Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome Barry S. Brown, whose second mystery to feature Sherlock Holmes's landlady, Mrs. Hudson and the Irish Invincibles (Sunstone Press, May 2011 Trade Paperback, 978-0-86534-819-6), has just been published.
Today Barry asks us, how much do we really know about Mrs. Hudson?
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It is 1881. Victoria rules the British Empire while the domains of nearly all other women extend only to the limits of their kitchens. To make her way in a world that extends beyond cooking and cleaning, a woman needs extraordinary skills and a fool-proof plan. Mrs. Hudson possesses both.
For 29 years she and her "uncommon common constable" husband, Tobias Hudson, spent evenings together planning the steps needed to solve the most complex crime they could find in that day’s news. Days she went to the Reading Room of the British Museum to request such works as Rokitansky’s Treatise of Pathological Anatomy from clerks who scoured the paper the next day for news of a horrendous crime perpetrated by the stub of a woman they had served the day before. All the while she honed skills at inferring mood and background from observation of the behavior and characteristics of people she met or simply passed on the street. When Tobias died she was prepared to open the first of its kind consulting detective agency as tribute to him and to fill the hours made empty by his death. And that was where her fool-proof plan came into play.
Employing the lodgings she and Tobias had leased years before, she advertised "rooms to let, good location, applicant should possess an inquiring mind and a curiosity about human behavior." Of the applicants she interviewed, a tall slender chemist appeared the best of the lot. Sherlock Holmes had a high forehead suggesting intellect and a haughty self-assurance she believed would encourage the confidence of others. He claimed skills in boxing and fencing and, while she doubted there would be a significant role for swordplay, she thought the ability to mix with the toughs they would inevitably encounter could prove useful. Importantly, he brought with him the level-headed Dr. John Watson to whom Mrs. Hudson took immediately.
Knowing these events, and convinced therefore that the great lady had been done irreparable harm by Watson’s accounts, I set forth to re-write and to right the record of Mrs. Hudson’s achievements. The result of those labors was The Unpleasantness at Parkerton Manor, published about a year ago by Sunstone Press.
However, there was a surprise to come after being published and the month-long bacchanal following that event. I discovered to my dismay there was a virtual army of those still writing and still claiming Sherlock Holmes to be the sage of 221B. I had, of course, known of Laurie King, but assumed that Ms. King would move gracefully aside as Mrs. Hudson came on the scene. (To date Ms. King hasn’t seen fit to budge.) Quite simply, I had no idea of all the other writers comfortably enmeshed in 19th and early 20th century London and eager to lead Holmes and Watson yet again through its streets and alleys before returning them in triumph to their sitting room in Baker Street for a quiet pipe or two. Stunned by the crowd of true believers surrounding me, I took comfort from the words of the reviewer for The District Messenger, Newsletter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, who reported that I "was the first to suggest that [Mrs. Hudson] was the true detective genius at 221B Baker Street," and further describing her as "a likeable character, ... and disconcertingly credible." The reviewer goes on to describe the adventures I recount as "a gloriously complex and improbable scenario" no doubt inserting the word "improbable" to placate the inevitable diehards who refuse to relinquish their view of Sherlock Holmes.
Nonetheless, I was sufficiently heartened to write a second Mrs. Hudson, the recently published Mrs. Hudson and the Irish Invincibles, leading my publisher to declare the two books the Mrs. Hudson of Baker Street mystery series while others have described them as two books. As in the first of the two, historical characters and events are woven into the story to assure the reader of the accuracy of my reporting.
And so I remain adamant that Mrs. Hudson be given her due, allowing others to champion the investigative skills of the young Holmes and the old Holmes, and of the single Holmes and the married Holmes. We are joined only in paying equal tribute to the country doctor who sold all rights to his first book, A Study in Scarlet, for £25 and received that only after suffering the rejections of the numerous publishers certain that his work would never find a readership.
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When not busy unmasking Sherlock Holmes, Barry S. Brown is engaged in research into social problems in a career that has led to work in mental hospitals, prisons, and drug abuse treatment agencies. He has published two books of non-fiction and more than 100 papers and chapters based on that work. He now lives with his wife, Ann, in North Carolina, a safe distance from the mayhem of Victorian London.
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About Mrs. Hudson and the Irish Invincibles: When Moira Keegan tries to recruit Sherlock Holmes to save her father's life, Holmes, Watson and Mrs. Hudson do their best to convince the 12-year old that she has misunderstood her father's situation. When, a short time later, they read that Moira's father was found dead in a sleazy waterfront inn, the members of London's premier consulting detective agency have a new client and a singular purpose. In this, the second in the Mrs. Hudson of Baker Street series, the part-time housekeeper and full-time sage of 221B will lead her colleagues in a quest for justice that will put them at odds with Scotland Yard, Irish revolutionaries, religious zealots, and even the London Times. Before Mrs. Hudson can bring everything to right she will need to enlist the assistance of Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and his mistress Katharine O'Shea.
Mrs. Hudson and the Irish Invincibles is available as a Trade Paperback.