Monthly Archives: December 2012


I have a piece in this weekend’s Sunday Times Travel on skiing (very badly) in Arosa in Switzerland. I was drawn to the resort partly because at the time I was writing Dead Man’s Land, featuring Dr Watson, and I knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had put Arosa on the map. The author was a keen sportsman and when he was staying at Davos (for his wife’s health) he ordered skis from Norway and set about teaching himself the discipline. As he wrote in The Strand magazine in 1894 “You let yourself go, gliding delightfully over the gentle slopes, flying down the steeper ones, taking an occasional cropper, but getting as near to flying as any earthbound man can. In that glorious air it is a delightful experience.’”

He was soon good enough to attempt the treacherous crossing over the Maienfelder Furka pass linking Davos to Arosa, which he did in the company of two local guides (the Branger Brothers). “But now we had a pleasure which boots can never give,” he wrote, “For a third of a mile we shot along over gently dipping curves, skimming down into the valley without a motion of our feet.  In that great untrodden waste, with snow-fields bounding our vision on every side and no marks of life save the tracks of chamois and of foxes, it was glorious to whizz along in this easy fashion.” Conan Doyle was one of the first English writers to eulogize the joys of skiing and he prophesized: “I am convinced that there will come a time when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the ‘skiing’ season.” Within a few years both Davos and Arosa became winter favourites of his readers.



In my introduction to the Complete Sherlock Holmes e-book (available for free –, I seem to have inadvertently upped the number of novels in the Conan Doyle canon from four to five. One of the joys of e-books is that, unlike with print versions, such glitches can be easily fixed. Yet I knew very well there were four novels – A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear – and I can only assume I was so taken in by reading Anthony Horowitz’s House of Silk, I added it to the tally. House of Silk, like Dead Man’s Land, has the blessing of the Conan Doyle Estate, although unlike DML it is written in the style of ACD. Most Holmes ‘continuation’ novels read like a pale imitation of the original, or are so reverential they end up wooden and stilted. Not House of Silk – Horowitz nails the classic characters and doesn’t forget to add a rip-roaring plot. Highly recommended and best read by gaslight.


The omni-talented Barry Forshaw, head honcho of Crime Time ( and author of Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, British Crime Film and Guns for Hire: The Modern Adventure Thriller, among many others, asked me to get involved in this round-robin called The Next Big Thing.

The idea is that I answer the following questions about my writing then recommend other authors who also answer the questions and they in turn recommend other authors until the world begs for mercy. You can find Barry’s answers on the Crime Time website, and my “tag” authors at the end of the questionnaire, who should be posting within the week.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Dead Man’s Land, out on January 3.

 2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Dead Man’s Land is inspired by a line from Conan Doyle’s His Last Bow, set in 1914, in which Sherlock Holmes says that Watson intends to ‘rejoin his old service’ – by this time the Royal Army Medical Corps. So it is Dr. Watson’s adventures in WW1.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Historical thriller.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The central character is Dr John Watson – Holmes’s sidekick – but without the Great Detective. It roughly follows Conan Doyle’s (sometimes wayward) chronology of his heroes, so I need an actor in his 60s, someone like Tom Wilkinson, martin Shaw or Michael Kitchen. I’m thinking Kelly Riley (too young?) or Alex Kingston as his flame-haired nurse.

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

With thousands dying every day on the Western Front, what better place to commit a murder..

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is published by Simon & Schuster.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About seven months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Despite having Dr Watson in it, not Conan Doyle, more Len Deighton or early Robert Harris.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My editor at S&S, Maxine Hitchcock said they were looking for a novel based on ‘a detective in the trenches’. She set me on the road to recalling that Dr Watson had served in WW1.

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Winston Churchill is a pivotal figure in the novel, because after Gallipoli he went into the army and served on the front line.

To see how other authors tackle this list, go along and visit:

Dean Crawford, a British Michael Crichton and author of science-thrillers Apocalypse, Covenant and Immortal at

Howard Linskey, who brings Get Carter and crew bang up to date in The Drop, The Damage and The Dead on

Frank Barnard, ace WW2 flying chronicler (Blue Man Falling, Band of Eagles, To Play The Fox) and, with A Time For Heroes, WW1 as well, at

221b or not 221b

As a tie-in to the imminent release of the Dr Watson novel DEAD MAN’S LAND, Simon & Schuster has made available a free e-book of the Complete Sherlock Holmes. As part of the package they asked me to write an introduction, which I duly did. Then the artwork came. You do realise, I told them, that it wouldn’t say 221b above the door? That the ‘b’ signified Holmes’s and Watson’s lodgings, not the whole building? There would be a doorbell or door pull marked ‘b’. We’ll get letters, I said. My editors thought for a minute and said: We’ll get letters if we don’t put it there. Apparently Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss had similar discussions with their BBC Sherlock re-boot. In the end they decided the address was so iconic, the ‘b’ had to stay. And if it’s good enough for them….


Sherlock Holmes Ebook version 2



It is a very tenuous link between jazz and the dead of World War One, but I inadvertently made the connection last week. I had gone to The Forum in Kentish Town to interview Mancunian trumpet player Matthew Halsall (of whom more another time) and I was sitting with the band in a nearby café. I mentioned Dead Man’s Land, the new Dr Watson novel, and the young drummer to my right became very animated on the subject of WW1. This was Rob Turner who, as well as filling the drum chair for Halsall that night (it is often taken by Cinematic Orchestra’s Luke Flowers), is also a ‘sound artist’. By another coincidence he also drums for the piano trio GoGo Penguin, an album I had recently boughtGONDCD008-GoGo-Penguin-Fanfares-2012-Cover and thoroughly enjoyed. To use name-dropping shorthand – if you like EST, Neil Cowley, Albaran Trio or Bad Plus, you’ll love Fanfares (on the Gondwana label) although it has strong elements, especially in the interplay of the rhythm section, that is all its own. Turner is not your average jazz drummer – as influences he cites not Tony Williams or Jack DeJohnette but Aphex Twin and John Cage (he quotes the latter: ‘There is no noise, only sound.’)

But, to the war dead. That evening Turner let drop a project so ambitious, I called him up to discuss it a few days later. ‘It came to me overnight, literally,’ he said down the phone. ‘I woke up and thought – I wonder if it can be done? So I went to Steve Mead, artistic director of the Manchester Jazz Festival and he mentioned it to the Imperial War Museum and they were really interested.’

The idea is to build a text-recognition machine that will read out the names of all the casualties of World War One, close to forty million of them. ‘We wanted it to have no political agenda, so all countries are represented, all sides and both military and civilian casualties, too. It will operate 24 hours a day, with 3 seconds or so allowed for each name. I did think about running it chronologically, so if people knew their relative died at Loos in 1915, then they could come along. But the problem was you have these clumps where people died in vast numbers, such as day one of The Somme, that it skewers the timing. So we think it will be in alphabetical order.’ The next stage is to try and get funding for further investigation into the computer software and, if it goes ahead, to build the machine in time for the 100th anniversary of the start of the war in 2014 (it would probably be installed at IWM North). And how long will it take to recite the roll call of the fallen? Turner: ‘Well, that’s one thing that brings home the scale of the losses– even running day and night, it will take four years to list them all.’

GoGo Penguin play The Vortex (020 7254 4097, in Dalston,  London on December 7th, with a DJ set by Matthew Halsall.