We are thrilled to give you a sneaky peak of Paul Cornell’s fantastic new supernatural crime thriller Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, the third book in the Shadow Police series. Not out until 19th May, we thought we’d treat you early, because we have some super exciting TV news to share with you, via www.paulcornell.com
It took little persuasion for the curator to accept that this was a crime scene. She’d seen enough procedural TV shows to understand that evidence could be invisible to the naked eye, and the knife in the floor had startled her. Everything had been normal, she said, when she’d locked up this room at around 11 p.m. Sefton got her to call her bosses, which meant her leaving a message on their answerphone. That was perfect, because it meant that, in the early hours, after first Quill and then Ross and Costain had arrived, and Sefton had interviewed the curator, taken her contact details and sent her home, the team had the place to themselves.
Quill stared at the body, as if this was some mad joke being played on him. He looked, if possible, more burdened than ever. Before Sefton could ask if something had happened, he was all business. ‘Is he solid?’
‘No, Jimmy.’ Sefton demonstrated, sticking the toe of his shoe right through the body’s head. They all knew that the ‘ghosts’ formed by London ‘remembering’ a real or fictional character had varying degrees of solidity. This time, they couldn’t examine the corpse, couldn’t even turn it over. Sefton had already taken a lot of photos, using his phone, then checked that, to a Sighted person, the body did show up in them. The image of the body was still multifaceted, changing as you looked at it, changing with the angle. It was, Sefton had realized, a combination of all the different Sherlocks, all the different actors, including Speake, Flamstead and Cassell, loads he didn’t recognize, some in modern dress, many wearing the deerstalker and cape, which thus had a regular shape compared to the flickering of the rest of the image, and also a sort of pencilled version, which Sefton realized must be the strong memory created by the original illustrator of the Holmes stories, whose name Sefton couldn’t remember. That added a flavour that, after a moment, he realized reminded him of an ancient A-ha pop video. That thought had led to him filming the body on his phone, until he was sure he’d caught the full cycle of incarnations as they flickered by.
‘No habeas corpus, then,’ said Ross, which might have been a joke except there was, as ever, no humour in her expression.
‘How is this even possible?’ asked Costain, who looked like he might have wanted to make a few dark jokes himself, but was, as always now, restraining every expression of who he was for Ross’s sake.
‘Well,’ said Sefton, who’d had a while to think about this, ‘if you mean “How is there a Sherlock Holmes?”, then I think it’s obvious that there would be, or was, in our version of London. London remembers things that happened, but like we saw with the “most haunted house” at Berkeley Square, it equally remembers stuff that was just made up. Sherlock Holmes: a very popular fictional character with a huge link to London. A lot of people even think he’s real.’
‘There’s been “Holmesmania”, with the three versions filming at once in town, getting everyone thinking about it,’ said Ross. ‘It’s actually kind of obvious he’d be one of our “ghosts”.’
‘If you mean “How do you kill a ghost?”’ Sefton continued, ‘you’ve got me there.’
‘Why haven’t we seen him before?’ Costain had stepped closer to the body.
‘Where’s he associated with?’ said Ross, a rhetorical question, talking to herself, though Costain had looked up hopefully for a moment at the thought she might actually have addressed him. ‘Just this building. The ghost of Jack the Ripper was in Whitechapel. Every other place associated with Sherlock Holmes . . . Is it Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles?’
‘Yeah,’ said Quill, ‘and there’s the Reichenbach Falls, wherever that is.’
‘Not in London,’ said Ross.
‘Yeah, I fucking knew that,’ said Quill, startling her. Then he visibly chided himself. ‘Sorry.’
Sefton found himself frowning. That wasn’t the Quill he knew. He’d hoped . . . but later for that.
Costain was shaking his head, like he fundamentally didn’t believe what he was seeing. ‘Ghost body, but not a ghost weapon.’ He gently tapped the dagger with the toe of his shoe.
Sefton nodded. ‘To kill a ghost, you’d need a special weapon, and that’d have to be a real object. Makes sense.’
Ross stepped to the edge of the blood pool and, with a reluctance born of many tangible crime scenes, put her finger in the liquid. ‘Blood isn’t real,’ she said. She stepped into it to squat by the blade, and waved aside the start of a warning from Quill. ‘We can’t disturb something that isn’t there. This weapon, though, is solid evidence.’ She took out her phone to take some closer photos of what Sefton had initially taken for decoration, but now could make out as a tiny row of what looked like stick men, engraved on the blade. ‘There’s an obvious question here: is this coincidental to the Study in Scarlet murder, or some sort of weird copycat case, or is there a link?’
