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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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Late, Great Sherlock Holmes Stories


"Welcome to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry."
It has long been held by some readers that later Sherlock Holmes stories show a decline in quality from the early days.  

 

In his memoirs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quoted a Cornish boatman who told him, “I think, sir, when Holmes fell over that cliff, he may not have killed himself, but all the same he was never quite the same man afterwards.

 

To quote Nero Wolfe: “Pfui!”

 

Five out of the nine volumes of the Canon were written in the Twentieth Century. The first of those five was The Hound of the Baskervilles, the greatest, the most famous, and the most filmed Holmes adventure of them all.

 

Let’s look at just a few other standout stories of the post-Reichenbach period: 

  • “The Adventure of the Empty House” – Holmes’s account of his wanderings during The Great Hiatus is a little suspect, but the tale has a great mystery and wonderful drama.
  • “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – surely this is a classic cipher story.
  • “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” – a detective story and a spy story in one, plus we learn that Mycroft occasionally is the British government.
  • “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” – what a villain and what a denoument!
  • “His Last Bow” – my personal favorite Sherlock Holmes story because of the ending.
  • The Valley of Fear – no less a critic than John Dickson Carr considered this the best Holmes novel, with a first-rate puzzle in the first half and a hard-boiled detective in the second.    

Of course there are some clinkers among the later stories, notably “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.” But there are some weak stories among the first two dozen as well. Think of “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk.”

 

Conan Doyle himself argued that “the last one is as good as the first.” The last Holmes story published in The Strand was “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.” It’s a good mystery, highly underrated, and ends the 60-story series on a high note.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Many Doctors of Sherlock Holmes

Dr. Marilynne McKay at the Indiana Medical History Museum

Is there a doctor in the house?

In the Canon, the answer is definitely “yes.” Each of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 Sherlock Holmes stories has at least one doctor, either as a major character or referred to and significant by his absence. His name, of course, is Watson.

But many of the other stories include doctors in major roles. You will find them as villains, victims, clients, colleagues, consultants, and suspects, for example. Marilynne McKay, MD, gave a delightful overview of some of the most important last Saturday to a packed audience of about 100 at the Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis.

All Sherlockians know that our hero was inspired by one of Conan Doyle’s medical-school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell. But I learned from Dr. McKay that Dr. Leon Sterndale may have been based on both Stanley and Livingston (as in “Dr. Livingston, I presume?).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of her talk was a discussion of social ranking of the various medical men in Victorian England. Surgeons learned their profession by apprenticeship and were called “Mr.” Apothecaries, also trained as apprentices, were the equivalent of today’s general practitioners. Only MDs were called “doctor,” but sometimes in the Canon they achieved the loftier title of “Professor” or “Sir.”

This stuff is so interesting it should be in a book – and it is: Nerve and Knowledge: Doctors, Medicine andthe Sherlockian Canon, published by the Baker Street Irregulars. Marilynne McKay wrote one of the chapters, which covers some of the same ground as her Saturday lecture.  Co-editors, Andrew L. Solberg, also spoke Saturday, giving an overview of the book.


“Nerve and Knowledge: Two Lectures on Doctors, Medicine, and Sherlock Holmes” was sponsored by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the Baker Street Irregulars (both speakers are members), and the Indiana Medical History Museum. Now that’s what I call great synergy. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A New 'Vatican Cameos'


As far we know, Sherlock Holmes worked for only one client twice (other than Lestrade, Gregson, and colleagues). That truly illustrious client was His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.

Both of these Vatican cases are alluded to by Watson, but never recorded – the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca (mentioned in “The Adventure of Black Peter”) and the matter of the Vatican cameos (referenced in The Hound of the Baskervilles).

As a member of a group of Catholic Sherlockians called the Vatican Cameos, I have a special interest in the latter case. I even wrote a short story called “TheAdventure of the Vatican Cameos.” It was a modern-day story about Jeff Cody and Lynda Teal’s honeymoon in Rome. I think it’s my best short story. 

The leader of the Vatican Cameos, Ann Margaret Lewis, wrote about both cases and the adventure of the two Coptic patriarchs in her wonderful collection of three novellas, Murder in the Vatican: TheChurch Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.

