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Authors: Michelle Birkby

The House at Baker Street

BOOK: The House at Baker Street
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For Claire, in eternal gratitude.

Dear Reader,

I got my first Sherlock Holmes book when I was thirteen. It was a beautiful collection of all the short stories, complete with the iconic Sidney Paget illustrations. I read it straight
through.

At about the same time, Granada TV did their excellent adaptations of the stories, starring Jeremy Brett. The look of it was based on those Paget illustrations, and Brett’s portrayal of
Sherlock Holmes was exactly how I imagined him. Between the stories and the TV series (and the occasional Basil Rathbone film) I was hooked. I loved this wonderful, gas-lit, atmospheric world of
crime and adventure, where the mystery was solved not with guns and violence, but a brilliant mind using cool logic (and occasionally Watson’s gun, I admit). I loved the way Holmes brought
order to chaos, and made sure wrongs were always righted – even if that meant slightly cheating the law occasionally.

I never lost my fascination for the world of Sherlock Holmes, and over the years saw many TV and film and, occasionally, stage versions. But I always returned to the written stories.

A few years ago, I was sat, curled up in the corner of the sofa, reading
The Empty House
for about the twentieth time. In this story, Holmes places a wax head of himself in the window of
221b to tempt a sniper. It’s so dangerous that John is not allowed to go into the room. To make it look lifelike, the head is moved from time to time – by Mrs Hudson. Mr Holmes happily
sends his housekeeper – on her hands and knees – into this room where if she is spotted, she could be shot; and she does this quite calmly.

I’d never really thought about Mrs Hudson before, but I suddenly noticed her. Sometimes when you read a story twenty times, something new strikes you on the twenty-first, and that was what
happened to me with Mrs Hudson. It is as if a blurred figure in the background suddenly came into focus. There’s more to this woman than meets the eye, I thought. I read the stories again,
looking for her. If you believe, as I and many do, that she is the Martha from
His Last Bow
, it is clear that she is so much more than just a housekeeper.

There isn’t really much about the background of Mrs Hudson in the books, so I felt free to give her a history, and a maiden name and a personality straight out of my own imagination.
Arthur Conan Doyle had given me just enough to spark my interest in her, and left enough unsaid to let my imagination roam. I imagined an intelligent woman, calm in a crisis, living in the same
house as Sherlock Holmes, meeting all those people tramping up the stairs to him, from prime ministers to the very worst villains. Surely she couldn’t help but take an interest. Surely she
had to get involved. And maybe, if she did get involved, she might want to give detecting a try for herself . . .

But every detective needs a partner, and where Sherlock Holmes had his Watson, Mrs Hudson could have her Watson too.

I’d always been intrigued by Mary Watson. She was described by Holmes himself as charming, useful, and with a decided genius. He noted her organization, and intelligence. It seemed unfair
to me that she should play such a large role in
The Sign of Four
– and impress Holmes himself – and then be relegated to a rarely seen figure in the background, always being
abandoned by her husband so he could run off on another adventure with Holmes. Who could blame her for wanting an adventure of her own?

The women of the Holmes stories are often brave, clever, resourceful and daring. It’s clear that while Sherlock Holmes has no great opinion of women, being a decided misogynist at the
beginning of the stories, he is surrounded by remarkable women, not least those closest to him. I felt Martha Hudson and Mary Watson had their own stories to tell. It’s time for them to step
out of the shadows.

Michelle Birkby

CONTENTS

LIST OF CHARACTERS

PROLOGUE

FAREWELLS AND GREETINGS

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

A CIRCLE OF FOUR

THE BOYS OF BAKER STREET

THE FRIENDSHIP OF BILLY AND WIGGINS

DEATH AT THE DOCKS

THE ADVENTURE OF THE WHITECHAPEL LADY

SCANDALS AND SECRETS

THE WOMAN AND THE STRANGE REQUEST

A GOOD NIGHT’S WORK

THE GREAT ESCAPE

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF MISS ADLER

THE GAME CHANGES

THE HOUSE OF SECRETS

THE CORNERS OF WHITECHAPEL

CLUES AND TRAPS AND PATTERNS

PUTTING TOGETHER THE PIECES

FOLLOWING THE CLUES

STEPPING OUT OF THE SHADOWS

THE FINAL ACT

THE SUSPICION OF LESTRADE

EPILOGUE

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

RESEARCH MATERIALS

AUTHOR Q&A WITH MICHELLE BIRKBY

READING GROUP QUESTIONS FOR THE HOUSE AT BAKER STREET

Mrs Martha Hudson
– housekeeper to Sherlock Holmes, the Great Detective, landlady of 221b Baker Street

Mary Watson
– friend to Martha Hudson, married to Dr John Watson

Sherlock Holmes
– the Great Detective

Dr John Watson
– Sherlock Holmes’ friend and biographer

Billy
– page-boy at 221b Baker Street

Wiggins
– head of the Baker Street Irregulars

Jake
and
Micky
– members of the Irregulars

Irene Norton
(previously
Adler
) – the Woman, and ally to Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson

Inspector Lestrade
– representative of the police

Mycroft Holmes
– Sherlock Holmes’ brother, and a powerful man in the British Government

Laura Shirley
– a client of Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson

Mr Shirley
– Laura Shirley’s husband

The Whitechapel Lady
– a mysterious veiled lady

Sir George Burnwell
– a rake and a cad

Patrick West
– a gossip writer

Langdale Pike
– a man who loves gossip

Adam Ballant
– a dubious client of Mr Holmes

Jack Ripon
– tormentor of the Whitechapel Lady

Richard Halifax
– the Whitechapel Lady’s solicitor

Lillian Rose
– a clever prostitute

The Ordinary Man
– a suspicious character

Robert Sheldon
– a photographer

Ruby
– a model

It started with champagne and promises on a sunny afternoon.

It was an adventure, a dare, to while away the hours, to prove ourselves just as good as them. It started in laughter and hope and joy. It is ending here in blood and pain and fire, in the
darkness.

I am afraid, so very afraid, and I am tempted to run, to get help, to scream for rescue, but I won’t. She is there, tied to a chair at the point of a gun, half-unconscious, bleeding,
having suffered worse than me, but she won’t call for help either. We made a pact – we would do this ourselves, without help from the men upstairs. It was a lightly taken oath, half in
jest, but now the reality was deadly serious.

‘Who’s there?’ the vile creature calls, and I draw back into the blackness even further. My place is in the shadows, off the page, silent behind the clever and the good. I
am the watcher, the listener, the minor player in the game. To be here, now, in this situation, in danger, is not my role.

Yet my role has changed.

‘Holmes? I know you’re there!’ he calls. His voice rings with triumph. It is the cue for my entrance.

‘Mr Holmes has no idea who you are,’ I tell him, and although my hand shakes, my voice is firm, and she stirs a little behind him.

BOOK: The House at Baker Street
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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