Brighton author Mick Finlay and his book about Sherlock Holmes’ rival
PUBLISHED: 15:02 16 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:31 19 June 2017
Brighton author and psychologist Mick Finlay has written a book about Sherlock Holmes’ rival – a working class detective called Arrowood. Even before publication it was slated for television adaptation, with Kathy Burke signed up as executive producer. Jenny Mark-Bell finds out more
Sartorially at least, he’s not about to upstage Benedict Cumberbatch, whose television detective swishes elegantly between crime scenes in a £1,000 Belstaff coat.
But gin-swilling William Arrowood – the brainchild of Brighton author and academic Mick Finlay – is Holmes’ intellectual equal. Indeed, the lesser-known Victorian detective possesses many qualities that his contemporary does not. Mick, who was inspired to create the character after rereading Conan Doyle’s short stories, says: “I wondered, if there were other detectives at the time, what they would have felt about him. Some of them might have been quite jealous of his success.”
In many ways, Arrowood is Holmes’ antithesis. He’s empathetic and soft-hearted, for a start – even if his temper gets the better of him sometimes (especially when his gout is playing up). And hearing the great detective’s name almost always provokes an outburst. Holmes’ upper echelon clients are traded for South London slum-dwellers – while one detective is rewarded handsomely for his work and lauded at the highest levels of government, the other wears ill-fitting shoes and an air of despondency.
The two detectives never meet in Arrowood, the first in a series which, before it was even published, was snapped up for TV adaptation. But Holmes’ hawk-like profile and adamantine mind loom over the action – particularly when police consult him on Arrowood’s case, much to the latter’s fury. Arrowood sneers that Holmes is merely “a deductive agent” while he is himself “an emotional agent”.
Author Mick tapped into his own experience as a psychologist to allow Arrowood to use some of the psychological ideas of the time to help him solve his cases. “He’s much more focused on people than Sherlock Holmes and he’s aware of it so he marks himself out as different in that way.” Mick now writes four days a week, combining it with teaching at Anglia Ruskin University. Most of his academic research has been about people with learning disabilities and communication and non-verbal communication. But another strand of research looks into group violence – and how group leaders persuade group members to commit acts of violence against other groups – a subject that Arrowood too has cause to contemplate.
In the Victorian era psychology was rather more nascent than it is now and so Mick had to forget many of his subject’s received ideas. “I read the psychology that was around at the time to try to base all of what he does on those theories. What was around wasn’t called psychology, it was Charles Darwin and people who called themselves alienists, who were interested in mental health. I tried to make sure that his deductions were based on those ideas, although he invents his own as well. There are a few ideas that we use now that he hasn’t quite grasped but he’s vaguely got the idea, and that also helps him in his cases.”
While Crowborough-based Conan Doyle made his detective all but immune to human relationships, Arrowood is all too susceptible. His wife has left him because he was unable to deal with the aftermath of a difficult case, while he’s clumsy in his dealings with his capable sister. When asked what he thinks is the key to Holmes’ enduring appeal, Mick says: “The first is his character: he’s a very early superhero, I think – he’s got so many skills. He’s athletic, he’s a boxer, he’s good with a sword, he has an amazing mind, he can see things that other people can’t see and he uses logic better. He can read a person just by their appearance, as he does in almost all the stories. He doesn’t listen to other people’s opinions, he’s just completely set on what he’s doing.” Arrowood is a more complex – not to say carnal – character: mercurial in his dealings with his sidekick Barnett; an honourable man with earthy appetites.
Meanwhile, the London of the story is positively visceral – the capital heaving with drunkenness, squalor and sex trafficking. Mick read a lot of contemporary accounts of Victorian slums, checked his locations against Victorian maps, and used the work of historical writers such as Judith Flanders and Kate Summerscale to provide atmospheric detail. And while he wrote Arrowood in Brighton, Mick was able to draw on 15 years living in London – including five years spent manning a market stall selling t-shirts in Portobello Market.
While its protagonist would no doubt scorn any suggestions of similarity between the two detectives, Arrowood has a similar narrative structure to the Holmes stories, with long-suffering sidekick Barnett telling the story.
“That allows us to see Arrowood’s reactions and to watch his uncomfortable body move around London, to watch his discomfort,” says Mick. “Arrowood’s not able to deal with the physical aspects of detective work in what was quite a violent world, so he needs somebody to help him in that respect. He needs Barnett. And you get an insight into Arrowood’s character through the way he treats Barnett – sometimes he’s very tender and loving towards Barnett and at other times he’s quite insulting.”
Even before the book was published there was a buzz around it, thanks to the announcement of a television adaptation by the makers of Bad Education, with Kathy Burke signed up as executive producer. “It’s great because she’s a Londoner, she’s lived in London all her life and she’s got a really strong connection to the city,” says Mick. He won’t be drawn on who he’d like to see in the role: “It would have to be a man somewhere between 40 and mid-50s I think, ideally for the way I’ve written it he would be overweight, balding, with a very lumpy face. There are quite a few male actors who would fit that role!”
Mr Cumberbatch had better watch out…
Arrowood is published by Harper Collins in hardback at £12.99
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