Curious Clogs and Clever Contraptions: When Sherlock Holmes inspired a Crime

Marcia Wilson

“If I had only been there!” he cried. “It is evidently a case of extraordinary interest,

and one which presented immense opportunities to the scientific expert. That gravel

page upon which I might have read so much has been long ere this smudged by the

rain and defaced by the clogs of curious peasants. Oh, Dr. Mortimer, Dr. Mortimer,

to think that you should not have called me in! You have indeed much to answer for.”


Sherlock Holmes makes much of footwear; they are fingerprints for time and place. Footwear is utterly hinged on what a person can afford to pay, and in that narrow gap of possibility rests rich details for his eye. He notes the curious matter of Sir Henry and his missing boot; Sir George’s crime. Tonga’s bare feet.  And his declaration in HOUN draws our attention because it is the only time he (or anyone else) uses the word “clog.”

 A real pity, that. Clogs are as unique as fingerprints and he could have scarce missed knowing this in his interactions with the people that wore them.

This is the Devonshire clog Holmes’ “peasants” would have worn: A single, thick block of wood comprising the sole, thick leather upper, with horseshoe-like metal rims (clog irons) to protect the nail-heads at the heel and toe, and a necklace of nails studded around the join.  Below is a closeup of a small woman’s or child’s clog, kindly provided by Bernard Molloy. Note the horseshoe-like metal heel caps, sole protectors, brass caps and studs:  [1]

We can tell that this is quite a lot of shoe.  It is perfect for the needs of the wearer, who would be using this solely outside the house: durable footwear for a rough and tumble life. It is not a shoe for gentlemen.  Gentlemen would have no need of this hard-tested footwear…and of course there is the reputation this shoe has with rebellion and, dare we say it, workers’ rights.

Without an obsessive search and destroy mission for information it is impossible to be sure of the development of the Devonshire Clog, but in 1818 the Monthly Magazine, a British Registrar of patents, lists and interesting entry:

LIST OF NEW PATENTS; and we earnestly solicit the Patentees to   favour us with copies of extracts of their Specifications.

  1. BOOTH, of Eckington, Derbyshire, turner in wood; for a method of making by a certain machine wooden clogs for pattens, wooden clogs or soles for shoes and a description of wooden clogs, commonly known by the name of the Devonshire clogs, or by whatsoever other name the same several clogs are commonly called –April 8.[2]

Growing up in America, the well-read child will encounter the word “clog” and instantly think of the Dutch and their “wooden upper” or “whole-wood” klompen.

(Let us all pause for a moment and mourn our innocent youth, when we didn’t know ‘The Boy and the Dike’ was a purple load of codswallop written by someone who had no idea a dike could never, ever be salvaged by a child’s finger in a leak!)

If the reader thought past the non-Dutch story of Dutch bravery, they could pat themselves on the back by remembering the French Sabot wooden shoe).  This proves they didn’t fall asleep during the good n’ bloody bits of the French Revolution in History class:  The word sabotage comes from the use of the worker’s sabot, or wooden shoe, but more on that later (and it isn’t what we were told in school either).

Thirdly, they might belong to that little-known fringe group of Americans known as “Clog-Dancers” whom are popularly imagined as a small but strangely determined group who embrace long hair, peasant blouses, flowing skirts, and synchronized percussion.

Clogs are as British as a cup of tea and not as uncomfortable or inconvenient as other English relics such as, say, wool underwear.  They are certainly more than a painted curio from another land and, dare we be so bold, not worthy of Mr. Holmes’ scorn.  It is one of the most successful designs of civilization.[3] And despite a roaringly healthy industry making klompen for the tourists, the Dutch still wear clogs for practical reasons: they are often safer than steel-toed work shoes because they crack instead of dent and thus spares the foot a wicked (potentially work-threatening) pinch!

Clogs are shoes made completely of wood or wood sole with a different upper unless we are discussing foam and rubber Crocs.  The Irish brogans so fondly viewed by historians and re-enactors are clogs.  Our ancestors had plenty of practice in developing something that could take punishment and get us out of a mess.  They are durable, resistant to wear and tear, can be repaired by at the time most common tools, waterproof and easily dried.  They could be heavy or light depending on the wood.  The variety of clogs in the world is astonishing, as they can easily adapt to the unique needs of the owner and can be carved to fit individually.  Their success and longevity is all to their few limitations: availability of material, the ability to manufacture, and the originality of the creator in adapting the footwear to the demands of the immediate environment.

Clogs have upturned toes so the foot can roll the shoe forward.  This replaced the mechanism for taking a natural step.  A solid chunk of shoe will not flex like muscle and bone. The upturn, called a cast, is practical and can be quite graceful on the clogs of women and children. Marilyn Monroe was fond of them.

For the stylish foot, clogs were carved on the outside for their tastes.  Men and women both had excellently crafted designs along their cultural norms. The Spanish albarca is be carved with impressive fine designs, almost embroidery-like in their intricacy. Some of these clogs are so artistically conveyed they need to be seen to be believed. There is even a rare pair of fighter’s clogs with the name of a woman etched in the toes!  In places where carving was less important, the metal tips and efficiency of design were the core fashion statement.

Clogs are not the footwear one will find on a gymnast, swimmer, or aerial performer, but they are a godsend among Percussion Dancers.  You will see them among Morris wheels, wrestlers, and artists, musical theatres, Vaudeville performers, and Riverdancers. Do not be surprised to see them worn proudly among the African Stepping, Gumboot, and tap-dancers, whom evolved from cloggers wishing a specific range of sound to go with their dancing.  But to really understand this, we need to go backwards a bit and look at the etymology behind clog.

Clogs were originally blocks of wood used to hinder movements of livestock—the word goes back as far as 14th century England as clogge, “lump of wood” and relates to the Norwegian klugu (knotty log of wood).  About a century and a half later clog came to mean anything that impeded action.  You slowed something down by tying it to blocks of wood—if you impeded someone, you “clogged up” their passage.  This is normally used for describing stoppers in plumbing and piping nowadays, but you get the idea! You certainly won’t be running in these. With sweet historic irony, Hope Gillarman said of the clog,

“a wooden sole “can’t give you enough movement to enable you to walk or run with a complete gait.” As a result of this loss of movement, clog-wearers tend to drag their feet, “which causes more postural problems,” she said.[4]

Fair enough but clog does mean to slow down.  This short, fashion-oriented article takes the time to note that clogs are simply not designed for long distance walking

The French word for sabotage does come from sabot, their clog, but not to throw into the machinery of the oppressors as many think: Sabots were the shoe of peasants and peasants were likened as being slow and clumsy.  In rebellion these workers did the Gallic version of ca’canny: Moving slowly in order not to do too much.  They did not sacrifice their precious footwear into machinery, but managed to be even more infuriating by being slow and awkward to work for their leather-shod overseers. Shuffling about in clogs will result in a lot of racket—sabotage means to make noise with sabots. A lot of noise—but no appreciable work accomplished. Patricia O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman have a delightful description in their blog Grammarphobia.[5]

“At one of these were two boys, who, as most Westmorland boys, wore wooden clogs shod with iron, and of course in their movements made plenty of noise.  One day it was thought that they made rather too much, and the mother shouted out, “Gang away and lake.” …these urchins … scampered off for a game, making as much noise as a couple of galloways.”[6]

If you want to witness the spirit of these original sabotagers, look no further than the Gumboot Dancers of Africa’s gold mines. The miners communicate, make complex music, and parody their bosses and armed guards with their heavy boots as part of their musical performance.

Clogs: Percussion Dancing and Naked Fighting

Clogs as a Form of Protest: The true saboteur

“Nowt o’sort,” she said, and all of a sudden became busy about her house, making enough noise with her Westmorland clogs to show plainly that she wanted to hear no more about it then.”

