“Like Chicago, DD is stubborn, sassy, determined, and loyal to her friends.” – Author Diane Gilbert Madsen discusses The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper

“Dr. Bell kept the name of his confederate anonymous, but I have deduced that he was Arthur Conan Doyle. Who better to work with on the Ripper case than the world-famous mystery author?”

Could Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have deduced the identity of Jack the Ripper? That’s the premise of novelist Diane Gilbert Madsen’s third book featuring ace investigator Daphne December McGil.

Author Diane was born in Chicago and has an M.A in English literature (specializing in the 17th century) from Roosevelt University. Cited in both the World Who’s Who of Women and the Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, Diane worked a range of government jobs from Deputy Village Clerk, to Director of Economic Development for the State of Illinois. She oversaw the Illinois Film Office during the filming of Blues Brothers.

Diane became a writer after moving to Florida with her husband, Tom. Her acclaimed DD McGil Literati Series of murder mystery novels also includes Hunting for Hemingway & A Cadger’s Curse.

The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper (published by MX Publishing, August 2014). To find out more click here.

Why Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper?

First of all, thanks so much Dan for interviewing me about The Conan Doyle Notes. I must tell you that I love your questions. I’ve always been a fan of Doyle, and I’ve always been interested in the Ripper murders. These two passions fortuitously came together resulting in my third book.

It all began because I was fortunate to know Ely Liebow when I lived in Chicago, and we talked about his book, Dr. Joe Bell, model for Sherlock Holmes, which mentions that Joe Bell was given access to the Ripper files and that he solved the case with “another friend who liked solving deep problems.” Bell himself wrote in an article in Tit-Bits in October of 1911 that “there were two of us in the hunt, and when two men set out to find a golf ball in the rough, they expect to come across it where the straight line marked in their mind’s eye to it, from their original positions, crossed.

In the same way, when two men set out to investigate a crime mystery, it is where their researches intersect that we have a result.” Dr. Bell kept the name of his confederate anonymous, but I have deduced that he was Arthur Conan Doyle. Who better to work with on the Ripper case than the world-famous mystery author? Doyle and Bell were friends and colleagues, and it stimulated my imagination. Dr. Bell and his anonymous friend, according to Ely Liebow, deduced the murderer and each wrote a name on a piece of paper, put the paper in an envelope and then exchanged enveloped.

Both men had the same name, and Dr. Bell sent a report to Scotland Yard. A week later, the Ripper murders ceased, but no report has ever been found. This incident forms the basis of the plot in The Conan Doyle Notes, and I have endeavored to include only factual information about the Ripper case. Although I name the suspect whom I believe was deduced by Doyle and Dr. Bell, I include the clues I used to arrive at my conclusion. I had lots of challenges writing this book, but I loved doing it and hope my readers enjoy it as much as I do.

The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper is inspired by Sir Arthur’s historical trip to Chicago. When and why did that happen?

Conan Doyle arrived in Chicago on October 12, 1894 when he was 35 yrs old, in the prime of his life and famous world-wide for his Sherlock Holmes stories. He was booked in 15 northeast cities for a series of 67 “set” lectures including Readings & Reminiscences and Facts and Fiction. He wanted to see the states – his favorite childhood books were American wild west adventure stories, especially those of Bret Harte.

The US population at this time was double that of Great Britain and a big market for selling his stories. He stayed at the Grand Pacific Hotel, a 6 story luxury hotel where Oscar Wilde had stayed in 1882 on his 1st tour. He was shown the Water Tower, the elevated and Marshall Field’s, and he took a lot of snapshots whenever he could with his Kodak camera. It is highly likely that he met the Chicago lumber baron, David Gage Joyce, on this trip. Joyce is another character I used in The Conan Doyle Notes because David Gage Joyce did in fact own the manuscript of Doyle’s The White Company, which is now at the Newberry Library.

Doyle arrived a year after he’d written The Final Problem, killing off Sherlock Holmes. In Britain, Doyle had been shocked when over 20,000 people cancelled their Strand Magazine subscriptions in protest. The magazine nearly went under, and the staff referred to Holmes’s death as “the dreadful event.” Although the Chicago press greeted him warmly, they too all wanted to know WHY he’d killed off Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was dismayed. He didn’t want to talk about his detective, and he revealed his true feelings when he said: “I have been much blamed for doing Holmes to death, but I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defense, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me.”

Interestingly, Doyle was asked about the Ripper murders on his tour of America in 1894. He must have given some thought to the Ripper case, as he outlined to an American journalist just how Sherlock Holmes would have set about tracing the culprit:

“I am not in the least degree either a sharp or an observant man myself. I try to get inside the skin of a sharp man and see how things strike him. I remember going to Scotland Yard Museum and looking at the letter which was received from the Ripper. Of course it may have been a hoax, but there were reasons to think it genuine, and in any case, it was well to find out who wrote it.

