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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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Through the Year With Sherlock Holmes


One of the most delightfully frustrating problems for reviewer is to run of superlatives. That’s the obstacle facing me in trying to discuss A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmesby Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney.

Accurately described on the back as an almanac, an encyclopedia, and more, it might also be called a daybook. For every day of the year there is at least one entertaining, enlightening, and thoroughly enjoyable entry related in some way to Sherlock Holmes.

Naturally, many of the entries are pinned to dates of events – events in the Canon, historical events referenced in the Canon, events in the life Arthur Conan Doyle and people associated with him, and events in the history of the Baker Street Irregulars or Sherlockiana in general.

Other entries, perhaps just as many, are birthdays of historical figures mentioned in the Canon; actors, writers, and illustrators associated with Sherlock Holmes; relatives, friends, and associates of ACD; and perhaps some others I have missed.

On May 22, for example, we find not only the expected entry for ACD, but one for Richard Wagner, who was also born on that date. The Sherlockian link to the German composer? Holmes was eager to hear one of his operas at Covent Garden in “The Adventure of the Red Circle.”

Because the book is full of episodes from ACD’s life at various dates, the authors hit upon the happy idea of offering in his birthday entry 10 little-known facts about Arthur Conan Doyle. My favorite is #4: “He did not like corn on the cob.” I love the uselessness of this tidbit. And it was revealed by The Cincinnati Enquirer during ACD’s 1894 visit to my home town!

Other highlights:

·         The admirable entry on John H. Watson, M.D., appropriately noting that he is “more than Holmes’s loyal Boswell,” begins on page 221. There are no coincidences.

·         Speaking of coincidences, and biographies of two great American mystery writers and Sherlockians – John Dickson Carr and Rex Stout – appear on facing pages under their respective birthdates of Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Stout also gets attention on March 1, the date of his infamous “Watson Was a Woman” speech at the 1941 Baker Street Irregulars dinner.

·         As a member of the Vatican Cameos, a scion society of the BSI for Catholic Sherlockians, I was gratified by the March 2 entry on Pope Leo XIII, the only person other than the official police known to have been a client of Sherlock Holmes more than once.

Usually when I find a reference book invaluable, I say that it belongs on your shelves. This one, however, begins on your nightstand so that you can begin or end your day with the appropriate entry or entries.


For a charming interview with both authors, check out Episode #95 of the I Hear ofSherlock Everywhere podcast. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Favorite, Best, Strongest - and Their Opposites



Last week’s meeting of the Illustrious Clients, the Indianapolis scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, featured a new activity: Member Meredith Granger asked several other of us members of name their favorite and least favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as their opinion as to the best, worst, strongest, and weakest.

 

Here are my selections, with the reasons:

 

FAVORITE STORY

“His Last Bow”

  • Strong beginning and ending paragraphs
  • Beautifully written throughout
  • Touching relationship between Holmes and Watson
  • A view of Holmes and Watson post-retirement, far from 1895  

LEAST FAVORITE STORY

“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone”

  • Count Sylvius and Sam Merton are the weakest villains in the Canon
  • The plot gimmick just doesn’t work
  • One of the few stories without even a few memorable lines
  • Only positives: the presence of Billy the page, and the thumb in the nose of Lord Cantlemere at the end 

BEST STORY

The Hound of the Baskervilles

  • “A real creeper,” in the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Also a strong detective story, with clues, red herrings, and surprise killer
  • We never tire of re-reading it 

WORST STORY

“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” – see above

 

STRONGEST STORY

“The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”

  • Strong opening and closing lines
  • Mycroft and Lestrade
    • – because it’s both a spy story and a detective story
  • Great dialogue
  • Highest possible stakes
  • Holmes commits burglary, as usual 

WEAKEST STORY

“The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” – in which Holmes does nothing

 

 Now, what do you think?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dr. Johnson and His Watson



“I am lost without my Boswell.”

 

It’s a good guess that Sherlock Holmes’s famous comment to Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia” inspired Lillian de la Torre to write her long-running series of mystery short stories featuring Dr. Samuel Johnson as an amateur sleuth whose exploits are narrated by his friend James Boswell.