–a woman’s reaction to a Missionary’s less than subtle approach.[7]

Percussion Dancing is a popular form where the sound the dancers make is as important as the dance.  Stomping on the floor and heel-and-toe tapping for sound effects mark percussion dancing.  Having worked in a heavy manufactory, I can tell you it is almost impossible to keep from responding to plucks of rhythm and timing in your surroundings; it keeps you alert and focused without getting dull. Within a few weeks your brain will develop an awareness for pattern and begin to create melodies. In the days of 12 or more hours without proper rest breaks this was a way to keep going .

Clogging as a Martial Art

Clogs were used with skill and violence in Britain’s Northwestern lands, but never against unfeeling machinery.  Purring, believed from the Gaelic word for scraping, was a fantastically efficient way of getting through a disagreement.  Against the proper British notion that fists were for gentlemen, these gladiators enthusiastically kick-boxed their way through their quarrels, and the casualty list was high.  Getting kicked in the head by a slipper-toed savate fighter or punched by a fist has no comparison to one’s skull meeting a dense wooden club tipped with metal and studded with nails.

It should be no surprise that purring rarely lasted long and corrugated shins were proud marks of combat.  The savage nature of the fights (contestants might be completely nude but for their shoes), guaranteed that the mainstream public would be ignorant or poorly informed of this culture.  It would be a crazy editor who would permitted details of nude fighting.  It was a serious sport that only died down after WWII.  It is a hard sport to learn about because surviving participants are leery about getting arrested even now. Even the shoes are all but invisible; they were buried with their owners.  Wood is wood and old soles went to other uses. The language has kept delightful word-relics such as “leather and timber kiss” (combat with clogs), “pop your clogs” (to die), “clog-ball” (lump of snow on the heel), “Cloggy-dick” (someone who stupidly wears clogs where they aren’t normally used because as everyone knows, “Bad news goes about in clogs; good news in stockinged feet.”). “Clogs to clogs in three generations” (the effort to rise from poverty rarely lasts to the third generation), “clever clogs” (smart fella), and of course the promise to give a good thrashing is the offer for a “clog toe pie” which is completely against the spirit of lighting the “Yule clog” at Christmas.[8]

It might be a good idea to renew our acquaintance with these words because the Shin-Kicking Association of Britain (SKAB) is still trying to bring this back as an Olympic sport. The last petition only managed 7 out of 100 signatures, but…you never know.

You could honorably avoid a blow in purring by dancing; the best dancer was the best fighter.  Because of the clog’s ability to make a racket, it was inevitable that it added to the artistic forms of the wearers: clogging depends on the ability of the dancer to use their feet to add and enhance the rhythm and sound of the dance.  Solid wooden shoes had a disadvantage against the type of clog worn at the Lancaster mills, where the heel and toe of the foot were each surrounded in “horseshoes” of metal to protect the shoe and the uppers were of an almost indestructible oiled and waxed water buffalo leather.  Imagine going up against that in one of the Lancaster fights!  The ear compared the sound of the Lancaster dancers to that of the massive weaving looms at work. These metal tips could really add to the range of sound.  This set the stage, so to speak, for the art of tap-dancing.  One notable Lancaster dancer is Charlie Chaplin, who joined an entertainment troupe called the Eight Lancashire Lads. He may have stayed in the first steady job of his young life had his asthma not put an end to his clogging—but it also freed him to seek other work.  His original sense of timing began with stamping his clogs on the downbeat; as an actor that timing was fine-honed two years later when he landed the role of Billy the Page for William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes.

Going Back to One’s Roots: Even Gentlemen Wore Clogs at One Time!

But this is not the only tie clogging has with the Holmesian Canon.  As stated earlier, Holmes only used the word clog once, and that was in HOUN.  But interesting stories have a way of being circular, and in The Adventure of the Priory School we see Holmes encounter a fascinating use of shoes as crime.

“There is one other small point upon which I desire some light. This fellow Hayes had shod his horses with shoes which counterfeited the tracks of cows. Was it from Mr. Wilder that he learned so extraordinary a device?”

            The Duke stood in thought for a moment, with a look of intense surprise on his face. Then he opened a door and showed us into a large room furnished as a museum. He led the way to a glass case in a corner, and pointed to the inscription.

            “These shoes,” it ran, “were dug up in the moat of Holdernesse Hall. They are for the use of horses, but they are shaped below with a cloven foot of iron, so as to throw pursuers off the track. They are supposed to have belonged to some of the marauding Barons of Holdernesse in the Middle Ages.”

Holmes’ Interesting Observations–and that of his Readers

Clogs with reversed soles have been used as late as WWII to fool enemy soldiers, but the cleverness and methods change with the demands of the times.  Truly the early Barons had money to burn if they used iron instead of wood to falsify their tracks!

Holmes ranked this clever gimmick as almost as interesting as his paycheck by His Lordship.  He has solved many cases, but how often have we seen crimes inspired by Holmes?

In 1922 a team of hard-hitting Florida moonshine hunters discovered their quarry was not only enterprising, but well-read fans of Sherlock Holmes:


This is a patten or overshoe clog, with the thick wooden block carved up to look like hooves of cattle.

Shiners wear “cow shoes”

A new method of evading prohibition agents was revealed here today by A.L. Allen, state prohibition enforcement director, who displayed what he called a “cow shoe” as the latest thing front the haunts of moonshiners.

The cow shoe is a strip of metal to which is tacked a wooden block carved to resemble the hoof of a cow, which may be strapped to the human foot. A man shod with a pair of them would leave a trail resembling that of a cow.

The shoe found was picked up near Port Tampa where a still was located some time ago. It will be sent to the prohibition department at Washington. Officers believe the inventor got his idea from a Sherlock Holmes story in which the villain shod his horse with shoes the imprint of which resembled those of a cow’s hoof.  May 27, 1922, The Evening Independent




Kohn, Ingeborg. Pg. 19, Charlie Chaplin, brightest star of Silent Films, 1st Ed., Sept. 2005

Cow shoes used by Moonshiners in the Prohibition days to disguise their footprints, 1922 By RHP | Posted on: March 26, 2014 | Updated on: March 26, 2014:

The Cloggies: An Everyday Saga in the life of Clog-Dancing Folk Online comic, now available only in archives and occasional used book sales. Warning: Rough and Tumble humor…as you might expect!

Online Etymology Dictionary:

The Phrase Finder:

Animal Prints: Carved Shoes That Leave Behind Realistic Tracks; April 11, 2012:

Northern Soul: Purring and Parring: the mysterious history of Clog Fighting Jan. 8, 2016, Helen Carter

For a good-hearted single page lecture on one of the few clog-makers left in the UK, please go to and if you suit the description of being “fat and fifty” consider joining his Morris Dancing troupe. Or at least buy his clogs for your own Morrising.


[1] With much thanks to Bernard Molloy, of Molloy’s MEGA ANTIQUES CENTRE, Takapuna, Auckland, NZ see endnotes at the end of this article for further information

[2] Phillips, Sir Richard. The Monthly Magazine, or, The British Register, Vol. 46, Part II London: Printed for Sir Richard Phillips, Price 16 shillings, half-bound, printed by J.W. and C. Adlard, 23, Bartholomew Close. P. 437

[3]  P.4 Therapeutic Footwear: A Comprehensive Guide; Tyrrell & Carter; Churchill, Livingstone, Elsevier, ©2009



[6]Fayers, Thomas. Labour Among the Navvies p. 3  Wertheim, Macintosh, and Hunt, 1862

[7] Fayers, Thomas. Labour Among the Navvies p. 127-128 Wertheim, Macintosh, and Hunt, 1862

[8] A real wealth of wooden shoe proverbs and expressions still rests in the Dutch language, but including these would be only for my personal gratification and swell the size of this article to monstrous proportions.



Published in: on September 22, 2016 at 3:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Doctor Two

Even a casual experience with this Doctor as one walked by the TV was memorable and stuck with you.

