December rolls round once again. The Crime & Thrillers book group I attend at Canada Water Library recently read Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk, his 2011 addition to the Sherlock Holmes canon. The thing that most impressed me was how perfectly Horowitz channelled Watson’s narrative voice. Its tone and pacing are sublime. Close your eyes and you are there.
Not to make light of this achievement, but Horowitz had Conan Doyle’s entire body of work to draw on (a mixed blessing, since readers will quickly spot any shortcomings). When I wrote Gooseberry, which draws on characters from Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, I had to find young Gooseberry’s narrative voice for myself, for the boy doesn’t feature as one of Collins’s narrators. In fact if you run all of his speeches together, you’ll find that he contributes a mere 121 words to that illustrious tome. His character is so slight, readers of the book (even great fans, for that matter) may have trouble recalling who he is. He’s Mr Bruff the lawyer’s errand boy, who appears at the novel’s climax when the diamond is about to be redeemed from the bank. He—and only he—sees that it’s the sailor who redeems it and sets about tailing him.
I thought readers might like to see the passage of text that inspired me to write Gooseberry and had a profound effect when it came to distilling its narrative voice. It is Mr Franklin Blake (the novel’s hero, or anti-hero, depending on your perspective) who is currently narrating:
I felt another pull at my coat-tails. Gooseberry had not done with me yet.
‘Robbery!’ whispered the boy, pointing, in high delight, to the empty box.
‘You were told to wait down-stairs,’ I said. ‘Go away!’
‘And Murder!’ added Gooseberry, pointing, with a keener relish still, to the man on the bed.
There was something so hideous in the boy’s enjoyment of the horror of the scene, that I took him by the two shoulders and put him out of the room.
At the moment when I crossed the threshold of the door, I heard Sergeant Cuff’s voice, asking where I was. He met me, as I returned into the room, and forced me to go back with him to the bedside.
‘Mr. Blake!’ he said. ‘Look at the man’s face. It is a face disguised—and here’s a proof of it!’
He traced with his finger a thin line of livid white, running backward from the dead man’s forehead, between the swarthy complexion, and the slightly-disturbed black hair. ‘Let’s see what is under this,’ said the Sergeant, suddenly seizing the black hair, with a firm grip of his hand.
My nerves were not strong enough to bear it. I turned away again from the bed.
The first sight that met my eyes, at the other end of the room, was the irrepressible Gooseberry, perched on a chair, and looking with breathless interest, over the heads of his elders, at the Sergeant’s proceedings.
‘He’s pulling off his wig!’ whispered Gooseberry, compassionating my position, as the only person in the room who could see nothing.
There was a pause—and then a cry of astonishment among the people round the bed.
‘He’s pulled off his beard!’ cried Gooseberry.
There was another pause—Sergeant Cuff asked for something. The landlord went to the wash-hand-stand, and returned to the bed with a basin of water and a towel.
Gooseberry danced with excitement on the chair. ‘Come up here, along with me, sir! He's washing off his complexion now!’
—From The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Compassionating. Now there’s a word you don’t see very often. But isn’t Gooseberry a beautifully drawn and very comic character? Fancy a free download of The Moonstone courtesy of Project Gutenberg for the perfect Gothic holiday read? Simply click on the link!
Finally, as a small token of my thanks for taking the trouble to find this page, I’d like to offer you a copy of my book Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism. Download it for free from Smashwords.com. When it comes time to pay, just use coupon code: TD22X. A word of warning: opt for the ePub version if that happens to be a format you can use; for technical reasons beyond my control it is vastly superior to the MOBI on offer.
Happy holidays! Happy reading!
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