Sterling Publishing, owned by Barnes and Nobel, will bring out new hardcover edition of my book “Science of Sherlock Holmes” in January 2017.
I’m looking forward to seeing it !
Sterling Publishing, owned by Barnes and Nobel, will bring out new hardcover edition of my book “Science of Sherlock Holmes” in January 2017.
I’m looking forward to seeing it !
The Chief Advisor smiled somewhat sardonically at the Client on the opposite side of the desk.
“ I see you’ve been energetically following our advice, and are having astounding success”
“It’s been huge- HUGE I’m booming- just booming ” responded the Client. “I’ve won a majority of delegates in sixty states. It’s unprecedented!”
“Actually ,” murmured the CA-“ you might recall there are only fifty states,”
“ Minor detail,” replied the Client. “ If I got hung up on every tiny minor detail crowds wouldn’t rush to my rallies. They wouldn’t call me the Gold King. I wouldn’t be huge. Which I am.”
“ Understood-but I suggest that a slightly more measured tone might be helpful at this stage- a bit more statesmanlike… not calling your opponent “ Flatulent Fibbin’ Freddy” for instance.. or referring to orphans as “Losers” ”
“ My opponent, that sleaze, whose wife looks like a potato, viciously attacked me . He said my public charities are a screen to cover my private iniquities”
“ Isn’t that true?”
“So what-how else could I get elected?
All my life I’ve been a man that reached out his hand for what he wanted. I can make or break-and it is usually break. I’m large –huge beyond the belief of an ordinary man.
Business is a hard game-and the weak go to the wall. I understand business-that’s why I’m huge in politics. Really huge.
I’m number one in over one hundred and twenty polls-even in Saudi Arabia and parts of Croatia wherever that is . That’s because I do it my way.
I’ll see you next week,” said the Client, and he marched out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
The sign on the door read
Moriarty, Moran, Milverton & Sons
Political Advisors since 1895
(A version of this piece appeared in spring 2016 edition of “Prescott’s Press”)
The Wise Woman of Ys
Had great fun recently reading “The Wise Woman of Ys” by R.A. Forde. An engaging British forensic psychologist who writes historical novels on the side, his everyday name is “Robert”.
Below is a chat I had with him. EJW
EJ: How is Ys pronounced, and how do we know?
Robert: We don’t know exactly how it was pronounced in the fifth century, but the tale is known today in France, where it is pronounced “eece”, to rhyme with “fleece”. Originally it would have been a Breton word, and probably written “Ker-Is”. “Ker” is a Breton word simply meaning “town”. It is related to the Welsh “Caer”, which occurs in place names like Caernarvon and Caerphilly. Breton and Welsh are so closely related that speakers of the two languages can often understand each other quite well. This goes back to the period of the events related in “Wise-Woman” and “the Dream of Macsen”. During this time Britain was subject to invasions by the Saxons and Irish, and many British people (who spoke a language similar to Welsh) emigrated to the north-west corner of France, hence the name Brittany. It was known locally as “Armorica”, which roughly means “the land facing the sea”. The area was considerably depopulated at that time, following a popular uprising in which many people had been killed or enslaved. The Roman authorities were quite keen to have somebody settle there, in order to defend it. Many towns in present day Brittany and Normandy have names of British origin. Quite a few others have names which originated as the names of Roman army units.
EJ: What first piqued your interest in legends of this period?
Robert: Many years ago as a teenager I read an account of the legend of Ys, which is quite widely known in France, especially Brittany. The legend comes from the same period as the legends around King Arthur in Britain (the fifth century, shortly after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire). It was about 20 years before I began to write the story.
EJ: How do you research background? Do you rely on primary
And if so –how do you get access?
Robert: I read a great deal of history. This includes not just political history, wars, kings, etc, but also social history. For example, I have a book on the practice of medicine in the ancient world, and another about wild plants and their medicinal uses. Both of these came in useful when writing “Wise-Woman”. I have had to buy a lot of books!
