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Interview: January 6, 2022

Lyndsay Faye’s OBSERVATIONS BY GASLIGHT is a thrilling volume of both new and previously published short stories and novellas narrated by those who knew Sherlock Holmes. In this interview conducted by reviewer Ray Palen, Faye discusses why she chose to utilize narrators other than Dr. Watson in her latest collection about the Great Detective, the lasting appeal of Holmes to authors and readers, the tremendous support she received from Otto Penzler as she was writing this book under less-than-ideal circumstances, her favorite Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and what’s next for her. Utilizing narrators other than Dr. Watson from the world of Sherlock Holmes was a brilliant move. What made you decide to do this?

Lyndsay Faye: Well, I’ve done a ton of Watson POV already, as well as Holmes POV, and those are all collected in my previous Sherlockian short story volume, THE WHOLE ART OF DETECTION. So I really just wanted to try something new, at the outset. It somehow didn’t make sense for me to keep repeating myself. That’s hilarious, I know, because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously threw a fit over the same thing and tossed his hero off a waterfall at the hands of an elderly math professor with an oscillating head, but there you are.

Most importantly, I figured that since Watson is at best an unreliable narrator and Holmes’ pants are on fire practically constantly (reasoning machine, my left foot, Sherlock Holmes), the supporting cast would be in position to provide us with new insights into Holmes’ mercurial nature and Watson’s unwavering loyalty. An observer outside the duo can see them better for who they really are, I think. Not as they present themselves.

BRC: In your opinion, what is it about Sherlock Holmes that is still so appealing to authors and readers?

LF: Apart from the brilliance of the cases themselves, two things. First off, Sherlock Holmes is an enigma stuffed with a mystery wrapped in a conundrum blanket. There will always be new territories to explore because there will always be blank spaces in this guy’s map, as it were. And we love that; it’s thrilling to try to suss Holmes out as a person, and we never will, not fully. He masks himself too well. It’s irresistible to try, though.

Second, Watson and Holmes’ relationship is the most beautiful friendship I’ve ever seen in print. They’re unfailingly devoted to each other, each in his own way…and who doesn’t dream of having that one person who completely understands you? Who is never going to let you down when you need a trusty service revolver? We all want that. So it’s beautiful to read about.

BRC: I am personally aware of the Sherlock Holmes collection at Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. You dedicated OBSERVATIONS BY GASLIGHT to Otto. How much influence did he have on you penning this Sherlock Holmes work?

LF: Influence? None. Support? Metric tons. I was in very bad health writing this, and Otto was unfailingly supportive and patient. And just as a reminder, these are not all new stories. Several had been written previously, sometimes years previously, and others I wrote to fill out the collection. So some of them had actually been written for other people first. Otto and I simply have a ball when publishing collections together, and he was a hell of a shoulder to lean on when I was at my wits’ end.

BRC: What is your favorite story or novel featuring Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and why?

LF: That would have to be “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.” I really don’t understand why it’s not everyone’s favorite! It features cameos by both Mycroft and Lestrade. The fate of the British government is at stake. There’s a bloodless body on the roof of a train. Holmes and Watson exchanging rare affectionate moments over dinner! Holmes and Watson playing cat burglars! I could go on, but I will spare you.

BRC: What is your favorite story or novel featuring Sherlock Holmes NOT written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and why?

LF: Ah, it’s my policy never to play favorites with pastiches or fanfiction (which are the same thing). Everyone has a different version of the great detective and the good doctor in their mind’s eye, and often enough, the individual’s preference can shift depending on what they’re in the mood for as well. I truly don’t have a favorite, but even if I did, I’d keep mum about it. For some inexplicable reason, people listen to me when it comes to this subject, and the motto of the firm is “All Holmes is good Holmes.”

BRC: Which character from the world of Sherlock Holmes was the most challenging to write in this collection?

LF: Hmm, excellent question. I suppose they were all challenging in different ways. The late great Sue Grafton used to say that every new novel teaches you how to write it, and all of these narrators had to teach me who they are, and what Holmes means to them. That ranged from very familiar characters like Lestrade, to infamous but barely seen characters like Irene Adler or Wiggins, to completely obscure characters like Lomax the sub-librarian.  There are different obstacles to surmount when making up a character from whole cloth than when riffing off a beloved member of the supporting cast. But neither is exactly easy, let’s put it that way.

BRC: What’s up next for Lyndsay Faye?

LF: That would be telling! But let’s just say that I have a research expedition to Baltimore planned and leave it at that. We’ll see what people can deduce!