The Unprepossessing Phineus Morton

Fin as WatsonLong ago, while I was writing the original manuscript of The Jihad Virus, I had a minor revelation: the story I was drafting ran strongly parallel to a good Sherlock Holmes mystery.

It had quite a few similar story elements: a brilliant man solving deadly mysteries, scientific sleuthing methods, and a more-or-less faithful follower and chronicler of the events, who had a medical background himself.

In the Holmes stories, of course the chronicler is the now-famous Dr. John Watson, MD, Afghanistan war veteran, and target of Sherlockian epithets like, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

In my stories, Phineus (Fin) Morton has no MD, but like Watson, he is a war veteran with a medical background. Furthermore, Fin is a soldier who served in both Afghanistan AND in Bagdad, Iraq. So he’s actually one up on Watson when it comes to comparing war wounds and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Fin served as a medical corpsman, and hence has plenty of background to inform his witnessing of events like the modern-day plagues threatened by The Jihad Virus and The Neah Virus.

Who better then, to accompany and explain the doings of my stories’ hero, Dr. Peyton McKean, biotechnology researcher, as he confronts evil villains and deadly contagion? Fin has the right combination: he’s a medical man with combat experience!

The parallels between Morton and Watson run deep.

Another realm of commonality is that of romance. In the Holmes stories, Sherlock was, well, just too far out there to end up with a girlfriend. In my stories, the illustrious Dr. McKean has already settled down with a wife and kid who have long since adjusted to his idiosyncrasies. As with the Sherlock stories, it is the sidekick who finds romance. Watson met his future bride on an adventure with Holmes. The same sort of thing happens for Fin Morton–repeatedly.

OuchPoor Fin. He’s had a rough romantic ride, at least so far, in my hands. He’s seen romance appear in each of two novels, first with the lovely and dangerous Egyptian horse trainer Jameela Noori in The Jihad Virus, and then with beautiful Native American shaman’s daughter Tleena Steel in The Neah Virus.

And yet he remains single. How can I be so cruel to him? Worse, he starts each new adventure with a broken heart. Of course, that sets up his redemption in each novel by finding true love.

Wait! I’m giving away much more here than I should tell. No more spoilers.

Because of the many parallels to the Holmes stories–right down to physical descriptions–I welcome you to imagine Fin as the currently most favored Watson, the actor Martin Freeman. He’s as close a match to my description as I have seen. That’s just a coincidence, since The Jihad Virus was first released in 2004, long before Mr. Freeman had become prominent. But it’s a nice coincidence. In The Jihad Virus, Fin describes himself like this:

“I’m a medical reporter, a healthy twenty-seven-year-old male of average height and build and looks, with good vital signs. My tours in the Mideast left no physical scars on me, but I was not to be so lucky in the events I’m about to retell.”

You get the picture?

And, by the way, that Benedict Cumberbatch fellow does a passably good job of looking like my overly-tall, quirky, socially maladjusted sleuth, Dr. Peyton McKean. If Freeman and Cumberbatch would like a suggestion for a new movie together, may I suggest The Jihad Virus?

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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