Published in: on September 18, 2016 at 2:28 am  Leave a Comment  

The Oldest Game: The Professor, the Detective, and the Skein Between

Marcia Wilson

The String’s the Thing

“He loved to lie in the very centre of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumour or suspicion of unsolved crime.”

The Resident Patient

Make no bones about it: Doctor Watson knew his friend, and his friend knew crime as an intolerable thing that ran with life. If one was clever and observant, the eye could see these two opposing strands of life and crime as separate things (Holmes’ view), instead of the two strands as one (the ordinary view).  In a further moment of retrospection, the Great Detective opens the floor to the reader with both an assurance, and a warning:

“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”

–A Study in Scarlet

While Holmes spouts startling philosophy at the urging of his friend (Watson being not only a conductor of light but also its lens), it is this first clear insight into what he is that makes him Sherlock Holmes.  Even more than his Book of Life or studies of Arcanum, Holmes is a state of being.  He is what he is, and this is how he sees the world.


ACD could wield a dictionary like a surgical weapon, and his Detective is atomically precise in his choice of vocabulary.  Skein is more than a word—it is a concept.  Skein shows up in countless pastiches involving Holmes—and why not?  It is too perfect a word/concept to dismiss—particularly if you are a philosopher-scientist who has put his natural gift for observance into his career.

‘A Tangled Skein’ was a common mystery title of the time, as Pat Hardy, curator of the Museum of London observed.  It was even the original title of A Study in Scarlet, but ACD’s surviving notes on the subject show that he crossed out A Tangled Skein and chose A Study in Scarlet in order to differentiate his work from the rest. [1] Among the modern pastiches who contribute to this old custom are David Stuart Davies’ The Tangled Skein,[2] and David Marcum’s new title Tangled Skeins[3].  The word fits with Victorian crime fiction.

But why was A Tangled Skein a popular title?  Because of what a skein is and what it symbolises.  Skein means a ball of thread of specific length, and when it is properly rolled it is neat and orderly with the centre of the thread (making visible the end of that thread).  A tangled skein is impossible to gauge; we do not even know about the thread.  Proof of pudding is in the eating—but a skein must be inspected from end to end.  A tangled skein can hide any possible sins: broken, dirty and spoiled thread; uneven and inferior spinning—a tangled skein is by definition a riddle that must be solved for the same reason why we brush out our hair:  A tangle is a problem.

String is small, easily overlooked, and essential.  We create it because it must be created, but string’s nature requires maintenance and observance if it is to remain useful.  Holmes loves to use the word ‘thread’ in his talks with Watson, for his cases are tangled-up threads.  He must sort them all out (detect), and find the one in charge of his explanation.  In order to solve them he must do as any spinner, and gather up the threads in one hand so that the other hand may sort.  This is a useful description for all its working-class connotations. Inspector Lestrade uses it in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons:

After all, that is nothing; petty larceny, six months at the most. It is the murder that we are really investigating, and I tell you that I am gathering all the threads into my hands.”

But no one in Canon comes close to Holmes’ using thread as a description for problem-solving.[4]

“It seems absurdly simple, and yet, somehow I can get nothing to go upon. There’s plenty of thread, no doubt, but I can’t get the end of it into my hand.”  —The Man with the Twisted Lip

Humans create and solve puzzles made of string, but under the innocence of child’s play are riddles contrived to baffle as much as please.  An Arctic monster baits mortals by weaving string games out of its own intestines; Scottish harpstrings spun of murder victims sing the names of their killers.  An Italian stregoni foretells the future; Celtic knotwork is reflected in the basic loops of cat’s-cradle. Native Americans trap nightmares with Dream Catchers; witchcraft looms in stringlore as much as math. String puzzles create a state of contemplation and satisfaction for the player, which goes far to explain the addictive nature of these games.  To be short about a long topic, we play with string, but string also plays with us—especially when we attempt to use it to answer our deep philosophical questions.  In all of this usefulness we must do one thing:  gather the pertinent strings within our hand in order to put them to their appropriate purpose. One cannot yank them out; this exacerbates the tangle.  We cannot tug out of time; this will lock the tangles into Gordian Knots.  The only solution is to gently work out the thread until it is exposed to the end, the end that is hidden discreetly in the centre.

Human life has been analogous to thread since our concepts solidified into accepting that we have a specific length of life. To increase its length we must petition Divine Providence—but the shortening of said thread, if one is not a believer of predestination, takes no more than an unlucky or willful action.  As our unfortunate lady said in The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez, “…it is not for me to cause the frail thread to be snapped before God’s time.”  

Thread is an appropriate analogy when we wax of destiny and life.  In China the Red String connects soulmates.  In the Kabbalah, red string repells evil.  Red thread in England defeats the power of witches.  Red is passion and life, which is why the colour is either treasured or eschewed in cultures throughout the world.

A Gut Instinct

Thread was originally sinew and gut and our ancestors learned to divine the future and scry the truth in sacrificial entrails. Amongst the Samaritans, Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, and Hebrews, the entrails are burnt upon the altar to please respective Deities—such actions were expected to influence events for the better.  These first scarlet threads were literally scarlet, and be it from the hunt or a sacrifice, a life had to be given up to use the scarlet cords.

At the risk of being graphic, when I field-dress game I am reminded why there would be divination of answers in the entrails:  The heart will stop; the brain ceases to function and the head is separated from the neck…but the entrails will move for minutes even when taken out of the cavity.  In our old patterns of reasoning this would assure us of the proof of something more, something outside the easy spectrum. Since ancient times these ungraceful organs were treated like a secondary brain.  Our intuitive reactions are often reflected in that region hence our phrases, “gut feeling,” “Felt it in my gut,” “gut instinct,” and “butterflies in the stomach.”  Our brains are our most reliable calculators and computers, but it is our gut that is expected to let us know when something is out of true, unreliable, or to be blunt, dishonest.  Our entrails are the brains for our intuition.

Holmes knows intuition and relies on it, and this article would be the size of a bus directory if we listed all the canonical examples where he spoke and performed on behalf of instinct running side by side with his intellect.  It is enough to state that Holmes keeps intuition and reasoning together and takes great pains not to separate them.  He uses the one to check the other.  This sets him apart from the common crowd.  He does not worship intuition over intellect as a spiritualist or mesmerist; nor does he think there is only one form of reason.  His great brain is praised, but less attention is given to his adherence to intuition—and by sheer logic alone he knows to use intuition.  To discount it makes as much sense as denying Mycroft is his mental superior.  It is illogical; we need the logic and reasoning within the cranium, and the intuition that resides in the entrails.


Thus are the original threads of fate and oracular science. Despite the unpleasantness of such reasoning, there is a lesson: Somewhere in all of this mess is order instead of chaos, and logic instead of nonsense.  But how to find it?  Again we look to skein and its second definition:  Skein is also a tanglement; something complicated and impossible to discern at a single glance.[5]

The imagery of entrails as dark weavings of destiny is still within our cultural mindset.  Blake’s Milton, a work that Holmes could have scarcely ignored, described the bloody Valkyries weaving destiny upon a gruesome loom of intestines. In Jerusalem he repeats this scene in even more graphic detail and name-drops the cities and portions of England that Holmes knew:  London, Edinburgh, York.  Violence fills the Thames with blood and the players continue on, their motives murky and obscure even as cities burn.  The harbingers of fate weave upon gore, but to what end?  What is the overall purpose?  There is something there that does not love unanswered questions. Holmes asks us this when he asks it of himself.


Our earliest attempts to find the truth have often been murky and muddled with the social mores of our times.  Murder is consistently one of the worst.  Crime is a societal action upon which there must be a reaction.  Adonai scolds Cain The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground![6]  The Old Testament is no exception.  After Creation, crime follows, and the blood is the life.

