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Lecturer pens hit novel about Sherlock's rival detective

Lecturer Mick Finlay was reading a Sherlock Holmes story when he suddenly had an idea for his own novel.

While Sherlock was out solving mysteries for the cream of Victorian society, he realised there was room for another kind of detective - someone who worked the poorer patches in the city dealing with grittier crimes.

The Murder Pit (6441361)
The Murder Pit (6441361)

That’s how William Arrowood, private detective for hire, was created - plying his trade in the workhouses and pudding shops of the city, where he’s offered more violent, and considerably less well-paid cases than Sherlock.

Now on his second novel in the Arrowood series, Anglia Ruskin University psychologist Dr Finlay said: “It occurred to me that if Sherlock’s world had been real there must have been other private detectives working at the same time. If you look at newspaper adverts from that time there were people advertising services as private detectives. If I was a private detective then I would have been really annoyed that there was this genius in town whom everyone was comparing me to. I knew that was a character I could develop.

“I decided he had to be the exact opposite of Sherlock Holmes. So whilst Sherlock famously thinks emotions get in the way of solving crimes, Arrowood is full of emotion and tries to use it in his detection. I also made him not at all athletic or beautiful and he is poor, of course, too.”

“Often poor people want him to solve a case but can only pay him for a few days. So he often finds himself working for no pay and getting more and more annoyed when he reads about Sherlock Holmes winning a reward or being recruited by a lord or the government.”

MIck Finlay (6441359)
MIck Finlay (6441359)

The Murder Pit sees private detective and self-taught psychologist William Arrowood called upon to solve a missing person case that soon turns into a grisly murder investigation.

The book is set in 1896 when Holmes has once again hit the headlines, solving a devilishly difficult crime thanks to his genius for puzzles. Arrowood, meanwhile, is scraping a living and takes on another case that won’t earn him much money.

Arrowood and his assistant Barnett head out of the city in an attempt to find a London couple’s estranged daughter. And far from the comfort of Baker Street, it’s at a farm in Catford where things quickly begin to turn nasty.

For this latest slice of Victorian noir, Dr Finlay is drawing heavily on his academic expertise with the treatment of people with learning difficulties in the late 19th century, eugenics, and the asylum system.

“My new book covers topics that I’ve been researching for a number of years as an academic, such as the treatment of people with Down’s syndrome.

It’s also inspired by modern cases where you hear about people having their lives stolen by these unscrupulous gang bosses.

“I transplanted that into Victorian England and imagined vulnerable people being used in white slavery and being isolated from their families.

“The Murder Pit is also the first time that you hear from Sherlock Holmes himself. Although they don’t meet in person, there is correspondence between Arrowood and the famous detective, and hopefully it will meet with approval from Sherlock fans.”

The original Arrowood novel, which has been translated into 11 languages, has received worldwide acclaim. It was named as one of the top 100 summer books by The Times, who said it “crackles with energy and wit”.

Dr Finlay’s creation is also in the process of being adapted for the screen by dramatist David Eldridge. Production company Cave Bear, part of Endemol Shine, have bought the television rights and actress Kathy Burke is on board as executive producer.

The author reveals he was not expecting anyone famous to be interested in his novel so when Katchy Burke arrived at his meeting he received a bit of a shock. “I saw her by the lifts and recognised her from TV but didn’t think any more about it,” he says.

“We walked down the corridor to our meeting room and Kathy was walking in front of us. Then she went into our meeting room and sat down at the table. I looked at my agent wondering if we were in the right room, but it turned out Kathy had read the book and said she wanted to do this. I was astonished!”

Two years on, they are almost ready to meet TV execs to see if the series will be made.

“It’s been amazing working with Kathy on the script - she is so creative. The book is about working class London, which is the London she came from, and has lived there all her life. I think that’s what attracted her to the story.”

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