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, January 16, 2019

Friendship in New York

Monica Schmidt, Ann Margaret Lewis, and Al Shaw at the BSI annual reception 

“It’s all about the friendship.”

Scott Monty says this about the Sherlockian community frequently on the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast. And that was in my head a lot over the weekend as Ann and I enjoyed our third BSI & Friends Weekend in New York.

There were many great planned events, to be sure: ASH Wednesday dinner with the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, the BSI Distinguished Lecture Series, open house at the Mysterious Bookshop, the Gaslight Gala, the Merchants Room (where I hawked my books and bought some others), the Beacon Society’s annual meeting, the Baker Street Irregulars’ annual reception, and the S.P.O.D.E. dinner on Saturday evening.

That was all great!

But I also think about hanging out in a more casual way with friends from all over the country – cocktails at the Blue Bar of the Algonquin Hotel, lunch at McSorley’s Pub, pizza, and Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And we congratulated Monica Schmidt and Mike McSwiggin as they joined the ranks of the Baker Street Irregulars on Friday night.

Along the way we photographed a lot of bow ties -- some of which I provided for the occasion. (Ray Betzner has dubbed me the Top Knot of His Last Bow, a so-far unofficial society of bow-tie-wearing Sherlockians.)  

Ann Lewis, Jacquelynn Bost Morris, Susan Porter, Regina Stinson, and me

Does all this matter? Yes, it does. A lot.

One of my happy tasks over the weekend was to talk to the annual meeting of the Beacon Society, which supports educational efforts to introduce young people to Sherlock Holmes. Our friend Carolyn Senter is funding the R. Joel Senter, Sr. Prize in honor of her late husband. I spoke about Joel for the benefit of those who didn’t have the good fortune to know him. At the end, I quoted Carolyn. 
Then, a sudden illness and the death of Joel shoved him over the Reichenbach and yanked me into a life I didn’t want and didn’t understand.  Here is the amazing part: The Sherlockians, some we knew well, others only casually, and some we had never met, arrived in droves to offer condolences and messages of encouragement. Even months later, I still receive messages from Sherlockians who are keeping me in their thoughts and prayers. The world of Holmes and Watson is so much more than well- educated people moving around within a place “. . . which never existed and so can never die.” It is a world where people reach out, offer ways to learn, and enjoy living. When the time comes, they reach out to rescue the wounded. 
You see – it’s all about the friendship.  

Dan Andriacco, Steven Rothman, Ray Betzner - dedicated bow tie wearers

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Personal Look Back at 2018

Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five

The year 2018 found me retired, but not retiring. Looking back, I’m astonished at how many wonderful things happened to be me as a writer and as a Sherlockian in this first full year of gainful unemployment.

They included (in no strict order): 
  • Publication of a personal best three novels by three publishers – House of the Doomed (Wessex Press), Death Masque (MX Publishing) and School for Sleuths (Wildside Press).
  • Speaking about Sherlock Holmes to Hugo’s Campions of Chicago, the Red Circle of Washington D.C., the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, an assisted living center in Winchester, Ky., and three audiences in Cincinnati.
  • Receiving the Horace Harker Award from Hugo’s Companions.
  • Assuming leadership of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, with the title of Most Scandalous Member.
  • Serving as Programme Chairman for the highly successful Holmes, Doyle & Friends Five symposium in Dayton. (See you Six!)  
  • Teaching an eight-week non-credit class on “Sherlockology 101.” 

Many fond memories of fellowship with like-minded lunatics are associated with each of these events.  

Sadly, the year brought losses as well. My good friends Paul Herbert, founder of the Tankerville Club, and R. Joel Senter, co-founder of Classic Specialties and the Sherlockian E-Times, passed beyond the Reichenbach. I hope to do what I can to help keep green their memory.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Henry Baker's Christmas

I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. -- "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" 

On this Blue Carbuncle Day, and every Blue Carbuncle Day, I wonder about Henry Baker.

Everybody else in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" had this story got a wonderful after-Christmas present. But Henry Baker? We're not so sure. Consider:

Peterson, the commissionaire, got a fat Christmas goose.

The Countess of Morcar got her gem back.

James Ryder got away with grand theft.

John Horner undoubtedly would be cleared, according to Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes got the pleasure of an interesting case.

And Dr. Watson got the pleasure of hunting with Holmes once again.

But of Mr. Henry Baker we hear no more once he has received his replacement goose and ceased to be a factor in his case. Did he live happily ever after with Mrs. Henry Baker?