The latest writer to tackle the cameos business is Richard T. Ryan in The Vatican Cameos. It’s an excellent pastiche-length novel, very much in the spirit of the original Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  

Holmes’s task in 1901 is to recover seven stolen cameos crafted 400 years earlier by Michelangelo and being used to extort political concessions from Leo XIII. This is not so much a “whodunit” as “how do we outwit him” story. Holmes faced similar situations in his Canonical career, notably in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” and in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.”

The real mystery for the reader is the nature of the cameos. Why could these old artworks hurt the papacy if they came to light? We learn the answer slowly through third-person chapters interspersed with Watson’s accounts, an effective technique for maintaining suspense.

Much of the Renaissance material is based on fact, even when it isn’t pretty fact. The cast of characters includes Pope Alexander VI and his infamous daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, but Michelangelo is the protagonist. This window on the past will remind Sherlockians of the second halves of A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, also presented in the third person.

Whether the time is 1901 or 1501, Richard T. Ryan keeps the game afoot in a way that should entertain and satisfy the most demanding Sherlockian pastiche reader.

The Vatican Cameos: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure is available for pre order from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Good Old Invaluable Index!


“Good old index. You can’t beat it.”– Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”

I agree with Holmes!

One of the delights of having a personal library, even a modest one like mine, is occasionally rediscovering a forgotten treasure. William D. Goodrich’s Good Old Index was just that for me.

For some forgotten reason I have two editions, the original from 1987 and The New Good Old Index from 1994. Both were published by Gasogene Press, then based in Dubuque. I keep the second one near my computer, where I know that I will refer to it often in the coming years.

The original “good old index” Sherlock Holmes’s giant book of clippings about all sorts of people, crimes, and phenomenon. His collection of M’s was a fine one, you will recall!  

Goodrich’s Index is a kind of Concordance to the Holmes Canon. Almost any topic you can think of shows up within its 602 pages, along with the story in which it appears and the page of its first reference in the most common edition the Canon, the Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes.

This is pure gold for a Sherlockian writing a scholarly article or a pastiche. For example, I have recently consulted the Index to find which Canonical stories mention South African gold shares, secret societies, Sussex, Australia, South Africa, fog, fishing, the devil, ciphers and codes, Canada, wills, public houses, and commonplace books. And they were all there!


Lately I’ve been looking to trim my library, but this book is a keeper in both editions. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Big Book and a Great Book


I like Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories so much I bought it twice.

The first copy was in paper, a very large book that fully justifies the title – 6 7/8 inches by 9 inches in size, and 789 pages long to accommodate a mammoth 83 stories. The printing is in double columns and the type is necessarily small.

In fact, the type too small for my aging eyes, so I bought the Kindle edition as well. I don’t regret having the physical book, though, because it’s a wonderful volume to page through. And it looks so nice on my shelves.

Of course, size isn’t everything. It’s the scope and quality that makes this book valuable. It includes parodies and pastiches from the earliest days of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon to Neil Gaiman’s 2011 classic “The Case of Death and Honey.” 

Just to drop names, a few of the writers represented here are Leslie S. Klinger, Laurie R. King, Lyndsay Faye, Daniel Stashower, Anthony Boucher, Poul Anderson, Loren D. Estleman, P. G. Wodehouse, Dorothy B. Hughes, Kingsley Amis, David Stuart Davies, Robert L. Fish, Anne Perry, Stephen King, Colin Dexter, A. A. Milne, James M. Barrie, and O. Henry.

The book is divided into a number of categories. I’m particularly attracted to the category called “Holmesless.” These are neither parodies nor pastiches, but stories that in some way are inspired by the Canon. Holmes doesn’t actually appear in them, but his specter haunts them.

My favorite of these is “The Final Problem” by the great Sherlockian Bliss Austin. Written as an entry for an Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine contest, the characters include two real-life judges of the contest – Christopher Morley and Howard Haycraft – plus the fictional character Ellery Queen. And Queen is murdered!

The story won a special prize in the contest.

