Talking Thrillers with Author Kenneth Johnson: Holmes Coming

Author Biography: Kenneth Johnson is the bestselling author of numerous books including The Man of Legends, The Darwin Variant, V The Second Generation and Holmes Coming. He is a successful writer-producer-director of film and TV. Creator of the critically acclaimed landmark TV miniseries V, Kenneth also produced The Six Million Dollar Man and created such iconic Emmy-winning series as The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation. Recipient of multiple Saturn Awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Kenneth lives with his wife Susan in Los Angeles.

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TFx: How did you come up with the idea for Holmes Coming?

Johnson: I’ve always been intrigued by – and had surprising success with -- characters that are somewhat larger than life. I enjoy creating ways to make them live and breathe in the real world.

Despite being a huge fan of classic 19th century writers (it was Victor Hugo’s fugitive Jean Valjean in Les Miserables that inspired my Incredible Hulk series) I’d not read much of Conan Doyle’s work, but doing so one night I realized it could be great fun to make his iconic character suddenly -- and believably -- reappear intact in 21st-century San Francisco where he’d be a fish out of water.

TFx: What kind of research did you do?

Johnson: I took a deep dive into the entire Holmes canon because I wanted to present the original egocentric, cocaine-addicted, sexist genius absolutely accurately. But I also wanted to have fun with the fact that he was more than a century out of sync. That meant that his still–brilliant deductions would sometimes be laughable or outright dangerous.

TFx: What was the hardest part about writing the novel?

Johnson: Sitting down to write I faced an immediate roadblock: how does one write for a genius when one is decidedly not a genius?! It seemed impossible. Then in my research I discovered that Conan Doyle had faced and felt the exact same problem. Sir Arthur said his head would often be exploding from the stress. Many times I’d be tightly knotted up myself trying to figure out how to fashion the story. -- That’s actually why Doyle killed off his hero after only a handful of stories: they were so very hard to write.

Despite that daunting challenge I pressed on, instinctively making his new Dr. Watson a female, which would open up more opportunities for dramatic – and comedic – conflict, as well as to make comments on our society as seen through the eyes of a Victorian gentleman. It would also provide a spark of unexpected romance.

TFx: Is there a particularly fun fact that people should know?

Johnson: Before embarking on my career in filmmaking and authoring, I’d graduated from intense training as a director in live theater at Carnegie-Mellon’s legendary Department of Drama. So helping create and direct the audio edition of Holmes Coming was a joy for me because the result is far beyond an ordinary “reading.” 

Not only does it feature an international cast of outstanding, multi-ethnic actors – but since there is so much dialog between them I suggested we take an unprecedented approach: to record them all live -- and simultaneously -- so they could hear, interact and play off of each other in real time! Blackstone Audio’s executive producer Bryan Barney accomplished the Herculean task of coordinating our recording sessions with our actors who were spread out across eight time zones – but all linking in to perform live together!  

That makes their strong performances extraordinarily energetic. It also makes our audio book unique and groundbreaking. I’m extremely proud that we’ve created such a richly theatrical listening experience for audiences to enjoy.

Get Kenneth Johnson’s latest release, Holmes Coming, out now on Amazon

"Having the actual character adapt to modern times is a fresh take on the detective. Johnson nails Holmes's voice...his story is fun and engaging. Fans of the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy." -- Library Journal

The genius reappears, but is the twenty-first century ready for him?

Dr. Amy Winslow tells the story: in foggy, nighttime San Francisco a jogging SFPD captain is savagely attacked by a Bengal tiger which then vanishes. In her ER, Amy labors unsuccessfully to save the captain’s life, then consoles his aggrieved closest friend, Lt. Luis Ortega. Neither suspects their lives will intertwine in a life-or-death mystery.

The next day, checking on former patient Mrs. Hudson at her Victorian house isolated in Marin County’s forest, Amy discovers in the cellar a secret, cobweb-covered 1899 electrochemical laboratory containing a Jules Verne-esque steam-punk sarcophagus out of which springs a wild-eyed, half-mummified, crypt-keeper-like man who injects himself with something before falling dead at her feet. Amy barely revives him.

He claims to be a real-life Victorian master chemist and detective named Holmes, who allowed Conan Doyle to write stories based on his cases, though was slightly annoyed when Doyle changed his real first name to the catchier Sherlock. Becoming uninspired by 1890s crime, Holmes devised this method to hibernate for a century to investigate future mysteries.

Amy assumes he’s a lunatic. His Scotland Yard identity papers were stolen while he slept, so it takes her a while to realize his amazing story is true.

Respectably handsome when cleaned up, Holmes is still the same brash, egoistic, uber-English, cocaine-addicted, non-feminist genius -- but now a century out of sync -- so his still-brilliant deductions are sometimes laughingly or dangerously wrong. Holmes and Amy, his reluctant new Watson, find themselves unexpectedly attracted to each other while perilously involved in reclaiming his proof of identity, aided by cybersavvy street teen Zapper. It’s all connected to the horrific death-by-tiger, only the first of several bizarre, mystifying murders being committed by an exquisitely fiendish descendant of Holmes’ Victorian archenemy, Professor Moriarty.

The tone is classic Holmes -- plus a refreshing twist of fish-out-of-water humor with a surprising spark of real romance.

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