styled more along the lines to which he is accustomed, and uses them freely (under the government’s sponsorship) in his disguises.

As the series progresses, I’m finding myself delving into other historical aspects, such as the differences in dialects just within the city of London during Holmes’ time. How many Americans, outside of dialecticians, could tell the difference – or even know there was one – between an East End and a Cockney dialect? (Not many.) What do rural Englishmen sound like? (Not so different from redneck Southerners, but with a slight twist.) What exists in London today where 221b should be? (A bank headquarters, since converted to an apartment complex.) Did 221b ever exist in our reality? (No, it didn’t. Upper Baker Street, where Holmes’ flat would have existed, didn’t get numbers until 1932. The street numbers only went to 100 at the time Conan Doyle wrote the stories. This was apparently a deliberate choice on Doyle’s part, to prevent strangers turning up at someone’s door looking for Mr. Sherlock Holmes.) Did the Baker Street Irregulars really exist? (Yes, they did, but not as street urchins. In WWII the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, an espionage, reconnaissance and surveillance organization that eventually merged into MI6, was located in Lower Baker Street, and took on the nickname, which is not to be confused with the international fan organization of the same name.) Is there an Underground station nearby that Holmes and Watson could have used? (Yes, the Baker Street Station, one of the world’s oldest. It was recently refurbished, and the newer part – since an additional tube was added and this station became a hub – decorated in a somewhat kitschy, amusing Holmesian theme; the older part, which was in place during Holmes’ time, has been restored to its original appearance.)

It’s been a fun ride so far, and I’ve no doubt it will continue to be!

~~Stephanie Osborn

* * * * * * * * * * * * (Insert hearty round of applause here.) * * * * * * * * *

Once again, thank you, Stephanie. I greatly appreciated your guest blog, and I hope it will help you find a few more readers for your excellent books.

And if you haven’t read Stephanie’s books yet, take a gander at chapter one of THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVALchapter one of THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, or take a look at the first chapter of BURNOUT for further details.  (Then, for heaven’s sake, go buy her books.)

Just reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s 3rd Novel in Her “Displaced Detective” Series

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As the title says, I just reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT at Shiny Book Review.  This is a worthy third book in her “Displaced Detective” series featuring Sherlock Holmes, hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick, and some new problems that need to be solved by the team of Holmes and Chadwick.

Now, as this is a third book, I’d been expecting there to be some drop-off — not of quality, per se, but maybe a little bit less inventiveness or freshness.  But that didn’t happen; the “slow” section here contains a number of important plot-points, plus deepens and broadens the romance of Holmes and Chadwick markedly.  And the plot contained more than enough bells and whistles to hold my interest — not that I need such, but nevermind — while the book ends on a rather gentle cliffhanger.  (That last seems like a contradiction in terms, but isn’t; while I can’t explain things better than this without blowing the plotline out of the water, suffice it to say that the last we see of Holmes and Chadwick, it’s obvious that they’re still working hard to solve the various mysteries.)

Anyway, please go read my review, then go grab Ms. Osborn’s book!  (Anyone who can come up with a plot that features both physics and Sherlock Holmes is a winner in my book.)

Just Reviewed Osborn’s First Two “Displaced Detective” Novels at SBR

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Tonight’s new review at Shiny Book Review is for Stephanie Osborn’s first two books in her Displaced Detective series about Sherlock Holmes as brought into the modern day via modern physics.  These are fun reads, but more to the point, they’re faithful to the spirit of Holmes in milieu and mythos.  Osborn came up with a great way to start her series by using modern-day physics along with the “World as Myth” concept as delineated by Robert A. Heinlein; the two together explain how Holmes could be a real person, and then how it came to be that Osborn’s hyperspatial physicist, Skye Chadwick, was able to rescue Holmes before he ended up dead at Reichenbach Falls.

These are really fun reads that make good sense in context.  The mysteries Holmes solves are appropriately complex (yes, I said that at SBR, too, but it’s a phrase I don’t get to use much, thus the repetition), Holmes’s abilities seem realistic (for him), and the halting romance that grows between Holmes and Chadwick is worth the price of admission all by itself.

But do expect there to be a romance, especially in the second book, and do expect it to be PG-13.  This makes sense in context, and it’s something I applauded in my review — but some Holmes-o-philes may not wish to see their hero in love.  (If so, the more fool, they.  Osborn does a great job showing how these two extremely brilliant people could and did fall in love, and it works, plot-wise.  To great effect.)

Seriously.  Go read my review of these two fine books, THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL and THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED.  Then go buy the books already.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm