Debut novel’s Sherlock Holmes’ retelling offers new take on beloved story

‘One Must Tells the Bees’ reveals American history as it’s never been told

Naples, FL — Author J. Lawrence Matthews invites readers on a remarkable journey with a precocious young chemist named Holmes from the streets of London to Washington D.C. in the last year of the Civil War. This vivid, previously untold story takes place during a crucial period in history that Americans are once again seeking to understand—and may now see through the keen eyes of Sherlock Holmes, thanks to One Must Tell The Bees: The Final Education of Sherlock Holmes, (May 22, 2021, East Dean Press).

It begins in 1918 in the English countryside where the world’s greatest detective has retired to tend his bees and write his memoirs — memoirs that reveal the full story of his journey to America, first as a junior chemist at the DuPont gunpowder works in Wilmington, then as a companion for young Tad Lincoln on what turns out to be the evening of President Lincoln’s assassination — and finally as an unsung participant in the electrifying manhunt for the assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

It is Holmes’s very first case. But, as One Must Tell The Bees reveals, it is nothing like his final education …

“Sherlock Holmes in America? An idea as immersive as it is plausible, in Matthews’ skillful hands. This is a compelling, transporting feat of imagination.” — Jonathan Stone, bestselling author of Moving Day

“Holmes fans will enjoy this tale’s admirable verisimilitude and bracing storytelling.”Kirkus Reviews

“WHAT A STORY!!! One Must Tell the Bees charms you out of your world and into an irresistible adventure when Sherlock Holmes steps onto American soil, into the White House of Abraham Lincoln and, yes, joins the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth! Holmes’s wit and Lincoln’s genius shine through, and the colorful characters, plot surprises, and wonderful historical details so completely immerse you that by the last page you’ll be happier and a whole lot wiser.”Layng Martine Jr., Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer and author of Permission to Fly


More about J. Lawrence Matthews

J. Lawrence Matthews has been researching the events depicted in “One Must Tell the Bees: The Remarkable Life, and Death, of Sherlock Holmes” for over thirty years. He is an expert on the language and construction of the fifty six original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a scholar of the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln — the combination of which has created this revelatory new book. Readers interested in the history behind the story and contact information will find it at jlawrencematthews.com.

In an interview, J. Lawrence Matthews can discuss:

  • What Sherlock Holmes might have to say about the reassessment taking place in America of the heroes and legends of our past
  • What an amateur scholar can bring to historical research
  • How an amateur historian come up with a new thesis about the motivation behind Abraham
  • Lincoln’s stewardship of America during the Civil War
  • Writing an intriguing novel about history and characters widely known and discussed, but making sure it doesn’t read like fan fiction

An Interview with J. Lawrence Matthews

1. What is it about Sherlock Holmes that originally captured your attention and inspired years of research?

When I graduated from reading Hardy Boy mysteries as a kid, the flawed genius of Sherlock Holmes came as a complete revelation — the cocaine bottle was something you didn’t see Frank and Joe Hardy messing with! That opened this messy adult world to me, and of course Holmes’s voice came across so distinctly, and the plots moved along so effortlessly, that it was as if Conan Doyle just sat down by the fire with his pipe and started telling a ripping good yarn, and I’ve been reading them ever since. To this day, I’d maintain a handful of the Holmes titles are among the best short stories ever written, Hemingway included. The straw that stirs the drink, in my view, is the pair’s friendship: Watson dulls Holmes’s brilliance and makes him easier to tolerate. Don’t we all want to possess that kind of insightful, rational intelligence — and yet, as adults, don’t we also see the dark side to that kind of focused, monomaniacal lifestyle? It’s good vs evil in a timeless Victorian setting, and it never grows old.

2. What made you decide to focus on Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation?

I’ve been a student of the Civil War for decades, ever since I read a book on Lincoln and mentioned to my wife that even after four years of college I knew nothing about the Civil War. Couldn’t even say which Jackson — Andrew or Stonewall — was the Confederate general and which the American president! So she bought me a book on the war and I began reading, and I’ve been reading about it, and visiting the battlefields, ever since, trying to grasp what it was all about. And what it was about, at first, for the North anyway, was restoring the Union even if that meant slavery in the South remained intact. The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 changed everything, however, because it freed slaves wherever Northern troops won a victory. America could no longer go backwards: with every victory of Northern troops came freedom for slaves in that region of the South. That’s quite a profound thing, and quite underappreciated today. I have long felt its impact should be less misunderstood, and Sherlock was an excellent vehicle to do that.

3. Walk us through your research and writing process for stories based during a time you didn’t live through.

I’ve been effectively doing “research” for 30 years as a student of the Civil War, so I wrote the story of Holmes in America straight through — from his arrival near the time of Lincoln’s reelection to the manhunt for Booth — with a little help from Wikipedia to get dates right. Then I went deep into many of my old books, plus many new ones, in order to make certain the action matched the history. After all, why should anyone care what Sherlock Holmes learns in America in 1865 if I’ve made up the history of that period? AndCivil War “buffs” in particular are notoriously picky — as am I! Meanwhile, I visited all the key sites, including the old DuPont gunpowder works (now the Hagley Museum in Wilmington), Ford’s Theater, Petersburg and Richmond, the major battlefields and of course Booth’s escape route through Maryland (many times). As the story came together, I triple-checked dates and events, all the while compressing the action, because Booth was on the run for 12 days, with 5 of those days spent hiding in a pine thicket, and I didn’t want to lose the reader by describing every minute of days when nothing happened — while staying true to the timeline.

4. Can you explain how you keep your writing realistic but also fun and fictitious.

It starts with the voice. Sherlock Holmes has a distinctive voice — very different from Dr. Watson, who narrates half of my book — and Holmes’s is a wonderful voice to write with, because it is didactic and precise, not flowery or Victorian, but with a keen sense of humor. Watson’s voice is fun to write, too — stuffy, more conventional, but with a great sense of story. So long as I kept those voices in my head the action stayed lively and true (something I learned the hard way when, after completing the book for the first time, my inner English student took over and I spent a good three months trying to pare down the number of pages until I realized everything I’d re-written was worse, and quite boring. When I brought back Holmes’s chatty, precise voice, and Watson’s more formal but evocative tone, the story came back.

5. What are you working on now?

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Game, which answers the question of what Holmes was doing during the three years he was presumed dead following his struggle with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls in 1891. All we are told in the original stories is that he journeyed incognito to Florence, then Tibet (where he paid a visit to the Dalai Lama), then Mecca and Sudan before making his way to France and finally returning to London. That’s quite an itinerary, don’t you think? It suggests a spiritual journey as well as a physical one, and I’ve always felt it merited unearthing the true story of those travels (what did Sherlock Holmes discuss with the Dalai Lama???) As it happens, they occurred during a period when the Tsar was attempting to extend Russian influence south into Tibet, which of course Great Britain viewed as a direct threat to the Crown’s hold on India — a diplomatic chess match known as “the Great Game.” Hence, Sherlock Holmes and the Great Game.

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