Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Murder in the Vatican Tour




Interview with the Ann Lewis

First, tell us a bit about Murder in the Vatican!
Ann: I have a tagline I like to use that also appears in the trailer: A sudden death in the Vatican. An international incident over stolen artifacts. A priest’s wrongful imprisonment for murder.” But really, Murder in the Vatican is a collection of three stories (novellas) that tell “untold tales” from the Sherlock Holmes canon. “Untold tales” are stories that Watson mentions, but never gives us the details. With this book, Watson alluded to three Church-related cases, two of which deal directly with the Pope of his time, Pope Leo XIII. “The Vatican Cameos” is mentioned in The Hound of the Baskervilles, “The Case of Cardinal Tosca” is mentioned in “The Adventure of Black Peter,” and “The Second Coptic Patriarch” is mentioned in “The Retired Colourman.” So fans of the original stories can go back and find those references if they are so inclined.  

Has anyone ever tried this sort of story before?
A: “Pastiche” writing, or writing Holmes stories in imitation of Conan Doyle’s style, has been done by many authors. Nicholas Meyer, Isaac Asimov and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own son Adrian have given it a try. There are literally thousands of these kinds of stories published. (Curious folks and find an exhaustive database of Holmes-related fiction here: http://www.michael-procter.com/holmes/_index.html .) Many of these are takes on “untold tales” and all three of these very church mysteries have been tackled by other authors independently. But no one has written all three of the church mysteries mentioned in the original stories and collected them together in one volume.

It’s obvious that you imitate Doyle’s voice in this book (it wouldn’t be a Holmes story otherwise), but you also write in the voice of the Pope.  What did you do to create a “voice” for someone who really existed?
A: You mean Holmes isn’t real? {Big cheesy grin} Seriously, though, Pope Leo was a writer himself, in fact one of the most prolific popes in history. So I read his writing—encyclicals mainly. He wrote about 85 of them. And I discovered that in the topics he covered, and how he addressed those topics, he was a man who was regal (he was nobility), extremely devoted to his faith (one would hope), and definitely loving and fatherly. This was confirmed when I discovered primary source material about him. I came across a great article by a contemporary journalist named James Creelman who personally met and interviewed Pope Leo—the first journalist to interview a pope. Creelman was an Agnostic/Protestant, but he was impressed by Leo’s brilliance as well his as soft-spoken, kindly nature. I also read a period biography that covered him quite well. Using works from that time helped me get a good picture of the type of man he was, and gave me good insight into his voice.

What is most difficult in writing a period piece like this?
A: Avoiding anachronism is definitely a biggie, but I think the hardest part for this project was imitating Conan Doyle’s voice. While I am familiar Doyle’s language, so is everyone else who has ever read Sherlock Holmes. I knew I’d have fans scrutinizing the text for mistakes. With Leo, I was imitating his voice as translated into English, so there was bound to be some leeway. In the Doyle’s case, you have his music or you don’t, and the pastiche will sink or swim depending on how well you sell it. It was an intimidating prospect.

And this book has illustrations!
It sure does! That was one of the neat thing we managed to do to give it the flavor of the original stories. When the Holmes tales were first published, they were all illustrated by wonderful artists, Sydney Paget in particular. And it is one thing I think most pastiches are missing. Rikki Niehaus did a fabulous job with her drawings. She even used the right pen and ink technique. Her version of Holmes is just as I imagine him and her Pope Leo is spot on. She’s very talented and I can’t wait to see more work from her.

How did you feel about fictionalizing Pope Leo XIII?
A: Popes are tricky guys to cover. Some people love them; some hate them simply because of who they are. I just wanted do him justice. He was a controversial figure in his own way, but a decent man who reigned at a transitional time for the Church. He was an important figure historically, and yet he is nearly forgotten. It mattered so much to me to get him right. And being Catholic I even asked him to pray for me. I made him, perhaps, a little more active than he really was. He was, after all, pretty old at the time the stories take place. But we’re not talking a Kung Fu action sequence or anything, so it’s all good.

A bit of spookiness in the book—you write that Leo XIII had a reported “vision” of St. Michael battling Satan. Is that a true story?
A: It is something that was documented by those who knew him and who were present when it happened. It is, apparently, the origin for the Prayer of St. Michael that was, prior to Vatican II, said after every daily (low) Mass. This prayer is still said quite a bit, and I remember being told this very story when I was a child. I looked up references to it to make sure it wasn’t urban legend, but something documented. I was amazed to find that it was.

So you’d say being Catholic helped you with writing this book?
A: Absolutely. It gave me a starting point—a perspective and a body of knowledge other people may not have. I still had to do research on the church of the time, of course. I began attending a diocesan-approved Mass in the Extraordinary Form (i.e. the Traditional Latin Mass) so I could learn about the Mass as Leo said it. I was eager to share the church as it truly was and is, as opposed to Dan Brown’s version of it.

