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, December 11, 2019

A Holmes Edition for Budding Detectives

A really interesting book came my way recently through the kindness of a friend of a friend. She bought it in a thrift shop.

It’s called Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, but it’s not the Canonical volume of that name. Instead, it’s an 8x11-inch book for children that includes the first half of A Study in Scarlet, three great short stories (“The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”), and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

With all that in one volume, published in 1968 by Classic Press for young readers, you might expect that these stories are abridged or paraphrased. They are not! The complete texts are there (except for the American chapters of Study), plus a “Backward” with two essays.  

Even better is the really distinctive feature of the book: The margins contain informative notes that often amount to little essays. Here the reader learns the definition of a billycock and a street arab, for example. But many of the notes are tutorials for budding sleuths. Here’s one example: 
if: In any homicide investigation, IF is a big word. Not every mysterious death is murder. It might be natural. Or accidental. Or a suicide. The investigator should know that suicides sometimes use strange methods. Conversely, some natural-seeming deaths may actually be murder. 
Another note, accompanied by a drawing, says: 
footsteps: The “walking picture” is important in investigations. This is the whole pattern of walk, not just a single step. This includes length of stride, distance off center, angle, shape, and so on. The usual length of step is 20 inches to 40 inches. Over 40 inches, the person was running. 
I wonder if some previous young reader of this book is a walking in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes today, solving crimes in the manner of the Master?  

Friday, December 6, 2019

"Date Being . . . ?" Check out this Calendar!

Calendar cover art by Jeffrey McKeever
The Strand is more than just the magazine that published Sherlock Holmes stories in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Revived as an American publication some years ago, it is the periodical arm of an operation that sells a wide range of Sherlockian products.
One such product is their Sherlock Holmes calendar, which has a new design each year. I haven’t held a copy in my hands, but it looks spectacular. It’s in full color on heavy stock paper, with color art by Sidney Paget as well as by modern artists Jeffrey McKeever and Phil Cornell.
And who doesn’t need a calendar on your wall as well as on your phone? Check it out at The Strand's website.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

"A Remarkable Mixture" Indeed!

The annual BSI (Baker Street Irregulars) Weekend in New York has no real highlights for me – because it’s all one big highlight! But a scheduled activity that I’ve been privileged to attend the last few years is a cocktail party for contributors to the Baker Street Journal.

At this party, long-time BSJ editor Steven Rothman announces the winner of the annual Morley-Montgomery Award for the best article the previous year. In 2007, Steve edited a book called “A Remarkable Mixture,” putting together in one volume the 34 winners up to that time. 

The title is quite appropriate. It’s a marvelous collection, which I just recently acquired and read. One of its strengths is that the writers take many different approaches – literary analysis, Higher Criticism, history and biography, etc. For that reason, each reader will have her or his favorites, which may differ from mine.
Since my doctoral degree is theological, I enjoyed Henry T. Folsom’s “My Biblical Knowledge is a Trifle Rusty” on Holmes’s religious beliefs. (I wrote on this subject here.)

Robert Keith Leavitt’s “The Origins of 221B Worship” is something of a classic account of the early days of the BSI, and well worth re-reading.

Poul Anderson’s “The Archetypical Holmes” is highly insightful and I once drew on it for a talk. Interestingly, he suggested a connection between Holmes and Mr. Spock long before their relationship was confirmed on the screen, and before Leonard Nimoy played Holmes on stage.

Philip Shreffler’s pean to the original Old Series of the Baker Street Journal really resonated with me. “Merely holding an Original Series Journal gently in one’s hands today imparts a variety of galvanic reverence – as very likely it did then,” Shreffler writes. I know this is true from my own experience, thanks to an amazing gift from a devoted reader of my mystery novels.

The longest piece in the book Jon Lellenberg’s look at the 1940 BSI dinner. To read it is the next best thing to being there.

Susan Rice’s “Dr. Watson’s Hidden Addiction” is a brilliantly conceived, beautifully written answer to the question of when and why Watson became a gambler. Her use of what she calls the Flitcraft Syndrome from The Maltese Falcon is masterful.

Certainly not least of all (this discussion of the articles is in chronological order), S. E. Dahlinger’s “The Sherlock Holmes We Never Knew” about William Gillette is everything that great scholarship should be – painstakingly researched and written with grace and style. For the book, she added to the essay’s original footnotes based on ongoing research. That’s real scholarship!  

The Baker Street Irregulars Press is sold out of this book, but you can order a new copy from Denny Dobry of the BSI Trust at dendobry@ptd.net. I’m glad I did.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In Praise of Irregular Friendships

“If a man has a hobby he follows it up, whatever his other pursuits may be,” said the odious Baron Gruner in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.”

