Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Musketeer as Sherlock

A “re-imagined” Three Musketeers starts tonight on BBC. When a couple of months ago I was researching the history of detective fiction for a talk I was giving, I came across a scene where d’Artagnan shows powers of analysis of a crime scene worthy of Holmes himself. So will this facility survive the update? This is the (rather lengthy, but worth it) passage:

“While the king was engaged in making these last-mentioned arrangements in order to ascertain the truth, D’Artagnan, without losing a second, ran to the stable, took down the lantern, saddled his horse himself, and proceeded towards the place his majesty had indicated. According to the promise he had made, he had not accosted any one; and, as we have observed, he had carried his scruples so far as to do without the assistance of the stable-helpers altogether. D’Artagnan was one of those


who in moments of difficulty pride themselves on increasing their own value. By dint of hard galloping, he in less than five minutes reached the wood, fastened his horse to the first tree he came to, and penetrated to the broad open space on foot. He then began to inspect most carefully, on foot and with his lantern in his hand, the whole surface of the Rond-point, went forward, turned back again, measured, examined, and after half an hour’s minute inspection, he returned silently to where he had left his horse, and pursued his way in deep reflection and at a foot-pace to Fontainebleau. Louis was waiting in his cabinet; he was alone, and with a pencil was scribbling on paper certain lines which D’Artagnan at the first glance recognized as unequal and very much touched up. The conclusion he arrived at was, that they must be verses. The king raised his head and perceived D’Artagnan. “Well, monsieur,” he said, “do you bring me any news?”
“Yes, sire.”
“What have you seen?”
“As far as probability goes, sire—” D’Artagnan began to reply.
“It was certainty I requested of you.”
“I will approach it as near as I possibly can. The weather was very well adapted for investigations of the character I have just made; it has been raining this evening, and the roads were wet and muddy—”
“Well, the result, M. d’Artagnan?”
“Sire, your majesty told me that there was a horse lying dead in the cross-road of the Bois-Rochin, and I began, therefore, by studying the roads. I say the roads, because the center of the cross-road is reached by four separate roads. The one that I myself took was the only one that presented any fresh traces. Two horses had followed it side by side; their eight feet were marked very distinctly in the clay. One of the riders was more impatient than the other, for the footprints of the one were invariably in advance of the other about half a horse’s length.”
“Are you quite sure they were traveling together?” said the king.
“Yes sire. The horses are two rather large animals of equal pace,—horses well used to maneuvers of all kinds, for they wheeled round the barrier of the Rond-point together.”
“Well—and after?”
“The two cavaliers paused there for a minute, no doubt to arrange the conditions of the engagement; the horses grew restless and impatient. One of the riders spoke, while the other listened and seemed to have contented himself by simply answering. His horse pawed the ground, which proves that his attention was so taken up by listening that he let the bridle fall from his hand.”
“A hostile meeting did take place then?”
“Continue; you are a very accurate observer.”
“One of the two cavaliers remained where he was standing, the one, in fact, who had been listening; the other crossed the open space, and at first placed himself directly opposite to his adversary. The one who had remained stationary traversed the Rond-point at a gallop, about two-thirds of its length, thinking that by this means he would gain upon his opponent; but the latter had followed the circumference of the wood.”
“You are ignorant of their names, I suppose?”
“Completely so, sire. Only he who followed the circumference of the wood was mounted on a black horse.”
“How do you know that?”
“I found a few hairs of his tail among the brambles which bordered the sides of the ditch.”
“Go on.”
“As for the other horse, there can be no trouble in describing him, since he was left dead on the field of battle.”
“What was the cause of his death?”
“A ball which had passed through his brain.”
“Was the ball that of a pistol or a gun?”
“It was a pistol-bullet, sire. Besides, the manner in which the horse was wounded explained to me the tactics of the man who had killed it. He had followed the circumference of the wood in order to take his adversary in flank. Moreover, I followed his foot-tracks on the grass.”
“The tracks of the black horse, do you mean?”
“Yes, sire.”
“Go on, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”
“As your majesty now perceives the position of the two adversaries, I will, for a moment, leave the cavalier who had remained stationary for the one who started off at a gallop.”
“Do so.”
“The horse of the cavalier who rode at full speed was killed on the spot.”
“How do you know that?”
“The cavalier had not time even to throw himself off his horse, and so fell with it. I observed the impression of his leg, which, with a great effort, he was enabled to extricate from under the horse. The spur, pressed down by the weight of the animal, had plowed up the ground.”
“Very good; and what did he do as soon as he rose up again?”
“He walked straight up to his adversary.”
“Who still remained upon the verge of the forest?”
“Yes, sire. Then, having reached a favorable distance, he stopped firmly, for the impression of both his heels are left in the ground quite close to each other, fired, and missed his adversary.”
“How do you know he did not hit him?”
“I found a hat with a ball through it.”
“Ah, a proof, then!” exclaimed the king.
“Insufficient, sire,” replied D’Artagnan, coldly; “it is a hat without any letters indicating its ownership, without arms; a red feather, as all hats have; the lace, even, had nothing particular in it.”
“Did the man with the hat through which the bullet had passed fire a second time?”
“Oh, sire, he had already fired twice.”
“How did you ascertain that?”
“I found the waddings of the pistol.”
“And what became of the bullet which did not kill the horse?”
“It cut in two the feather of the hat belonging to him against whom it was directed, and broke a small birch at the other end of the open glade.”