‘You said you felt like something had gone missing from London,’ Quill said to Sefton. ‘That Holmes came to you in a dream. Did someone do this? Is this murder?’
‘Now we’re wondering if ghosts commit suicide,’ murmured Costain, as if someone had to say it.
‘What do you mean, Jimmy?’ asked Sefton. He didn’t like that sound in Quill’s voice, familiar from his own experience.
He was used to the voices of organized crime network bosses, that edgy mix of authority and paranoia.
‘I mean, maybe it’s London saying something to us. Maybe this is, you know, symbolic.’
‘That’s the first time I have ever heard you use that word,’ said Costain. He was looking as uneasy as Sefton was, trying to find some banter here.
Quill slowly shook his head. ‘The death of Sherlock Holmes? He’s deduction; he’s the idea you can . . . you know, pick apart something that’s happened, find meaning to it, solve it. Maybe we’re getting to the end of that being possible. Maybe soon nothing’ll mean anything.’ He suddenly, artificially, laughed, as if he’d realized how unlike his old self he sounded. ‘Cheerful thought, actually. Then we can retire. Go somewhere nice.’ His smile faded again.
Ross made an audible clicking sound with her tongue, as if adding an annoyed full stop to an idea she wasn’t willing to entertain. She got out her notebook. ‘I’m going to start recording all the details,’ she said, as if Quill hadn’t spoken. ‘What about the rest of the room?’
Sefton was glad of her moving things on. He took the evidence gloves from his pocket and put them on, which made Costain and finally Quill do that too. They examined the crime scene. Sefton had taken it to be undisturbed, but they swiftly found quite a few worrying changes to what the guidebook photo indicated was the norm. It was hard to see, but on one of the walls was drawn, in chalk, an upright rectangle, as if someone was planning to build a doorway there. ‘Look at this,’ said Costain. ‘Like Ballard used to get into the bank.’
‘So other people have something that can do that,’ said Sefton. ‘That speaks of a suspect leaving the scene. Oh, wait a sec.’ He made a phone call and checked quickly with some bemused officers on night shift, finding that Ballard was still in his cell and his piece of chalk was safe and sound in evidence. No, he hadn’t drawn anything on the cell wall.
‘The things,’ sighed Costain, ‘we have to worry about.’ They went back to work.
In front of the grate of the fireplace, there was a strange, rather theatrical shoe, bigger than anyone could comfortably wear, with faded blue, gold and red details, the toe of which was upturned. There was a hole in it, and from its side had poured a trail of what, with a sniff and the withholding of a sneeze, Sefton identified as tobacco. A pile of the stuff, beside it, had been formed into a spiral shape.
‘Bloody spiral,’ said Quill, sounding suddenly like he’d solved the case.
Ross immediately came over and said it didn’t look anything like the spiral patterns the witch Mora Losley had left behind her in their first case together, and besides, those had been made of soil. She sounded like she wanted to add that Quill should have already noted those things.
‘That’d be a Persian slipper,’ said Costain, looking at the guidebook and diverting Quill from Ross’s glare.
The hole in said footwear looked like it had been cut. Sefton took a picture. As he did so, he glanced up and noticed something else. On the mantelpiece above the fireplace, there was a drawing of a woman in Victorian costume. There was something about her eyes. He stood and looked more closely. They’d each had the tiniest of pinpricks made in them. It made it look like the woman’s gaze was following you, but in a disturbing, askew way. Under the drawing was a caption: ‘Irene Adler.’ Sefton pointed the holes out to Ross, who was now writing at high speed. ‘The woman in Holmes’s life,’ said Costain.
‘You ever read any of the stories?’ asked Sefton.
‘When I was a kid. She’s in a lot of the films and TV shows, isn’t she?’
Beside the photograph, a large knife was embedded in the mantelpiece. It had caught Sefton’s gaze on his first inspection of the room, but it was pictured in the guidebook, so he gathered it was a feature of the room as it should be. It held a bundle of letters, with the 221B address at the top of the first one. Sefton leafed through them and noticed something. ‘Here, look at this.’
