Review: Local actor pens fresh adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Bloomingdale native a familiar face on Chicago TV productions

Actor James Heatherly of Bloomingdale has authored a fresh series of Sherlock Holmes adventures in the "Sinister House" series, with the blessing of the Conan Doyle Estate.

The COVID-19 crisis dramatically impacted people’s lives, but for Bloomingdale native and actor James Heatherly, the pandemic provided an unprecedented opportunity. “Because I couldn’t find any acting work and didn’t want to sit around staring at the walls for months on end,” Heatherly said he decided to write a book. And not just any book, but a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Since boyhood, Heatherly had been fascinated by the famous 221B Baker Street detective, and started reading Sherlock Holmes stories when he was 11. Heatherly had read all 112 “Hardy Boys” mysteries by then, and was “looking for something that would keep me guessing while I read.” Sherlock Holmes appealed to him, and “A Study in Scarlet” started the lifelong enticement.

Heatherly confessed he was intrigued with the concept of the villainous Professor James Moriarty. In the story “The Final Problem,” Holmes says they’d never met, but labels him “the Napoleon of crime.” That was the motivation for Heatherly to write a short story about how Holmes learns about Moriarty.

That story took on a life of its own; it went from being a short story to a 545-page novel with the original title “Sinister House.” It took 600 hours of research and two and a half years to complete the book, which grew into a four-book set. Heatherly anticipates the total number of pages to be over 1,200.

And somehow that doesn’t surprise me: Heatherly is prolific, dedicated and generous in all things. I directed him in the RCLPC production of “Morning’s at Seven,” and his acting résumé is long and varied, encompassing community theater, Shakespeare and world premieres. He’s a favorite of Metropolis and BrightSide theater audiences, and his TV career includes roles in NBC’s “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Med” and “Chicago Fire,” FX’s “Fargo” and Warner Bros.’ “Shameless.”

Heatherly appeared in the films “Batman v Superman,” “Chicago Overcoat” and “Utopia.” And Heatherly’s acting training is just as impressive: Actors Training Center, Victory Gardens, Remy Bumppo and The Second City. His favorite acting roles include Kris Kringle (“Miracle on 34th Street”), Uncle Billy (“It’s a Wonderful Life”), Carl Bolton (“Morning’s at Seven”) and John Utterson (“Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical”).

In writing his Holmes novel, Heatherly found there were three major challenges: first, writing in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and staying as true to the characters as possible – “always my intention.”

Second, ensuring that the details were accurate, “hence the 600 hours of research.” He made sure the locations, street names and establishments were correct for 1888-1890 London, Paris and Berlin. Incredibly, there are more than 25 characters in his novel who actually existed in real life, so Heatherly had to accurately delineate their physical descriptions and all their “strengths, foibles and eccentricities.”

Third, getting the words right – from slang to phraseology. Heatherly utilizes “proper” British, cockney and Liverpool scouse dialects, in addition to French and German.

When I asked Heatherly about the Conan Doyle Estate endorsement and approval, I was surprised to learn it’s not as restrictive as it once was. Like Shakespeare’s works, Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain.

“It was always my dream to have the [Conan] Doyle Estate put their seal on my book. For me, it was a badge of honor,” he said.

On a whim, Heatherly sent a synopsis to the Conan Doyle Estate, asking for the estate’s “blessing.” He received an email from one of the family members who had run the concept of Heatherly’s book past the existing family.

“They loved the idea, so from that point on, I was in good stead with the [Conan] Doyle Estate,” he said. There’s been positive early feedback, in addition to five-star reviews on Goodreads, and a later personal note from the Conan Doyle Estate acknowledging that Heatherly’s book was a “very enjoyable read.”

But when Heatherly finally landed a publisher, he was told “Sinister House” was too long, and he needed to “break it into parts.” As a result, there now are four books in the “Sinister House” series.

Book one, “The Coronet Conspiracy,” has an official release date of Oct. 23; book two, “The French Conundrum,” will be released Dec. 10; book three, “The Synchrony Stratagem,” is scheduled for a May 2024 release; and book four, “The Fall of Sinister House,” tentatively is scheduled for September 2024. To Heatherly’s joy, the Conan Doyle Estate has put its seal on all four books.

I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of book one, and it was a delight. Heatherly captures Sherlock Holmes’ encyclopedic knowledge of the criminal underworld, both in England and on the Continent. In the novel, Holmes is approached by Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Henry Moore and asked to decipher a coded message that reveals a frightening, sinister organization threatening not only the Crown, but the leaders of the entire Continent. Along with Dr. Watson, Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, the Baker Street Irregulars and a host of new characters, Holmes faces a challenge, thanks to Heatherly, unlike any he has confronted before. And, thus, the game is afoot – again.

And as for Heatherly, it won’t take a detective to deduce why his series is headed for success. Heatherly has captured our hearts via another venue – writing – and now can add author to his résumé.

• Regina Belt-Daniels has been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since her father first introduced her to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books and short stories. A retired Reading Recovery and special education teacher, she has directed and acted in over 50 area productions. When not onstage or backstage, it’s no mystery that she can be found writing reviews in an audience somewhere.


WHAT: James Patrick Heatherly’s “Sinister House” series opener “The Coronet Conspiracy”

WHEN: Official release Oct. 23

INFORMATION: Available as pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble; offered now at