A lifelong Sherlockian, Richard Ryan is the author of “The Official Sherlock Holmes Trivia Book” as well as a book on Agatha Christie trivia. His first novel, “The Vatican Cameos: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure,” is due out in the fall from MX Publishing, London. He is also currently working on his next Holmes adventure.
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he majored in medieval literature, he is a die-hard fan of the Fighting Irish — it doesn’t matter what sport.
He has been happily married for 38 years and is the proud father of two children.
Richard was kind enough to talk to me about himself and his work:
Hi Richard. It’s great to meet you. I’ve been reading your novel The Vatican Cameos with great pleasure and it’s certainly getting some early buzz. Before we get into that though, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a native New Yorker, living in Staten Island with my wife, Grace, and son, Michael. I also have a daughter, Kaitlin, who is getting married in September. I’m a lifelong Notre Dame fan and a voracious reader. Right now, I’m working as a newspaper editor.
You’re obviously a big mystery fan. In addition to your first Sherlock Holmes novel, you wrote a book on Agatha Christie trivia. I’m going to put you on the spot and ask you who is your favourite fictional detective and why.
I grew up reading the mysteries of John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie. I really like several of Carr’s detectives, including Henri Bencolin, Sir Henry Merrivale and, of course, Dr. Gideon Fell. I also enjoy Henri Poirot and Miss Marple. However, Holmes will always be my favorite. Although not quite detectives I enjoy the Gabriel Allon character by Daniel Silva and Dan Brown’s Philip Langdon.
The mystery genre is a long way from your field of study, medieval literature. What is it about the mystery genre that appeals to you?
So much of medieval literature is based on guesswork and conjecture. You look for clues in the writing as to what the author may have been trying to say and then you try to piece everything together as a coherent whole. If you think about it, it’s really not such a far leap from one to the other.
Although I haven’t finished The Vatican Cameos yet, I’ve been impressed by what I’ve read so far. What was the hardest part of writing the novel for you?
I try to be as accurate as possible in my research, because even though it is fiction, I want it to seem as realistic as possible. This was made doubly difficult because, as you know, the book takes place in two entirely different time periods.
How did you approach your research?
To quote Holmes himself, “I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.” Researching Victorian England was considerably easier than looking into Renaissance Italy. However, the disciplines and the approach that might be required to research a minor medieval work stood me in good stead as I delved into the history of the papal court and Renaissance art and architecture.
Jack Reacher author Lee Child says The Vatican Cameos is “an extravagantly imagined and beautifully written Holmes story.” High praise indeed. How did that come about, and what was your reaction when you read it?
Among the many hats I have worn at the newspaper was writing a weekly column on home video. Paramount offered me the chance to interview Lee when the film “Jack Reacher” was being released on DVD, and, needless to say, I jumped at the chance. After I finished the book, I contacted him and he gave me some advice about agents and publishing. Then after I signed with MX, I contacted him a second time, and he agreed to read it. He is truly a gentleman and so generous with his time. When I received the email with the quote, I was ecstatic.
Have you read other pastiches, either of Holmes or Agatha Christie’s detectives? Do you have a favourite author among them?
I have read a great many pastiches and I like the Mary Russell stories as well as the author who created that Lady Beatrice character. Her name escapes me for the moment.
(Cheeky beggar… Thank you!) What do you remember about your first introduction to Sherlock Holmes?
My first serious introduction came when I was at Notre Dame. I saw a business student in my dorm with a book, and I asked what he was reading. It was a one-volume collection of the Canon. I asked if I might borrow it, and he let me. I read several stories that night and went to the bookstore the next day to purchase my own copy. Obviously, it is a love affair that continues to this day.
What can you tell us about your current work in progress?
I really don’t like to discuss something that is in progress. So can I tell you what it’s not? It’s not a bi-partite novel like “The Vatican Cameos” because we remain firmly rooted in 1901. I guess the date indicates that it is another Holmes adventure.
Ooh, intriguing… Who are your heroes, fictional or otherwise?
I thoroughly enjoy the exploits of Jack Reacher, Bob Swagger, Earl Swagger, Robert Langdon and Gabriel Allon, and the wizard, Gandalf. But my real-life heroes are my father, who passed away many years ago, and my mother, who passed more recently. They instilled in me the work ethic that I have and they taught me that being a good person is more important than anything else. I also owe my love of reading to my mom. But my biggest hero is my wife, Grace, who puts up with my insanity and still finds the strength to encourage me. She is my better half in every sense of the word.
Rich’s first novel will be released by MX Publishing on November 7th.
When the papal apartments are burgled in 1901, Sherlock Holmes is summoned to Rome by Pope Leo XII. After learning from the pontiff that several priceless cameos that could prove compromising to the church, and perhaps determine the future of the newly unified Italy, have been stolen, Holmes is asked to recover them. In a parallel story, Michelangelo, the toast of Rome in 1501 after the unveiling of his Pieta, is commissioned by Pope Alexander VI, the last of the Borgia pontiffs, with creating the cameos that will bedevil Holmes and the papacy four centuries later. For fans of Conan Doyle’s immortal detective, the game is always afoot. However, the great detective has never encountered an adversary quite like the one with whom he crosses swords in “The Vatican Cameos..”
It’s available for pre-order here.