The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes Book 3 by Liese Sherwood-Fabre Genre: Historical Mystery
Award-winning author and recognized Sherlockian scholar Liese Sherwood-Fabre’s third novel in “The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes” follows the young detective to London for the spring holiday. This CIBA first-place mystery and mayhem winner has been described by bestselling author Gemma Halliday as “a classic in the making” and Kirkus Reviews as “a multifaceted and convincing addition to Sherlock-ian lore.”
A tragedy during the 1868 Oxford-Cambridge Boat race puts Mycroft Holmes’ reputation on the line.
When Mycroft Holmes identifies a drowning victim, he is drawn into a situation that could destroy not only Lord Surminster's name, but his own reputation as well. If ruled a suicide, the lord’s assets will be returned to the Crown, leaving his mother and siblings destitute. Should that happen, the victim’s sister has threatened to drag Mycroft’s good name through the mire. Will Sherlock be able determine what happened before more than one family is destroyed?
I wrinkled my nose at the Thames’ murky waves and shuddered. Anything could be lurking in its fetid waters. Tugging on my collar, I glanced up at the sun’s white disk. Despite the day being on the cool side, the crush of people around me blocked any breeze. We’d managed to get spaces right by the stone wall in front of the Old Ship pub. Below us, the incoming tide was rising to cover the river’s exposed silt and sand. The Oxford-Cambridge boat race was timed to use the climbing waters to assist the rowers, and those along the route were expecting it to begin at any moment.
The sunlight sparkled off the swells, and, shielding my eyes from the glare, I studied a similar crowd gathered along the opposite bank. No empty space could be seen along that stone wall, either. So many people. All to catch a glimpse of the boat crews as they rowed past.
Rising on my toes, I leaned over the wall, checking downstream to my left for either boat appearing around the river’s bend.
“Quit fidgeting,” Mycroft said out of the side of his mouth.
I opened my own to protest, but Mother rebuked him first.
“Really, Mycroft.” She fanned herself, although I doubted it did much to cool her. “You can’t blame him. If this race doesn’t start soon, Sherlock and I are leaving. I’ll not have either of us collapsing because of the lack of oxygen in this crowd.”
My brother crossed his arms over his chest and gave a little snort. I could almost hear the protests swirling around in his brain. He hadn’t been the one to decide to come to London for the second part of the season. Or suggest we attend the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Or insist it was time for him to begin attending some of the season’s balls and parties as a country squire’s first son. After all, Father had remained at Underbyrne to attend to business affairs for the estate, and we could have too.
Before he could actually express any of these or other sentiments out loud, a far-off shout sent a wave of excited chatter among those surrounding us. Finally, the boat race had begun. Cheers and shouts of encouragement moved up the bank as the boats passed the spectators. Those about us jostled and pushed on all sides, making me feel a little like the flotsam bobbing along in the waters below.
Mycroft bounced on the balls of his feet. While his idea of exercise consisted almost exclusively of strolling between buildings at Oxford—from his rooms to the dining hall, the rented room over a tavern he and some friends used for their Diogenes Society meetings, or to the occasional lecture—I was impressed with both his interest in the race and the exertion he expended in this display of enthusiasm.
“How long before we can see them?” I asked, glancing down the river again.
“The whole race is about twenty minutes,” my brother said without taking his eyes from the same spot where I focused. “We’re about halfway along the course, so I would estimate eight to ten minutes before they appear.”
Ten more minutes of strangers’ elbows in my ribs? I wasn’t sure anything was worth such torture.
“Excuse me, Mr. Mycroft Holmes?”
The feminine voice made us turn to face a pair of women who had somehow managed to push through the press to our position. They were obviously mother and daughter. Both had the same straight-backed-chin-raised bearing, light brown hair and tipped-up noses. The older woman wore a dark dress that, while fashionable, lacked any flourishes, indicating the final stages of mourning—not yet ready to leave her weeds completely behind. The younger woman, however, wore a pale lavender dress and a jaunty hat on top of a pile of curls.
