Tag Archives: Johnlock

Lockdown Fiction: The Dancing Bees

Improbable Press’s latest prompt included bees, and then I thought of that old tradition that the bees must be told when their keeper dies. And then I thought of Sherlock Holmes being away during WWI as a spy. And then I thought of John Watson. And then I thought of this.

The Dancing Bees

It is spring and we bees work, we fly, we gather pollen for our colony, for our queen.  We nourish, we protect, we select and serve our queen.

Our Keeper is away and in his stead, his own worker-drone-queen protects the colony.

The wingless four-limbs are nothing like the hive; and our Keeper and the Other are sometimes like a bee, sometimes like the flowers. We know, from springs and summers and some sunny autumn days that they have stamens, and pollen, which they gather or sometimes let fall to earth (though no new flower ever grows from this seed).

Our Keeper and His Other are not like bees at all, and for many turns of the sun now, our Keeper has been gone.

Soon, soon, His Other will come to tell us. He will keep the tradition.

He will tell the bees that our Keeper is dead.

We are puzzled that he has not already done so. His Other sits wilted among us, many days. He Keeps us as our Keeper would, with faith though less skill. He sighs our Keeper’s name among the hives.

“Sherlock misses you.”

The Other means that he misses our Keeper too. We know this. He sighs. He wilts. Sometimes he leaks, wet salt on his face. This leaking he shares not with other wingless ones, but only with his fellow workers (fellow drones, fellow Queen; our Keeper mates with him, so the Other is maybe a Queen; or maybe our Keeper is the Queen of his colony-of-two. As we say, the four-limbs are peculiar and will not succumb to correct roles).

We the bees know that far away is danger. Dances waggled from the unfathomable distance tell us.  The dances come from the colonies near the stone hive, which is clustered by the river up north and filled with four-limb drones and workers (and a male Queen; we will never fathom them at all). The stone hive is smashed by falling black clouds, and the air is filled with dust and great cries. Such danger!

Our Keeper is in the danger, further even than the stone hive; across the Great Salt Wet. He told us before he left, that he would fly far, so far, to gather strange pollens, to waggle the dance of its knowledge to his Male Queen and the Drones and Workers of the stone hive.

We miss our Keeper. His Other misses him. We wait for the telling. For word that it is time to Farewell the Keeper with the solemn, grave dance of goodbye.

Here he comes today, the Other. Today he comes to tell us, and become our new Keeper.

Take courage, Dear New Keeper.

He walks on his two back limbs (so ungainly, more than ever today, poor unbalanced drone-worker-queen without his Keeper. He will Keep us now our First Keeper is gone, but who will Keep him now?)

His Sorrowing Other comes to wilt and sigh and leak among us today.

But no! The Other sorrows not, though he leaks and sighs. He does not wilt. He stands tall as a tree, that little hedge upon his face stretches happy with his mouthpart.

“He’s coming home. The war is over and he’s done his part, and Sherlock is coming home. Today, tonight, soon! By God, he’s coming back to me. To us. Sherlock is coming home!”

He sits among the hives, a flower waiting for the sun to shine on him; waiting for his drone-worker-queen to gather his pollen; waiting to be whole with his colony-of-two once more.

Around him, we bees dance, we waggle the news to all our kin and to our queen: Our Keeper returns!

No need for the Goodbye dance now, no. Today we dance a greeting, and rise up in a cloud as we see him arrive through the garden gate. His Other rises with us, and walks, then runs (unbalanced still, his hind limbs stiff with age and with sitting) to his Keeper.

Like bee to pollen, like flower to sun, like the colony to the hive he goes, they go, and embrace, and we dance, we dance, for our Hive is whole again.

Review: Ghost Story by GV Pearce

The latest book from Improbable Press gives us a piquant blend of love story, character study and spoooookiness.

This Holmes/Watson tale has an original contemporary London/York setting and opens with John and Sherlock, married for several months now, on what ought to be a belated honeymoon but which John knows to be a case – a case which Sherlock said he wasn’t pursuing. Already it’s clear that while they love and adore each other, there’s rockiness ahead.

Sherlock’s not the only one keeping secrets, however. From the very first chapter we know that John sees ghosts, and has done since he was a child. He can’t tell anyone – people would think him unbalanced – so he avoids thinking about it whenever possible. That is not as often as he’d like.

Ghost Story is both a great little Holmesian mystery about the missing Gloria Evans: it’s a fantastically spooky tale of a man haunted by ghosts and the traumas of his past; his relationship with a man who seems equal parts obliviousness and devotion; and a study of the cracks in a loving relationship when the deceptions pile up, whatever the motivations.

The unravelling of those secrets and why they’re being kept are part of a beautifully texture of a low-key case that feels very intense in terms of its impact.

A couple of the scenes are deeply affecting and gorgeously evocative. Gloria’a abandoned flat, where greenery has invaded the spaces; the streets and buildings of York; the banks of a river; the flashbacks to John’s childhood and the attack on the ambulance convoy in Afghanistan – all of these are described so splendidly that I could almost scent the atmosphere – Gloria’s flat particularly.

One of the many things I love about Ghost Story is how it becomes gradually clear that the spirits that John encounters are not the only ghosts of the title.

John and Sherlock are both a little ghost-like themselves, not quite anchored in the world or entirely present for each other. Sherlock flits in and out of John’s life for a while, through the flashbacks of how they met and their first case, and he still keeps secrets and disappears without explanation. At the same time, in avoiding confrontation and acceptance of his unwanted gift, and the secret that he’s therefore keeping himself, combined with the effects of his war injuries, John is absent in key ways too.

