SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
"The Sherlockian" opens in 1893 with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle plotting murder of one of the most famous people in the world. Since Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character he created, the legal repercussions are nil. But in the years that follow, Sir Arthur hears from fans who regard his dispatch of Sherlock Holmes to be one of the great crimes of history.
One day he gets a crude and anonymous letter bomb. He enlists his friend, Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula, to investigate the mystery. They record their investigation, but the journal disappears.
Flash forward to 2010. The worlds leading Sherlock scholar announces that hes found the lost diaries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But before he can reveal them, the man is found dead. A man named Harold White, who wears drip-dry suits and works in a Hollywood film factory, is inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, that literary club devoted to Holmes scholarship and obsessions.
"The Sherlockian" is a new novel, Graham Moores first, that flips back and forth between centuries, as Harold White tries to use whatever ingenuity he's absorbed from Sherlock Holmes to solve a real mystery. Graham Moore joins us in our studios.
Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. GRAHAM MOORE (Author, The Sherlockian"): Thank you, Scott. It's a pleasure to be here.
SIMON: And when your book opens, it's clear that Arthur Conan Doyle is getting just good and tired of the burden of Sherlock Holmes.
Mr. MOORE: Conan Doyle despised his main creation, Sherlock Holmes. He had sort of written them very quickly while he was sort of a failed medical doctor. He was sitting in his office waiting for patients to show up. And no patients ever quite did. And so he wrote these stories to pass the time while waiting for people to arrive. And then, surely enough, they became a huge success.
He resented Holmes for being more famous than he was. He resented, in some ways, his own fans for adoring Holmes as much as they did, and I think delighted in killing off the character as early as he did.
SIMON: How to you recreate Arthur Conan Doyle?
Mr. MOORE: Well, from Conan Doyle we have - there's a number of wonderful biographies that've been written of him. We also have a lot of his letters. We do have some of his diaries that've survived, except for the ones that disappeared. And those are perhaps, as my novel would indicate, the more interesting ones.
SIMON: And although this is a novel, there actually was the death of a Sherlock Holmes scholar in 2004 that the British police haven't settled yet.
Mr. MOORE: That is true. In 2004, a man named Richard Green - who was a wonderful Holmes scholar - was found dead under very mysterious circumstances. He had actually - he was involved in the finding of Conan Doyle's lost diary. He was found garroted to death with his own shoelaces. And currently the case is still unsolved by Scotland Yard.
And so, sure enough, various Sherlockians kind of went to try and solve the crime. And they sort of said, well, let's see if we can figure out who did it. And there were various theories about it going around at that time. No one's quite settled on one. But my novel is sort of a highly fictionalized account of what might've happened in those investigations.
SIMON: By the way, we're speaking with Graham Moore about his new novel, "The Sherlockian."
Do you know any Baker Street Irregulars?
Mr. MOORE: One of the great pleasures of writing and publishing this book is that I've gotten to talk to a number of Baker Street Irregulars. There's a man named Leslie Klinger who's kind of one of the most accomplished scholars.
You know, I called him out of the blue one day and said I'm writing this novel and can you help me with some historical details. And the sort of welcoming in I've gotten by the Sherlockian community - and believe me, they are a tight-knit community of people - has just been wonderful and so gratifying.
SIMON: You have the nicest dedication in the book, I must say...
Mr. MOORE: Thank you.
SIMON: ...that touches on your love of mysteries.
Mr. MOORE: When I was a child, my mother basically taught me to read on mystery novels. I was seven or eight years old. And we would lay in her bed and we'd pass a copy of Agatha Christie back and forth. You know, she'd read a couple of pages out loud. I'd read a couple of pages out loud. And those were literally the first books I read. And so I grew up on mystery stories and I love mystery stories.
And so now to be able to get to publish a mystery novel and get to sort of talk about why people love mysteries and the heart of mystery novels and what it means to people is, I mean, a dream of mine since I was eight.
SIMON: And what makes Sherlock Holmes such an enduring character? I mean, because you had to, I'll bet, puzzle through that as you were trying to write about why ostensibly sane people would devote so much of their passion and their lives to him.
Mr. MOORE: Absolutely. In "The Sherlockian" that's one of the questions that I really wanted to answer. I think you find some historical reasons and some emotional reasons. I think historically in Sherlock Holmes you really find the first branded character. You also see his enduring appeal in the fact that he entered the public domain very early. And so lots of other people - movie studios, television studios, other novelists - get to try to their hand at creating Holmes stories as well.
And then on a more emotional level, when I think of Sherlock Holmes I think about a guy who can wander into the confusion of life and sort of pluck out answers at will. I think that the enduring appeal of mystery stories for all of us is that the world's a pretty confusing place and there's a lot of really unanswered things, and perhaps the scariest notion would be that there might not always be answers out there for us.
And these stories assure us that there are, that there's a guy who can kind of go into that confusing m�lange of mystery in the world and just instantly see the answer by the cut of your shirt collar. That is the sort of magic and that is, as Conan Doyle would put it, a sort of romance that we'll never tire of.
SIMON: Are mysteries any more or less interesting these days because so much science is involved?
Mr. MOORE: I think it loses a bit of the romance of crime solving. But in a sense, if you watch a show like "CSI" or something, all of the sort of flashing things on a computer screen serve the same function as Holmes's deep and vast store of knowledge in his head. I mean, it's another way of looking at the magic of crime solving. It's just a high-tech way of doing it.
SIMON: He reaches an emotional low moment, I think it's safe to say, in this book when he ponders the fact that the premise of the Sherlock Holmes stories may be false. The premise of the Sherlock Holmes stories, of course, was that people commit murders for reasons. Sir Arthur says he's depressed by the fact he suddenly realized, oh, sometimes people do that for no good reason at all.
Mr. MOORE: What if we are just left to madness? I think that's - the Holmes stories stand as a bulwark against the notion, I think, that the world is in some sense unsolvable, that there are unanswered questions out there. And if you believe in the Holmes stories and if you want to believe in the Holmes stories and if you want to believe in mysteries, you have to believe that there is always an explanation to problems.
You have to believe that there is always a cause, a reason, and if there isn't, if there really isn't something out there, if sometimes horrible things just happen and we have no explanation for it and we have no - it doesn't matter if we have a cure, if we can't even have an explanation, if we can't even say why these things happened, that's a terrifying and very lonely thought. And I wanted him to sort of face up against that and realize that these stories, these stories serve a purpose, and maybe the purpose of these stories is to make us believe that there are answers in a very complicated world.
SIMON: Graham Moore, his new novel, his first, "The Sherlockian."
Mr. MOORE: Thank you.