Holmes deduced that the original goose was a peace-offering to Mrs. B. For what offense? We don't know. But it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce the involvement of alcohol, of which the formerly foresighted Henry was too fond.

Let us hope that the undoubtedly long-suffering wife accepted the goose in the contrite spirit in which it was intended, restoring harmony to the Baker household. After all, it was Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Insignificance of the Dog in the Night-Time

Holmes, dressed for the country, will soon hear about the dog in the night-time 

I’ve just written a scene in my upcoming Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mystery novel in which I turn the dog-in-the-night-time trope upside down.

You know what I mean: The passage from the Sherlock Holmes short story “Silver Blaze” is one of the most familiar dialogue exchanges in the Holmes Canon. It’s quoted frequently in mystery fiction – and outside of it. It begins with a Scotland Yard inspector asking Holmes a question: 
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes. 
In mysteries (except for my new one), the context for citing this passage is the sleuth pointing out a negative clue, something significant by its absence. On a car trip once I listened to two of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels written 36 years apart – Cards on the Table and Elephants Can Remember. Both used the dog in the night-time as a metaphor.

The most extended literary allusion to this quote comes in a novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I recently reread. Haddon’s narrator, a 15-year-old autistic boy, uses the methods of his hero, Sherlock Holmes, to investigate the killing of a dog.

But my favorite reference to the dog in the night-time is a “Peanuts” comic strip from January 28, 1994. Charlie Brown is reading aloud to Snoopy from “Silver Blaze.” When Charlie says, “the dog did nothing in the night-time,” Snoopy thinks to himself, “My favorite part.”

Spoiler alert: In my book, the fact that the dog did nothing in the night-time just means he’s a lousy guard dog!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Basil Rathbone on Sherlock Holmes

Some of his fans call him "The Baz"
Reading In and Out of Character, I rather wish the author had stayed in character.

This is the 1962 autobiography of Basil Rathbone, the great Sherlock Holmes of my generation. I bought a copy recently from the Baker Street Irregulars Trust and read it for the first time.

As in most biographies and autobiographies, I learned some things about the subject that I would rather not have not known. On the other, Rathbone is quite stingy with anecdotes about the making of 14 movies and more than 200 radio plays in which he starred as Holmes. And his judgement on Holmes is rather harsh:

"I came to the conclusion," he says, "that there was nothing lovable about Holmes. He himself seemed capable of transcending the weaknesses of mere mortals such as myself . . . "

Ultimately, he concludes that he was jealous of Holmes: "Jealous of his mastery in all things, both material and mystical . . . he was a sort of god in his way, seated on some Anglo-Saxon Olympus of his own design and making! Yes, there was no question he had given me an acute inferiority complex!"

Rathbone follows this assertion immediately with Vincent Starrett's classic poem, "221B," which sends a bit of a mixed message as to how the actor really felt about the Great Detective.

In all, he devotes only 11 pages of his 278-page memoir to his Hollywood years as Holmes -- and four of those pages are a short story!

After being away from the character for five years, Rathbone asked his wife, Ouida, to write him a play about Sherlock Holmes. The curtain went up two years later, in 1953. Rathbone tells the story of that disaster in another chapter, about one-third of which includes another short story! Oddly, he never mentions the name of the play -- Sherlock Holmes: A New Play in Three Acts. It lasted in New York just three days before closing forever.

Rathbone concludes that the play was too leisurely, thoughtful, and analytical for an audience that was already corrupted by television: "We were outdated, hopelessly outdated."

It could also be that the audience shared my opinion that it just wasn't a very good play.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it sounds like it was written by Basil Rathbone, who was certainly lovable even though he wrongly thought that Holmes was not. It was good to hear his voice again, if only in my head.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Welcome to A Virtual Scion Meeting

The Tankerville Club of Cincinnati will hold its quarterly meeting on Friday evening. If you can’t attend, welcome to a virtual meeting! The topic of discussion is “A Scandal in Bohemia.” These are some questions to ponder and discuss with yourself or a fellow Sherlockian:

In what tone of voice does Irene say, “Good Night, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” Is she sarcastic, playful, triumphant, or what?

In literature, there is the concept of the “unreliable narrator.” Is Watson an unreliable narrator in the opening when he says that Holmes felt nothing akin to love for Irene? What did Holmes feel for Irene?

What kind of person is Irene Adler “of dubious and questionable memory?” (Consider, for example, her kindness to the “clergyman” – which made Watson felt like a heel for his part in this adventure.) 

Is Irene Adler a kind of female Holmes? (She figured out what he was up to, and she adopts a disguise just as he did.)