Mycroft stared at the two, a hesitation broken by my mother’s cough. I coughed as well, but to cover my amusement. That these two ladies seemed to know my brother and had shocked him into silence gave me a certain delight. Only the opposite sex ever seemed to ruffle my brother—my mother being, of course, the exception.
At my mother’s cue, he appeared to shake himself free of whatever had stunned him and bowed at the waist. “Forgive me,” he said when he straightened. “We’ve only been introduced once, Lady Surminster, Miss Phillips. Allow me to introduce my mother, Violette Holmes, and my brother, Sherlock. This is Lord Surminster’s mother and sister.”
“Lady Surminster, how wonderful to meet you,” Mother said. “You too, Miss Phillips.”
The older woman glanced at her daughter before saying, “We recognized you as one of Vernon’s classmates and were hoping—”
The younger woman seemed unable to restrain herself. “Vernon is missing.” She turned to Mycroft. “Have you seen him?”
My brother pulled back his chin and dropped his mouth open. A second later, he snapped it shut and shook his head vigorously. “I’m afraid I’ve been here all weekend. With my family.”
“But here lies our concern,” Lady Surminster said. “He was supposed to meet us here in London as well. We've been in contact with some of his other classmates, and none has reported seeing him since Thursday. We were hoping he might have been staying with a friend.”
Mother placed a hand on the other woman’s arm. “I’m sure he’s simply enjoying the sights of London. He may even be back home by now.”
She shook her head and glanced away, as if to avoid us seeing the worry creasing the corners of her eyes. “We would have heard. I insisted a servant find us immediately if he appeared.”
Her daughter’s mouth drew down, and a line appeared between her eyebrows. “Which is why we came here. We thought he might perhaps be viewing the race. And why we sought you out, Mr. Holmes.”
“Mycroft can make some enquiries for you among his classmates. I’m sure we’ll have word soon enough.”
“Our address in town is Saint Abel Lane. Number Seventy-four. Please, if you learn anything, let us know.”
“Of course. I would suggest it best to go home and wait. Young men in spring often enjoy kicking up their heels a bit.”
Before either could reply, the crowd’s shouts had us all turn to watch the first boat pass in front of where we stood.
“That’s Oxford. I told you we’d win.” Mycroft shifted his gaze in the direction they’d just come. “Cambridge is just now passing the bend.”
A bit of pride for Oxford swelled within me. Because my father’s plan involved me attending the same university as Mycroft, I already felt a certain affinity for the school. While I still hadn’t completed my first year at Eton and, at fourteen, had five years before I would enter university, I couldn’t suppress a smug grin at the much-less-enthusiastic cheers flowing through the crowd as the “Light Blues” of Cambridge rowed by.
Another shout downstream followed after the second boat moved on. My breath caught in my throat when I realized the crowd’s emotion was different. Instead of cheers, screams punctuated the rumbling. Some rushed in the direction of the noise while others appeared to be moving just as quickly away. One young man wearing Oxford colors ran from the bank, caught sight of Mycroft and waved him over to his side.
My brother actually jogged to his classmate and even faster back to us. A rock formed in my stomach. The lack of expression in his face indicated this was no ordinary event, and most likely involved Oxford in some manner.
“Lady Surminster. Miss Phillips,” my brother wheezed out upon his return. “There has been an incident. An accident, from what I was told. It has been recommended those of a delicate nature leave the area. I assure you I’ll make enquiries and get back to you about Lord Surminster.”
The younger woman glanced toward the river and the melee of people. Almost all of the women and children were heading toward the street. She turned to her mother. “Perhaps it would be best,” she said. “Come. Let’s leave before the crush of people makes it impossible to return home.”
After Mycroft’s reassurance one more time he would seek out any knowledge of the whereabouts of Lord Surminster, they took their leave.