“In that case, then, the man on the black horse was disarmed, whilst his adversary had still one more shot to fire?”
“Sire, while the dismounted rider was extricating himself from his horse, the other was reloading his pistol. Only, he was much agitated while he was loading it, and his hand trembled greatly.”
“How do you know that?”
“Half the charge fell to the ground, and he threw the ramrod aside, not having time to replace it in the pistol.”
“Monsieur d’Artagnan, this is marvellous you tell me.”
“It is only close observation, sire, and the commonest highwayman could tell as much.”
“The whole scene is before me from the manner in which you relate it.”
“I have, in fact, reconstructed it in my own mind, with merely a few alterations.”
“And now,” said the king, “let us return to the dismounted cavalier. You were saying that he walked towards his adversary while the latter was loading his pistol.”
“Yes; but at the very moment he himself was taking aim, the other fired.”
“Oh!” said the king; “and the shot?”
“The shot told terribly, sire; the dismounted cavalier fell upon his face, after having staggered forward three or four paces.”
“Where was he hit?”
“In two places; in the first place, in his right hand, and then, by the same bullet, in his chest.”
“But how could you ascertain that?” inquired the king, full of admiration.
“By a very simple means; the butt end of the pistol was covered with blood, and the trace of the bullet could be observed, with fragments of a broken ring. The wounded man, in all probability, had the ring-finger and the little finger carried off.”
“As far as the hand goes, I have nothing to say; but the chest?”
“Sire, there were two small pools of blood, at a distance of about two feet and a half from each other. At one of these pools of blood the grass was torn up by the clenched hand; at the other, the grass was simply pressed down by the weight of the body.”
“Poor De Guiche!” exclaimed the king.
“Ah! it was M. de Guiche, then?” said the musketeer, quietly. “I suspected it, but did not venture to mention it to your majesty.”
“And what made you suspect it?”
“I recognized the De Gramont arms upon the holsters of the dead horse.”
“And you think he is seriously wounded?”
“Very seriously, since he fell immediately, and remained a long time in the same place; however, he was able to walk, as he left the spot, supported by two friends.”
“You met him returning, then?”
“No; but I observed the footprints of three men; the one on the right and the one on the left walked freely and easily, but the one in the middle dragged his feet as he walked; besides, he left traces of blood at every step he took.”
“Now, monsieur, since you saw the combat so distinctly that not a single detail seems to have escaped you, tell me something about De Guiche’s adversary.”
“Oh, sire, I do not know him.”
“And yet you see everything very clearly.”
“Yes, sire, I see everything; but I do not tell all I see; and, since the poor devil has escaped, your majesty will permit me to say that I do not intend to denounce him.”
“And yet he is guilty, since he has fought a duel, monsieur.”
“Not guilty in my eyes, sire,” said D’Artagnan, coldly.
“Monsieur!” exclaimed the king, “are you aware of what you are saying?”
“Perfectly, sire; but, according to my notions, a man who fights a duel is a brave man; such, at least, is my own opinion; but your majesty may have another, it is but natural, for you are master here.”
“Monsieur d’Artagnan, I ordered you, however—”
D’Artagnan interrupted the king by a respectful gesture. “You ordered me, sire, to gather what particulars I could, respecting a hostile meeting that had taken place; those particulars you have. If you order me to arrest M. de Guiche’s adversary, I will do so; but do not order me to denounce him to you, for in that case I will not obey.”
“Very well! Arrest him, then.”
“Give me his name, sire.”
The king stamped his foot angrily; but after a moment’s reflection, he said, “You are right—ten times, twenty times, a hundred times right.”
“That is my opinion, sire: I am happy that, this time, it accords with your majesty’s.”
“One word more. Who assisted Guiche?”
“I do not know, sire.”
“But you speak of two men. There was a person present, then, as second.”
“There was no second, sire. Nay, more than that, when M. de Guiche fell, his adversary fled without giving him any assistance.”
“The miserable coward!” exclaimed the king.
“The consequence of your ordinances, sire. If a man has fought well, and fairly, and has already escaped one chance of death, he naturally wishes to escape a second. M. de Bouteville cannot be forgotten very easily.”
“And so, men turn cowards.”
“No, they become prudent.”
“And he has fled, then, you say?”
“Yes; and as fast as his horse could possibly carry him.”
“In what direction?”
“In the direction of the château.”
“Well, and after that?”
“Afterwards, as I have had the honor of telling your majesty, two men on foot arrived, who carried M. de Guiche back with them.”
“What proof have you that these men arrived after the combat?”
“A very evident proof, sire; at the moment the encounter took place, the rain had just ceased, the ground had not had time to imbibe the moisture, and was, consequently, soaked; the footsteps sank in the ground; but while M. de Guiche was lying there in a fainting condition, the ground became firm again, and the footsteps made a less sensible impression.”
Louis clapped his hands together in sign of admiration. “Monsieur d’Artagnan,” he said, “you are positively the cleverest man in my kingdom.”
“The identical thing M. de Richelieu thought, and M. de Mazarin said, sire.”
“And now, it remains for us to see if your sagacity is at fault.”
“Oh! sire, a man may be mistaken; humanum est errare,” said the musketeer, philosophically.
“In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d’Artagnan, for I believe you are never mistaken.”
“Your majesty said that we were going to see whether such was the case, or not.”
“In what way, may I venture to ask?”
“I have sent for M. de Manicamp, and M. de Manicamp is coming.”
“And M. de Manicamp knows the secret?”
“De Guiche has no secrets from M. de Manicamp.”
D’Artagnan shook his head. “No one was present at the combat, I repeat; and unless M. de Manicamp was one of the two men who brought him back—”
“Hush!” said the king, “he is coming; remain, and listen attentively.”
“Very good, sire.”