 

The first collection of these stories, Dr. Sam:Johnson, Detector, was published in 1946. This month I inherited a copy from a dear friend, along with numerous other books including a two-volume edition of the real Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

 

De la Torre, it seems to me, did an excellent job of mimicking Boswell’s writing style (and spelling) and well as Johnson’s manner of speaking. I found the book to be a fast and engaging read. The stories are fair-play mysteries, with all the clues that could enable a reader to reach the same conclusion as Dr. Johnson. Sometimes, in fact, readers likely will find that rather easy to do.

 

Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector is listed on the Haycraft-Queen Definitive Library ofDetective, Crime, and Mystery Fiction as a landmark book in the genre, perhaps because it pioneered historical mystery fiction. Most of the characters and many of the incidents in the stories are real. I much appreciated the section called “Historical Background” at the end of the book, separating fact from fiction in each story.

 

Some of the tales reminded me of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown adventures because of the way in which initial appearances deceived and everything changed when they were looked at in a different way. But the inescapable comparison is to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. De la Torre’s Johnson relies in each case on solid reasoning to solve the crime, as does Holmes.

 

And if Watson is Holmes’s Boswell, it is equally true that Boswell is Johnson’s Watson in the able hands of Lillian de la Torre.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Deep Dive into Holmes & Wimsey



My recent blog post on Sherlockian references in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Strong Poison elicited an amazing communication from my friend Sandy Dreier Kozinn. She sent me an incredible 16 Word documents analyzing the Holmes-Wimsey connections book by book. She plumbed the depths more deeply than I ever could have.

 

With her permission, I offer now as an example of this fine work her perceptive analysis of Whose Body?, the first Wimsey adventure. She occasionally refers to Lord Peter as LP. The page numbers refer to an omnibus edition, Triple Wimsey, from Harper & Row. (The volume also includes Murder Must Advertise and Strong Poison.)  

 

Subtitle – “The Singular Adventure of the Man with the Golden Pince Nez” is a clear reference to “The Adventure of the Golden Pince Nez” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

 

General:  Bunter sounds a lot like Brunton, the butler in “The Musgrave Ritual.”

 

Ch. I, p. 13 – “enter Sherlock Holmes, disguised as a walking gentleman”

 

Ch. II, pp. 24 & 25 –  the references to coffee and brandy are reminiscent of the two favorite beverages in the Canon. 

            p. 33 – “unless he [Levy] was a most consummate actor” –  which Holmes, of course, was, as is stated variously in the Canon.

            p. 38 – “Did you realize the importance of that?”  LP asks Parker.  The whole conversation, including LP's put-down of Parker, reads like a bit out of the Canon with Holmes chiding Watson for his lack of deduction from observation.

 

Ch. III, p. 49 –  LP tells Sugg it would take a whole rose-garden to cure him of being an ass.  Why roses, not particularly known for their medicinal properties?  As an homage to Holmes' famous “consider the rose” speech in “The Naval Treaty,” of course.

 

Ch. IV, p. 61 – “my name is Watson,” Peter informs us upon realizing he's overlooked a clue.

            p. 66 –  Bunter, to get information, disparages Peter with “up again to call him early to go off Sherlocking at the other end of the country.  And the mud he gets on his clothes and his boots!”   Holmes, of course, can tell where mud comes from by simply looking.

 

Ch. V, p. 90 – “Good parchment paper written with a fine nib by an elderly business man of old-fashioned habits.”   Holmes is always making deductions from letters; the paper is especially relevant in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” whereas the handwriting deduction stems from “Reigate Squires.”

            p. 91 –  the response to Peter's ad is reminiscent of the many cases in which Holmes, too, knows how to use ads to gain information.

            p. 92 & 93 –  Holmes also knows how to make deductions from mud on boots, LP here does it with typical Sherlockian thoroughness.

            p. 96 – “What a dull Agony Column!”   This was Holmes’s daily reading, too.

p. 106 – “the aged spider sitting invisible in the centre of the vibrating web” – “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson... He has a brain of the first order.  He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.”  – “The Final Problem”  

 

Ch. VI, p. 124 –  Gladys Horrocks goes out to the Plumbers’ and Glaziers’ Ball; was this a reference to the gasfitter's ball attended by Miss Mary Sutherland, whose father was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road, in “A Case of Identity?”