There are some books which reproduce original documents. Where the originals themselves exist they are preserved in museums, of course. Most of them are written in Latin, but the published versions provide a translation. Since I studied Latin to the age of 17 in school I have been able to check on some of the translations, some of which are 19th century and a bit too free for my taste. The period of “Wise-Woman” is not well recorded by contemporary writers, but there are some contemporary records, mostly written by monks. British writers sometimes forget that there are continental sources; for example, I found useful material in “The History of the Franks” by the monk Gregory of Tours.
A very useful thing which I did was to draw a timeline on a very large sheet of paper, so that each time I read something which might be useful and had a known or strongly suspected date I entered it on the timeline. This meant that I gradually drew up a picture of the historical events, including things like battles and plagues, which I could work into my story. I think it is important to do this, even if you end up not using most of the material, because it creates the illusion of a complete world. Your characters have a cultural background, to which they make reference on occasions, and don’t just exist in isolation. A supremely effective example of this is Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. He created a history, culture, and even invented languages. Most of what he did doesn’t actually appear in the story, or not in any detail, but it creates an atmosphere of credibility.
I collected far more information than I needed for “Wise-Woman”, but I used quite a bit of that in my second book, “The Dream of Macsen”, even though it was set about 100 years earlier. Much of the historical and cultural information was still applicable. I think it’s very important not to shoehorn in all the information you’ve collected, as it becomes pretty stodgy, but if you carry on writing in the same genre it will probably all come in useful in the end.
EJ: I know you are a skilled singer of folk songs-do you find they provide insight in to this era?
Robert: Not really. Some British folk songs do have roots far back in history, although most are actually more recent. However, although the origins of some songs go back a long way, they are not a description of anything very useful to historical fiction writers. It is more that there are scraps, references or traces of ancient legends.
EJ: How much of your literary work is fiction, and how much do you consider accurate history?
Robert: I think that depends on the story. “Wise-Woman” was based on a legend, not on history. I tried to make it realistic by providing an historical background which was as accurate as I could make it, but the events which actually happen to the central characters are invented. With “The Dream of Macsen” it was slightly different, because the characters were actual historical characters about whom something is known. We do not have the full picture, but we certainly know about some historical events in the lives of those characters, and I tried not to change anything. Inevitably, where only the main events are known, one has to fill in the details, but I tried not to contradict the known history.
EJ: You have written these books from a woman’s point of view.
Why? Was this a deliberate choice?
Robert: It was forced on to me by circumstances, really. In “Wise-Woman” the central character is female. Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, there were reasons why I did not want to write it from her point of view. However, I wanted to write it from the point of view of someone who was close to her, a close friend or companion. No one could have occupied that position in those days without being another woman (or girl, as the story starts when they are quite young).
In “The Dream of Macsen” the character of Macsen is male, but again there were plot related reasons why I couldn’t write it from his point of view. I decided to adopt the point of view of his wife, Helena, as he was thought to have been married to a highborn British woman, although a Spaniard himself. After “Wise-Woman” I suppose it came more easily too.
EJ: There’s serious conflict and violence in your stories. You are a forensic psychologist as well as an author, and spend a good of time in the courtroom. Do you see the present criminal justice system in the UK as having gradually evolved from ancient practices?
Robert: I think it might be more accurate to say that it evolved in a series of fits and starts. There was nothing gradual about Magna Carta, for example. It was pretty much a case of the barons mounting a rebellion and telling King John to sign it or else. It did, and still does, provide for some curbs on the power of the state. But as late as the 18th century there was still no right to a defence lawyer, and no prosecution service. Criminal cases were brought by private individuals, who were rewarded by the court in the event of a conviction. Unsurprisingly, the system was riddled with corruption, and there is little doubt that many innocent people were condemned on the basis of trumped up charges. The system also changed because of public feeling in many cases. For example, the death penalty was available for several hundred offences in the early 19th century. Public feeling grew against the imposition of a death penalty for minor offences, with the result that blatantly guilty people were being acquitted by juries who refused to send them to the gallows for, say, a minor theft. The government was left with little option but to wipe a lot of capital offences off the statute book. They had also lost the American colonies (!) as a place to send convicted felons, but fortunately discovered Australia just in time to start sending them there. Even so, there was a growing movement against cruel and unusual punishment. One of my favourite stories from this period is about a woman who stole from a shop in order to buy food for her children (there being no public welfare at that time). The jury convicted her and a fine was imposed, which she would have been unable to pay. She would probably have been transported to Australia in lieu of payment, but the jury passed the hat round and paid her fine, effecting her immediate release!
