Jan. 30, 2008 -- Looking for a good book to curl up with? Author Duane Swiercyznski stopped by "GMA NOW" to discuss his addition to the Sherlock Holmes legacy, and it's not your average page-turner.
Please find an excerpt of The Crimes of Dr. Watson below:
An Introduction by Duane Swiercyznski
I receive many strange pieces of mail — both electronic and the old-fashioned variety — at the Philadelphia City Paper, where I work as the editor-in-chief. Much of it comes from the public relations flacks who want us to write about a particular restaurant, boutique, or nightclub. As a journalist, I'm trained to ignore much of this mail. (My apologies to the public relations flacks. But it's true.)
However, nothing prepared me for the strange delivery I received approximately 11 months ago.
It was a thin cardboard envelope, and hand-delivered. The return address bore the name of a law firm over on Market Street. The high-rent part of Market Street.
Oh no, I thought. We're being sued.
Suddenly dreading the rest of my day — as well as the thought of walking into my publisher's office with this news — I ripped open the cardboard and yanked out the contents.
On top was a cream-colored letter from a lawyer:
You like mysteries. Maybe you can figure this out.
Louis Boxer, Esq.
As soon as my heart began to beat normally again, I looked at the photocopied sheets of paper beneath the cover letter. It appeared to be a letter written to someone named "Colonel Harry." I skimmed the first paragraph.
Then I rolled my eyes.
What was this Boxer guy trying to pull?
I did a little Googling. Then some Wikipedia action. And finally, some Nexis searching. Everything confirmed my suspicion.
The letter was fake.
Had to be.
After lunch I called the number on his letter. His secretary put me right through.
"So you've received my package? Incredible, isn't it?"
"If you bought this at an auction," I said, "I hope you didn't pay too much."
"You honestly believe this is a letter from Dr. Watson? As in, the heterosexual life partner of one Sherlock Holmes? With all due respect, Mr. Boxer?."
"Perhaps you'll let me explain before you rush to judgment."
He was right. I wasn't being fair. p> So I let him talk over lunch at Davio's, on 17th Street, not far from his office.
(Journalism lesson #47: If you have a lawyer wanting to tell you something, make him do it over lunch at a place you normally can't afford.)
Louis Boxer was a tall, gaunt man with dark hair and a sharp widow's peak. A sculptor approaching him with a chisel would be hard pressed to find a spot that needed chipping away. And while he seemed friendly enough so far, he had an overly smug look. Maybe that was just the lawyer in him.
"If there were any justice in this world," Boxer told me, huge smile on his face, "we would have named a downtown street after Harry Resmo."
"Who?" I asked, eyeing the menu and wondering if I could get away with a shrimp cocktail.
"Colonel Harold Kelsh Resmo — a gentleman, amateur scientist and Civil War vet who was a minor celebrity in his day. But he was an especially big deal here in Philadelphia."
"Never heard of him."
"Not much of a student of local history, are you?"
If Boxer was going to insult me, I was seriously going to consider the shrimp cocktail and the lobster tail.
Across the white-linen table, Boxer handed me a dank, dusty leather case, as hefty as a Stephen King novel, and wrapped in string that looked like it would snap if you sneezed on it.
"This was found in Resmo's former residence on 3rd Street," Boxer said. "Not too far from your office."
I carefully untied the string and opened the leather case, which groaned like an old man struggling to pull himself out of a chair. Inside was a motley assortment of letters, postcards, maps and other yellowed junk. Whatever turns old, turns yellow. People included.
And of course, I saw the "original" copy of the letter allegedly from John H. Watson, the English medical doctor who became famous for recording the exploits of his friend, the consulting detective of Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes. It was yellow, too.
"I've had it authenticated twice," Boxer said. "The handwriting, the paper — it all matches. The Rosenbach Museum over on Delancey Street has an impressive collection from the library of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who as you know was Dr. Watson's literary agent. It's the real deal."
"Unbelievable," I mumbled.
Of course what I meant was: Maybe I'm actually starting to believe this. There's something about holding a piece of history in your hands. Cognitively, you may choose not to believe. But your physical body can sense it at a subatomic level. Boxer was right. This felt like the real deal.
Even though I knew it wasn't.
"What's more," Boxer said, "it appears to be the rarest of rare birds: a lost, unsolved case."
"If the contents of Watson's letter are to be believed, someone tried to frame the good doctor for murder. And with Holmes missing during this time, the only person who could help was a Civil War hero named Colonel Harry Resmo."
"Okay, back up," I said. "Tell me about this Resmo guy. I've never heard of him."
Boxer beamed. "I'm a huge Resmo fan. You ask me, Philadelphia should forget Ben Franklin and sell Colonel Harry souvenirs."
Boxer then told me he represented the estate of Colonel Harry — big surprise there — who left enough money behind after his demise in 1929 to fund a host of charitable city institutions for decades. Smart investments carried the fund through the 1960s and 1970s; a black day in 1987 came close to wiping it out completely. The fund limped along until last year, when the board of directors voted to liquidate the last asset of Colonel Harry: the building on 3rd Street where the good Colonel used to live and work during the 1890s.
"Colonel Harry," Boxer continued, "fancied himself an American Sherlock Holmes."
"And the place on 3rd Street was his Baker Street?"
"Exactly. And a month ago, we knocked it down."
Of course. The city was crazy for condos.
Boxer continued. "Inside one of the walls, a construction worker found the leather case in front of you. Thank God he decided to take a look instead of flipping it right into the dumpster. Eventually it made its way to my desk, and I couldn't believe my eyes." I looked down at the letter, which seemed to go on for pages and pages. Dr. Watson was always a bit long-winded. Then I remembered my own little bit of deductive magic, gleaned from my online searches.