Even in these divisive times, a shared interest can bring people together despite differences of age, race, sex, religion (or lack thereof), politics, employment, economic circumstances, etc.

That was much on display earlier this month as 100 Sherlockians descended on Bloomington, IN for the amazing Building an Archive conference put on by the Baker Street Irregulars.

And the new book “Aboriginals”The Earliest Baker Street Irregulars 1934-1940, by Harrison Hunt and Linda Hunt, establishes in black and white that the followers of the Master have always been a varied lot. Dedicated “to all those who have gone before,” the book is a series of mini-biographies of the first generation of Baker Street Irregulars.

The authors wisely divide the volume into four sections: the stalwarts who were the heart and soul of Christopher Morley’s BSI (23 of them), those who attended one or more of the early dinners but had no other involvement (34), the “irregular Irregulars” who had some connection (7), and those who solved Frank Morley’s famous Sherlockian crossword puzzle and didn’t fit into the other categories (26). At the end is a profile of Christ Cella, whose New York speakeasy was home to those first BSI dinners.

Some of those profiled in the book will be familiar to most Sherlockians – Morley, Starrett, Bell, Gillette, Briggs, Davis, Keddie, Officer, Smith, Steele, and many more. Then there are those whose names are perhaps well known, but not associated with Sherlock Holmes – Stephen Vincent Benét, Don Marquis, Gene Tunney, and R. Buckminster Fuller, for example.

Other names are well known, but only in select circles. Unique among these, perhaps, is William Moulton Marston. He invented the lie detector with the help of one of his wives. He also had a second wife bigamously, with the permission of his first wife. They all lived together, along with the two children of each wife. In his spare time (!) he created the comic book character Wonder Woman. He died at the age of 54 in 1947. His widows lived together for the rest of their lives.

Half of the crossword puzzle contest winners were women and thus never invited to the all-male BSI dinners of their era. Two of them were honored with the BSI’s Queen Victoria Medal in 1990. However, the indefatigable research of the Hunts established that four additional women who qualified were alive at the time but went unnoticed.  

This is a great reference book, but it’s also enjoyable to read straight through as I did. We Sherlockians surely walk on the shoulders of “all who have gone before.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Arthur Conan Doyle Gets His Due

Paul M. Chapman (left) and Mark Jones  
There’s a new podcast in town – “town” being wherever you listen to podcasts. “The Doings of Doyle” is brought to us by British enthusiasts Paul M. Chapman and Mark Jones. I was fascinated by the first episode, which focused on The Doings of Raffles Haw. I’ve read about this novella many times in Conan Doyle biographies, but the podcast for the first time made me want to read the work itself. I decided to ask Paul and mark a few questions about their new venture:

How did the two of you happen to come together around Arthur Conan Doyle?

We met about five years ago at a book fair in York, United Kingdom, where we were both hovering around a bookseller who was selling various early works by ACD. Paul was already very active in Sherlockian circles while Mark was then a “solitary cyclist,” as it were. We’ve been good friends ever since.

Are you both Sherlock Holmes devotees as well as ACD champions?

Absolutely! We both came to ACD through the canon and love it immensely. We’re members of the Scandalous Bohemians of Yorkshire which meets every six weeks or so in Leeds and in York. Our York venue was once the home of Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-82), the inventor of the Hansom cab, which we’d like to say was by design but we only discovered later by chance. Paul was editor of The Ritual, the journal of the Northern Musgraves scion society, and has written for Sherlock magazine, while Mark has written for The Baker Street Journal, Canadian Holmes, The Serpentine Muse and others.

Why did you choose the format of a podcast to explore the writings of ACD, mostly the non-Canonical ones?

We’re both keen radio listeners and thought that podcasting was a very immediate way to bring the works of ACD to the attention of a wider audience. We’ve also been inspired by various Sherlockian podcasts, notably Scott and Burt’s I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, the grand-daddy of them all.

Do you think these writings are less well known by Sherlockians and Holmesians than they should be?

ACD’s wider writings are generally less well known among Sherlockians and the general public alike, which was part of the reason for doing the podcast. ACD was an astonishingly prolific and versatile writer and his bibliography is wonderfully rich. There’s so much to enjoy in his work. That said, we appreciate that most people, like us, come to ACD through the canon, so we try to bring out the canonical connections in each episode. Hopefully, this makes ACD’s wider work more relevant to the Sherlockian audience and helps to shine a new light on the canon too.

Does playing “the Game” that Arthur Conan Doyle was Dr. Watson’s literary agent devalue ACD’s achievements?

The game can be great fun but it’s hard to say it hasn’t worked against ACD and his reputation to some extent. The scholarship of ACD’s wider work is relatively thin compared to that of his contemporaries. That said, it’s all ACD’s fault! The game is really a reflection of ACD’s success – that he could create characters as rich and vibrant as Holmes and Watson that they have, to some extent, overshadowed their creator.

