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Authors: H. F. Heard

Reply Paid





Reply Paid

A Mycroft Holmes Mystery

H. F. Heard

Foreword by Paul D. Herbert





Foreword by Paul D. Herbert

Reply Paid: A Mystery

Introduction to The Adventure of Mr. Montalba, Obsequist

The Adventure of Mr. Montalba, Obsequist

About the Author


Paul D. Herbert

I read
Reply Paid
many years ago and recently re-read it. During the interim the details had slipped my mind but one thing that had not was the villain's attempt at disposing of the narrator, Sydney Silchester. Call it sinister, sneaky, diabolical, evil—I think of Mr. Mycroft's discovery of it every time I notice the book resting on one of my shelves. That in itself is praise, for there are many other mystery stories I have read for which the denouement has long been forgotten.

My belief that Mr. Mycroft is actually Sherlock Holmes in his later years obviously affects my judgment. At first I tried reading the novel with an open mind, viewing Mr. Mycroft as just another detective. But no matter how hard I attempted to block the thought from my brain, the idea wouldn't vanish so I gave up. I was constantly looking for comparisons that would confirm my belief that Holmes and Mr. Mycroft were one and the same. And there are many to be found. For instance, Mr. Silchester is frequently kept in the dark about affairs even if it means putting his life into danger just like Holmes did earlier to Dr. Watson. Mr. Silchester occasionally shows his frustration (shared by his readers, no doubt) at not being told all the facts, but he soldiers on, knowing Mr. Mycroft's penchant for not revealing his ratiocinations until later. As is well known, Holmes also had a flair for the dramatic.

Another familiar trait is Mr. Mycroft's encyclopedic knowledge, even of what seems trivial at first glance. It is very mindful of Holmes conversing with Watson about golf clubs or the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic. Ears, newspaper-print type, perfume, philology, etc.—Holmes was well versed in a wide variety of subjects as was Mr. Mycroft. And why shouldn't they be? They were one and the same! It's also true that H. F. Heard himself possessed a vast knowledge and an excellent memory. Information that may have seemed useless to others was stored in his mind, as some future learning might suddenly deem the fact important.

But that doesn't mean they were versed in
. Holmes defers to Watson when it comes to horse racing and admits to Cyril Overton that his ramifications do not include amateur sport. Watson also tells us of Holmes's limits, including the fact that his knowledge of literature, philosophy, and astronomy was nil, and it was feeble when it came to politics. But as Watson made those observations after knowing Holmes for only a few months, we can't assume they are completely accurate, though Watson wouldn't have said as such if there weren't at least some traces of their veracity. However, to contrast this, Holmes tells us, “I hold a vast store of out-of-the-way knowledge without scientific system, but very available for the needs of my work. My mind is like a crowded box-room with packets of all sorts stowed away therein—so many that I well have but a vague perception of what was there.” This is demonstrated by his consultation of his Index, as Holmes often had to turn to it for further information such as on vampires or Irene Adler.

The limitations to the range of Mr. Mycroft's scope aren't as well known both because Silchester doesn't tell us what they are, and the Mr. Mycroft stories only comprise five tales compared to the sixty in the Holmes Canon. So should we assume Mr. Mycroft can discuss at length ballet dancing, tattoos, rugby, or crocheting? Granted, as he grew older he had time to learn more about different subjects, but he also would be willing to acknowledge his deficiencies in areas that he was unlikely to confront as a detective. If a subject with which he was unfamiliar became something he needed to know, the result would have been research. As Holmes once said, “I never guess. It is a shocking habit—destructive to the logical faculty.”

Also similar is the pace of the tale, though this is more about the authors (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. F. Heard) than it is the characters. It's slow and deliberate, fitting because Mr. Mycroft is hardly a young man. If you are a hard-boiled fan only, you may find this tale not entirely to your taste. The action is more reminiscent of mystery tales from the 1930s and earlier than it is of recent detective fiction.

There are several points that differ considerably from Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes. One is that the story takes place in Los Angeles and a western desert. However, a look at pastiches of Holmes that have put the detective in such places as St. Paul, the Old West, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Nebraska, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Connecticut, and many different places in Canada don't make Heard's tale seem out of the ordinary.

While the true pastiche has the author trying to imitate another's style so the work will compare favorably with the original, Heard doesn't attempt in the least to do that. He uses his own style, which is vastly different from Conan Doyle's, having fewer characters, less dialogue, more descriptions by the narrator, plus other nuances.

Some might question Mr. Mycroft's energy level. How can a man of his age withstand the extremes of the desert? But didn't Sherlock Holmes always keep himself in excellent physical condition? And pastiches are no exception. In
The Curse of the Nibelung
by Marcel D'Agneau an octogenarian Holmes is able to survive behind the lines in the Second World War and is even able to pilot an airplane! In Laurie King's Mary Russell novels the retired beekeeper Holmes not only accompanies the young lady on her many dangerous adventures but marries her as well.

Does Mr. Mycroft believe in spiritualism? Holmes, of course, does not. For example he once stated in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” that, “This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground … No ghosts need apply”; and in
The Hound of the Baskervilles
he listens with an air of resignation to a reading of the Baskerville legend and afterward caustically remarks that it would be interesting to a collector of fairy tales. Yet suppose Mr. Mycroft is not a true believer but merely wants to hear what the medium has to say in case something in her remarks sparks a thought in his brain? This I can easily see Holmes doing.

The inclusion of spiritualism is an indication that Heard might have had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in mind. Is this further evidence that Mr. Mycroft is Sherlock Holmes? Perhaps. However, Heard did not need Conan Doyle to make him think of the paraphysical world. He had lived in the 1920s when spiritualism was a main topic of debate, and in the 1930s he was very active in the Society for Psychical Research. (Conan Doyle had joined the Society in 1893 and resigned shortly before his death in 1930 when he felt the organization had become too critical of mediums.) So Heard was not only contemplating man's purpose in the universe but was considered by others such as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood to be an authority on the subject. Among his interests was the connection between the psychological and historical parts of man, and he made this the subject of many of his nonfiction writings. Heard definitely had a fascination with the search for the actual meaning of man's existence, which included the true nature of spiritualism.

Readers of
Reply Paid
will undoubtedly be reminded of the anthrax scares of the early part of the 21st century as well as the nuclear age. Was Heard prescient? As stated before, he was a man who stored information for the future, and he often was able to visualize what lay ahead. He was a remarkable individual!

The more one reads of Heard, as others have pointed out, it becomes clear that he, as well as Holmes, is also a model for Mr. Mycroft. And why not! A good author will not write about a subject in which he or she is unfamiliar, and we know that Heard was not only erudite with near perfect retentivity but also possessed excellent powers of ratiocination and forethought.

But while Heard shares many of the attributes of Mr. Mycroft and Holmes, Conan Doyle, on the other hand, is more like Watson and Silchester. He is primarily a storyteller, an eyewitness and companion to someone whose ability to reason and whose wisdom as well as profound learning are far above that of the common man. If Conan Doyle occasionally treads into areas with which he is only slightly familiar (e.g., horse racing) it is not a major concern of his, as he is more interested in presenting an easily readable tale.

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