What other books do you have in the works?
A: I have written one more Holmes piece called The Watson Chronicles that is more about Watson’s life near the end of his partnership with Holmes. I’m editing that now. Then I hope to jump into a historical novel that tells the true story of a priest in 1840s southern Indiana who was falsely accused of assaulting a woman in a confessional. Hopefully I can tell you more about that another time. J

I understand you’ve worked with other well-known characters—Star Wars and DC Comics?
A: I wrote The Star Wars Essential Guide to Alien Species in 2001 for Del Rey Books (part of Random House) as well as its second edition, The New Essential Guide to Alien Species (2007). The Star Wars gig was a lucky break for me. I was given the opportunity because I was familiar with the universe, but also because I had experience working with licensed properties. My second job out of college was working at DC Comics in their Licensed Publishing Department, so I had learned how to treat characters that belong to someone else. That was a must for Star Wars. The DC Comics stuff that I wrote is out of print, but I believe both editions of the Star Wars books are still available on Amazon.

Where can someone buy Murder in the Vatican?
A: You can presently purchase it through the publisher, wessexpress.com. It is also carried on ignatius.com and it should be amazon.com soon (you have to check).

Where can readers find you if they have more questions?
A: You can reach me by emailing me through my web site: http://www.holmeschurchmysteries.com/. Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been great meeting you.






Murder in the Vatican:
The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes


Category: Mystery
ISBN:  ISBN 978-0-938501-52-7
Format: Trade paperback; illustrated
Publication Date: August 1, 2010
Pages: 152
Price: $18.95 US
Awards: Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval
Available from: Wessex Press, www.wessexpress.com and Ignatius Press: www.ignatius.com
For More Info:  http://holmeschurchmysteries.com, www.wessexpress.com

A sudden death in the Vatican. An international incident over stolen artifacts. A priest’s wrongful imprisonment for murder. Follow the great detective as he investigates three baffling cases at the "express desire of his Holiness, the Pope." In this collection of three of the great detective’s untold tales, mentioned in the original Holmes stories, the voices of Dr. John H. Watson and the legendary Pope Leo XIII reveal how the great Sherlock Holmes brought three grim ecclesial cases to startling and poignant conclusions.

Included in the book are: the novella “The Death of Cardinal Tosca,” in which Sherlock Holmes unravels a murder leading to a plot against the pope’s life; a second novella, “The Vatican Cameos,” in which Holmes, with the pope at his side, investigates a theft from a Vatican courier that has dire political implications; and the short story “The Second Coptic Patriarch,” in which Holmes seeks to clear the name of a priest accused of murder—a priest who is none other than Chesterton’s Father Brown! Each story is faithfully illustrated in the style of a late Victorian fiction magazine by artist Rikki Niehaus.

Order Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes directly from Wessex Press at www.wessexpress.com. Interested retailers should contact the publisher, Wessex Press, at their email address: publisher@wessexpress.com or by phone at (317) 294 - 2395.





The Stories

“The Case of Cardinal Tosca

In this memorable year '95 a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca -- an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope  . . . .
—Dr. John H. Watson, “The Adventure of Black Peter”

Pope Leo requests the aid of Sherlock Holmes to investigate the sudden and mysterious death of a member of his curia. Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson discover that the pen is definitely mightier than the sword in the hands of a murderous artisan whose intended victim is the Pope himself.

"The Vatican Cameos"
 I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.
Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles 

Sherlock Holmes helps Pope Leo XIII recover a rare collection of ancient Roman cameos that vanished en route to Queen Victoria. A gift with political implications, their loss could cost English Catholics their much-needed cathedral in London. Holmes travels to Rome to locate the stolen baubles, but when this theft quickly turns to murder, Holmes and the Holy Father realize this case is more treacherous than they imagined. Introduced and concluded by Dr. Watson, the bulk of the tale is told in the fatherly voice of the erudite Pope Leo XIII.

“The Second Coptic Patriarch”

You know that I am preoccupied with this case of the two Coptic Patriarchs, which should come to a head to-day.
———Sherlock Holmes, “The Retired Colourman”

When the famous Father Brown is imprisoned for the murder of a Coptic clerk, Brown’s ex-criminal friend Flambeau seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes to set him free. The case is a tangled problem that spans from the hearth of a simple family to the upper-echelons of the Church of Rome.
 

