Welcome

Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Return of Nicholas Meyer



Nicholas Meyer, whose The Seven-Per-Cent Solution touched off the Sherlock Holmes tsunami of the 1970s, is back with his fourth Holmes pastiche. The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is an adventure indeed, with Holmes and Watson tapped to debunk the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic hoax that persist to this day.  

It’s a wonderful ride, with the Orient Express taking our heroes to Tsarist Russia and from there into the darkness of the human soul. It’s a well-written and expertly plotted novel. I read it quickly, and with great enjoyment. It belongs on your bookshelf, although with Meyers’s other three novel-length pastiches. (My favorite remains The West End Horror.)

And yet, in reading it, I never felt that I was experiencing The Real Thing, i.e., the Sacred Writings of Dr. Watson via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The reasons are numerous, but the easiest to convey without spoilers (the book won’t be published until October) is the storyline. All four Canonical novels begin with a mystery to be solved. By contrast, although there is murder in Protocols, there is no real mystery.  

As a matter of personal preference, I enjoy (and have tried to write) pastiches that would fit comfortably into the Canon. Such stories are rare, partly because authors understandably like to make their own unique contribution to the Baker Street saga. Thus, we often have stories that not only add to what we know about Holmes and Watson, but even change it.

One of the greatest temptations is to introduce historical personages or other fictional characters into the world of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle never did that. References to real people are frequent in the Canon, but they do not appear as characters. To me, this divergence in a pastiche – an attempt to write in the style of the original author – is always jarring. But it can still be fun!

Not all Sherlock Holmes stories are pastiches, however. Some are parodies, in which character traits are exaggerated for laughs. Some are Sherlock Holmes stories written at least partially in the third person or a voice other than that of Watson. Some are stories co-starring Sherlock Holmes, with another figure the main interest. And some – a growing number – present us with and alternative Holmes and/or Watson who is female, African American, a robot, or whatever.

And which is best? Whatever you like best!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Persistence of Sherlockian Scholarship



The new (Summer 2019) issue of Canadian Holmes, the journal of the Bootmakers of Toronto, includes my article on “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Sherlock Holmes: Life Lessons from the Great Detective.”

It was a thrill to get my copy in hand and find out that I’m in such excellent company, as usual when traveling with Sherlockians. Other articles in the issue are by Barbara Rusch, Jayantika Ganguly, Cliff Goldfarb, Paul Thomas Miller, Suzanne Durkacz MacNeil, and Charles Prepolec.

With some surprise, I realized that this is the 10th periodical in which my Sherlockian articles or fiction have appeared. Number 11 is on the horizon later this year when The Bean Home Newsletter, the publication of Friends of Freddy, reprints my Baker Street Journal article on “Freddy the Porcine Holmes.” (Freddy the talking pig is a barnyard detective who idolizes Holmes. But you probably know that.)

Many of the publications for which I have written are no longer with us, sadly. The includes The Sherlock Holmes Review, edited by Steven Doyle, in which my first fiction was published. “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden,” a Holmes pastiche, appeared in two installments in 1990. I’ve had 16 books of mystery fiction and Sherlockiana published, and two more ready to go, but that was my first success in fiction-writing.

So I was excited and pleased at the word that the SHR, like Holmes himself, will soon make a return from the dead. But is there really room for another Sherlockian journal? Or is Sherlockian scholarship a mine that is close to being played out?

Yes to the first question, and no to the second! As a look at the high quality of material in the Baker Street Journal, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, and Canadian Holmes will attest, “the game” is not nearly over. Like Holmes himself, it will never die.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Remembering Elmer Davis, an original BSI



The early Sherlockians, those men and women who read the stories of the Canon before there was a completed Canon, fascinate me. So I loved the talk Mary Ann Bradley, BSI, gave at the annual field trip of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis this past Saturday.

Speaking at an old railroad depot in Aurora, IN, now a history library, she talked about Aurora native Elmer Davis. Davis was one of the journalistic giants of his day, for whom there is no parallel in our own time. Importantly for Sherlockians, he also wrote the Constitution and Buy-Laws of the Baker Street Irregulars around the time Christopher Morley formed the BSI in 1934. He was an original member, present at that first dinner. 

Two of the most famous lines of the “Buy-Laws” reflect the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the document: 
4. All other business shall be left for the monthly meetings.
5. There shall be no monthly meetings. 
Davis was a highly paid commentator for CBS during World War II ($53,000 a year) but took a hefty pay cut to head the Office of War Information at the request of a fellow Baker Street Irregular, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In that role, Davis set the gold standard for maximum openness in wartime.

Until Mary Ann’s talk, however, my greatest exposure to Elmer Davis was fictional. He appears as a character in The War of the World Mystery and Baker Street Irregular, two thoroughly enjoyable novels. Perhaps that’s fitting. Davis appeared as himself in the classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Shedding Light on Dark Lanterns


I've always been intrigued by all the dark lanterns that appear in the Canon. Maybe that's because the term sounds contradictory -- aren't lanterns supposed to shed light?

