Thursday, October 6, 2011
Sherlock Holmes, Robert Service and the Klondike
If you have been following my blog and reading Cold Hearted Murder, you have been reading not only a serialized Sherlock Holmes mystery, but also a Canadian mystery where a good part of the story takes place in the Yukon Territory during the Klondike Gold Rush.
After I had written The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I did not think I had another Holmes story in me. There had been some nine adventures in the first book which had drained me. I do not know how Conan Doyle could have written 56 short stories and 4 novels. After moving on to another non-Holmes project I got the craving for another Sherlock story. This time I would not write short story adventures but a novel, and I would fashion it after A Study in Scarlet, the very first Holmes story.
I wanted to do a story with Holmes in his usual environs, but I still wanted a Canadian connection. Knowing a bit of Canadian history I focused on the Klondike Gold Rush, a drama unique in North American history. I had read Pierre Burton’s (my favourite Canadian historian) The Klondike years before and was amazed by the incredible stories and characters that the gold rush produced.
I thought the Klondike Gold Rush would be a great backdrop for a Holmes story. Like in A Study in Scarlet, my Holmes adventure, Cold Hearted Murder (yes, I know Cold Hearted should be hyphenated) would have the first part take place in London with Holmes and Watson investigating some gruesome murders. The second part of the story would tell the tale of what led up to the crimes.
Burton’s book had not been my first exposure to the Klondike. As a child I remember my grandfather reciting the poems of Robert Service; The Shooting of Dan McGrew, The Cremation of Sam McGgee, which led me to buy and read all of Service’s poems. His verse about the Klondike were always my favourites. In the first part of Cold Hearted Murder I decided to preface each chapter with a quote from an original Sherlock Holmes story. In the second half that takes place in the Yukon, I use a verse from Robert Service. I think my grandfather would have liked that.
One of my original characters from The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Henry Barclay of the North West Mounted Police makes an appearance in Cold Hearted Murder as well. You cannot have a good Canadian story without a Mountie. The Mounties were, of course in the Yukon during the Gold Rush to keep order, but that does not mean crime was nonexistent.
Just recently a co-worker gave me a facsimile of a document from the Yukon dated 1903. The document gives permission to a person to view the hanging of two men who killed three people while committing robbery. I decided to investigate and see how many public hangings there were in the Yukon and discovered that between 1899 and 1903 there were seven hangings in Dawson, all for the crime of murder.
This is not so hard to understand when you consider the extraordinary times of thousands of people far from home in a remote wilderness on top of the world all hoping to strike it rich.