 

Ch. VII, p. 151 – “...it's only in Sherlock Holmes and stories like that, that people think things out logically.”

 

Ch. VIII, p. 164 –  Peter’s brain “felt like a hive of bees....”  and, p. 166, Freke writes “Conscience in man may, in fact, be compared to the string of a hive-bee...”   When WHOS was written, of course, Holmes was busy tending his bees in Sussex, as DLS knew.

 

Ch. IX, p. 186 –  LP is glad he's puzzled Parker because it makes him “feel like Sherlock Holmes.”   Later on, on the same page, Peter remarks that he is “Ready to tackle Professor Moriarty or Leon Kestrel or any of ’em.”

 

Ch. X –  LP's deductions while querying Piggoty and the way he uses details to build up his inferences are reminiscent of Holmes.

 

Ch. XI, p. 211 –  LP’s “mind had been warped in its young growth by “Raffles” and “Sherlock Holmes...”

 

Ch. XII, p. 228 – “when a great brain turns to crime...”  is very like “When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge” from “Speckled Band” in phrasing and meaning.

 

Ch. XIII, p. 251 – “mixed with an almost unknown poison.”   Holmes, too, dabbled in poisons.

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Adventures of a Reluctant Sleuth


Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter.

It’s hard not to think that when you hear the premise of the Amanda Lester series: A tween-aged descendant of Inspector Lestrade, who hates the very name of Sherlock Holmes, is forced by her parents to join a secret school for detectives in England called Legatum Continuatum.

But it would be a mistake to think that this series is J.K. Rowling without the magic, although author Paul Berinstein readily admits the Rowling influence. Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy, the inaugural volume, has a magic of its own.

Amanda is a flawed but likeable character, smart and unstoppable in pursuit of an objective. Her goal of being a filmmaker makes for a very troubled relationship with her parents, a prosecuting attorney and a mystery writer. In the end, though, her budding filmmaker’s understanding of conflict helps to save her life.

The plot is so inventive that a spoiler-free summary is essentially impossible, but suffice it to say that you may never look at your sugar bowl the same way again. Despite two murders, the tone of the book remains light. This is reflected in the whimsical names of some of the characters, such as headmaster Gaston Thrillkill, dean of admission Drusilla Canoodle, and secrets teacher Saliva Snaffle.  

Almost inevitably, Amanda comes to love the school and the friends she makes there – notably Amphora Kapoor, Simon Binkle, and the blind Ivy Halpin and her service dog, Nigel. They are characters that should wear well in books to come.

So far the series stands at four, with more on the way. Each book builds on the last as Amanda goes from tween to teen, so the young Sherlockians in your family can grow along with Amanda. Be sure to start with this one. 

Meanwhile, check out her website.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Unfinished Novel

Recently I got my hands on a Sherlock Holmes novel that I'd been wanting to read for a long time. A friend with great literary taste (she likes my work) loved it, so I expected to love it, too. But I didn't.

In fact, I so didn't love the book that I stopped reading it in the middle of a chapter, on page 136 out of 617, hating myself for wasting even that much time on it. Why didn't I like it? For one thing, the once-shocking trope that almost everything Watson wrote was untrue has become trite. But the breaking point for me was when Sherlock Holmes killed in cold blood. Sherlock did that, but Holmes never would.

Has this ever happened to you - a book you had reason to look forward to (especially a mystery or a Holmes adventure) so disappointed you that you couldn't even soldier on through to the end?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Adventures in Italian


Over the weekend I received this wonderful note in the comments section of “Baker Street Street Beat” from Marco Bertoli: 
Hi Dan, I am just finished translating in Italian The Poisoned Penman, where miss Sayers features as a prominent character (I was also the translator of The Amateur Executioner, which came out in Italian for Mondadori some months ago). 
It's always fun to work on your writing. One thing tickled my curiosity, though: what's with your (and you co-author McMullen's) obsession for your characters' height, down to the half-inch? :-) 
Greetings from Milano, Italy 

I wasn’t aware of this obsession! I also wasn’t aware that Italian translation of The Amateur Execution had been published. The Italian version of the title translates to Sherlock Holmes and the Hangman Murder. Kieran and I both love the cover. 