"Of course," I said, "you only have to glance at the envelope to know it's fake."
"Really?" said Boxer, a bemused grin on his face.
"Would I lie to you?"
"May I take another look?"
"It's your envelope."
Boxer held it up and scanned it:
A Victorian-era mailing envelope, in cursive script, addressed to:
Col. H. Kelsh Resmo
13 South Third Street
United States of America
"Looks perfectly fine to me," Boxer said. "And, the experts at the Rosenbach seem to agree."
Now it was my turn to look smug. "I'm sure the handwriting is spot on. But check out the postmark."
"Noted," he said. "And?"
"It says December 13, 1895."
"Any decent Sherlockian can tell you why that date rings false."
"Why is that?"
"You say that according to the letter, Watson is in prison, and Holmes is believed dead. That must refer to the "Great Hiatus," when Holmes faked his own death at Reichenbach Falls to avoid the hired assassins of his greatest enemy, Professor James Moriarty."
"Precisely. Everybody knows that. He went traveling around the world. Spent quite a bit of time in Tibet, if I recall correctly."
"But did you know that — according to Watson's own accounts published in the Strand Magazine — Holmes returned in the spring of 1894? April 5th, to be precise? With a series of adventures that follow. A postmark of 1895 makes absolutely no sense. Case closed. I think I'm going to have the lobster tail."
Boxer shook his head. "You are forgetting something elementary, my dear journalist."
"Watson routinely lied. And if the events in this letter are to be believed, Watson has every reason in the world to lie about the events of 1895. Even if it meant covering it up by back-dating certain Holmes adventures to 1894."
"I know — in 1894, Watson supposedly goes on about the red leech and the terrible death of Cobsy the banker. Holmes almost loses his grip on his sanity when he learns of the contents of an ancient British barrow. And this is the year when the dynamic duo allegedly tracked down and disposed of Huret, the Boulevard assassin. But isn't it curious that accounts of these adventures did not survive? Could it be that Watson was simply covering up the best he could?"
"There are other adventures that take place in that time period," I said, "and they've been published many times over."
"Ah, but you forget that Watson didn't begin writing about those further adventures until after the turn of the century. Plenty of time to revise history, especially if it's in your best interests."
The shrimp cocktail arrived. But I wasn't hungry anymore.
"What you're saying is incredible," I said. "Almost heresy, in some circles."
"I have a proposal for you," Boxer said.
What Boxer wanted, of course, was a cover story in the Philadelphia City Paper. It could boost interest in Colonel Harry, and maybe attract new money for the charitable fund. And since he knew I was a mystery writer as well as a newspaper editor, it'd be hard for me to resist. Which was true.
But I was thinking something larger. I was thinking: book.
Especially if the Watson Manuscript was authentic.
Which I began to believe it was.
After carefully photocopying the contents of Colonel Harry's leather case, with no fewer than three lawyers looking over my shoulder, I brought the material to Jason Rekulak, an editor buddy of mine at Quirk Books. Which, oddly enough, is located just two blocks from the Colonel Harry demolition site, and down a cobblestone path from the famed Christ Church that counted Revolutionary-era heroes like Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris and Betsy Ross among its parishioners.
Jason read the material quickly then emailed. "It is intriguing," he wrote. "But there's one problem. This is a mystery without a solution. I don't think it's entirely satisfying for a reader to spend time with a puzzle that goes nowhere."
It was true. The Watson letter, along with the ancillary materials — let's just call them what they are: clues — laid out a very disturbing tale. However, it was one lacking a resolution.
But I wasn't going to let that stop me.
"Couldn't that be the fun of it?" I emailed back. "Why not publish the whole thing, as is, and ask readers to supply the solution?"
"Hmmm," Jason emailed.
"C'mon," I emailed.
"You'll put it all together?" Jason emailed.
"I'll put it all together," I emailed.
(This is how editors and writers talk, by the way. I don't think I've heard Jason's actual voice in four years.)
Jason agreed, and Louis Boxer, Esq. agreed, and that is why you are now holding this book in your hands.
The Crimes of Dr. Watson is a faithful reproduction of every single page and clue in the so-called "Watson/Resmo Manuscripts." We've taken the text of the letter and typeset it to make it easier to read — Watson's handwriting was a bit on the dodgy side — but otherwise, we've spared no effort to present the clues as they were first presented to Colonel Harry back in 1894. No slip of paper, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, has been left out. We've even included the envelopes.
What you are about to read may shock you. Especially if you're an admirer of Sherlock Holmes, and his many crime-solving adventures.
And if you are a person who enjoys solutions to their mysteries.
Presumably, there is a solution. After all, Dr. Watson didn't spend the rest of his days walking a treadmill and picking oakum in a London prison. There were more Holmes adventures to be had, and to be told. If Watson never proved his innocence, there would be no Hound of the Baskervilles. No "Adventure of the Empty House." No Valley of Fear.
But how did Watson do it?
As you'll read in the letter that follows, Watson is in the most dire straits of his life. His best friend was presumed dead at the hands of his mortal enemy. His refuge at 221B Baker Street was in virtual ruins. And he languished in a fetid prison cell, awaiting trial for an act that would abhor a Victorian-era war hero and medical doctor: the cold-blooded torture and murder of another human being.
Can you, dear reader, help Watson?
Can you solve a century-old mystery?
Can you play Sherlock Holmes?
Reprinted with permission from "The Crimes of Dr. Watson" by Duane Swiercyznski © Quirk Books 2008. Please click here for more.