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, October 17, 2018

Holmes for Christmas

Sherlock Holmes has a way of bringing people together – or together again.

A few years ago, I reconnected to grade school classmate Carolmarie Stock after 46 years through our shared interest in Sherlock Holmes.

She joined the Tankerville Club, our local scion society, and I dedicated my novel Bookmarked for Murder to her, “with fond memories of the class of ’66.”

Last month, when I turned 66, she gave me this great gift out of her personal collection. It’s a 1994 Hallmark Christmas Club ornament. Although I’m at that stage in live where I am letting go of a lot of things, I’m going to keep this.

Thanks again, Carolmarie!  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Gillette to Brett V

Silent but sensational - a German take on The Hound of the Baskervilles 

Gillette to Brett V, held last weekend on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, IN, was another wonderful symposium in this series devoted to media adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Organizers Steven Doyle and Mark Gagen, of Wessex Press, only do this every three or four years. When they do, they make it count.

More the 120 Sherlockians from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom gathered to hear eight world-class speakers and view three films. It was a gathering of friends. Rather than trying to summarize the event, I’ll tell you what I learned from each speaker.

Nicholas Utechin: A numbers of actors who don’t look like each other can nevertheless look like the Sidney Paget illustrations of Sherlock Holmes. He showed photos of actors and asked us to vote yes or no – doe he resembles Paget’s Holmes?

Ashley Polasek: Technology helps to determine how scenes are recorded on film, which in turn influences how the story is told. She showed examples from three televised versions of “The Six Napoleons,” and explained the difference in a way that even I understood.

Glen Miranker: Silent movies could be really good, and just as sophisticated as what’s in your neighborhood theater today. He showed the last silent Sherlock Holmes film made, a German version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The was only the second public U.S. showing of a film lost for decades. And it was wonderful!

Leslie S. Klinger interviewing Robert Doherty: In creating a story season-long story arc for Elementary, the producers focused each season on a different character. Doherty, creator of the show, said his biggest regret was not doing more with Moriarty.

Terence Faherty: The Sherlock Holmes radio programs featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce fixed them in the public mind as Holmes and Watson more than the films.

Charles Prepolec: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who became great friends, appeared in three movies together before they actually met. Cushing was Holmes and Lee was Sir Henry Baskerville in the Hammer Films 1959 version of The Hound, which we saw on the big screen Saturday evening. Cushing later made a second version of The Hound.

David Stuart Davies: Jeremy Brett was a kind man who completed a phone interview with Davies even though he was quite ill. “Don’t worry about me!” he said cheerfully in an excerpt we heard. A year later he was dead. During the short interview, Brett said he wished he could have remade The Hound (like Cushing) and done better with is.

Jeffrey Hatcher: The author of the Mr. Holmes screenplay and the Holmes & Watson stage play is a very, very funny man.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In Praise of Card Catalogs

We recently saw an old card catalog at an antique mall. What memories that brought back!

When I was in grade school and high school, I frequently rode the bus downtown on Saturdays to the main branch of the Cincinnati Public Library.  In those days, decades before the advent of online catalogs, the library had row after row of these sturdy wooden structures. That’s how one found the books, usually older ones, that were in the stacks and not on display.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a book about books called Through the Magic Door. To me, those card catalogs were magic doors to mystery. Through them, I encountered the novels of such great writers as John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, Leslie Charteris, Stuart Palmer, and others less well known.

And then there was Sherlock Holmes.

Looking up “Sherlock Holmes” in the card catalog opened to me the whole world of what Sherlockians call the Writings About the Writings – scholarship about the Great Detective.

Among the books I remember reading in those days were Carr’s The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Queen’s The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Edgar W. Smith’s Profiles by Gaslight, and S.C. Roberts’ Holmes and Watson. Now each of those books is part of my own library, along with a few hundred more.

All because of the card catalog. Do you remember card catalogs?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

No, He's Not Sherlock Holmes -- But . . .

An iconic novel became an icon film -- both masterpieces  

“I’m not Sherlock Holmes or Philo Vance.” So says Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which I had the pleasure of re-reading recently.

Well, no s**t, Sherlock!

On the surface, Holmes and the two-fisted, wise-cracking Marlowe would seem to have little in common except the fact that they are both unofficial detectives and they both smoke pipes. In fact, Chandler disdained what he called the British school of mystery represented by Holmes.