The others gathered round. Only the first two letters were complete, the top one being an appeal for help from someone who’d lost their cat, the second one a letter from someone complaining to Holmes about the noise of his violin playing. Both of them had a series of tiny holes punched in them, sometimes cutting out letters from words, sometimes not. The holes were also present in the blank sheets that made up the rest of the pile, not going through from the letters above them, but cut out in different patterns, after which they must have been put back under the knife.
‘What the living fuck?’ said Costain. He was shaking his head. He checked the guide again, but couldn’t find any reference to this being something from one of the Holmes stories. Sefton let his gaze drift to the right and realized that what he’d thought was a globe of the world was something entirely different. On top of another cabinet in the corner, beside lots of objects that were souvenirs of particular cases, sat what had once been – he took the guide from Costain and checked – a wax bust of Holmes’s head. However, it was now just about unrecognizable. The features had been melted, the eyes now streaks of colour down the pale face, the nose a stalactite connecting to the wood below. Sefton reached out and found no heat near it. Raising a hand to keep the others back, he put a finger on the wax itself. It wasn’t even warm.
‘We can get an expert opinion on that cooling,’ said Ross, ‘get a time frame.’
‘The curator,’ added Sefton, ‘said everything was normal at eleven p.m. That’s the last time she looked in here. I had that dream . . . maybe five minutes later. I was here by midnight. Maybe the dream was actually the moment Holmes . . . “died”? He seemed to be desperately asking for help.’
‘Over here,’ said Ross, moving on. She was pointing to a series of bullet holes in the wall, above a pile of books beside Holmes’s desk, which formed the letters ‘V.R.’ ‘I think that’s an original feature.’
‘It is,’ said Sefton, consulting the guide.
‘But this isn’t.’ She was pointing at a series of thin red lines that connected several of the holes, sometimes crossing each other. ‘Looks like biro, not blood.’ She moved lights to photograph the lines clearly. Her brow had furrowed into a look Sefton appreciated. She had seen several patterns now, and, though that brought her no pleasure, for both her and the rest of them that was equivalent to her having seen a lock to which she would surely subsequently find keys.
‘What’s he pointing at?’ said Quill, who had kept glancing back at the body.
Indeed, now Sefton looked closely, the outstretched hand was flickering through some gestures that resembled pointing. He looked up in the same direction as Quill and found the smaller desk in the corner opposite, with pictures of two men above it, one in military uniform, the other a man of proud appearance with white hair whipped back from his brow like a mad composer.
‘General Gordon, a contemporary of Holmes, died in a siege in the Sudan, and Henry Ward Beecher, an American anti-slavery preacher,’ said Costain, consulting the guidebook. ‘Or, as I suppose we can now refer to them, suspects.’
‘What was he working on?’ Quill had wandered to Holmes’s own desk, to the left of which was pinned a map of the night sky, a diagram of the solar system and an astronomical photo of lots of stars.
‘He wasn’t working on anything,’ said Ross; ‘he’s a fictional character in a museum. His ghost might have looked like it was working on something, but nothing remembered by London has . . . agency, volition.’
‘And yet,’ said Quill, ‘those charts and that photo aren’t in the guidebook. And you just made an assumption based only on the limited amount of shit we’ve seen.’
Ross looked relieved to be corrected. She glanced to Sefton. This was definitely more like the Quill they knew. ‘Yes, boss.’
Quill unpinned the astronomical map, diagram and photo, and inspected them more closely. On the back of the photo was something that made him call them over to see. In an elegant, precise hand, there was written:
The ultimate crime. I must solve it.
‘That,’ said Sefton, ‘would be a motive for murder. Holmes got too close to something.’
‘Considering all the books and stuff,’ said Costain, ‘what would he think of as “ultimate”?’
Ross was looking annoyed again. ‘I can’t get used to the idea of him “thinking”,’ she said. ‘If he was, that’s such an anomaly it must mean something.’
‘Maybe a ghost like Holmes would work on crimes,’ said Sefton. ‘That’s what he was remembered for.’ He checked the handwriting on his phone against what Google could find. ‘Quite a few people have had a go at doing Holmes’s handwriting. They all look a bit like that, but we sort of know what his writing would look like, don’t we?’
‘Where’s Watson?’ said Costain.
Sefton wanted to smack himself on the forehead. The sheer density of information in this murder room made seeing what was right in front of you bloody difficult. ‘Yeah, good point. If Holmes was well known enough to be a ghost, and pinned down to this location, wouldn’t Watson be too?’