EJ: How did you decide to publish on Kindle?
Robert: I became aware of the Kindle self-publishing scheme because I saw it mentioned when visiting the Amazon website. I had got back the rights to “Wise-Woman” after its original publication in print, so I was able to reissue it myself. Then I began to wonder about some other books. “Macsen” had not been published in print, so I followed up with that.
EJ: What are your plans for future books?
Robert: After “Macsen” I decided to branch out into a different genre. I have always been a keen science fiction reader, and for a while was attached to the British military in West Berlin. I began to formulate some ideas for a science-fiction/horror story set in the North of England. This resulted in a third novel which has now been published on Kindle as “The Devil’s Issue”. This is set in the early 1990s and is therefore quite different from the earlier books.I haven’t given up on historical books, and I still love that Romano-British period, so it is quite likely that more will follow.
The books may be viewed on R.A. Forde’s Amazon author’s page: http://www.amazon.com/author/raforde
EJ Wagner, as usual,
This coming Sunday the Emma S Clark Library in Setauket New York will be hosting a reception for local authors.
I shall be there hoping to meet other writers and readers.
I won’t bring copies my non fiction book (The Science of Sherlock Holmes” about Holmes and the beginning of forensic science, but will be happy to sign copies for anyone who brings one.
( After all, it did win an Edgar-:)
Festivities begin at 1:30-refreshments will be served, and many writers bring books to sell and sign
Emma S. Clark Memorial Library
120 Main Street
Setauket, NY 11733
I’m often asked how I became involved studying forensic history. This explains a bit. (This is graphic-if you are squeamish maybe you had best skip)
Sunday at the Morgue – March 1985
I’m dropped off at the Medical Examiner’s Office at 8 AM
I’m to help out in exchange for a refresher course on sudden death in suburbia.
In the locker room, I’m outfitted with plastic apron and gloves.
A battered table holds a collection of phone books, a container of orange juice and a box labeled “ Pro Tex Mor” Adult Shroud Kit-.
A memo on the door advises on precautions against infectious diseases.
The walls of the grandly named “autopsy suite” are muddy beige cinder block. The linoleum floor, which has a drain in the middle, is slightly cracked. Fluorescent fixtures cast a greenish glow. Windows of frosted glass allow a shimmer of natural light.
There are three autopsy tables.
Each is equipped with a scale, a garbage pail, sink, and a small platform holding instruments: scissors, forceps, a full tang butcher knife. Deli-style containers stand open. Each table has a Stryker saw plugged into an outlet under it.
On the wall are blackboards on which I am asked to note the weight of major organs, as the numbers are dictated.
First up is a barrel chested man in his fifties, supine under the flowered sheet brought in with his body. His face is purple, his hand, with matching discoloration, rests on his chest.
A radio plays Frank Sinatra standards. The morgue attendants, wearing green scrubs, (one sporting a baseball cap) whistle along with
“Fairy Tales Can Come True, It Can Happen To You” …
A battered desk stands in the corner of the room. A sign over it reads “ Send Help”
The Deputy Chief Medical Examiner shambles in sporting a Brooklyn College sweat shirt and jeans.. He wears glasses, a droopy moustache, and carries a fishing tackle box. This holds an assortment of tacks, needles, scissors,. The morgue guys call him “Doc”.
The man with the flowered sheet is maneuvered onto an autopsy table.
A former cop, with history of hypertension and heavy smoking, he was found at the bottom of a flight of stairs in his home, wearing only his shorts. His wife put the sheet over him while waiting for the police.
There is some discussion about the possibility of the widow wanting the sheet returned. This seems improbable to me, but Doc tells me a story about a man who committed suicide with a carving knife, which his wife demanded back. We speculate a bit about her not wanting to break up a carving set just before Thanksgiving.