But look beneath the surface:

·         Holmes is primarily an urban creature, one who actually finds the countryside full of horrors.
·         He’s a loner, often cutting even Watson out of the loop.
·         He’s unmarried.
·         He often operates outside the law – by committing burglary or letting the villain flee.
·         He bucks authority, even royalty.
·         He can’t be bought.

Those are all part of the description of the hard-boiled private eye of fiction.

In the famous closing paragraphs of his classic essay on “The Simple Art of Murder,” Chandler wrote:

“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

Such a man was Sherlock Holmes.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sherlock Holmes of the 87th Precinct

Meyer Meyer criticizes fellow detective Bert Kling for reading a book on the job instead of working.

“I am working,” Kling protests. “These are stories of the deductive method.”

“The what?”

“Of detection. Haven’t you ever heard of Sherlock Holmes?”

“Everybody’s heard of Sherlock Holmes,” another detective interjects.

So it goes in an early chapter of Ed McBain’s The Heckler, the 12th book in his 87th Precinct police procedural series. Written in 1960, it’s also the first novel to feature McBain’s “Moriarty,” a methodical criminal known only as “the deaf man.”

Later, the deaf man pulls a ploy straight out of the pages of “The Red-Headed League,” which is mentioned by name, when he places an ad for redheads to model women’s dresses. “No experience necessary.”

The Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street is far removed from McBain’s fictional big city Isola in the twentieth. And yet, the influence of the Great Detective is obvious even there.

Fifteen years later, McBain (legal name Evan Hunter) would write a tongue-in-cheek introduction to A Study in Scarlet in which he defended Scotland Yard and argued that Holmes should have been arrested for bribing Constable Rance.

But Holmes foiled Moriarty. It was a patrolman, not the 87th Precinct detectives who are the collective heroes of McBain’s series, that defeated the deaf man.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Sherlock, Yes: Sherlockians, Not So Much

Julian Symons, the late mystery writer and critic, understood Sherlock Holmes – but not Sherlockians.

Last week in these precincts we looked at my recent re-reading of his novel, A Three-Pipe Problem. Insightful comments in response from Bob Katz had me running to Symons’ 1972 historical-critical book Mortal Consequences.

In this history of crime fiction, subtitled “From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel,” Symons inevitably devotes a chapter to the Great Detective of Baker Street. The acid that often flowed out of the Symons pen is nowhere in evidence as he displays an undiluted and apologetic admiration of Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes triumphs as a character from the moment we meet him,” he writes. Conan Doyle doesn’t just tell us that Holmes is superior, Symons says – he shows it again and again.

Symons defends the Holmes stories from the criticism by fellow mystery historian Howard Haycraft (a member of the Baker Street Irregulars!) that the Holmes stories are “all too frequently loose, obvious, imitative, trite, and repetitious in device and theme.” Symons pushes back that “some of Haycraft’s objections are wrong and others are of little importance.”

He lauds Conan Doyle (correctly, in my view), as “a fine story teller.” And therein lies his rub, apparently, with Sherlockians. In a section called “The Myth of Sherlock Holmes,” he writes that he has an uneasy feeling that members of Sherlockian societies “are more interested in having fun with Sherlock Holmes than in the merits of the stories.”

This seems to me a snobbish objection. Perhaps, though, it is not a surprising one from a writer who brands Conan Doyle a “Victorian philistine.” Certainly, Sherlockians have fun with Sherlock Holmes! We do so in many ways. Some of us even enjoy the essays that Symons smugly considers “high among the most tedious pieces of their kind ever written.”

Surely tediousness, like beauty, is in the eye (or mind) of the beholder.

Disagreements about that aside, probably none of us who wear the Sherlockian label would quarrel with Symons’s chapter-closing comment, still true 46 years later: “that if one were choosing the best twenty short detective stories ever written, at least half a dozen of them would be about Sherlock Holmes.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Man Who Would Be Holmes

Rex Stout, the great mystery writer – and Sherlockian – once estimated that about a third of all his reading was books he’d read before. I can’t say the same, but I do enjoy revisiting old friends from time to time.

Not long ago, for example, I picked up a copy of the Julian Symons novel A Three-Pipe Problem, which I remembered enjoying when I read it in paperback back in the 1980s. And I enjoyed it all over again.