‘Probably,’ said Ross. ‘Damn it. I hate “probably”.’
They all took a closer, Sighted look around the room, Sefton remembering what Costain had said to him about how hard to find some of the Ripper victims’ ghosts had been. Of Watson, however, there was no sign.
‘The curious case,’ said Costain, ‘of the Watson who wasn’t there.’
‘Moriarty,’ said Ross, seemingly the instant the idea came to her. ‘Got to be suspect number one, surely? If you ask anybody the question “Who killed Sherlock Holmes?”, that’s the answer you’ll get.’
‘Maybe,’ said Sefton. ‘Except that Moriarty isn’t as huge in the public imagination as Holmes is, and isn’t linked to a London location. I don’t think he’d have a ghost.’
‘Wait a sec.’ Quill had been looking off into the distance, the photo still in his hand. He was breathing hard, as if he’d just finished running. Sefton watched as Quill searched the desk beside the photo and found something else. ‘I think this was sent to him,’ he said. He picked up an empty envelope from the desk, compared the size of it to the photo and showed them the card backing. The stamps on the front were modern, and carried a London postmark. The letter was addressed to Sherlock Holmes at the famous address.
‘He must get a lot of mail,’ said Sefton. ‘Some fictional characters do. I wonder where it’s kept.’
‘We need another word with that curator,’ said Ross.
‘Whoever killed Holmes,’ said Ross, ‘left a room full of deliberate clues. That’s a strike against Moriarty. His big thing was that you wouldn’t suspect he was a criminal, wasn’t it? He took care not to leave clues.’
Sefton went back to the other side of the room, which held a bookcase containing volumes such as a reverse telephone directory, and several bound collections of Holmes’s own monographs. Sefton opened one of them and was momentarily surprised to find the pages blank. These were, of course, like the letters, just props. There were some gaps in the rows of books. He looked on the desk for them, then around the room. He couldn’t find them, and indicated that to the others.
Ross photographed the shelves and noted the placing of the gaps. ‘Why would someone nick fake books?’ she asked.
‘Maybe it was an opportunist, robbery gone wrong,’ said Costain. She looked incredulously at him, then realized he was joking and turned away, took a couple of steps away from him, angry at him all over again.
Sefton watched Costain’s face fall; another small attempt to reach out, another indication that the connection between them had gone forever. He looked back to Quill, who was leaning on the wall, his expression far away. It was like he’d had an idea but he’d lost it.
Sefton was suddenly angry, with himself and with them. ‘Don’t just – don’t do that!’ he yelled. The others all turned to look at him. ‘You’ve stepped right back into going through the motions, filling your roles, and that’s great, that’s what we should be doing, but if we keep doing only that, we will run ourselves into the ground, like you’ve already been doing for weeks now!’
‘Kev—’ began Quill, a sigh in his voice.
‘But look at this, look at it! It got to you when you saw that handwriting, I know it did! That’s Sherlock bloody Holmes lying dead right there! This is . . . This has to be a change in how London remembers stuff, if he doesn’t just regenerate like a video game character or something like that. This is huge. Wait a sec.’ He checked his evidence gloves weren’t torn, marched over, looked to Ross to check what he was about to do was OK, and, a nod from her confirming that it was, pulled the blade from the flickering ‘body’. He half expected Holmes to flash back into existence and become once again what he must have been before, the wraith of an idea haunting these chambers, but he didn’t. Sefton straightened up and held the murder weapon high in the air. ‘This is the ultimate murder mystery, and this room displays a ton of evidence. What more do you need to get excited about what only we do?! What more do you need to bloody snap out of it, work together and be . . . us again?!’
Costain was grinning at him, he realized, obviously relieved by what had been said, but still, Sefton was immediately a bit embarrassed at having made the closest to a stirring speech that he’d ever heard from anyone in the Met. ‘Kev—’
‘I mean it. Enough with the jokes from you.’
‘No, I agree, and that’s great, that’s the best thing, but I just looked at the BBC news page.’ He held up his phone. ‘Another body’s been found with “Rache” written on the wall. Do you want to say it or will I?’
‘Mate . . . the game is afoot.’
London Falling and The Severed Streets are available now.
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes, PB £8.99, 19/05/2016 TOR
Paul Cornell @paul_cornell