The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories should win a special prize for not only collecting the most Sherlock Holmes and Holmes-related stories in one volume, but some of the best. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Creepy Adventure - and a Good One


The Creeping Man
Members of the Tankerville Club, Cincinnati’s Baker Street Irregulars scion society, will discuss “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” at our next meeting on Friday. It’s a fine example of my conviction that the later Sherlock Holmes stories are often on par with the earlier ones, conventional wisdom to the contrary.

 

Right off the bat, the opening paragraphs include one of the most passages lines in the Canon. Holmes summons Watson, then living on his own, with the laconic and typically inconsiderate note: “Come at once if convenient – if inconvenient come all the same. – S. H.”

 

Watson goes on to offer a wonderful paragraph about the Holmes-Watson alliance, beginning with: “The relations between us in those latter days were peculiar. He was a man of habits, narrow and concentrated habits, and I had become one of them. As an institution I was like the violin, the shag tobacco, the old black pipe, the index books, and others perhaps less excusable.”

 

And yet, in his usual undemonstrative way, Holmes later indicates in a bit of dialogue that he views the good doctor as a full partner in their adventures:

 

“We can but try.”

“Excellent, Watson! Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try – the motto of the firm.”

 

The storyline is wonderfully Gothic, with echoes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But it also has some humor.

 

Holmes is intrigued by behavior of Professor Presbury’s Russian wolf-hound, Roy, who has tried to bite his master. Asked by Holmes what he thinks of the case, Watson lays out a theory which ends with, “His letters and the box may be connected with some other private transaction – a loan, perhaps, or some share certificates, which are in the box.” Not content with simply disagreeing, Holmes sarcastically responds, “And the wolf-hound no doubt disapproved of the financial bargain. No, no, Watson, there is more in it than this.”

 

Good old Holmes – the other fixed point in a changing age!  

 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Holmes & Watson at Play


I’ve already blogged here about the long history of Sherlock Holmes on stage. Now I want to recommend a not-so-new play that I just discovered.

Last month at A Scintillation of Scions in Maryland, I won as a door prize a copy of Lee Shackleford’s Holmes & Watson. It was first produced as a play at the University of Alabama in 1989 and went off-Broadway with Shackleford as Holmes in 1990.

I deeply regret never having seen the play, because reading it is a thrill. Using only the characters of Holmes and Watson, Shackleford reimagines the familiar story of “The Adventure of the Empty House.” The resulting drama is original, and yet canonical. It has mystery, gunfire, and crackling dialogue like this:

WATSON: I assume that after I went to sleep you decided to face Colonel Moran despite extreme exhaustion and fatigue, a large amount of alcohol and cocaine in your bloodstream, and a bullet-hole in your chest.

HOLMES: It seemed the local course of action, yet.

WATSON: You really ought to be locked up for your own protection.

As Shackleford sees it, the real mystery is why Holmes came back to London after his supposed death at the hands of Moriarty. We find out the reason in a very clever way, although Watson never does.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Uncreative Name for a Great Book


The Sherlock Holmes Book, published under the always-amazing DK imprint from Penguin Random House, is among the handsomest volumes in my Sherlock Holmes library. But it’s not just another pretty face. It has some depth, despite its rather uncreative name.

The book is lavishly and colorfully illustrated, of course, with drawings and photos both old and new. Its pages are also enhanced with pull-out quotes, sidebars, timelines, and charts. The charts are a real treat, illustrating Holmesian deductions, relationships between characters, and other complicated concepts. One of my favorites breaks down “Shoscombe Old Place” into the facade and its mirror image in reality.

The largest part of the book is a march through the entire Canon in order of publication. Two to six pages are devoted to each story, depending on how much David Stuart Davies and the seven other contributors have to say. Each begins with an “In Context” section including publication date and a list of all the characters in the story.

Each story is summarized, and the novels get a chapter-by-chapter outline as well. But the summaries are more than simple sketches of what happens in the story. They often contain insights that might be new even to veteran Sherlockians. The authors suggest, for example that “The Crooked Man” might be the morally corrupt Col. Barclay rather than the deformed Wood; that Holmes could be considered the real hound of the Baskervilles; and that the palimpsest Holmes studies in “The Golden Pince-Nez is a metaphor for Holmes’s crime-detection methods.

