A game is afoot in the Sherlock Holmes universe – and it’s every bit as wicked and deadly as you’d hope.
Sam Christer is the latest author to soak his bones in the deliciously rich world of the World’s Greatest Detective in his new thriller The House Of Smoke. But this time his protagonist, cold-blooded killer Simeon Lynch, is playing for Team Moriarty!
As Big Ben chimes in the first seconds of 1900 and the start of a new century, preparations are afoot inside Newgate gaol to hang Lynch, England’s deadliest assassin, who’s has spent two decades in the employ of the House of Moriarty – the world’s most feared criminal enterprise. Facing the noose, Simeon reflects on his life, remembering his upbringing as an orphan in the workhouse and how he first joined the employ of Professor Brogan Moriarty.
Then Holmes, his employer’s greatest nemesis, approaches him with a deal – to turn Queen’s Evidence against Moriarty and his brother James in exchange for his freedom. Simeon refuses, but the offer makes him all the more determined to escape the noose, and to seek revenge on those who wronged him.
But the law isn’t alone in wanting him dead. Over the course of a life filled with murder and brutality, Simeon has made enemies, some of whom may be closer than he realises…
Christer, who also writes as Jon Trace and Michael Morley, is the best-selling author of The Camelot Code, The Turin Shroud Secret and The Stonehenge Legacy, which have been published in thirty-six countries around the world.
In this fascinating Intel interview, Christer – a director of commercials, as well as an author – talks about his love of research, about his discovery of an even more malevolent and wicked Moriarty brother, and how he couldn’t resist a detour into the sinister world of Victorian London…
Tell us about Simeon Lynch…
Lynch is very much a product of his time. Born with nothing, he grows up with nothing and becomes a young man with nothing to lose – but his life. The Victorian age was a desperate epoch. One in which if you had no money, no family, no mentors you inevitably became down-trodden, ground under the polished boots of the well-heeled and privileged classes. Initially, Lynch is swept along by circumstances and the cruelties of fate.
Then an event happens that changes his life. One that empowers and embitters him in equal measures. Hopefully, people will have some sympathy with him as well as detest the person he becomes. He is a highly conflicted individual, and this is most evident as he rots reflectively in jail, counting down the days to his execution at Newgate. It’s at this point that he, and we, see not only who he is, but also who he might have been.
It turns out that James Moriarty – one of the most-iconic villains in literatures – also has a smarter brother…
Not only smarter. I always struggled with the idea that James Moriarty, and he alone, headed up this amazingly cruel and complex criminal network that Holmes spoke fearfully of. Hence my invention of Brogan. A character very different to his brother. James was always cast as brilliant, very Alpha Male, a physical and mental match for Holmes and the best detectives in the world. I wanted Brogan to be more driven, more motivated, more malicious. I wanted him to demonstrate more reason to be wicked, more resolve to be brilliant in his wickedness.
What is it about the Sherlock Holmes universe that makes it such a rich source of inspiration for authors?
It is not just the Holmes universe; it is the Victorian universe. This was a period of amazing change and fascinating architects of that change. The century started with horses and ploughs, leeches and candlelight and it finished with trains, electricity, gas, motor cars and massive leaps in medicine. Setting a novel against such a rich backdrop is an irresistible lure. The language of the characters, the voices that you can put into their mouths, the thoughts you can have stir in their brains is also fascinatingly different than contemporary fiction.
Class played an immense part. Media was limited to newspapers, periodicals and the chatter of tongues. Aspirations were simpler and more personal. Then yes, of course there is Holmes himself, a character so powerful than even in cameo appearances he captures the audience and dominates the scene. I thought Anthony Horowitz did an amazing job putting believable words in his mouth and I think that partly inspired me to have him brush shoulders and shape the fortunes of some of the cast of House of Smoke.
As an author you’re well known for your conspiracy thrillers – what made you detour through Victorian London?
A love of both the time and the city. A chance to dramatically romance a great age and I suppose create a different kind of conspiracy novel, one in which the conspirators are both social evils and human manipulators of those evils. Workhouses, prisons and executions were as much opportunities for exploitation as well as pillars of this harsh society and of course the people in charge of them made for fascinatingly flawed characters.
One of the joys of researching this book was walking the locations, reading the historic blue plates on the outside of houses and buildings and then sitting in the magnificent British Library and digging into the history and people of the time.
How did you start writing?
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
Good marketing is infinitely more effective than great writing.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
Martin Amis for the intoxication of his language. Stephen King for his ability to make me check under the bed and never walk near a storm drain. James Patterson for his simplicity of plotting and ruthlessness of marketing. Dr. Seuss for helping me spread the love of reading to my children.
Give me some advice about writing…
Don’t do it unless you love it. If you love it, keep doing it.
What’s next for you?
My first book is currently being adapted for television in the US and I am very happily involved in the development process. I am also busy working with a UK production company on a TV adaption of another novel. I am just in the middle of directing some commercials for Euro 16 and after that, I hope to be lucky enough to write another thriller.
The House of Smoke by Sam Christer is published by Sphere, price £7.99 in paperback original.