The contradiction is easily resolved. Jack Tracy's classic and invaluable The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana explains the device as "a lantern so constructed as to permit the light to be shut off without extinguishing the flame, and possessing a lens which allows the focusing of the beam. A single movable shutter acts as the reflector when moved behind the flame, and as a shade which shuts off the light when moved between the lens and the flame."

A pocket lantern and a bull's eye lantern are much the same. And I HAVE ONE! Shown above is one of my Father's Day presents from the wonderful Ann Brauer Andriacco, with whom I co-authored the three children who qualified me for a gift on that particular holiday.

Tracy cites references to dark lanterns in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," "The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans," "The Adventure of Charles August Milverton," and "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" -- during the commission of skullduggery, more often than not.

Holmes borrows a police sergeant's bull's eye lantern and also uses a pocket lantern in The Sign of Four. He employs a pocket lantern again to examine footprints in "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge." Whatever it's called, it's cool to have one.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My Film Festival Dilemma

Peter Cushing in "The Hound of the Baskervilles"

Since I am a fan of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, it’s no surprise that the first film festival I’m putting together for the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati will feature a Rathbone film. But it won’t be The Hound of the Baskervilles. Although I think that was his best outing in the role, it’s too familiar.

The Hound will be well represented instead by the one starring Peter Cushing, the first Holmes movie in color. And colorful it is – a Hammer horror flick, and a good one. But for Rathbone, I picked The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It’s not very Canonical, but the plot is great, Watson is not an imbecile, and the film’s Moriarty shines.

So, the lineup of the five-hour festival, slated for Aug. 24 at Gateway Community & Technical College’s urban campus in Covington, Ky., goes: 
  • Regina Stinson, Sherlockian extraordinaire, speaking on “The Films of Sherlock Holmes”
  • A classic cartoon 
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • A Granada episode with Jeremy Brett 
  • The Hound of Baskervilles
  • An episode of Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (animated) 

The great dilemma for me is – which Granada episode? I’m torn between “The Red-Headed League,” with that marvelous Moriarty coda at the end, and “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” with that great scene of Holmes smoking all night. Which one would you choose?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

221B Baker Street in Pennsylvania

Holmes has just left the chair at Denny Dobry's 221B
My work as a mystery writer has been hugely influenced by Mel Brooks’s comment to Ed McBain that every successful TV show is about a family and a house. Neither of those elements has to be literal. In the various permutations of Star Trek, for example, the house is a spaceship ad the family is the crew.

But in the Canon, the family of Holmes, Watson, and Mrs. Hudson (with occasional evening visits from Inspector Lestrade) hold forth in a real house at one of the most famous addresses in the world – 221B Baker Street.

Last weekend, Ann and I had the joy of visiting two recreations of the famous sitting room at that address. My friends Denny Dobry and Gary Miller, both residents of Pennsylvania, are among a small group of passionate Sherlockians who have recreated 221B in their own homes. To be precise, they are two of 28 reconstructionists in the Baker Street Builders scion society.

I’ve known about Denny’s 221B in Reading for years, and I learned a lot about it last year from the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast. But in the room, with all its authenticity and detail, was something else again. I had the feeling that I was only moments too late, that Holmes and Watson had just run out the door on another adventure.

Gary’s reconstruction at his home in York is perhaps less well known to the general public, but no less impressive.

Whatever most says “221” to you – the Persian slipper, the tantalus and gasogene, the photograph of “Chinese” Gordon, the violin case, the chemical table, Dr. Watsons’s bookshelf, the bust of Napoleon, or whatever – you will find it in these rooms. I stand in awe at the creators’ passion, persistence, and attention to detail.

Well done, gentlemen!

Tantalus, gasogene, and violin case at Gary Miller's 221B

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Toast to a 'Wild, Profane' Villain

Sidney Paget's Sir Hugo Baskerville 

For me, being asked to offer a toast at a Sherlockian gathering is equal parts honor and pleasure. I had both last month when my friend Al Shaw, “Sir Hugo” of Hugo’s Companions in Chicago, asked me to propose one of the toasts at the group’s annual Birthday Dinner and Awards Celebration.

The Companions have odd notion that Sherlock Holmes was born in May. This year they celebrated on May 25. Having the choice of subject for my toast, I picked Sir Hugo Baskerville himself. A fine Sherlockian once asked, “Why would you ever want to toast a villain?” I say, “Because it’s fun!”

Here was my toast to the evil Sir Hugo:

Companions and Fellow Guests:

Every great novel demands a great villain, and The Hound of the Baskervilles has one. But it’s not the man responsible for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the persecution of his nephew, Sir Henry. That feckless butterfly collector inspires only our derision. No, the real villain of the story is the “most wild, profane, and godless man” who met his much-deserved fate at the time of the Great Rebellion.

