“Research and Process Notes #1 on Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Un-Dead Client.”

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Having set my task to write about Holmes and the Jack the Ripper Murders, my research, naturally, led me to a wider scope of similar murders in that time period, which fit under the looser heading of “Whitechapel Murders.” Only five of these are attributed to the illusive “Jack.” My original intent in this was to see the murders as committed by zombies, simply because of their savagery. After all, some of those women looked to have been torn apart—consumed, perhaps—which gave me the idea for the book in the first place.
So, in working out the timeline, I was under the compulsion to deal with all of the murders in that time period, from late 1887 to 1891. All the murders are a matter of historical record, though the five established victims of the Ripper fell into a timeline that did not lend itself to the usual predictable energies of a plot:
Mary Anne Nichols died on 31 August.
Annie Chapman died on 8 September.
Elizabeth Stride and
Catherine Eddowes died on 30 September.
Mary Kelley died on 9 November, all in 1888.
These have the logic of a mad man behind them, which necessitated my supplying of that logic in a way that might make sense to readers. Any suppositions I made about a single perpetrator could not rely on looking within the mind of that killer to ferret out the logic of his story. That would take me down a rabbit hole that would look and act little like a Sherlock Holmes story.
As well, prior to those five canonical Ripper murders were the others. Emma Smith died on 3 April, and Martha Tabram on 7 August. This left three murders on later dates: Rose Mylett, 20 December, 1888; Alice McKenzie on 16 July, 1889; and Frances Cole, 13 February, 1891. Since my aim was to show all these murders arising from the same source, a zombie plague of sorts suited my plot needs to account for some victims and perpetrators arising later, though the five ripper victims needed to have a distinctive difference. Those, I would attribute to my Un-Dead Client. It all made sense as I saw it unfold in a new fiction, but that was in my head. I had yet to encounter the plotting difficulties that would occur in connecting all of these murders. Naturally, my thoughts went to Holmes’ arch criminal, Professor James Moriarty as the fellow ultimately responsible for unleashing this hellish tide upon London. He needed help, though, which I found in the make-believe scion of a New Orleans family implicated in voodoo practice. The LaLaurie family came to my attention, for Madame LaLaurie is often accounted one of the first serial killers in American history.
The specific problems came in plotting action that would drive the narrative through those long gaps in the five canonical ripper victims through the twisted agency of Moriarty and his aid, Dr. Emil LaLaurie. For the five Ripper victims, a matter of a week and a day passed between the first and second of the Ripper’s victims. Then, twenty-two days passes before the next two victims on the same night, and more than a month passes before the last of the Ripper victims dies. The logic of my plot, if it can be said to have one, has to account for these intervals.
A plot such as mine needs a different sort of logic, one that is different from Doyle’s usual methods. In Doyle’s stories, time passes between the onset of a case and its logical resolution, but it is a a predictable time, with Watson trying to make sense out of Holmes’ unusual methods and taking readers with him. The complications in my book’s timeline were part of what made Watson’s centrality to my story necessary: I had to maintain his sense of being behind, struggling to catch up to the sense of Holmes’ methods of work, and that needed a complication that would keep Watson deeply active, with Holmes and on his own. Thus, Watson, who is always the voice that relates a Holmes adventure to his patient readers, had to have more at stake in my plot than merely being Holmes’ Boswell. Admittedly, others would do a different set of things, perhaps cleverer, more unique, than I have done. To paraphrase a key line from Florence Foster Jenkins, I can only say that ‘some might say that I do not write well, but no one can say that I didn’t write.’
But I can hear it now, the same question that came from my friend Mike Brewer, “why does Watson have to suffer such a fall from grace?” More on that to come.

 

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