Once they were gone, Mother turned to Mycroft. “Should I go down to the accident? I know there are most likely doctors in the crowd, but perhaps I can be of assistance.”
Mother had participated in medical classes in France, and she tended to most of the family illnesses and injuries. As a result, I trusted her more than those who formally practiced in our village.
She took a few steps in the direction where people were still fleeing or converging, but Mycroft stopped her.
“There’s no need, Mother.” She arched her eyebrows when she faced him. “The person was drowned. The police have been summoned.”
“But Lord Surminster? We might spot him in the crowd.”
“Again, not necessary.” The flatness in his voice warned of the dire news about to come. The rock in my stomach grew heavier. “The drowning victim was wearing Lord Surminster’s suit. The man who waved me over recognized it.”
“Oh, dear,” Mother whispered.
She glanced at the spot where the crowd had gathered and then toward the street where his family had headed. Her fan flew in her hand. With the crowd now dispersed, the air had cooled, but the flush in her cheeks suggested she wasn’t experiencing it. My mother wasn’t a fainting woman. I’d watched her sew wounds and fight off a murderer. But this news had somehow affected her differently.
The rock in my stomach was now a boulder threatening to pull me down. I checked my brother. The composure he’d displayed with Lord Surminster’s family had dissolved, and he now chewed on his lower lip as he studied my mother’s pale face.
Without waiting for any direction from either of them, I reached out and cupped her elbow. My movement spurred my brother to do the same on her other side. Together we led her to a small bench nearby. The sight of boot marks on the wooden slats made me grimace, but I decided Mother would forgive us if we soiled the back of her skirt—and it would be preferable to her swooning face-down onto the ground.
Liese Sherwood-Fabre has won awards for her thrillers, romance, and literary short stories, and NYT bestselling author Steve Berry describes her writing as "gimmick-free, old-fashioned storytelling."
In the second grade, she knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally's ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD from Indiana University, she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live internationally for more than fifteen years. She draws upon these experiences to endow her characters with deep conflicts and emotions.
Arthur Conan Doyle provided little information about Sherlock Holmes before he met Dr. Watson. At one point, he tells his friend that his ancestors were country squires, his grandmother was the sister of Vernet (a French portraitist), and he has a brother named Mycroft. Beyond that, his background is quite open to speculation, and offered a blank slate for me to create an origin story for the great detective. As a first step, I had to create a family for him. Sherlockians have deduced his father’s name was Siger from a reference he makes about taking on another name during his adventures after his “death” at the Reichenbach Falls. He never mentions his mother’s name, but Arthur Conan Doyle had a tendency to name his female characters “Mary” or “Violet.” I decided to go with Violet, but to give her the French background with the name Violette.
I also decided to give her a brilliant mind. After all, Mycroft and Sherlock had to get their intelligence from someone. At the same time, being at least part French (her mother being Vernet’s sister), she would have been surrounded by an artistic family with a more bohemian lifestyle than most Victorians. Thus, once in England and married, she would chafe under Victorian social conventions, and have to find ways to work around them.
She did find herself in a peculiar position of power within the Holmes family. Married couple’s responsibilities during the Victorian period were clearly delineated. The husband’s sphere was outside the home, the wife’s, all that occurred within. Women hired and managed all household help, kept expense books, and most important, managed the children’s education. While boys might attend boarding schools when they were older, their first instructors would have been governesses and tutors who gave them an introduction to reading and writing, instruction in music and art, and other languages. The girls would have also received tutelage in such skills as cross-stitching.
Violette, then, would have been in charge of her sons’ education, and given her own progressive interests, would have ensured they were schooled in the latest scientific advances, maintained strong physical health, and were aware of current events. In this third case, The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar, Violette also tutors her sons in the ways of women as she helps Mycroft navigate past scheming mothers with daughters on the lookout for a squire’s son.
Have you ever thought about how Sherlock became the world’s most famous consulting detective? Who do you imagine as behind it?
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