Crime as the word we use today is rooted in the Latin cenere: ‘to judge’ and shifting to crimen ‘judgment, offense’, and through Old French to Middle English it solidified as “wickedness; sin” but no matter what time or translation, the word reminds us of an eternal assault against the very threads of destiny—the sheer seriousness of it explains centuries of executions and swift trials.  Crime attacks the fabric of society and threatens the balance that keeps chaos at bay.  In some societies even an accidental death meant death to the killer—not out of hatred but because the fear of a Universe out of balance was too terrible.  This lack of balance manifested in disasters that affected not just the killer, but the killer’s community.  Floods, famines, diseases, wars—you name something bad, and someone will instantly start looking for a reason behind it.  Thus, the need to solve crimes may very well be rooted in spiritual motivation.

We will add more on this later, using Holmes’ proof of philosophy, but for now we can point out that we laugh at the past minds who blamed a plague on Oedipus’s unknowing patricide and incest, but every day we see our authorities posit social and moral explanations for concrete actions—such as tolerance for alternative lifestyles as a reason for epidemics.  Intricate and flawed, the human brain has the capacity for coming to its own conclusions regardless of proof.  One thing that has not changed is our desire to look for reason…and to create a reason when there is none to be found.

In solving crimes we have created broadly variable methods of solution that begin with observance and ends in detection:  Watchmen, sentries, and soldiers were sworn to observe and report, but they were not alone.  Priests sacrificed, and oracles, consulted.  Omens were a way of finding the truth and the very dead were interviewed using mediums and practitioners of spellcraft.  The ‘murder ballads’ of England include the earliest surviving examples of our language as we recognise it today.  Our oldest song in English is ‘Twa Corbies,’ a chilling tale of intrigue, betrayal, and murder exposed by ravens, the birds who wait upon the entrails-weaving Valkyries. Logic and reason may be newcomers to the scene but while we have slowly evolved in our science of discerning the truth, the old methods remain in our folklore, the proofs of which are in our language—which is much slower to change than our conduct.  In matters of murder, the threads of truth require inexorable methods and the holy man burning entrails upon the fires was as feared then as our modern-day detective who can pull immovable facts to the unstoppable prosecutor, judge, and jury.  Priest and policemen both follow Law.

Law: The Immutable State

Law descends from the Old Norse lag “something fixed.” Originally laws were sunk into a metaphysical concept of reality.  Harmony meant living according to the Laws.  Wrong conduct or wrong-thinking went against the harmony and created destruction and life out of balance.  Now we have separated these laws of science from laws of conduct (ethics, codes of conduct and administration govern behavior—but our brains reject the pure separation of the two.  Why?  Because our laws are based on emotional and logical reasoning—the great brain and the intuitive gut bridged by the heart.  Crime warrants constant vigilance, for its actions are limited only by the abilities of the criminal.  We are just as affected now by crime as we always have been.   Law is one of the colourless threads in our lives.  Law is our right, and even though we cannot always verbalize what is right or wrong, we rely on nonverbal methods to help us choose.

In Sherlock Holmes’ era, hard science was sharing the same space as spiritualism, supernatural fears, and a heavy jostling of caste animosity (Holmes’ own take on the subject is impatience mixed with asperity).  Victorian fiction was as rife with crime as it was with ghosts, curses, forbidden knowledge and sinister odditoriums.  It was not unusual to see rationality and superstition mixing it up like a bad drug. It shows in the writing of the time:  words like skein, which is loaded with unspoken but known meaning, was commonly used by both sides.  Each attitude was aiming for a common end.  They all wanted closure for the wrongs of the world.  But more importantly than closure, they wanted sense to be made of it all.  But how to do this? Where is the reason?

In the old days we relied on the Moira–the three Fates who apportioned each mortal’s skein.  Our separate life begins at the cut that defines the start of the thread (umbilical cord), and ends where the other side of the string is cut.  Frightening enough, the Moira answered to an even more frightening deity: Tekmor (Proof).  In the woven threads of destiny rests the proof at its end.  Tekmor’s name survives in our language as token (evidence).  When we give a ‘token of our affections’ we give evidence of our feelings.  Tekmor is the last word, the final blow, and the coup de grace.  Proof is the whole reason why we bother about this mess.  Proofs are the scales on which all balances.

‘I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.’

The Sign of Four

It takes no imagination to picture Sherlock Holmes, with his incessant thinking and puzzling, as a devotee of Tekmor.  He admires the purity within the cold efficiency of the brain, and would follow Tekmor’s bare-bones purpose of existence.  Proof is after all, the evidence of truth. But how to discern the proof of the metaphorical pudding?  One cannot unravel a tangle all at once.  Reality is…messy.  As messy as the very entrails our ancient priests unraveled in hopes of answers.  Snarls are worked through by pieces and bits, gently eased out…promising threads chased down and examined, abandoned, and picked up at a later date.  This requires more than a worrier of thread; it requires someone to see; to detect. This is what you may expect here, as Watson witnesses Holmes pick up threads of crime from years past even as he discusses the current ones.


“Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram

or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.”

The Sign of Four

Is it any wonder that a baffled Stamford tries to explain Holmes and then winds up being more confusing than ever?

“I have no idea what he intends to go in for.  I believe he is well up in anatomy, and he is a first-class chemist; but as far as I know, he has never taken out any systematic medical classes.  His studies are very desultory and eccentric, but he has amassed a lot of out-of-the-way knowledge which would astonish his professors.”[7]

Or as Stamford finally admits when pressed: “It is not easy to express the inexpressible.”[8]

Dr. Watson makes this observation of the man that is about to be his closest friend in A Study in Scarlet:

“He was not studying medicine.  He had himself, in reply to a question, confirmed Stamford’s opinion upon that point.  Neither did he appear to have pursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science or any other recognised portal which would give him an entrance in to the learned world.  Yet his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentric limits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that his observations have fairly astounded me.  Surely no man would work do hard or attain such precise information unless he had some definite end in view.  Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for the exactness of their learning.  No man burdens his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reason for doing so.”

And after making his famous list of Sherlock Holmes, we can but pity Watson.

“When I had got so far in my list I threw it into the fire in despair. “If I can only find what the fellow is driving at by reconciling all these accomplishments, and discovering a calling which needs them all,” I said to myself, “I may as well give up the attempt at once.”

If Holmes could be tracked down and treated on matters of mind alone, Stamford and Watson would not be so stumped.  But there is a method to his seeming madness.  Holmes makes clear his calling to Watson:  “I listen to their story, they listen to my comments, and I pocket my fee.”  After this opening statement his dissatisfaction is revealed: his gifts give him his bread and cheese, but it is not enough.  He needs more. Sherlock Holmes holds multiple skeins in his hand.  He frequently confounds his enemies and bewilders his allies but remains calmly separate from both, mentally gauging the complex adventures that occur all around him. The wonder of it all is, what appears to us as a complicated world isn’t complicated at all–because Holmes sees what we cannot.  We the readers must trust along with Watson…and follow him because he is the only one who can lead us to the suddenly clear ending.  We can only agree:  Holmes makes everything clear.  How strange and obfuscating his stories are in the beginning! How could we hope to understand?  We see nothing—we do not observe–and yet Sherlock Holmes has!

This is to be expected, for he is Sherlock Holmes.  He observes.  He is more than a watcher.  He is a guardian on a holy mission.  A stranger may see a child—but its caretaker will observe it.  A man who sees, only uses his eyes to function in the world.  An observer protects.  Truly, this is Sherlock Holmes and the world he has adopted into his crusade.  In the very unravelling of skeins he can take apart the confusion and replace it with illumination.

In A Study in Scarlet, we come as close as we ever do in viewing the giant cogs that turn in Holmes’ great mind.  What a pity we could not read his Book of Life!  But we must settle for what scraps Watson shared with us, and very enlightening they are:

“From a drop of water,” said the writer, “a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it.”

