As part of the celebrations for the Secret Notebook launch we have obtained an exclusive interview with Professor J. Parker Holcroft, from the Department of Criminology, University of Westmorland, who kindly contributed the book’s foreword.
Professor J. Parker Holcroft is not easy to find. When I enquire at the reception of the Department of Criminology, they claim there is no such person working there. I turn away, disgruntled, and begin to retrace my steps to the car park. A student nudges me as she hurries by with an armful of books, and one falls at my feet. We both bend to retrieve it, and the student whispers ‘Follow me.’ She leads me back into the building, along a corridor, and down a flight of cold stone steps to the basement. Several twists and turns later, she knocks on a door labelled ‘BOILER ROOM.’
‘Yes?’ snaps a high voice. ‘I am busy, you know.’
The student opens the door to reveal a room which would be spacious if it were not stuffed with books. They are piled in front of the desk, on the desk, in stacks around the desk… All that is visible of the Professor is a glimpse of shaggy grey hair and a Fair Isle jumper.
Professor J. Parker Holcroft: Yes, what? (The Professor peers out between the books)
I: You agreed to an interview? About The Secret Notebook of Sherlock Holmes?
Prof (beaming): I did indeed! (moves two stacks of books slightly further apart) Where would you like to begin?
I: At the beginning, I think, when the book was discovered. Could you –
Prof: Of course! Oh, it was a red-letter day indeed. Who would have thought, after all these years, that such an important snapshot of Sherlock Holmes’s early cases would turn up in the great detective’s sock drawer?
I: Sock drawer?
Prof: Yes, that’s what I said. Are you hard of hearing? (The Professor passes me an ear trumpet and begins to shout) SOCK DRAWER! UNDER THE LINING!
I: Right. OK. Sherlock Holmes’s sock drawer. (Makes a note) And you’re convinced that the book is genuine?
Prof: Absolutely! It’s as real as you and I, and the room we’re sitting in! (The Professor sweeps an arm round and knocks over a pile of books) The Notebook has been tested to destruction – carbon dating, linguistic analysis, graphology – and it has sailed through everything I could throw at it!
I: So it couldn’t have been planted at 221B Baker Street by a tourist?
Prof (thunders): NO! I would know!
I (leaning back slightly): So what new light does this discovery shed on Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, and late-Victorian London?
Prof: Well, Dr Watson is rather more candid in his accounts of these early cases. We see far more of their domestic life, and what it must have been like to live under the same roof as the Master. As for London itself, and the cases recounted in the Notebook – well, let us just say that perhaps Victorian London was not quite such a den of iniquity as it is sometimes painted. And considering that Holmes was in the early stage of his career, he does meet a surprising number of eminent Victorians. I will be considering these and other matters in my annotated facsimile edition of the Secret Notebook. If I ever finish it; it is quite a labour of love, you know. (The Professor smiles shyly)
I: I’m sure it is. I have one final question. Why do you think that Sherlock Holmes hid the –
Prof: Well, I must be getting on. Lovely to speak to you, but this research won’t do itself. And make sure you buy the book. All goes towards my pension, you know. (The Professor rings a little bell and the student reappears). Jolly good! (The Professor retrieves a book from the floor and is soon buried again)
The student leads me back to reception and I walk out into the fresh air and sunshine. The further I walk from the Professor’s den, the more dreamlike the experience seems, and I have to check my notes to be sure that it really happened.
Readers who wish to follow the Professor’s instruction and buy the book can find it at Amazon.
The featured image is by James and is shared under Creative Commons license 2.0.