The mistakes are few, but annoying – referring to the wildly eccentric Sir Henry Merrivale as “aristocratic” (!), for example, and identifying a poster of the film A Study in Terror as a “gory Sherlock Holmes comic book horror.” Perhaps these can be corrected in a future edition to make the book even better.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Delightful Discourse on Sherlockian Subjects


“He (Sherlock Holmes) spoke on a quick succession of subjects . . .” The Sign of the Four

Christopher Redmond, who was invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (“Billy”) fully 50 years ago, continues to add to our insights on and enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, he seems especially prolific of late.

(Full disclosure: I have contributed a chapter to his upcoming book About Sixty, in which 60 authors explain why each Sherlock Holmes story is the best.)  

A Quick Succession of Subjects from Gasogene Books, one of Redmond's two books published this year (so far) is a delightful anthology of 27 of his lectures and speeches about the Great Detective, delivered from 1978 to 2015. As a side benefit, many approach their topic from a distinctly Canadian viewpoint.

Redmond not only sees, but he observes. And his shared observations have made me look in new ways at stories that I have been reading almost as long as he has.

From these talks I learned, for example, that “The Bascombe Valley Mystery” is a near perfect Holmes story in the sense that it contains nine of the eleven typical features identified by Ronald A. Knox; that The Sign of the Four is essentially a love story; and that the American half of A Study in Scarlet is a Western (the world’s first).

Redmond’s chapter on Sherlock Holmes and religion – a riff on G.K. Chesterton’s observation that Holmes was not a real person; “he was only a god” – treats the subject with the seriousness it deserves. (You can read a lot of nonsense on the topic, but not here.)

A Quick Succession of Subjects is not, however, a ponderous tome. Each of the 27 chapters was written, and written well, to be spoken aloud. They move quickly and smoothly. That brings me to one of my favorite of these talks, “Advice from Professor Moriarty on the Presentation of Sherlockian Papers.”

The Moriarty connection is a bit of a stretch, but the advice Redmond draws from what he perceives as the professor’s lecture technique is pure gold. It’s all common sense, but what is rarer – and therefore more valuable – these days than common sense? First of all, Redmond suggests mildly that the “Can you hear me at the back?” or “Is this thing on?” is not the best way to begin a talk. Who among doesn’t feel the pain behind that good counsel?


I’ve not had what I know would be the great pleasure of hearing Redmond talk, but this book is the next best thing.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

In the Indiana Footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle

The Arthur Conan Doyle monument at Union Station, Indianapolis
I recently walked in the footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle – and I did it without leaving the Midwestern United States.

Although I live in Cincinnati, one of the Baker Street Irregulars scion societies to which I belong is the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, about 115 miles away from my home. One of the club’s regular summer activities is a field trip to some site with a Sherlockian college.

Last Saturday, Steve Doyle, the Illustrious Client, led the club on a walking tour of places Conan Doyle visited on his 1894 visit to Indianapolis during a lecture tour. (His next stop on that tour was Cincinnati.)

We started at Union Station, the former railroad station where ACD arrived in town. The Clients placed a monument to the visit on its 100th anniversary in 1994. Featuring an image of Conan Doyle at the age he was during the visit, it’s the only monument to the creator of Sherlock Holmes in this country. The monument was paid for with the profits from a book of essays, The Illustrious Clients’ Third Case Book.

Over the next couple of hours, we saw the former site of the Denison Hotel, where the author stayed; the Plymouth Congregational Church, where he lectured; the still-existing Soldiers and Sailors Monument, where he (and some of the Clients) climbed to the top for a great view of the city; and the former site of the Claypool Courts Hotel, where he stayed during his 1923 visit.

After lunch, the field trip departed to the preserved home of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, who admired ACD and stuck to him like a shadow during his first brief visit to Indiana.

So if you’ve ever wondered what Sherlock Holmes societies do, sometimes – just like the great detective on a case – they go out and visit the scene. 

Intrepid Illustrious Clients begin their field trip