Most will agree that many things are connected, but Holmes is stating that all things can be discernible.  This is bold news.  Watson is initially against the whole thing—he is equally repelled and compelled by the words but already Holmes has sunk under his skin.  Before long he will be completely in agreement with the Detective.

 ‘What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear?  It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.’

The Cardboard Box.

Tekmor, we should remind, is the proof of evidence at the conclusion of the greatest, most tangled mystery of all.  Life.  Holmes may not bow to any particular ‘abstract god of justice’ for he makes his own justice where there is none.  His Great Enemy, the Spidery Moriarty, creates tangles whilst Holmes un-tangles them with relentless patience.  In illuminating their opposition, we know their game is doomed to end with death, for neither’s nature will tolerate the other.  It takes no more than a few paragraphs for Holmes to lay it before Watson: Holmes solves mysteries and restores unknown balances…but the only balance for Holmes himself is the presence of another pretty problem.

“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”

 –A Study in Scarlet

There can hardly be a more stripped-down definition placed in non-spiritual terms on what humans must do.  Sherlock Holmes has managed to scythe down thousands of years of language with a poetry elegant in sheer efficiency.

Let us return to Watson’s fascinating observation about Holmes:

“He loved to lie in the very centre of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumour or suspicion of unsolved crime.”

The Resident Patient

Now, what does Holmes think of Professor Moriarty?

“He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.”

The Final Problem

The comparison is absolutely frosty.  Holmes has recognised not a kindred spirit, but a kindred brain.  And he knows Moriarty exists because he has deduced his existence with cold logic and a lifetime of training.  In unraveling countless skeins, he has become an expert of seeing what fits and what does not fit—and something does not fit.  There is a being within this tangle—one that creates more tangles upon tangles, and hides itself, and feasts silently and invisibly upon his London.  There is a monster at work, a parasite within the colourless threads of life.  It attacks the chain of life he has identified early on in his Book.

“For years I have endeavored to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarty of mathematical celebrity. … He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city.  He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker.  He has a brain of the first order.’

The Final Problem

Holmes has spent his life trying to find out if there is a bedrock of reason behind the crimes he studies.  He has his drop of water in the red thread of crime:  where is the Atlantic, the source on the other side of the drop?  He is not the first nor will he be the last man who makes a study of flaws in order to understand perfection, but there is a difference in his approach.  There may be a smarter man than Holmes—what of it?  There may be more spontaneous brains that think where he cannot.  But he has the energy, the drive, and the focus to find this truth.  One can imply from his words that Moriarty’s motionless state of being is contemptible to the younger man.  Truth will not come to the seeker—the seeker must go forth and meet it.  Only this drive combined with his legendary energy could unspin the ultimate spider from his cocoon:  Professor Moriarty.

 “’Are you aware, Watson, there is no one who knows the higher criminal world of London so well as I do.  For years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organising power which forever stands in the way of the law, and throws its shield over the wrongdoer.’[9]

Holmes does not imply that Moriarty is the one cause of all the darkness beneath these skeins—but he is the most powerful and dangerous because he is unseen.

“’Aye, there’s the genius and the wonder of the thing!’ he cried. ‘The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That’s what puts him on a pinnacle in the records of crime.  I tell you, Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career had reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line of life. … But I could not rest, Watson, I could not sit quiet in my chair, if I thought that such a man as Professor Moriarty were walking the streets of London unchallenged.’”[10]

Holmes really has no choice but to unravel and expose this hideous mutation that takes the colourless skein of life and dyes it red with the blood of his crimes. It is his duty, the duty he speaks of in A Study in Scarlet.  Of all the minds he has met, only the Professor has shown himself to be like the Great Detective.  They see and cipher along similar lines in method, but the fires of motive are sorely different.

Moriarty is self-woven within the skein of London, making the countless strands work his will.  He is a mathematician and threads are his natural realm.  His brain is uniquely suited for shifting the threads of fates:  Threads and arithmetic are inextricably bound to each other and have been since we added string to our list of tools.  Incans make a sophisticated calculator with knotted string.  The Abacus is no more than a string and ball evolution from our own fingers, and thread, which is carefully twisted matter, is the ancestor for the mathematical instrument that changed our world forever: The screw.[11]  His spider’s web of Holmes’ mental comparison is a geometric string graph of London with many lines and point interconnecting within each other, a deadly cat’s-cradle of cause and effect.

Yet we overlook these beautifully explanatory works of mental architecture. String was not a respected vector for problem-solving in Holmes’ world.  The vaunted minds of his day were looking forward and away instead of behind and below.  String games are catalouged as cultural amusement of…lesser races and games of the poor—charming but outmoded facets of ‘primitive cultures’, like wearing paint and tattoos, or the poverty-stricken immigrant with charms around his neck.  String is useful, but embarrassingly outmoded.  There are other, more scientifically respectable things to look at.

A being of Moriarty’s cold intellectual power sees no logic in dismissing the usefulness of string.  Moriarty the Logician would not dismiss string as childish and immature.  If anything, the obscure knowledge is more useful to him because his prey has chosen to be blind to it! What a delightful camouflage for his brain!

And Moriarty as much confesses that he likes to play as much as anyone:

“It has been an intellectual treat to me to see the way in which you have grappled with this affair, and I say, unaffectedly, that it would be a grief to me to be forced to take any extreme measure. You smile, sir, abut I assure you that it really would.”

The Final Problem

Moriarty could choose to be satisfied with his earnings and book sales.  But like Holmes, basic gratification is inadequate.  Holmes understands the burn that goes past the mark of mere gratification, but while he is a devotee of Tekmor, Moriarty serves a far more fearsome god:  Mammon.


Mammon originally meant ‘material wealth’ but as our concepts changed, so did the meaning.  We needed a word to describe the ultimately self-defeating clutch that collects material gain far beyond our need for security.  Mammon is now a pejorative for greed.  And Moriarty has ably demonstrated he is all about materially rewarding himself for his intellectual challenges.  He is the Napoleon of Crime, and his coffers are filled to bursting.

Where Sherlock Holmes sees it his responsibility to unravel the scarlet threads of murder and expose them, Moriarty takes this shared gift of observance and makes something truly awful:  He puts the scarlet threads to work for him, twists his own, and burrows deep into the heart of this life-web, feeding quietly and invisibly as a virus.  He is a spider indeed, an Orbweaver who spins his own world of traps and pitfalls.  Just by living he has proven himself a supreme predator.  Who sees the spider, after all?  We rarely see one without the web but can we see a spider who spins a truly invisible web?

In The Valley of Fear Holmes makes a freezing summary: “Of course I have other reasons for thinking so — dozens of exiguous threads which lead vaguely up towards the centre of the web where the poisonous, motionless creature is lurking.”  Charles Augustus Milverton is a wicked, flat-faced reptile; Stapleton is a lean-jawed pike. It is only with Moriarty that Holmes reserves the coldest of assessments.  His side to side way of looking about, and his careful, deliberate way of moving is a being living within pure calculation.  He is a spider in the shape of a man, stepping lightly and delicately across a filamentous web, careful not to be trapped but ensuring the capture of others.  Holmes is shaken when this unnatural creature comes to visit!  A predator has left his territory and coolly gone a-hunting.

Intellectually, Moriarty has good reasons for going to Holmes.  It is not the expected thing to do, and one must never be predictable to one’s enemy!  Also, this allows him a moment to see what his minions cannot.  There is also the slightest off-chance that he can bow Holmes to his will, and psychologically, an attacker often gets good results when going against someone in their own home:  concession is achievable when speaking in a calm, reasonable manner and the prey in question realizes they are here to be reasonable—not instantly swallow them whole.

But Holmes stands fast after the pleasantries, and does not change.  Moriarty has admitted to enjoying the stimulation of the game, as Holmes, but all good things must come to an end.

“He rose also and looked at me in silence, shaking his head sadly.  “‘Well, well,’ said he, at last. ‘It seems a pity, but I have done what I could. I know every move of your game.