“It was written in red ink in a clerky hand. I tried to think of how Holmes might have deduced the writer of that letter. The most obvious point was that it had been written by someone who had been in America. It began ‘Dear Boss’ and contained the phrase ‘fix it up’ and several others which are not usual with Britishers. Then we have the quality of the paper, and a round, easy, clerky hand. He was, therefore, a man accustomed to the use of a pen.

“Having determined that much, we cannot avoid the inference that there must be somewhere letters that this man has written over his own name, or documents or accounts that could readily be traced to him. Oddly enough, the police did not, as far as I know, think of that, and so they failed to accomplish anything. Holmes’ plan would have been to reproduce the letters in facsimile and on each plate indicate briefly the peculiarities of the handwriting. Then publish these facsimiles in the leading newspapers of Great Britain and America and in connection with them offer a reward to anyone who could show them a letter or any other specimen of the same handwriting. Such a course would have enlisted millions of people as detectives on the case.”

What do we know for certain about Conan Doyle’s own reaction to the Ripper murders?

Here’s information I’ve collected on Doyle and the Ripper murders:

  • Doyle visited Scotland Yard’s Black Museum on December 2, 1892, four years after the Ripper murders. He was shown one of the Ripper letters. He said that the murderer might have dressed as a woman.
  • On April 19, 1905, nearly 7 years after the murders, a number of police gave Doyle a guided tour of all the Ripper murder sites in Whitechapel. Doyle said the police knew who the Ripper was.
  • Nigel Morland, who died in 1986, possessed an enormous library of books on criminology and his wide circle of friends shared his considerable knowledge of the subject, especially the mystery of Jack the Ripper. Morland said Edgar Wallace had told him he knew the Royal identity of Jack the Ripper and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told him the same thing.
  • Doyle and Dr. Joseph Bell, one of the world’s first forensic pathologists, were friends and colleagues. Few people know that Bell was part of the police net that was thrown around the Ripper, in spite of the fact that Dr. Bell lived hundreds of miles from the Ripper murders in London. Dr. Bell was set up in Edinburgh while the Ripper murders took place in London. However, the London force was under so much pressure, they were ready to try just about anything. Dr. Bell was given all the facts of the case by the Metropolitan Force. Based on this, he wrote a report which named the suspect he believed was the Ripper. However, Dr. Bell’s report disappeared and has never been found.
  • Doyle’s son, Adrian Doyle, told Tom Cullen in 1962 what he remembered of his father’s views on the Ripper case: “More than 30 years having passed, it is difficult to recall his views in detail on the Ripper Case. However, I do remember that he considered it likely that the man had a rough knowledge of surgery and probably clothed himself as a woman to approach his victims without arousing suspicion on their part.” (From: Conan Doyle, Detective, By Peter Costello)

The setting for the novel is the Kenwood / Hyde Park districts on the Southside of Chicago, home to the Obama family. Dust of your Director of Economic Development hat for a second, tell us about the area and its advantages as a literary setting.

I love Chicago. It’s where I grew up, and I try to use it as a “character” in the DD McGil Literati Mystery Series. I recently wrote an article entitled “Chicago Rules,” in which I explain my fascination.

Chicago – my city of birth
Chicago – my city of choice.
My curse and my muse
That’s why I refuse
To write about anywhere else.

There is a distinct feel about the place and its people. We Chicagoans tend to be down to earth and hard working and perhaps a little sentimental. We love our heroes and hate our villains. We support our city, our teams, our schools and our friends; and above all we display an enduring hope for the future. These characteristics come from our connective, collective experiences living in the city.

5a803b12e432724fb21a06dc08a9f3f31First of all, we must contend with our name which, taken from the Ojibwa Indians, means ‘skunk.’ Then too, we used to be known as the Second City before LA went on steroids. We knew we were number two, not number one, and we were never allowed to forget it. That mind set fostered a certain perverse twist to our egos and our ids. Then there’s our weather. Let’s face it, when it’s nice, it’s really nice, but when it’s not, it’s horrible. And it’s horrible usually 6 months out of the year. That’s why we don’t act like carefree Californians. No – we need our coats, our scarves and our gloves. We don’t go naked into that good sunlight in January, and it marks us for life.

On top of that, as fans of the Chicago Cubs, we are doomed to never win a pennant. In setting my books, I’ve used many well known Chicago landmarks such as Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, and Graue Mill, the oldest working mill in the area and where I served as a Board Member. I’ve also used all four of Chicago’s seasons to give readers a feel of the hardiness it takes to be a Chicagoan. And, as with every writer, my characters are connected to my own life and experiences in the city.