Let us lift our glasses in dishonor of one – 

Who himself drained many glasses during the long carouses that were his nightly custom;

Who surrounded himself with idle and wicked companions (a tradition maintained by our own Sir Hugo to this very day);

Who when in his cups uttered such terrible oaths which as might blast the man which said them;


Whose “certain wanton and cruel humor . . . made his name a byword throughout the West;”

Who, in the end, rendered his body and soul to the Powers of Evil;

And without whom there would be Baskerville curse, no Baskerville hound, and no adventure of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

To Sir Hugo Baskerville – may his eternally damned spirit stay right where it is!  

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

One Opinion: Why I Think Basil is Best




Over the weekend, I took part in the Great Sherlock Holmes Debate, a fund-raiser for Stepping Stones School (located at Undershaw, former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and Happy Life Children’s Home in Kenya. You can watch it all on You Tube.

Each of us was to defend our favorite interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in 90 seconds. Here’s my pitch for Basil Rathbone:

If you ask Sherlockians of a certain age how they first encountered Sherlock Holmes, a large number will say it was through watching Basil Rathbone movies on TV.

For me, it’s a different story. I read much of the Canon before I ever saw a Rathbone movie. And when I did, I was shocked at the imbecilic Watson and the non-Canonical plots. So, my love of Rathbone’s Holmes has nothing to do with nostalgia. I think his interpretation is the best for the following reasons:

·      First, he looks like Sherlock Holmes. That is, he looks like those iconic Sidney Paget illustrations.

·      Second, he sounds like Sherlock Holmes. That’s why other actors who took over the part on radio tried to sound like him. And that’s why his voice is the voice of Sherlock Holmes in The Great Mouse Detective.

·      Third, he acts like Sherlock Holmes. He is – by turns – hyperactive, superior, sardonic, didactic, supremely confident, and sometimes even self-critical. These all are characteristics of the Holmes that we know from the Sacred Writings. And, unlike some actors who assumed the role after him, Rathbone never overplays the part. Not for him the strange facial twitches or the manic leaps.    

I’ll give the final word to Vincent Starrett. He wrote in the 1960 edition of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that Rathbone “has given us a believable, an unforgettable Holmes.” More than half a century later, Basil Rathbone’s Holmes is still unforgettable.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Birthday Toast to Sir Arthur



On this 160th birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I share the toast I delivered at this year’s Gaslight Gala during Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. The theme of the gala, held Jan. 11, was “Sherlock Holmes: A Spirited Celebration.” The toast is in that, uh, spirit:

In a wonderful passage from a story not generally regarded as one of the best, Sherlock Holmes remarks: “This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”

How is it possible that the Literary Agent, sometimes known as “the St. Paul of Spiritualism,” allowed these seemingly skeptical words to be recorded? Perhaps the answer lies in a couplet from a verse composed by the Agent himself: 
               So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle:
               The doll and its maker are never identical. 
At any rate, the Agent and the Master seemed to be on very different spiritual pages. And for that, devotees of detective stories with earthly solutions should be profoundly grateful. So, raise a glass – preferably of spirits – in honor of a man: 
  • Who believed in spirits, although he didn’t drink them;
  • Who believed in fairies, even though he knew it made him look foolish;
  • Who believed in mediums and their messages, but was himself an extra-large;
  • Who allowed Professor Challenger to be converted to spiritualism, but not Sherlock Holmes; and (best of all)
  • Who gave us a very material hell-hound of the Baskervilles in a story he accurately called “a real creeper.” 

To Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Steel True – Blade Straight – Knight – Patriot – Physician – and Man of Letters”:

Cheers!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Classical Education in Sherlock Holmes

Photo courtesy of Ray Betzner

One of my favorite scenes in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the discussion of such 20th century writers as (if I remember correctly) Harold Robbins and Jaqueline Suzanne. “Ah,” Spock says sagely, “the Classics.”

Recently I’ve been reading real classics of the Sherlockian world in the form of the Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a paperback reprint series published in the 1990s. Seven of the nine books have sat on my shelves years – nay, decades – and I’m embarrassed to say that I’d neglected to read some of them. Because, like all classics in any field, they are still relevant.  

How had I never opened T.S. Blakeney’s Sherlock Holmes: Fact or Fiction? It was published in England in 1932, the year before Vincent Starrett’s indispensable The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (also part of Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library series) was published in the United States. It’s a wonderful little volume, scholarly and yet somehow like listening to an old friend.

The equally delightful Gavin Brend’s My Dear Holmes: Studies in Sherlock and James Edward Holroyd’s Baker Street By-Ways came much later (1951 and 1959), but still relatively early in the history of the Great Game. They had less to build on than those that followed, and those that followed built on them.

Other books in the Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library series are Vincent Starrett (ed.)’s   221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes; H.W. Bell (ed.)’s Baker Street Studies, S.C. Roberts’s Holmes & Watson: A Miscellany; John Kendrick Bangs’s R. Holmes & Co.; and James Edward Holroyd (ed.)’s Seventeen Steps to 221B.

With the single exception of the Bangs novel, all these books have influenced other writers for decades. In fact, many of the individual articles in the collections are frequently quoted and anthologized.      

Whether you read them in the Penzler editions or not, read them all. Because you can’t fully appreciate where you are until you understand how you got there.