–The Final Problem

Moriarty is a delightfully realistic and believable spider.  His string puzzles are mathematical and advantageous.  Unlike Holmes, who actively responds to the faintest quivering of the web, the Professor has set the web up to do the dirty work for him while he sits passive.  He symbolizes all that is wrong with the world when injustice gets away and walks off to spawn more injustice.  We can see his precedent in the hapless Arachne, who thought to place herself as a greater weaver than Athena, the goddess of Destiny’s threads.  While many people tout this story as a triumph of the underdog against the establishment, the original tale is far more deadly.  Arachne’s gift was from Athena herself but refused to admit it.  Her actions were motivated by vanity and material gain, not the betterment of her people.  Thus for her gains she broke the cardinal laws: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.  In declaring herself greater than the Spinner Goddess was to insult the laws that held up the Universe.  For this she was condemned, gifts and all, into the form of a spider where she could at least do some good.

The Norse trickster Loki would not be out of place with Moriarty.  A slippery, self-serving character who lives off the benefice of the gods, Loki first invented the net as he was on the run for murder.  Sensing they were about to catch him, Loki burnt his fishnet and hid in the shape of a salmon.  But the gods saw the net’s pattern in the ashes and from the ghostly traces learnt to make their own—catching the murderer at last and sentencing him to divine justice.  Moriarty is Loki in that he makes tangles (the net weave) operate for his own benefit…and Holmes is the perfect pursuer to riddle out the purpose of the net in the smoking ashes.[12]  Loki’s ultimate fate is to be bound by entrails twisted into cords—a grisly “Chain of Life” that symbolises the natural order of things (Life) has forced him back from his role as an Outlaw into the realm of Natural Law.[13]

It is an interesting note that in England spiders are historically held in a benign light.  The peasantry of Holmes’ time would not damage a spider or its web out of respect for the fact that a spider allegedly spun a web over the Christ Child and protected him from all the dangers around him—a type of Dream Catcher for encroaching threats.  In Kent goes the proverb that ‘if one must thrive, let spiders run alive.’[14]   One would do well to let the spider that is Sherlock Holmes live.  He may not refer to himself as an arachnid, but he casts his nets about the guilty and drags them to his reach!  And why not?  String puzzles, which are emblematic of humanity in so many ways, are traps, snares, and seizing nets when drawn tight.  As long as the cords are loose all is well.  But to trigger the cords is to activate them to their true purpose:  The trap springs; the spider moves.

Like an orbweaver, Moriarty wears the bright colours of respectability.  He is a pleasant scholarly mentor.  His public web is clean of victims, neatly tidied away so as not to offend our eyes.  We see him right there, out in the open, as obvious and harmless to us as a cheerfully brilliant yellow and black garden spider suspended on his web in the sun.  This spider weaves threads visible to the human eye so that we won’t be so rude as to blunder through his pretty strands and spoil everything.  It would be a pity, really.  All that hard work and dedication in his craft destroyed by a meddler and a bumbler. Tch.  And this is how he initially sees that upstart, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and that is what his epic meeting with the younger man means:

“You must stand clear, Mr. Holmes, or be trodden underfoot.”

The Final Problem

We can almost forgive him his error, for haven’t lesser minds made the same mistake about Mr. Sherlock Holmes the meddler, Holmes the busybody, Holmes the Scotland Yard jack-in-office?   Although Holmes has severely warned Watson against openly verbalizing the fact of Moriarty’s criminal position due to the man’s sheer untouchability, Holmes does not take his own advice.  And we ought to have known that because of what Holmes has said of another corrupt spider:

“I think that there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge.”

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

Holmes has spent his entire life hunting down the proof that there is a Moriarty within the string map of London.  He will not back down now—the stakes are too high.  This is why when it comes down to it the only real predator of a spider is another spider, and Holmes is a magnificent one!  If Moriarty is an orb-weaver, Holmes is the cave orb-weaver, a spider who not only spins a web, but also leaves that web to go hunting.  Unlike Moriarty, he is a hunting hybrid who casts his net and goes out and seeks his prey rather than passively allow his quarry to come to their doom in his grip.


And why?  Here is where we return to the word crime, as we promised long ago.  Crime is something that does not escape Sherlock Holmes because of a single, succinct and bloodlessly devastating definition, best outlined by the Oxford English Dictionary:

1: An action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and ispunishable by law:

2: An action or activity that, although not illegal, is considered to be evilshameful, or wrong.

Did not Holmes warn Watson of the dangers of going up against Moriarty, who despite his horrific actions remained respectable, above law, separate from consequence and clad in comforts?  In the heart of the murky matter, Holmes proves the great heart that beats behind that great intellect—greater even than the proofs his friend witnessed in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs: “It was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain.”

Sherlock Holmes is a true devotee of Tekmor.  To a man so precise in his language, the word crime must be used in complete accuracy. Holmes is capable of great feeling—but for him his work is all because his work is the means by which he can accomplish the greatest good—to restore the oldest imbalance and uproot crime at its source.  If the knot proves Gordian, rest assured that Holmes will slice through it to expose Moriarty’s corrupted threads.

Entire books have been written on the polarised natures of Sherlock Holmes and the Professor, but this essay will not stand on the shoulders of those giants.  In closing, we may suggest that among the handful of women in his life that left their mark, it was an ancient Greek Goddess who made hers the lasting one.  We can sincerely say that if there is truth in the Chinese belief that a red string of fate binds each person to their properly destined soulmate, the soulmate of Sherlock Holmes would be Tekmor, Goddess of Proof and Evidence.  He stands for everything Tekmor is:  The exposure of the truth, and the true length of the thread of life.  He does all of this despite the conundrums of his great enemy, Mammon’s invisible Moriarty.

They make for bitter rivals, the Professor who hides in and creates tangles, and the Great Detective who unravels and exposes them.  Moriarty and Holmes.  Mammon…and Tekmor.  Two figures, playing the oldest mind-games of our race:  That of life, and string, and destiny.  They can exist side by side so long as both are unable to touch each other.  Moriarty is the Hidden Ugliness of Humanity, but Sherlock Holmes is its bright beacon, and its ability and desire to solve the obstacles within life.  No matter how complicated or simple their games are, they are still patterns of string, gathered in one hand and manipulated by the other…

…and with a single, decisive movement of the winner, the string puzzle stops being a puzzle…and becomes a net closed around his foe.

[Above]: A Scarlet Thread of Murder, by Spirit Level, the artistic signature of the author Marcia Wilson.  All copyrights apply.

[1] Kennedy, Maev.  “Sherlock Holmes Exhibition Reveals Conan Doyle’s First Plots for Hero Sleuth” October 16, 2014 online article

[2] Davies, David Stuart.  “The Tangled Skein”, June 10, 2006 Bibliophile Books, 2006 Ed., ©Wordsworth Editions Ltd. 2006Audiobook, Big Finish, Release Date January 2012 online page

[3] Release Date 2015, MX Publishers;

[4] Once by Inspector Lestrade and a murderess; twice by Watson; Holmes 10 times.

[5] Oxford Online Dictionary

[6] Genesis 4:9-16 Complete Jewish Bible

[7] A Study in Scarlet

[8] Ibid

[9] The Final Problem

[10] Ibid.

[11] This is why we refer to the spiral of the screw as the ‘threads’ of the screw.

[12] In Hound of the Baskervilles, the word ‘net’ is written 14 times by Watson to 1) describe invisible nets closing around Sir Henry; 2) in description of Stapleton whom is rarely without his ‘poisoned net’ and 3) by quoting Holmes who refers to Stapleton as a ‘lean-jawed pike’ in want of being caught in his nets.

[13]Chain’s possible origin is in’PIE root *kat– “to twist, twine” (cognates: Latin cassis “hunting net, snare”).’