Watson gets up to go and Holmes won’t let him. “I need your help.” Really? He didn’t in all those cases that Watson mentions in which he took no part. The King tries to speak to Holmes alone and Holmes says: “It is both or none.” Why did Holmes really want Watson there?  

Why would a witness at a wedding have to mumble anything? Best man is not a speaking part. (Theory: Holmes really is the groom in this wedding!)

What do you think of Watson’s quick willingness to break the law?

Who is Mrs. Turner?

Ultimately, is this story one of triumph, failure, or both for Holmes?

If you were one of the original readers of this story in the Strand, would be you be eagerly looking forward to the next issue?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Three-Pipe Icon

Meet Toby Baskerville -- our new pet

Nothing says Sherlock Holmes faster than a deerstalker cap and a curved pipe and/or magnifying glass.

Never mind that (except for the magnifying glass) we owe these symbols more to William Gillette and Frederic Dorr Steele than to Dr. Watson and Dr. Conan Doyle. In popular culture, they are all that is necessary to suggest the Great Detective.

Thus, these accoutrements can transform a cat, bear, mouse, dog, praying mantis – you name it! – into Sherlock Holmes. Or into a detective in general. For Sherlock Holmes, though far from the first fictional detective, has become the icon for all the rest.

For all these reasons, we couldn’t resist acquiring the pet above on a recent trip to an antique mall called LT’s Uniquities in West Liberty. He doesn’t eat a thing, but we expect the tobacco bill to be huge!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Sherlockian Thanksgiving

Yes, that's me in the turkey suit. Don't ask. But if you happen to be at the Price Hill Thanksgiving Day Parade . . . 

Let's change the subject.

The past 12 months, like any year, have brought me some personal challenges. But I have many more reasons for gratitude. Since this is Baker Street Beat, I will limit the list to those of a Sherlockian or literary nature.

I'm thankful for:

  • A record three books published in the last year: House of the Doomed: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure, Death Masque: A Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody Mystery, and School for Sleuths, which I have loved for 27 years.
  • My readers, who continue to encourage me by asking for more.
  • Speakers at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five. At my request, they came to Dayton and drew a record crowd for the current incarnation of this symposium. I'm still hearing kudos for them.
  • Being invited to speak to Hugo's Companions of Chicago, the Red Circle of Washington, D.C., and the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, three legendary Sherlockian scions. The Companions even gave me their Horace Harker Award. And meeting Bob Katz and Ira Brad Matetsky in was a delight, as was staying with Peter Blau and Beth. The Indianapolis talk is Dec. 8.
  • Ann and I finally becoming members of Watson's Tin Box. ("If you attend one meeting, that could be an honest mistake. If you attend two, you are member.")
  • Being asked by Barbara Herbert, widow of Paul Herbert, to assume leadership of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, which Paul founded. My title is Most Scandalous Member. It's more rewarding than I ever imagined.
  • Members of the Tankerville Club, who have helped me in every way possible.
  • Moderating a non-credit class in "Sherlockology 101." What fun!
  • All of my Sherlockian mentors, but especially Steve Doyle.
  • Ann Brauer Andriacco, who does all of this with me and makes it possible.  

We are looking forward to seeing many of our Sherlockian friends from around the country at the annual Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in January.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What I Learned from Teaching A Holmes Class

Students loved "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"

A week ago today, I moderated the last of eight non-credit classes for senior citizens (age 50 and older) on Sherlock Holmes. I learned a lot from the experience. For instance: 

  • Sherlock Holmes is really popular. The class reached the maximum size of 20 the day registration opened. Some had never read a Holmes story before, and some could have led the course. 

  • All the TV shows, movies, and various cultural appropriations of Sherlock Holmes didn’t stop newcomers to the Canon from loving the real thing. 

  • Despite the greatness of the 1939 Rathbone-Bruce Hound of the Baskerville (which we watched in class), everybody seemed to agree the book is better. 

  • One reason for that is that Arthur Conan Doyle is a great writer, not just a great storyteller. The students loved the way he describes people and weather, as well as the sparkling dialog. 

  • My own personal tastes aren’t unusual. The students joined in me in loving “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” “His Last Bow,” and The Valley of Fear. 

The class was built around stories significant to the biography of Sherlock Holmes, not necessarily the best stories. In addition to those already mentioned, we read A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Gloria Scott,” “The Musgrave Ritual,”
“The Greet Interpreter,” “The Final Problem,” “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier,” and “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.”

Several class members approved the story selections in their evaluations. What next? I don’t know! But I would like to do another class. The students were engaged and fun to be with.