The flowered sheet is bagged and put aside.
The Y incision is followed by the moan of the electrical saw working its way through the exposed sternum. Coaxed from its home, the breast bone is placed under the corpse. The morgue guy, laboring at this, says“ Did you see that flick about the crazy cannibal shrink? Watched it last night. Made me sick. Hate gross movies “
Doc says the movie was dumb.
“ Did we take vitreous from this guy?” he asks.
The dead man’s heart is large, typical of long-standing hypertension, Doc says, drawing blood from it. Excess fluid is removed from the body with a large soup ladle. Doc’s arm is deep in the incision. When he withdraws it his gloves are covered with blood, and blood is smeared on his upper arm.
The ventricle of the heart is measured with a small baby blue ruler.
The lungs are enlarged and laced with black webbing, the ghosts of many cigarettes. After the major organs are weighed, and I inscribe their weight, they are placed on the small platform adjacent to the autopsy table, where they are sliced like bread loaves. The deli containers fill up.
(I am amazed to find that my hand is steady).
As Doc cuts, he holds tissue between his thumb and forefinger, and slices vertically between them. His gloved fingers, slippery with blood, are 1/8 inch from the blade.
He uses a large yellow sponge to wash the face of the corpse and to wipe down the table.
Its a jarring contrast between the physical effort involved hefting the stiff body, sawing at it, and the delicate, precise movements used to section organs, scrape bones, sever nerves.
Water circulates continually around the corpse, and its hair floats.
A pair of forceps, lying in the water, pointing towards the cadaver’s head, trembles with the current.
The bladder is opened, and urine runs into the drain. The ME slits the stomach, recites the contents;
“ Carrots, potatoes, green beans, meat-
Deep in the dead man’s thick iron gray hair is a wound. It was hidden, but Doc’s fingers find it. He incises the scalp, which, loosened, slips over the face, masking it.
The saw bites into the cranium, and the smell of powdered bone floats through the room.
When the bony lid is removed, an injury to the brain on the side opposite of the wound is revealed .The black, jelly-like mass of a subdural hematoma strips easily from the surface. This injury was recent.
“Classic contre coup” Doc says, naming the result of the brain smacking against the hard skull in reaction to a blow.
The photographer is deaf, but Doc is adept at charades to explain which views he wants.
The sheet is removed from a second gurney disclosing the body of a seventy-two year old woman who had been lying dead in her comfortably heated home for over twelve days, swelling slowly.
The smell is an eye-stinging gaseous miasma.
The hands and feet are partially mummified due to the dry heat. The belly is green, monstrously pregnant with gases and percolating bacteria. The toothless mouth gapes. The open eyes are sunken. The facial skin has slipped, resulting in a series of ripples along the border of her face just below her hairline. The skin on her cheekbones appears taut, unnaturally without lines.
Except for the swollen belly, the cadaver is tiny, shriveled, the hands dark and rigid.
When the morgue guys puncture the green abdomen, sluice its cavity with water, and arrange its pale, malodorous organs neatly beside it, its appearance becomes less distressing.
Frank sings “ Who Could Ask For Anything More?”
When I leave the office it is late afternoon. My husband, waiting outside in the parking lot, is very hungry.
I am both pleased and appalled to discover that I am too.A version of this appeared in Mystery Reader International
a version of this appeared in Mystery Readers Internationals
Here’s a link to a video q&a about Sherlock Holmes and forensic science I did for for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science . My little Havanese Wiggins even managed am appearance !
” Sherlock Holmes: The International Exhibition” is to open there on October 23.
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Mystery & True Crime • News, Features & Interviews
One Year Later This Sherlock Holmes Expert & Forensics Historian
Is as Busy as Ever
Most writers would give their finest pen to be in the kind of demand enjoyed by author and crime historian E.J. Wagner. Her seminal work, The Science of Sherlock Holmes, published in 2006, remains in Amazon’s top 100 “history and criticism – mystery and detective” list. And just when you think there’s nothing else she can possibly conquer, she’s asked by the organizers of the International Sherlock Holmes Exhibit to serve as an expert in forensic history. We caught up with Wagner to get the full rundown on everything she’s done over the past twelve months. Here’s her own recap:
Working backwards… I [recently] returned from the UK, where I presented the 1849 Parkman Webster Murder at Harvard case at University College London. [Before that] I presented Tales From the Dead House about the history of medical investigation at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City.