[14] Henderson, William.  Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, 1879; The Folk-Lore Society


The Case of the Silent Girl: A Dark Sherlock Holmes Story

Warning: Adult themes of same-sex relationships, bullying, sexual, physical, mental and emotional abuse, cultural abuse, incest, suicide, murder.

First of all, I have some damn good reasons for recommending this.

Stella is the cover artist for my three books:  YOU BUY BONES, TEST OF THE PROFESSIONALS (series in progress, Part 1 due in December), and THE MOON-CURSERS. If you can find someone with more talent and dedication to her craft, file them under “Lightning Strikes Twice.” You can find her work spread all over the globe; she’s that good. I’m very lucky she’s here for me.

Plot Summary:

This is the Hiatus between Sherlock Holmes’ staged death and his return. Dr. Watson is recently widowed, openly grieving, and looking for purpose in his rudderless life. Lestrade asks his help on a case in the country: A missing heiress, a properly worried father; a grieving mother and a matriarch who seems not to care.  The Silent Girl is a labor of love, intelligent, and full of horror. Stella’s skill with shade makes for a rich atmosphere with her unique style, which blends organic forms with antiquities.

This is actually the second printing of TSG, because the first was fast-sold out and inspired a new go.  Anyone who has seen the pages on cannot possibly be surprised at the popularity. As before, you can buy your own copy by contacting Stella:

Why You Should Buy This:

Holmesian characters in a same-sex relationship is not a new thing.  In fact, there were many years where if you wanted to read anything about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the slash websites were the only place to go. We can offer up several ingredients for this situation (see bottom of page). What Stella does with The Silent Girl is acknowledge one of the tired old bugbears of slash fiction: That women characters are under-represented and little thought-of even though the majority of the slash writers are female or genderqueer (someone whose gender does not fit within society norms). She pulls this out of its closet and sticks it in the middle of the room. She turns the whole thing on its head by making the story all about The Silent Girl.  But which Silent Girl?  There are two–perhaps three if we look very hard–and their names are variations of the same: Charlotte and Lottie, which means “free man” in the feminine form.  Their ghastly stories and attempts to be free are hidden (or sheltered) by silence. One is freed by death and knowingly framing an innocent for her suicide. The other’s escape is far more ambiguous but ultimately hopeful.

This is all the more poignant and gut-wrenching because one of the long-entrenched motives for females writing M/M slash is because they feel safe. See Lady Geek Girl’s link at the bottom. There is a reason, folks, why only 10% of the writers on put their gender in their profiles!  See the article here. Misogyny and trolling takes its toll.

The three criminals are Apex Parasites. They move within the realm of respectability and wealth. They are admired for their status and feared for their power. They’ve lived on the peak for so long that humanity is for lesser beings, and they are not restricted to gender or age. All three are predators unique to their territories, all are terrifying. Watson and Lestrade have to find the layered truths of the crime individually and as a team–and each have to decide if the knowledge will strengthen or break them. They risk physical death and the deaths of their careers with exposure, and if they demonstrate too much emotion on the crimes around them they will be exposed. Singular nobility doesn’t work in this “Real World”, where a man cannot be brought down for his sexual deviancy all by himself. The courts and society’s paranoid hypocrisy are designed to bring down everyone around him. I say “man” because women are uncharacteristically safe from the Crimes Against the Persons Act, for Queen Victoria refused to believe lesbianism existed. Solving the crime means deciding how far one may take the law into one’s own hands. Hint: Stella used my creation of Lestrade as a Breton, and one does not lightly pick on Bretons. They don’t believe in the same Afterlife as you. Their Afterlife is all about Accountability.

The only one who can successfully fight the Apex Parasites is Mycroft Holmes, who could be every bit as devilish as they, but is not.  He is bone-lazy but not self-indulgent. It is a delicious bit of plot-twisting that while he can see and influence all the events around him, no one knows of his true powers–one gets the impression that Stella’s Mycroft would be bored at the notion of reaching out and taking what he wanted from people.

Mycroft’s own ability to manipulate the public’s fixed notions on gender is a true delight. If you like the idea of a victim turning the tables on a bully, you have definitely come to the right place. He is watching over both Watson and Lestrade, but from afar.  They have no idea he is prepared to protect them both, for knowledge of his umbrella would not only betray his secrecy, it would endanger their free will.

On the surface level, the most controversial element seems to be in centering the story around two of the main characters (Dr. Watson and Lestrade) in the traditional SH Canon and how they develop into a same-sex relationship.

But it isn’t.

It is all about gender, what it means in one’s relationships and career, personal identity and self-awareness is all interlaced in the pages.Is X a transvestite or a closet homosexual? Is X a common deviant or bi? Is power the motivation for the rapist?  It is fitting that Stella drew much inspiration from the Granada TV series, as it was the first one to openly explore gender identity’s relationship with society (and crime).  Jeremy Brett’s bisexuality was not an element of the show, but we recall his subtle compassion to those who fell victim to the Great Blackmailer’s larcenous abuse of gender expression. I remember seeing a few reactions to people who backed out of reading TSG online when they realized it could be one of ‘those stories’. Likewise, there are plenty of people who read and enjoyed the online pages, but they’ll hesitate to buy it or endorse it.

Which makes TSG great because honestly, there aren’t enough books out there to remind the reader that it is all about gender 90% of the time. Honestly, what they are isn’t the boldest bit about the story; it is what their world is.  She hits us right in the conventionals.

I have no idea if Stella intended this multi-layered attack on social conventions, but it would be just like her. There are those who do their research…and then there is Stella. English is not her first language and she works very hard to make herself clear and concise in dialog, with the auxiliary language of art running with the words. Once you stop being hypnotized by her compelling artwork you are left saddened and angry at the big ball of injustices, and you’re angry in a way that makes you want to DO something–

–and all you have to do is just be accepting of another’s gender.  That’s it.

This is also one of the few cases where a book doesn’t have the cliche’d ending.  For her, the TSG’s ‘closure’ is ensuring the story has moved forward, allowing the players to keep on going, unaware of the changes we see coming.

In closing, I’d like to offer one more link by Jarrah Hodges’ Fanfiction and Feminism:

“Fanfiction should be taken a bit more seriously.”

This may not be your thing.  But you could buy it and give it to someone who would draw strength and inspiration from it. I did.

Read the page (short but sweet) here. And again, email Stella for pricing here:


Some known factors in non-binary fan fiction:

  • The unquestioned dearth of well-crafted new adventures on the shelf (which may be facing a sea-change thanks to small companies like MX Publishing and Mocha Memoirs). For the first time in SH History, we are beginning to get a supermarket’s worth of new fiction that supports new writers.
  • Fan fiction writers were absolutely terrified at the witch-hunts enacted by writers such as Anne Rice, who weren’t satisfied to just tell fan writers to cease with legal action; some were harassed and trolled and infiltrated, and the line between ‘prosecuted’ cross over into ‘persecuted’ without clear lines of behavior. Many writers were young and exploring their own gender identity; in the forums they had a chance of meeting older, more experienced people who ‘spoke their language’ and found some all-too-rare non-judgmental camaraderie.
  • Overlooking 50 Shades of Gack, fan fiction was where a writer could develop their style and accept well-meaning criticism and reviews.  Sherlock Holmes was for a long time staffed by some of the most polite, considerate, and knowledgeable readers out there, and there was a global base. There was very little abuse compared to what else was out there. (The disturbing rise in non-com is a tale for another day).
  • Gender issues and emotionally identifying with written characters is far more sensitive a topic than you may think.  Take a look at Lady Geek Girl’s post, “Why Is There So Much Slash Fic?: Some Analysis of the AO3 Census” for some perspective.