My main character, DD McGil, lives in Wrigleyville, as I did, and she’s a Cubs fan, as am I. Her university connections come from my own associations with the University of Chicago which I attended as an undergraduate. Like Chicago, DD is stubborn, sassy, determined, and loyal to her friends. Another character in the series, Tom Joyce, is a real Chicagoan who owns and operates the famous Joyce and Company Rare Books on Racine Street. He’s been great fun to include and has also been invaluable as a resource on texts and book prices and rare manuscripts and ephemera.

When did you and DD McGil  first “meet”?

When I sat down to write a mystery story, I knew I wanted it to be a “Literati” mystery, and I knew I wanted to write first person. So I decided to use a female investigator. Many people have asked if I am DD McGil, but as Hemingway pointed out, a writer’s characters are a combination of many people and many observations. There is a core of DD that’s very like me, but I’ve tried to make her fit the mold of an academic turned insurance investigator who’s had some difficult times in life. And she, like the other characters in my Literati Mystery Series, always surprises me with dialogue and actions that I haven’t planned out. That’s the fun of writing.

What are the qualities that make McGill an engaging personality?

DD is a fun character to write. She’s always surprising me. She lives in Chicago and is very quick on her feet. She’s loyal and has a soft spot for her friends and her neighbors, but she has a lot of quirks, too. She’s lippy and sassy and superstitious, but not nearly as much as her Scottish Auntie Elizabeth. She loves puzzles, like any good detective, and as an insurance investigator, she’s always throwing around statistics.

She’s fond of her cat, Cavalier, and she definitely likes men – a lot. She also has a sense of humor and is able to laugh at herself when she gets into a scrape, which she regularly does. Here’s what Kirkus Reviews said: “Crime follows DD McGil almost as closely as eligible bachelors do. DD’s dry wit and internal monologue go far… Another fast read with quirky characters and due reverence for the Second City.”

Do you ever look back and wish you’d given her a sidekick?

In my first DD McGil Literati Mystery, A Cadger’s Curse, my agent loved the bookseller character, Tom Joyce, and she urged me to write more about him in the stories. He turned out to become DD’s sidekick. Tom is a real person, a Chicago icon who runs Joyce and Co. Rare Books and Appraisals. Whenever we’re at a book signing, he signs as many books as I do. As a writer, especially since I write in the first person, using the device of a sidekick allows me to add a great deal to the story through the eyes and actions of someone other than DD herself.

If you were on a gameshow and your grand prize could either be a secret trove of Conan Doyle papers or a lost manuscript of Robert Burns (the premise of A Cadger’s Curse) which would you pick (assuming you didn’t go for the holiday of a lifetime)?

Could any true Sherlockian turn down the grandest gameshow prize of all time – a secret trove of Conan Doyle papers? Some have (literally) died for this – I reference the strange death of Lancelyn Green, who was obsessed with Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. By the way, Lancelyn Green was the model for the character of Philip Green in The Conan Doyle Notes. Philip Green is a character in The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax. He is one of a number of character names from the Canon I’ve used in

Together you and McGil have investigated Hemingway (Hunting for Hemingway), Burns (A Cadger’s Curse), and Conan Doyle. Who’s next?

I am working on the next three in the DD McGil Literati Mystery series: The 4th book in the DD McGil series is The Cardboard Palace, featuring a true incident in the life of Bram Stoker. DD investigates the oldest women’s club in Chicago and finds that – The candle burns, And lights the way. For trouble past, Someone must pay.

The 5th is Dark As Shadows, featuring a true incident in the life of Robert Louis Stevenson. DD’s Auntie Elizabeth – known as the Scottish Dragon – asks DD to drop everything and “hie to Scotland for it’s dark as shadows here.”

The 6th is Restless Bones which features an incident in The Gold Bug by Edgar Allen Poe. DD’s idyllic vacation is interrupted when her lover Scotty is determined to go hunting after Captain Kidd’s buried treasure.

Right now I’m editing my first non-fiction book for MX Publishing entitled, Cracking The Code of the Canon: How Sherlock Holmes Made His Decisions. It takes a look at how Holmes views crimes, criminals and victims and what he considers justice in the Canon. It will be out shortly.

I’ve also written a play entitled, Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Hearts. My agent has submitted it to several theaters in hopes of getting it produced soon.

What should be playing on the stereo when we’re reading The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper?

Read the book under a soft light so there are shadows and dark corners about you while you listen to the soundtrack from Link Wray’s 1959 instrumental Jack the Ripper which as I understand begins with an evil laugh and a woman’s scream.