The manuscripts arrived at my house a fortnight later, and I unsealed the package straight away and got to reading. The paper was yellowed and brittle, the text faint in places yet still perfectly legible.
The contents were, to put it mildly, remarkable.
I’m not going to say much further. The books should speak for themselves. I’ve had the paper checked by an expert, who tells me that the watermark and the high rag content denote that it is exactly the sort of bonded foolscap which someone in the 1920s might have used. Another expert confirms that the typewriter employed is an Imperial Model 50, judging by the font, the width of the carriage and the strike depth of the characters. That particular make was popular in Britain between the wars, which is when Watson, according to his foreword, wrote the books. In other words, on the face of it the manuscripts seem to be the real deal.
At the same time, I can’t help wondering if they’re a monstrous hoax (and I use the adjective advisedly). Reams of the right paper and a typewriter of suitable vintage are readily purchaseable. I’ve checked on eBay. For a few hundred quid, they could be yours. That and a bit of skill with literary mimicry is all you’d need to make the deception look credible.
I’ve spent a year or so, on and off, studying the manuscripts, rereading them, evaluating their worth, trying my very best to decide whether or not they genuinely are the work of the esteemed Dr Watson and do, in his own words, present “an alternate history of the career of Sherlock Holmes”.
A part of me, for my own sanity, hopes that they don’t; hopes that someone else, not Watson, perhaps Henry Prothero Lovecraft himself, is their creator, and they are just some abstruse metafictional joke, something designed to fascinate and bamboozle the world, that’s all.
Because otherwise, almost everything we know about the great detective – his life, his work, his methods, his accomplishments – has all been a big fat lie, a façade concocted to mask a deeper, darker, more horrible truth.
I leave it to you, the reader, to make up your own mind about the books. You can decide if they effectively rewrite the Holmes canon, skewing it through the distorting prism of the Lovecraftian one, or if they are just the fevered outpourings of some reclusive, semi-anonymous scribbler exploiting the popularity of not one but two iconic figures of our times.
Call it crossover. Call it mash-up. Call it cash-in.
Or call it a revelation.
It’s up to you.
J.M.H.L., EASTBOURNE, UK November 2016James Lovegrove – Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadow
Tremendous fun. Free in the Audible Plus catalogue.