I’ve consulted on and written for several television productions, including How Sherlock Changed the World for PBS, Storyline’s The Real Sherlock Holmes, [and] Investigation Discovery about the 1930’s Anna Antonio case, and a few more not yet released.
I’ve written several pieces for Mystery Readers Journal, some of which are available on my blog (including Murder Between the Lines) and contributed a chapter called “The Excessively Expressive Corpse” for the forthcoming book Nerve and Knowledge: Medicine and the Sherlockian Canon. That will be published by the BSI Press and available by January 2016.
The [Spring 2015] issue of Canadian Holmes has an article of mine called “The Man Who Ignored Sherlock Holmes” about Hans Gross, the 19th century criminologist.
Sherlock Holmes: the International Exhibition, for which I served as expert in forensic history, is set to open in Seattle on October 13th and Denver on October 23rd. It’s already had successful runs in Oregon, Missouri, Ohio, Texas and California.
At present I’m at work on a a new travelling museum project, a number of short stories, and what I’ve come to think of as my chronic historical novel about murder in Salem.
Congratulations, E.J., on all of your successes – even if you do make the rest of us feel a bit like underachievers! Prose ‘n Cons will keep readers updated on the publication and availability of Nerve and Knowledge: Medicine and the Sherlockian Canon as more details are received. PnC
© October 2015 Prose ‘n Cons™ Mystery & True Crime News
© Hoover’s Prose ‘n Cons – All Rights Reserved
Prose ‘n Cons™ had the pleasure of interviewing renowned Sherlock Holmes expert E.J. Wagner back in October 2014. A year later, we find her even busier than she was then.
From writing for TV, to consulting on the International Sherlock Holmes Exhibit, to contributing a chapter to a forthcoming book from the Baker Street Irregulars Press, her calendar is always full – and her readers and fans are the beneficiaries.
– – – – – –
A version of this appeared in latest issue of Prescott’s Press
Toast to Trevor Bennett EJ Wagner
I rise to pay tribute to Trevor Bennett- an excellent young man whose sacrifices in the interests of both science and family values have rarely been adequately appreciated.
At the end of The Adventure of the Creeping Man, Professor Presbury lies wounded and unconscious in the care of Watson and Trevor. For the world at large, the story ends there.
But the truth, although long suppressed, is this:
As the as the medical men watched ,the professor began to emit peculiar sounds-grunts and whoops and honks and chatters and barks and rumbles and hiccups-all typical of a crawling , climbing ,black faced langur.
Weeks, then months, passed, but the professor remained in this incoherent state.
It was evident that the serum he had ingested had caused a permanent and sinister simian change .
It was apparent to Trevor, that his prospective father in law would likely be an embarrassment at the marriage ceremony. (And even worse, would certainly never pick up the bill for the reception.)
Many young men would have abandoned the situation-but Trevor was made of stalwart stuff.
He discreetly had the professor moved to the laboratory of primatologist Lady Jane Goody.
That clever woman devoted herself to teaching the professor to communicate in sign language.
Many are the droll tales of her merry shrieks :
“No! Presbury ! No! Dirty, dirty!”
At length, the professor made enough progress to request, in sign, a suitable companion, and a winsome languress was procured for him.
Their descendants are many-and have contributed mightily to both medical research and the space program.
Several, even as we speak, are standing for political office.
All this was possible only because of the originality and high ethical standards of the very best of sons in law.
Ladies and Gentlemen-I give you-Trevor Bennett!
My website is now: ejwagnercrimehistorian.com
Please retweet, spread news, etc.
My website,ejwagner-crimehistorian.com, has been somehow compromised by “Mr. WordPress”
Until this matter is fixed, please use my other site:
my blog is at ejdissectingroom.wordpress.com
I have no knowledge of the bizarre information that appears under my original website listing on google.
I am investigating