It’s quite a thrill to be published by Mondadori, the largest publisher in Italy. I look forward to reading Marco's translations.  




Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Whimsical Allusions to Holmes in Sayers


When I began a year-long project of reading and re-reading my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey saga in chronological order in January, I resolved not to write about the Sherlock Holmes references. But with Strong Poison, the fifth novel, my resolution has crumbled.

Author Dorothy L. Sayers was, of course, a notable Holmes devotee and scholar who figured out that Dr. Watson’s middle name is Hamish. It’s not surprising that most of her books show the influence of the Baker Street. In Strong Poison, that's true to a glaring degree. 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned before his most famous creation, however. Wimsey’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, is speaking in her roundabout way in Chapter III: “I don’t suppose detective writers detect much in real life, do they, except Edgar Wallace of course, who seems to be everywhere, and dear old Conan Doyle . . .”

She goes on to allude to the cases of Oscar Slater and George Edalji, whose innocence “dear old Canon Doyle” had worked to establish. She might also have mentioned ACD's speculations in the disappearance of her fellow mystery writer, Agatha Christie! Conan Doyle died in 1930, the year Strong Poison hit the shelves. 

Later in the novel, one of the other characters describes her method of amateur sleuthing by saying: "I merely proceed on the old Sherlock Holmes basis, that when you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be true."

That's clearly Holmes's favorite axiom, uttered on at least four occasions. But Wimsey, rather pettishly, observes that, "Dupin said that before Sherlock." Later, though, he himself paraphrases another of Holmes's signature lines: 
"I see nothing at all," said Freddy."That, as Sherlock Holmes would say, is what you may expect to see when there is nothing there," said Wimsey kindly. 
Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey, whose literary careers overlapped although their sleuthing careers did not, are very different sorts of detectives. But Lord Peter walked in the footsteps of the Master - and his creator knew it. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Wacky World of Octavius Bear




Harry DeMaio, my friend and fellow Cincinnatian, writes perhaps the most original mystery series going. He calls the four-volume (so far) Casebooks of Octavius Bear “Alternative Universe Mysteries for Adult Animal Lovers.”

A retired business executive, consultant, information security specialist, former private pilot and graduate school adjunct professor, Harry says he whiles away his time traveling and writing preposterous poems, articles, and stories.

Since Octavius Bear has at least one paw in the world of Sherlock Holmes (and the other in that of Nero Wolfe, I asked Harry a few questions about the series:

Who is Octavius Bear?

Octavius is a nine-foot-tall, 1400-pound Kodiak Bear/consulting detective/scientist/inventor/seeker of justice/mega-billionaire owner of Universal Ursine Industries/narcoleptic war hero/gourmet-gourmand/somewhat sedentary and grouchy just on general principles. He is a hybrid character somewhat loosely based on Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe with some characteristics of each but definitely his own bear.

Octavius, among his many talents and accomplishments, is a brilliant, self-taught practitioner in the wide ranging fields of biology, physics, ursinology, voodoo, teleology, chemistry, apiculture and oenology as well as a first rate electrical, electronic, structural, marine, aeronautical, mechanical and chemical engineer.  He has a few other interesting characteristics such as falling into brief, deep narcoleptic comas – side effects of his successful genetic experiments to eliminate the need for him to hibernate. He, his associates and nemeses are all figments of my warped imagination.

What is the story behind the alternate universe that Octavius and his cohorts inhabit? Do you believe in alternate universes?

Answer to your second question first -YES!  Let’s hear it for Quantum Mechanics.