Are you confident that readers who love Holmes will also love other ACD writings?

That’s a good question! ACD’s work is very varied so there is something for everyone. We would tend to favour his short stories over his novels – he was a master of the short story – so its perhaps best for people to dive in there and see what they find. And let us know what they think we should cover in future episodes.

What traits of the Holmes stories are present in all ACD fiction?

Part of ACD’s success was his compact style with those short, crisp sentences and his effortless ability to delineate a character effectively in a sentence or a phrase, or to paint a picture in a lot less than a thousand words. There is an immediacy to his writing that makes him very accessible (while leading some critics to undervalue his work). He has a preoccupation with the gothic, born out of childhood fascination, that carries through a lot of his work, plus there’s a certain “pawky humour” that is often present. 

Possibly two answers to this one: For each of you, what is your favorite ACD work that’s not a Holmes adventure? 

Mark’s favourite is Tales of Long Ago (1922), a collection of short stories that is a reflection on the end of Empire and has a tremendous sense of pathos. That said, he’s been re-reading the Captain Sharkey and Brigadier Gerard adventures recently with much delight.

Paul is particularly drawn to the Gothic short stories, such as ‘Lot No. 249’, ‘The Parasite’, and ‘The Captain of the Pole-star’, and also The Tragedy of the Korosko, ACD’s resonant novel of Imperial Adventure and speculation.

How often will this new podcast be dropping new episodes?

We have set ourselves the target of recording a new podcast every month. We released the first one just after we had recorded the second one, so we hope to always have a month in hand in case life gets in the way! We’ve also asked a number of people to join us on future podcasts. At last count, we had ten shows planned. There’s a lot to go at!

What is the best way to find the podcast?

It’s on Apple podcasts, Google Play podcasts and Spotify or you can get to it directly from the website, www.doingsofdoyle.com.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Collecting Sherlock Holmes: "It's the Stories"

Glen Miranker, left, in conversation with Otto Penzler

Otto Penzler, not a mystery writer but nevertheless one of the most significant figures in mystery fiction over the past half-century, amassed a collection of some 60,000 books in the genre.

Then he sold them all. He seemed sad about that as he and fellow collector Glen Miranker discussed “Reflections on Collectors and Collecting” at the “Building an Archive” symposium last weekend in Bloomington, IN.

The conference celebrated the move of the Baker Street Irregulars archives from Harvard University to the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington. Many of the panels involved the disease known as bibliomania. Nicholas Basbanes, one of the panelists, wrote a book about the subject called A Gentle Madness.

This ailment, for which there is no known cure, causes otherwise sane people to acquire lots of books, and sometimes artefacts associated with the subject of those books.  

“Whatever it is, I’ve got some,” Peter Blau, one of the great collectors of Sherlockiana, said in an early panel. He acknowledged following in the footsteps of the late John Bennett Shaw, who famously admitted to collecting with all the selectivity of a vacuum cleaner.

(Having stayed at Peter’s house once, I know this is true. His library includes some of the same inexpensive items as mine – cheap trinkets, even! – along with, for example, a Holmes volume once owned by T.S. Eliot.)

But collecting is not just about things. “It’s the stories,” Peter said. And he’s a tremendous storyteller. He mentioned that he once had two copies of a particular multi-volume edition of the Canon. One was in better condition, and with dust jackets. But he sold that set and kept the one in poorer condition – because it had belonged to Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur’s daughter.

Otto Penzler is also a fascinating teller of tales. His discussion with Glen Miranker came after dinner, at the end of a jam-packed day that included a display of 221 Sherlockian objects at the Lilly Library. But I’m sure that no one nodded. For me, it was the piece de resistance of a memorable conference. 

Publisher, bookseller, editor – that’s Otto Penzler. He described how he backed into bookselling about 40 years ago: He began as a publisher. Eventually, he needed an office that wasn’t just a space in his apartment. Buying a building in Manhattan was cheaper than renting, so he bought a building. He had so much extra space in that building, he decided to fill it with a bookstore. 

He now owns five publishing companies. They subsidize the Mysterious Bookshop, which has never made a profit.

It’s the stories.  

This was on display at the Lilly Library 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The (Bow) Ties that Bind

Sebastian McCabe, the protagonist of my primary series of  mystery novels, wears bow ties. I wear bow ties. And now my new business card wears a bow tie, and will make its debut appearance this weekend at the Baker Street Irregulars' "Building an Archive" conference in Bloomington, IN.

