‘You really shoud stick to the facts,’ Ham advised. ‘I know you Artie. You won’t be able to resist throwing in some pirates and a centaur.’
The Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries: The Scarlet Phantom
By Robert J. Harris
Published by Floris Books
For those who are still unaware (for shame!) could you tell us a little bit about the Artie Conan Doyle mysteries?
The premise of the series is that Arthur Conan Doyle, while still a schoolboy in Edinburgh, has a series of adventures which will later inspire him to create the character of Sherlock Holmes and write those stories which would make him the most famous character in literature. In the course of these adventures he gradually acquires the skills of a detective and takes his first steps towards being a writer.
You’re on your third mystery now, The Scarlet Phantom, could you give us a hint of what to expect?
I pride myself that the mysteries Artie has to solve are worthy of the great Sherlock Holmes himself. In this novel he is presented with a series of seemingly impossible crimes committed by an invisible thief who walks through walls and disappears at will. It will take all his courage and ingenuity to crack the case along with his friend Ham, new friend Peril Abernethy, a girl scientist, and young actress Rowena McCleary, who returns from the second book in the series The Vanishing Dragon.
You’ve written a number of novels for adults and children, and you like to tackle characters from history. What do you like about continuing to explore characters that already exist?
My first two solo novels concerned the teenage adventures of Leonardo da Vinci and William Shakespeare, which was an exercise in imagining what they would have been like as young men and inventing adventures for them set against an accurate historical background. Working with existing literary characters is a very similar in that I have to accurately represent the world of the original stories.
I see myself in a position rather like that of a folk musician who works in a certain tradition, carrying on and maintaining interest in that tradition while enriching and adding to it. In my case I see myself as carrying on in the particular tradition of the Scottish adventure story, which can be traced from Sir Walter Scott on through Robert Louis Stephenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan right through to Alistair Maclean.
As well as reviving John Buchan’s classic hero Richard Hannay in two new adventures, the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries allows me to approach Sherlock Holmes from a new and entertaining angle. Having honed my skills as a mystery writer in the Artie series, I am excited to now be working on a brand new Sherlock Holmes novel which is to be published by Polygon in September of 2020. Watch out for that!
Your novels are action-packed and full of adventure. What do you think is the key to a good pageturner?
In order for a novel to be a page turner it is not enough to just have exciting action and cliffhanger chapter endings. Readers actually have to care what happens next because they have been drawn into the story and are engaged with the characters.
Have you ever solved any crimes or mysteries in real life? Or do you keep your adventuring to the page?
I did many years ago use deductions worthy of Sherlock Holmes to discover where my wife had misplaced the spare car keys (They were in a tray of children’s paints on top of the fridge.). Other than that my adventures are strictly literary.
What novels inspire you in your writing?
The novels of Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan and John Dickson Carr. My World Goes Loki trilogy was inspired by the comic fantasies of Diana Wynn Jones. I have also written a teen science fiction novel inspired by the stories of Eric Frank Russell which I am sure WILL BE PUBLISHED ONE DAY!
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Night at the Mocking Widow by Carter Dickson, which is a pen-name of my favourite mystery writer John Dickson Carr. In non fiction I really enjoy Tom Holland’s histories and am now reading his latest Dominion: the Making of the Western Mind. In comics I’m reading Injustice 2 from DC. I am totally in love with the whole of the epic Injustice series. And no, I won’t call them graphic novels. There’s nothing wrong with reading comic books.
What other books do you always recommend to young readers?
I always recommend the hilarious Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thomson, Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes, and Red Fever by Caroline Clough, a gripping post-apocalyptic adventure for younger readers.
Do you know what’s next for young Artie? Are you allowed to tell us?
We don’t have a fourth adventure scheduled as yet, but I have some ideas about what will be in it. It will be a little different as this time Artie and his friends – Ham, Rowena and Peril – will be working as a team right from the start. This opens up a wide range of possibilities for investigation and adventure and will allow me to try the characters in new combinations.
The Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries: The Scarlet Phantom by Robert J. Harris is published by Floris Books, priced £6.99
‘Meticulously, they avoid reminiscence.’