Here’s the story: About 100,000 years ago, according to scientific experts, a colossal solar flare blasted out from our sun, creating gigantic magnetic storms here on Earth. These highly charged electrical tempests caused startling physical and psychological imbalances in the then-population of our world. The complete nervous systems of some species were totally destroyed.  For example, homo sapiens lost all mental and motor capabilities and rapidly became extinct. Less developed species exposed to the radiation were affected differently. 

Four-footed and finned mammals, birds and reptiles suddenly found themselves capable of complex thought, enhanced emotions, self-awareness, social consciousness and the ability to communicate, sometimes orally, sometimes telepathically, often both. Both speech production and speech perception slowly progressed with the evolution of tongues, lips, vocal cords and enhanced ear to brain connections. Many species developed opposable digits, fingers or claws, further accelerating civilized progress. Some others (most fish and underground dwellers) were shielded from the radiation and remained only as sentient as they were before the blast.  This event is referred to as The Big Shock.  It remains under intensive study.

Alternate universes play an increasing level of importance in each succeeding book.

Tell us about the Casebooks.

Volume One - The Open and Shut Case a jewel theft from a Chicago museum and an attempted mass assassination in Las Vegas. The villainous Imperius Drake front and center.

Volume TwoThe Case of the Spotted Band – Not the famous snake, but a rock group in Brazil (a cheetah, ocelot, jaguar and Himalayan snow leopard). Carnival in Rio and mayhem in Cincinnati.

Volume Three- The Case of Scotch – Murder in the Shetlands and strange problems in the Scottish North Sea oil fields.

Volume FourThe Lower Case – a vicious murder in Winnipeg of a very annoying voice coach cow is blamed on two of Octavius’s protégés. The Great Bear to the rescue.

Volume FiveThe Curse of the Mummy’s Case – (In development) Imperius Drake returns trying to revivify an evil Pharaoh and his armies.
 
Who are some of Octavius’ associates?

Maury (Mauritius) Meerkat – sidekick, narrator, detective and theatrical agent

Inspector Bruce Wallaroo – Irrepressible but brilliant marsupial; an international law and order genius from Australia; often calls on Octavius and Maury for support.

Bearoness Belinda Béarnaise Bruin Bear (nee Black) – Now wife of Octavius; very rich widow of Bearon Byron Bruin living in Bearmoral Castle in the Shetlands; owner-pilot of the last flying Concorde SST; Gorgeous polar superstar, with the Aquashow, Some Like It Cold.

Otto the Magnificent – AKA Hairy Otter - An absolutely terrible illusionist magician, Otto the Magnificent escaped the claws of super villain Imperius Drake but not before he developed some amazing powers courtesy of Imperius genetic alterations.

Frau Ilse Schuylkill – Swiss she-wolf; housekeeper-cook; jet pilot and sharpshooter with other very strange and arcane abilities.
           
Tell me about the bad guys.

There are many but a major villain is Imperius Drake, a mad duck with dreams of world (nay!  cosmic) conquest. Once a mild mannered Mandarin Duck, he is now Moriarty with Wings.” Arch-villain, leader of the Black Quack gang, a brilliant but loony anitidae who has developed a serum to make the animal kingdom his slaves, he seeks vengeance for ridicule by the scientific community and the death of his beloved Lee-Li-Li who swallowed all of his serum in a vain attempt to stop his madness. He is aided(?) and abetted (?) by Bigg Baboon, an archetypical dumb heavy. They appear in Books One and Two and will reappear in Book Five.  Other nasties include Pontius Puma, a Brazilian gangster; mysterious killers in the Shetlands (Book Three) and vicious murderers in Winnipeg. (Book Four.)

Book Four, The Lower Case, just came out. Does it differ from its predecessors?
           
Aside from being based entirely in one location, Winnipeg, and dealing with music and theatre, Book Four follows most of the same patterns established in its predecessors with two major exceptions. Octavius, who was somewhat sedentary in the earlier books, is much more active and directly involved in managing the progress and outcome of the case. As I mentioned earlier, alternate universes play an increasing part in the overall structure of these books. Book Four is a major example.

The Lower Case: Octavius Bear Book 4 is available from all good bookstores including Amazon USAAmazon UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.

Harry’s website is www.octaviusbearslair.com.