Review of Dead Can Wait in The Times

This from Marcel Berlins’ crime round-up:

The Dead Can Wait by Robert Ryan
Dr John Watson was not, it seems, quite as dim as he’s portrayed in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Robert Ryan (with the consent of the Conan Doyle estate) reveals his true mettle. The Dead Can Wait is in no sense a pastiche, but a seriously good, very readable, well-researched novel incorporating the First World War, detection and espionage. It is 1916. Watson has become an expert on the injuries and mental traumas suffered by soldiers in battle. The British are secretly developing a new kind of weapon. But, in its first test, seven men involved become insane, then die spectacularly. The sole survivor is rendered mute. Watson is commanded to discover the causes of the tragedy, but there are foreign spies around and enemies within.
The Dead Can Wait by Robert Ryan, Simon and Schuster, 463 pp, £18.99. To buy this book for £14.99, visit or call 0845 2712134

The novel is partly set on ‘the most lethal road in England’, of which more later:



This review is from Manda Scott, of the Historical Writers’ Association ( a.k.a M.C.Scott (Rome: The Art of War):

“I became a fan of Rob Ryan’s work at Harrogate History Fest in October, when I heard him speak on a panel about Sherlock Holmes….. Apparently there was a single line in one of the last Holmes books which said that Watson had gone back to his ‘old unit’ – that being the RAMC, and given that we were on the brink of WWI, that means he went back to war.


Thus arises one of the best post-Conan Doyle Sherlockian series, and a fantastic historical crime series. The Major John Watson we come to know in the trenches in DEAD MAN’S LAND and again here in the UK in The Dead Can Wait is a humane, compassionate, competent individual, who nevertheless appreciates the help of his steadily deteriorating friend, Holmes. The horrors of war are not stinted, but nor are they gratuitous. In DML, we (well, I) learned a huge amount about nurses and the various auxilliaries and how they worked, while in TDCW, we (I) learn a lot we (I) didn’t know about ‘shell shock’ and then, later, about the early development of tanks. It’s fascinating, and yet none of it is presented as ‘here is the research I did, now suck it up and learn it’ which is so often the case in historical novels of this sort. It’s all integral to the plot, and carries the dynamic tension even as we’re given a virtual tour of the tank testing grounds. There’s a truly scary German woman-spy, part of a network called the She Wolves, of whom I’m sure (I hope) we’ll learn more, and the very welcome return of Mrs Gregson, the red-headed, motor-bike riding, thoroughly competent nursing auxilliary.

In a year when there are going to be 1,000 ( at least) books about WWI published, this will be one of the first, and I am prepared to bet, one of the best. It’s a cracking, fulfilling, utterly satisfying read and you should get a copy now…”

Out January 2 in hardback and ebook.