Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stephen Gaspar: Holmes Sweet Holmes

The Quintessential Detective

We who are enamored with detective stories probably began our love affair with one particular detective; Miss Marple, Philip Marlowe, Hercule Poirot, maybe even Jim Rockford. As a teenager I was charmed by the quintessential detective, Sherlock Holmes.  

There is something romantic about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective whose fine mind is offset by his rather antisocial and Bohemian lifestyle. It is appealing to us who imagine ourselves as antisocial and Bohemian, though our minds may not be as fine-tuned as the detective’s.

I am not surprised at the recent resurgence of interest in Holmes with the success of the Robert Downey Jr. movies and the new BBC television series. Both portray a different Holmes, a revamped Holmes, a Holmes for the 21st century.
The concept is nothing new. Universal made a dozen movies in the 1940s with Basil Rathbone as a contemporary Sherlock Holmes, sometimes fighting Nazis spies and saboteurs.
I am a traditionalist. I am a big fan of Doyle’s original canon and a big fan of the Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett.  When I wrote my first Sherlock Holmes book, The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes I tried to write traditionally with Sir Arthur and Jeremy Brett in mind.
Before I even began to write, I re-read all the original Holmes stories. More than that I had to study my Canadian history, because not only did I want my main character to be authentic, I needed true Canadian history to play a part in the story.
I decided to write short stories -- much like Doyle’s most popular adventures --- following Holmes as he traveled across Canada solving mysteries along the way, from the death-by-canon murder in Halifax to the strange death of the Overlander in Victoria.
In choosing a year in which the Canadian adventures would take place, I was restricted by the Sherlock Holmes’s chronology of adventures. My story could not take place at the same time as an original story. Also, I wanted Holmes to meet and do a service for Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. I chose the year 1897.
As a sequel to The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I am currently posting my latest Holmes adventure, Cold Hearted Murder on my blog in installments, one chapter at a time. This format is reminiscent of how the original stories came out monthly in The Strand Magazine.
In Cold Hearted Murder Holmes is brought out of his lethargy by a series of grotesque and hideous murders in London. There is, of course, a Canadian connection to these murders that is revealed in a similar manner as in the very first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet.
Cold Hearted Murder can be found at:

Stephen Gaspar has lived all his life in Windsor, Ontario. He and his wife Susan have twin sons. As an author Stephen Gaspar has combined his interest in history with his love of mystery/detective stories. His most recent book, To Know Evil is a historical murder mystery set in the middle-ages.

To view the YouTube promo for Cold Hearted Murder, go to:
Please visit my website:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mary Jane Maffini Massacres Valentines

You say Massacre, I say Mysterious …

Honestly, it’s the worst month of the year to be a mystery author. February is famous for love, chocolates, romantic music, sexy drinks by candlelight, and all that good stuff.
But it just makes me feel guilty about my three single sleuths. I never really give them a break. Oh, sure, I let them get into the odd romantic entanglement (a clinch here, a smooch there, even the odd sleepover) but I don’t make it easy for them.

You see, here’s the thing: mysteries are all about tension, about what’s out of reach and the tantalizing unknown. Cozy domesticity can pour cold water on all that sizzling suspense.

First of all, in terms of a relationship developing, there’s the whole ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ thing. A writer can build some nice sub-plots and twists with that, all the while stalling. As a storyteller, you need to. It’s a bit like the dance of the seven veils: keep the readers guessing. You never want them to get bored. But who pays the price? All those single protagonists, so often alone in their beds. That’s who.

Of course, if the truth be told (and you can’t count on it from me) my three sleuths, are not good marriage material. They’re just not. Period. Fiona Silk is divorced. Not her fault. She’s fallen for the wrong man and more than once too. Plus she’s unlucky.

Camilla MacPhee is a widow. Her husband was killed by a drunk driver at the age of thirty. It has left her, ten years later, with a certain crabbiness and an obsessive quest for justice. Try not to get in her way. She does have a relationship with Ray Deveau, a very pleasant sergeant in the Cape Breton Regional Police Force. Of course, he has been living 1642 kilometres from Ottawa and Camilla. Now, apparently he’s moving to Ottawa. We’ll see how that goes. Camilla’s not the easiest person in the world to live with.

Then there’s Charlotte Adams, the youngest of my sleuths. There might be romantic hope for her, although she was betrayed by her cheating hound of an ex-fiancĂ©. What can I say? Now she’s thirty-one. One of these days she’ll wake up and realize that she’s in love with Jack Reilly, her best friend and landlord. It might even happen in the next book, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder (arriving April 5th!). Just don’t bet the farm on it.

Plus, have I mentioned that it can be very dangerous to get too close to a sleuth? The would-be love interest is so often injured and occasionally one will even get killed, if it suits the author’s evil purposes. It won’t be the protagonist’s doing, but what solace is that to the potential mate as he or she lies bleeding on the Persian rug/sandy beach/fresh fallen snow?

Then there are communications snags: the modern protags cell phones are always pitching into rivers, running out of juice, being stolen, squashed by vehicles or destroyed by villains. They’re not so good at returning calls. That leads to bruised feelings and canceled dates. It’s hard to build a relationship that way, but, face it, in this blood-soaked world, plot considerations trump all else.

Finally, partners, lovers, dates and spouses not only make excellent victims, they can turn into wonderful suspects. And in mysteries, good things might happen, but bad things must happen. So hang on to your hats, Camilla, Fiona and Charlotte. I can’t be too easy on you.

Remember, the shade associated with February and Valentine’s Day (that gorgeous true red of Valentines and long-stemmed roses) is the colour of arterial blood, isn’t it? In our stories, love is an appealing option, but death is essential.

Happy Valentine’s Season! May it be filled with mystery and chocolate for you readers. Right. And remind me to send roses to my three girls. It’s the least I can do for ruining their lives.

Mary Jane Maffini is a lapsed librarian, former co-owner of Ottawa’s Prime Crime Mystery Bookstore, member of the Ladies Killing Circle, and author of thirteen books in three series (plus some on the way).