The mystery of William Brown and the multiple sequel

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The Independent Online
SEQUELS are all the rage these days - sequels to Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, The Wind in the Willows and God knows what else. (Mention of God is not idle, as I believe plans for a sequel to the Bible are well advanced.) But now is the time when a writer with his eye to making a large fortune some time in the immediate future (I refer to myself) has to look ahead and ask: what is the next fashion after sequels? And how can I be first on to this post- sequel bandwagon, whatever it is?

I sat and thought about this for a while, but couldn't come up with an answer, so I turned instead to the mighty computer which writes so many of my pieces (but never pays its own taxes) and asked it the simple question: what next after sequels?

It hummed and whirred for a while, then this came up on the screen: 'Multiple sequels'.

I thought about this for a while, then admitted defeat. I asked it: 'How do you mean?' It did some more testy humming and whirring as if impatient with someone who had as few brain cells as I did, then replied as follows: 'One sequel covering two or more books'. Then, as I made no comment for an hour or two, the computer flashed up on the screen: 'Oh God, do I have to explain everything? I mean, one new book which is the sequel to two or more old books. Look, I'll give you an example . . .'

After which there came up the following extraordinary story, featuring two of the great heroes of modern literature who had never, I wager, previously met.

The Mystery of the Missing Gobstoppers

It was one of those grey autumn days when the fog lingered in Baker Street from dawn to dusk, no different from any other day in early November, except that it was on that day that Sherlock Holmes received a visit from perhaps his youngest ever client. Little did I suspect this when Mrs Hudson announced the arrival of Mr William Brown, though the twinkle in her normally dispassionate features might have alerted me.

The door opened and in came a tousle-haired boy of perhaps eleven, wearing a crumpled cap, sagging socks, twisted short trousers and an indescribably dirty jacket out of whose pocket protruded a catapult. He looked from one to other of us.

'Which one of you is the famous detective?' he enquired.

Holmes smiled.

'Which one do you think?' he said.

'You,' said the boy instantly, pointing at Holmes and dislodging a bird's egg from somewhere about his person as he did so.

'Excellent,' said Holmes. 'What led you to this conclusion?'

'Your friend looks too borin' to be a detective,' said William Brown. 'No offence,' he added to me with what was intended to be a smile but emerged more as a threatening leer.

'Better and better,' said Holmes, rubbing his hands. 'You show a talent for deduction. Now, what can I deduce in return? Well, very little, except that you have an elder brother and sister, a gang of fellow ruffians called the Outlaws, and a dog called Jumble. Am I right?'

'Yes,' said the boy.

'Holmes]' I ejaculated. 'In heaven's name, how did you know all that?'

'Easy,' said William Brown. 'He got it from the letter what I sent him.'

'Quite true,' said Holmes, producing a tattered bit of paper with pencil scrawlings on it. 'It's all here, if unorthodoxly spelt. Where are we . . . Ah, yes. 'And if you are as clevver as you say you are, praps you can clear up a mistry which has got even me bafled.' Tell us more about this mystery, William.'

'Course, some people would say that if you were really a great detective, you'd know what my mystery is,' said William Brown fastening my friend with an unwavering eye.

'Some people would say that a sleuth shouldn't have to ask what the crime was. He should know in his bones. Some people would say that a detective who didn't know what the crime was before being told wasn't really a great detective. Course, I may be wrong but . . .'

Holmes held his hand up in a rare gesture of defeat.

'I have failed,' he said, with an irony that was lost on our young client. 'I admit that I do not know what the crime was. Enlighten me, William.'

'Someone has taken my gobstoppers,' said William Brown simply.

'Have they indeed?' said Holmes 'Have they now? Watson, be so good as to hand me that lexicon next to you . . . Thank you. Let me see . . . G for gobstopper . . .'

Continued tomorrow, computer

willing . . .