Anyone more than casually familiar with Sherlock Holmes will recognize the title’s reference to the Holmes quote “It is quite a three-pipe problem” from “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League.” But this isn’t a pastiche. It’s a 20th century mystery about a television actor named Sheridan Haynes who lives on Baker Street and plays Holmes on television. When chance puts real-life murders in his path, how can he not don the deerstalker?

With the help of his own Irregulars, and the hindrance of Scotland Yard, “Sheri” takes on the case – all the while insisting (to general disbelief) that he hasn’t confused fact and fiction. The solution is surprising and satisfying. And even better, I didn’t remember it!

I must say it proceeds at a rather leisurely pace, which may not be for everyone. 

Haynes appeared again in The Kentish Manor Murders, which I’ve not read.

Symons was a well-known British mystery critic, as well as a practitioner of the craft. His books of interest to Sherlockians include Great Detectives, Conan Doyle: Portrait of an Artist, and Mortal Consequences: A History from the Detective Story to the Crime Novel.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Class in Session: 221B in Tennessee

In Shannon Carlisle’s classroom at Moore Elementary School in Franklin, TN, it is always 1895.

Shannon, the accelerated learning teacher, has turned her classroom into 221B. Ann and I visited recently and were bowled over her methods of using Holmes to incorporate critical thinking into both language arts and math lessons for fourth graders.

From the front door on, it’s obvious that something special is going on in Shannon’s 221B. Visual reminders are all over the place.

There is even a delightful Sherlock Holmes Museum housed in a former cloakroom. 

And in this room, there no doubt as to what constitutes a Sherlockian. One of the dozens of signs posted proclaims:

If you are a “true” Sherlockian, you believe:
  • ·         Sherlock Holmes is still alive, is retired from consulting detective work (for the most part) and living in South Downs, Sussex.
  • ·         Dr. John H. Watson wrote the Canon (the 4 novels and 56 short stories) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was his literary agent  

Not surprisingly, the Beacon Society presented Shannon with the Beacon Award in 2013 for her work in introducing Sherlock Holmes to young people. She directs the Society’s one-year-old Junior Sherlockian Society -- check out its fabulous website! And last year she was invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars.

We were delighted to come and see this wonderful classroom for two fast-moving hours, but there was almost too much to observe!

Friday, August 24, 2018

A Note from Portugal

It’s always good to hear from Nuno Robles, my one-man fan club in Lisbon, Portugal. Here’s his take on my Sherlock Holmes novel:  

Dear Dan,

It's 2.23 a.m. here and I just finished reading House of the Doomed. What an amazing achievement! I’ve read hundreds of Holmes post-ACD books and your book is really special. You bring back beautifully the Holmes and Watson of Conan Doyle. The dialogues, the cozy feeling, the description of a typical English environment, great English (and American, of course) characters and a great, unexpected story with an even more unexpected ending. You put me there, at ACD’s Victorian England and vintage Holmes...and that’s a great feeling.

I also enjoyed the references to some of the Canon’s best stories and characters (your portrait of Baynes is a masterpiece...a masterpiece indeed...). I loved it, and also the references to ACD, with Norwood, spiritualism, and much more. Congratulations, my friend! You’re in the best of your writing and creative powers. My favourite dialogue? “I'm a doctor, not a writer!” “One could be both.” Indeed. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Holmes Away from Home, Southern Edition

The Nashville Scholars meet and eat

There could never be a Stranger’s Room for a Sherlock Holmes scion society – because there are no strangers among Sherlockians.

A case in point: Members of the Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem warmly welcomed Ann and me to their monthly meeting last Saturday. We much enjoyed their southern Sherlockian hospitality, although we knew only a few members (other than via Facebook).

We met for lunch at the Corky’s Barbeque in Brentwood, TN. Instead of puzzling over a quiz and discussing a story, we had convivial conversation, show and tell, and a paper.

Dr. Marino Alvarez spoke about the Silver Blaze Weekend at Saratoga Race Track in New York, and the talk he gave there. Jim Hawkins reported on the successful “Holmes in the Heartland” conference put on earlier in the month by the Parrallel Case of St. Louis. Tom Vickstrom read a paper discussing means of travel in the Canon, summarizing chapters in Mobile Holmes, edited by Walter Jaffe and published by the Baker Street Irregulars.

If you ever have a chance to experience Holmes away from home, don’t hesitate. You’ll fit right in.

(Coming next to this blog: a report on a primary-school classroom in Tennessee called “221B.” This introduction to Sherlock Holmes is elementary, but not dumbed down.)