It’s a beautiful theme that threads through the whole and makes the conclusion – in which the resolutions for the hauntings and John and Sherlock’s relationship are linked – particularly satisfying.

GV Pearce has written us a wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully paced book – it may take a little time for case/relationship/ghostiness to come to a head, but every step is deeply involving and the reader is fully engaged with wondering how all the elements will turn out. It is in turns poignant, charming, funny and unsettling, but it’s deftly wound together in a conclusion that satisfies without being heavy handed.

I hope Pearce considers another book for Improbable Press – in this universe or any other they care to write in. I’ll pounce on it the minute I can!

Buy Ghost Story

Review: The Case of the Misplaced Models by Tessa Barding

Improbable Press, recently acquired as an imprint by Clan Destine Press, has released two new books already under the new banner. I’ve reviewed the first – A Question of Time, a collection of 50 short stories with illustrations – and have just finished this new novel by Tessa Barding.

The Case of the Misplaced Models takes place in a contemporary London and is narrated by a John Watson who is fitting back into his old life. He works in a local surgery, keeps fit while keeping an eye on the limitations of his reconstructed let, and has an eye for a hot guy – especially when one shows up outside consulting hours needing a gash in his leg sewn up.

Dr Watson ends up in a flat share with this same enigmatic and attractive man – Sherlock Holmes of course – and before long they are sharing morning runs, simple breakfasts and a frisson of attraction. Yet while John is falling in love, it’s less clear what Sherlock wants. Sex, certainly, but is his heart in the game?

While John gradually becomes involved in Sherlock’s cases, he’s also keeping in sporadic touch with his university friend, the perpetually busy finance broker, Karim Halabi. Halabi’s stumbled across an odd algorithm in the figures he’s modelling – and then one day disaster strikes.

Barding has created a rich, modern life for Holmes and Watson. John’s relationship with Karim is believably deep for all the trouble they have getting their schedules to match up. It’s easy to respond to John’s magnetic attraction and confusion over Sherlock’s feelings and intentions as well.

Holmes is, as always, fascinating. His hard-to-read emotions suggest a troubled past that readers of the original Doyle stories (or viewers of modern interpretations) will recognise as an old drug habit. He’s odd and unpredictable, not always picking up on the social and relationship cues, yet still likeable, as he should be.

Barding’s Sherlock is brilliant and eccentric. His affectionate relationship with his brother Mycroft is a lovely throwback to canon, and his warm working relationship with DI Gwen Lestrade a nod to Conan Doyle’s work describing the DI as being “the best of the professionals”.

A special shout-out goes to Bodie and Doyle, John’s pets in this iteration.

The Case of the Misplaced Models zips along at a great pace, scattered with several cases before Karim’s trouble takes over the focus. The sex scenes are hot, and the emotional growth attached to them satisfying. I’m hoping Tessa Barding will consider bringing more of this John and Sherlock to us!

At the time of writing, Improbable Press is offering a very cool deal. Buy all three of its most recent paperbacks – A Question of Time, A Study in Velvet and Leather and The Case of the Misplaced Models – and you can get another two ebooks from its or Clan Destine’s range – for free. Details are on the Improbable Press website.

Buy The Case of the Misplaced Models

Review: A Question of Time by Jamie Ashbird

Improbable Press, recently acquired by Clan Destine Press, has come of of its new gate with two new books: A Question of Time by Jamie Ashbird, illustrated by Janet Anderton, and The Case of the Misplaced Models by Tessa Barding.

A Question of Time is the third in IP’s 221B series (which began with my own A Dream to Build a Kiss On and then K. Caine’s A Study in Velvet and Leather) and continues the theme of writing Holmes/Watson love stories a succinct 221 words at a time. (The last word of each short story begins with ‘B’, hence the 221B name for the form.)

The Blurb

Sherlock Holmes
whether he’s a grimy student in 1980, a consulting detective in 47BCE, or a smitten neighbour in 1969, will always find his…
John Watson
whether he is a military doctor in 1917, an angry Saxon with an axe in 1086, or a priest in 1603.

A Question of Time is an illustrated journey through the ages told by our heroes, by their friends, and by a scorched manuscript.

This new collection begins with 221 words set in 2085, a bittersweet eulogy for two men who loved each other all their lives, delivered by their child. There is so much love and humour in these words you feel like you’ve known the three of them. The illustration of the twined elm trees is a lovely, evocative symbol of the emotion of this window into their story.

The remaining 49 stories flit about through time, from 19,873 BCE (oh, how heartstrings can be tugged in 221 words about ochred hand paintings!) through the disco years [and two world wars and molly houses and Jack the Ripper’s London] to a lovely two-parter in 2019 where an appreciative and babbling Watson meets a busking Holmes.

Each is a delicious little tale, woven into history yet standing alone as a snippet of a time and place. Huge amounts of personality, delicious wickedness and humour are part of the weave; as are darker moments during the black plague and its 20th century counterpart during the 1980s with the AIDS crisis.

All the cleverness, compassion, giggle-out-loud-at-the-cafe quirks are turned into double delights with Janet Anderton’s illustration: the orchids, bees, coins, singed manuscripts and strange paraphernalia, and glimpses of hands, mouths, eyes in each setting highlighting elements of and adding dimensions to each story.

In short, A Question of Time is small and perfectly formed, the delights of the text enhanced by the charms of the illustrations, and if you like your Holmes and Watson to be in love, no matter where in time they exist, you’ll get 50 little hits of joy.

Buy A Question of Time