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News / Life / Clark County Life

Vancouver author publishes 8th Sherlock Holmes novel

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 9, 2023, 6:04am
2 Photos
"Sherlock Holmes: Deathly Relics" is the eighth Sherlock Holmes novel by Sam Siciliano of Vancouver.
"Sherlock Holmes: Deathly Relics" is the eighth Sherlock Holmes novel by Sam Siciliano of Vancouver. Photo Gallery

Some fictional characters are just too great to fade away. Look no further than Batman, James Bond, the Wicked Witch of the West and the original crew of the Starship Enterprise.

Those nonexistent people have lived many extra lifetimes’ worth of adventures after being renewed, reimagined and rebooted by later artists who can’t stop going back for more from their favorite timeless archetypes.

The creation of artistic works that mimic or mash up classic originals is called pastiche. Author Sam Siciliano, who lives in west Vancouver, has just published his eighth pastiche novel with Titan Books under the imprint “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

In Siciliano’s latest, “Deathly Relics,” the world’s greatest detective is visiting the Vatican when a holy relic is stolen: a bone from the fingertip of St. Thomas the Apostle.

The whodunit that follows touches on everything from Catholic doctrine and European geopolitics to organized crime and the pleasures of fine Italian dining. Holmes hobnobs with Pope Leo XIII himself while working a case that’s rich with Vatican scenery: grand basilicas, candlelit sanctuaries and spooky crypts, as well as the cobblestone streets, markets and tourist sites of Rome.

One saint’s stolen fingertip turns out to be the least of Holmes’ problems as more crimes follow, including murder.

Dangerous

St. Thomas is the source of the phrase “doubting Thomas,” because he refused to believe eyewitness reports about the resurrection of Christ, holding out until he could touch Jesus for himself. The Bible tells how Christ eventually scolded him, gently, for this lack of faith.

Unfortunately, Siciliano said, literary doubting Thomases simply won’t put up with anything fresh and original in his approach to Holmes. They’re especially unforgiving of his replacement of Dr. John Watson, the original Holmes’ faithful sidekick and scribe, with a more colorful and dimensional partner.

Dr. Henry Vernier is an earthier, snarkier and frankly lustier fellow than Watson, and he’s also married to another physician. Dr. Michelle Vernier is a key character in many Siciliano pastiches for her smarts and toughness, he said.

“She brings the feminine presence and a lot of insight to a man’s world,” Siciliano said. “She’s not squeamish and she’s much tougher than most of the men.”

Meanwhile, in “Deathly Relics,” her husband turns out to be the go-to man of experience who’s pumped for advice about women by everyone from Holmes himself to clerics struggling with celibacy. Sex gets a franker consideration from Vernier than it ever could have from discreet, genteel Watson.

Siciliano retired Watson and launched Vernier in order to declare a little respectful independence from the strictures of Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle’s original world, he said. (Siciliano’s Holmes is dismissive of what he insists are Watson’s highly fictionalized reports about their earlier adventures.) But some readers consider that alteration “unforgivable heresy,” Siciliano writes on his website.

“It’s kind of dangerous, writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches,” he said. “If you diverge (from Conan Doyle’s own ideas and details), there are hardcore Holmes fanatics who get violent. But I couldn’t let that stop me. I wanted some freedom.”

Further adventures

Siciliano grew up devouring genre fiction, including science fiction, fantasy, American detective noir and English drawing room comedies. But when he attended the famed University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop in the 1970s, he found genre fiction frowned upon in favor of literary fiction. There wasn’t much respect for his vampire novel, “Blood Farm,” which resets the classic tale of Dracula in the cornfields of Iowa.

“Blood Farm” was published in 1988 by Pageant Books. Siciliano, whose day job for decades was database manager, published two more vampire novels after that. Meanwhile, the notable success of “The Seven Percent Solution,” a Holmes pastiche by writer Nicholas Meyer that became a popular film, inspired him to try developing his own version of the world’s greatest detective.

“ ‘Seven Percent Solution’ made me think there was the possibility of riches and fame with a Holmes pastiche,” Siciliano said.

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That may have turned out to be true for movies and TV, but not for genre novelists, he said. Still, in 1994, renowned mystery publisher Otto Penzler took a chance on Siciliano’s first Holmes book. “The Angel of the Opera,” a real pastiche lover’s pastiche, inserts Sherlock Holmes into the original 1909 “The Phantom of the Opera” novel by Gaston Leroux.

Since then, Titan Books has launched “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” series, featuring many different authors’ takes on the world’s greatest detective. “Deathly Relics” makes eight for Siciliano. Another one is one the way, he said.

Also set at the Vatican is an entirely original, nonpastiche, non-Holmes thriller by Siciliano that’s looking for an agent now. It features a “tough-guy priest” during the rise of the Nazis, he said, and it’s titled “Vatican Noir.”

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