An Excerpt
From “The Case of Cardinal Tosca”



“Good Lord.” Harden’s face grew pale. “Rosalinda—!”
Pope Leo blanched as well. Tapping his right fist in his opposite hand, he turned to look out the window behind him. The rain clouds had now blotted the sun, making it seem as dusk in the early afternoon sky.
The pope turned back to us, his dark eyes flashing with decision. “Giocomo!” He commanded suddenly. “Come here.”
Father Dionisio came quickly to his master’s side.
“Remove your cassock.”
“Holiness?”
“Subito!” As Leo spoke, he lifted the pectoral cross over his head and set it on the table. He then unwrapped the sash from around his waist and tossed it on his chair. “Presto! Presto! We have no time to waste.”
Hurriedly, the young man unbuttoned his cassock even as Leo unbuttoned his own. Holmes came around the table and knelt to help Leo with the lower buttons.
“What on earth —?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” said Holmes.
Dionisio removed his cassock and stood in simple black shirt, clerical collar and black trousers. Holmes helped Leo slip out of his white cassock and into the black gown provided by Dionisio. The black was almost the right size, though fuller through the midsection due to Dionisio’s thicker frame.
“You’re not serious, Holiness,” said Harden. “You’re not actually leaving the Vatican. Someone may recognise you—”
“‘If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship,’” Leo replied, quoting what I later learned was Aquinas. “‘He would keep it in port forever.’” He buttoned the top of the cassock while Dionisio crouched to fasten the bottom. “We must go. An innocent child is in danger for my sake.”
“Signore Harden is right, Holiness,” said Dionisio from floor. “This is madness.”
“Basta.” Leo pulled the young man from the ground by the elbow. He gestured emphatically with an open hand to the top of his head. “Portami un cappello. Presto!” Dionisio dashed into the next room.  “And black stockings and shoes—ah, never mind I’ll find something.” The pontiff marched with remarkable energy into a side room that I guessed to be his sleeping area and returned promptly with black calf-length boots. His gentleman servant now trailed him protesting in rapid Italian as His Holiness moved. While the pontiff sat on a small bench to kick off his red slippers and pull on the boots, the agitated servant knelt beside him rambling so quickly that neither Harden nor I could decipher any meaning from him.
Apparently the meaning didn’t register to Leo either. “Basta, basta, BASTA!” He barked, stomping his boot-covered foot. He pointed a thumb to his chest. “Ego sum Petros!” He made sweeping gesture to drive the man from in front of him. “Vai!” Struck with terror, the butler dodged from the old man’s path as Leo charged to a baroque style cherry wood cabinet. From it he removed a worn, black leather case that he tucked under his arm. He finished buttoning his cuffs and Dionisio returned with a small, wide-brimmed black hat, which Leo snatched from him. He then plucked off his white zucchetto and slapped it into the bewildered priest’s hands.
“Allora, Signori,” Leo said to us, dropping the black hat on his head. “Andiamo.”
“You’ve forgotten one detail, Padre,” said Holmes, in reference to the pope’s new attire.
“Che?”
“L’anello.” Holmes held up his right hand and pointed to his fourth finger.
“Ah.” Leo pulled the fisherman’s ring from his finger and dropped it into the left pocket of the black cassock. The young priest then handed him a tall black umbrella, and Leo set its end to the floor with authoritative thud.
It is amazing how clothes can change the appearance of a man. Where once stood the proverbial Vicar of Christ on Earth, now stood a simple, venerable Italian priest. Strangely, he resembled the aged Italian cleric persona Holmes once adopted to avoid the notice of Professor Moriarty.
I glanced at Holmes and saw him giving me a knowing grin. “Very well then,” he said. “As the man says—let’s go.”




About the Author

Ann Margaret Lewis

Born and raised in Waterford, Michigan, Ann Margaret Lewis attended Michigan State University, where she received her Bachelor's degree in English Literature. She began her writing career writing tie-in children’s books and short stories for DC Comics. Before Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, she published a second edition of her book, Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species, for Random House.

Ann is a classically trained soprano, and has performed around the New York City area. She has many interests from music to art history, to theology and all forms of literature. She is the President of the Catholic Writers Guild, an international organization for Catholic Writers and the coordinator of the Catholic Writers Conference LIVE. After living in New York City for fifteen years, Ann moved to Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband Joseph Lewis and their son, Raymond. Together they enjoy their life in the heartland.


6 comments:

  1. Great interview! I enjoyed learning about this book when I recently did a Book Spotlight for my blog. Need to add it to my TBR book list.

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  2. Susanne, come back tomorrow for more info on
    Ann and her work.

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  3. I'd never heard of people writing about Sherlock Holmes cases that happened off-page and this collection of three ecclesiastical stories sounds really interesting. I enjoyed hearing about the trials of writing in another (well-known and often imitated) author's voice.
    - Sophia.

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  4. Thanks for hosting Ann on your blog. She's a wonderful writer with a terrific Holmes pastiche.

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  5. Sophia, thank you for commenting. I love to hear from new blog readers. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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