Maybe I'm projecting here, but there seems to be a disproportionately high number of bow tie wearing Sherlockians. I have dubbed us His Last Bow, a mythical or perhaps virtual Sherlockian scion society. Ray Betzner very kindly called me the Top Knot. Here are some of us at a meeting of the Sons of the Copper Beeches in Philadelphia on Oct. 25:

Steve Rothman, Ray Betzner, Dan Andriacco, James Reibman, Greg Ruby 
And earlier in the month at the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago:

Andriacco, Carlina de la Cova, Jonathan Shimberg, Don Izban (seated), Bob Sharfman
Earlier still, at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends symposium in Dayton at the end of March:

Carlina de la Cova, Scott Monty, Monica Schmidt, Andriacco
I've even on occasion (New York in January springs to mind), provided pre-tied bow ties for those who don't normally wear them. So next time we meet, let's be sure to tie one on!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Showing Sherlock Everywhere

It pays to advertise!

While we were in Philadelphia last weekend for a meeting of the Sons of the Copper Beeches, Ann and I had a great time walking through the historic part of the city (Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Museum of the American Revolution) with our friends Michael and Lois Bush.

Along the way, several people commented on my sweatshirt (above) and expressed their admiration for Sherlock Holmes and/or the eponymous pub.

I’ve owned the shirt since long before we visited London the first time in 1997. Our good friend of more than 40 years, Margaret Richter, bought it for me as a present during a trip. Since Margaret is not a woman normally to be found in pubs, this shirt has always been very special to me. I always think of her when I wear it. (Hi, Margaret!)

And in view of the reaction over the weekend, I think I’ll be wearing it more often.

By the way, the phrase that began this blog post has been attributed to a great Sherlockian. Dorothy L. Sayer purportedly coined the phrase during her years as an advertising copywriter. Kieran McMullen and I fictionalized that phase of her life in our mystery novel The PoisonedPenman.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Storied Sherlockian Scion Society

There are numerous novels about the Baker Street Irregulars, the premier Sherlock Holmes society in America, of which most other societies are scions. (I especially liked Baker Street Irregular and The War of the Worlds Mystery, and there was also The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, Murder Most Irregular and The Sherlockian.)

But so far as I know, the only mystery novel about an real-life scion society was Arthur H. Lewis’s Copper Beeches from 1971. Since I will be attending the October meeting of Philadelphia’s venerable Sons of the Copper Beeches later this week, I re-read the book for the first time in about 40 years.

It’s not a “whodunit” but a kind of “will-he-get-by-with-it” mystery. A member of the SOCB, Col. H. Wesley Eberhardt, makes a bet with five other members (soon to be joined by a sixth, the narrator) that he can elude them for six months. If he wins, they will have to fork over a total of $100,000, which he will use to buy a rare Sherlockian treasure.

In the course of this cat-and-mouse game, the pursuers learn enough about Col. Eberhardt’s backstory to be concerned about the safety of his much more popular wife.

A good deal of the fun here is the ironic distance between how the narrator, one of the Sons, thinks of himself and how the reader will think of him. He imagines himself to be very enlightened about “betters.” This makes for high humor at times because he’s actually a prig.

Speaking of irony, here’s a passage from the author’s brief forward to the book:

“Meetings of the Copper Beeches are held in October and April and no – repeat “no” – woman has ever been admitted to one and, despite Women’s Lib, chances are no woman ever will be.”

The Sons of Copper Beeches, founded in 1947, has been co-ed since 2017. For which I am most grateful! 

A Good Book Can be a Bad 'Forgery'

Your scribe meets Nicholas Meyer
Nicholas Meyer has given me the vocabulary to articulate what I have long believed.

The brilliant and witty author of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution has been making the rounds launching his newest Sherlock Holmes pastiche, TheAdventure of the Peculiar Protocols. In a talk to the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis last weekend, and in an interview on “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere,” he talked about his fascination with forgeries.

Meyer considers a pastiche a kind of forgery. I believe he has said this before.

And here’s what I think: A non-Canonical Sherlock Holmes short story or novel can be a good read, with a great plot and characters that jump off the page, and yet be a lousy forgery. By that I mean it doesn’t give the reader the illusion of the real thing. It may fail to do in many ways – by being too long, by having a title that doesn’t sound Watsonian, by bringing in historical characters, by referring to Arthur Conan Doyle as Watson's friend, etc. These characteristics don’t necessarily make a bad book – but they do, in my view, make a bad forgery.  

I’ve even read stories touted as “traditional” pastiches in which Holmes and Watson refer to each other by their first names! That will never do.

Whether a forgery (to use Meyer’s term) is a good one or not is largely subjective, of course. For that reason, I am loath to give examples of each. But I’ll risk saying this: Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story fails because it is pure heresy, whereas Vincent Starrett’s “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” is pitch-perfect, as close to the real thing as you will ever read.