Published in: on August 27, 2016 at 6:43 am  Leave a Comment  


Normally I don’t voluntarily advertise a product, but this pet grooming brush is something special. We may as well throw out all the others in the house. They are no longer acceptable to the cats. Not only does this beast pull up every imaginable scrap of loose fur, fiber, dirt and dander from our cats (even the bushy thick ones), it makes them purr uncontrollably. They flop down, bare their bellies, and roll over to make sure we give them fair treatment all over. The first two days we had it, Cat #1 meowed at us when we paused brushing, and #2 followed us around for constant treatment.
Published in: on August 4, 2016 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Getting to Know David Marcum

Geri Schear

Author Picture Author David Marcum

I have a confession to make. I adore David Marcum. I love his style of writing and the gentle respect he shows for his fellow writers. His stories are among my favourites, not only of Sherlock Holmes tales, but of short fiction of any sort. (As an editor, he’d probably scold me for having three ‘ofs’ in that sentence, but he’d be very kind about it.) I hope when he makes his next pilgrimage to the UK he’ll stop off in Ireland. I’ll have the kettle on.

Hi, David. Tell us about yourself and the types of books you write.

First of all, thank for providing this opportunity!

I live in eastern Tennessee with my wife and son. After my first college degree (at normal college age), I became a Federal Investigator with an obscure U.S. Government agency. When that agency was shut down and eliminated, I…

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Published in: on May 5, 2016 at 5:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Review: The Case of the Rondel Dagger by Mark Mower

It is always a joy when the reader gets to learn something (in a respectful way) about a chapter in history.  Mr. Mowers is an established historian of crime and we are treated to his original character, Mr. Mickleburgh who may possibly reflect an aspect of the author’s voice.  The Rondel Dagger of the title is the linchpin clue brought to this humble expert of ancient weapons by a young Sherlock Holmes. We enjoy his voice, which is markedly different from Watson, but equally good.  He simply sees things in a different way and traces of an avuncular admiration tinge this (sigh) short story.

1880 shows us the meeting of these two men, both masters at their field regardless of the disparity in ages. Mr. Mickleburgh is entrenched, respected, and largely invisible to the world but Holmes is already rising in what he calls his “financially precarious vocation.” The conversation between the men flows easily; they both like each others’ company and we enjoy watching them puzzle out the matter of a brutal murder in which a rondel dagger is significant piece.

Without giving away the plot (sometimes avoiding spoilers is just agony), the two men discover that the Dagger is a relic of a personal piece of history for a group of “gay blades” and one fond story leads to less fond one; the deeper the men go the darker the stories until a well-concealed fact is finally brought to light.

I rate this one of the best of the book!


Review: The Adventure of the Missing Necklace by Daniel D. Victor

The fourth offering to the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Vol. IV: 2016 Annual. One of my favorites and you are about to see why.

When I was much, much younger, I shared a love of reading with a dear friend who sadly passed away a few years ago.

I am convinced that from beyond the grave that Ree is dancing with glee, clapping her hands, and chortling with the joy Mr. Victor brought us for this adventure, and–icing on the cake–used Sherlock Holmes, one of her heroes–to do it.

Because this Adventure yanks out Guy de Maupassant’s infamous tale of “the Diamond Necklace,” and throws it to the ground, and gives us a much better story.

I can’t stress this enough.  “The Diamond Necklace” gave a lot of high schoolers (all girls) flipping nightmares.  It really did.  It upset us, scared us, made us furious and worst of all, made us feel impotent against society and injustice.  It made us feel like we belonged to a different subspecies, that women and their vanities made things worse instead of better.  It didn’t matter that I was a child of a comfortable middle class and Ree often went hungry. She knew what the wages of poverty and politics meant more than most adults. It didn’t break her, but it gave her an almost supernatural ability to see past the false fronts people erected in order to look “good” whatever that meant.

(Or as we sourly wondered, Did Mrs. Forrester never notice her glass necklace was replaced by diamonds? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to hire a detective to find the necklace? Did no one notice the couple dropped out of sight to work this thing off?)

We spoke of this story once, and never again.  It was too hard to talk about. But we remembered it.

Mr. Victor gives us the true story from the thoughtful eye of Sherlock Holmes, who makes no bones about his feelings for  de Maupassant.  Worse than being a mere ‘scrivener’ is the fellow’s willingness to bend and twist truthful events into something more ‘appropriate’ to his tastes.

We can relish Watson in his absence, for it is clear that Watson finds all of Holmes’ mental workings fascinating and worthy; with de Maupassant Holmes has to find an experience worthy of his attention–and Holmes has it: A dull grey bowler left in a peculiar place.  Noting the clues and the out-of-placeness of the hat, Holmes follows a thin trail to a surprising story and helps a young couple in unexpected ways.  The slow twists of this short story are a delight because we can “see” Holmes in his quiet narration with an interesting little story. Tracking a man from his hat-size is a fresh and delightful method of crime-solving, and his patient work shows just how much Holmes loves to learn about the world around him–and because he does, we appreciate the complexities of the world around us.  And with a hard-edged anger we understand his gun-shy distaste for fictionalizing the clean, cool workings of his mind.  Such workings have invaded his privacy and betrayed his ethics in ways that are difficult to express.

In a book of gems this one stands out–no glass, no paste.  This is a real treasure. Reading it lifted a terrible weight off my shoulders–a weight that has been there since 1989. I can only think that Ree and I weren’t the only ones bitterly affected by that story.  Thank you, Mr. Victor. What a satisfying conclusion!



Review: The Mystery of the Turkish Cipher by Deanna Baran

Deanna Baran has beaten me to the punch.

I’m a fanatic about honey, and quietly stockpile single-cut honey from all over the world because I too, believe in medicinal properties of honey taken from specific plants (and the flavors?  Don’t get me started on the flavors!!).  My official state’s flower is known for its infamous properties for specific effects which makes me leery of assuming anyone else’s honey is “a-ok.”

But it was only a temporary disappointment that Ms. Baran has written something I’ve toyed with; she does an incredible job of bringing out a lovely story.  The trick to a straightforward mystery is keeping its identity a secret until the very end.

In an era where open lines of communication were the norm, ciphered messages, letters and telegraph wires were rampant. Holmes enjoys ciphers and the way they hide the obvious.  His method of walking Watson through his demonstration of how he cracked the code of his client’s correspondence is true to form, for Holmes can be his most charming and reachable when he is showing another a new method of problem-solving. He loves learning, and we suspect he likes to give others the tools they need to learn for themselves.

Geeks can enjoy the long, gnarled threads of history, science, social politics, society’s norms, botany, and even aggravating family bonds in this smoothly written and all-too short short story.  I enjoyed every word.

We are quite lucky that David Marcum managed to pull this writer into the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories.  I will be watching for this name in the future.


Review: The Tale of the First Adventure by Derrick Belanger

This is the fourth book of David Marcum’s editorial masterpiece, The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part IV: 2016 Annual.  You may purchase your copy directly from MX (which increases your charity donation to the Undershaw Preservation Trust), or find it on

Derrick Belanger is a relative newcomer to the pastiche and his energy is compensating for lost time.  What we have here is one of the rarer types of tale: a blend of personal recollection into Holmes’ past (such as in MUSG), and Watson encountering this unexpected part of Holmes’ history in his professional field.

And this makes sense.  London is a big city, but as they say of Grand Central Station in New York:  “If you stay here long enough, you’ll see everyone you’ve ever known.”  We just don’t see many examples of Holmes and Watson’s lives professionally criss-crossing as they must have done.

Avoiding spoilers means I have to be restrained in details, but the plot is a realistically-conceived case of hidden identity, and a young Holmes learns a never-forgotten lesson on how much to tell one’s client…and how much to keep to oneself.  It ends on an “open note” so we make hope Mr. Belanger will have a second story where Holmes can meet resolution with the other parties of his case…and Watson segues it all into writing one of the most famous cases in the canon.

Want to read more  Derrick Belanger’s work can be found HERE! Do check out his freshly-funded Kickstarter project, BEYOND WATSON.