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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

ACD's Holmes Beyond the Canon

The 1981 Castle Books edition (left) and the 1995 Barnes & Noble 

Even if your Sherlock Holmes library is less than a shelf, it should include a book of the apocrypha, Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings about Holmes that are not part of the Canon. That includes, at minimum, two plays, two sketches, and two short stories (in which Holmes is unmistakably referenced but not named).

Such a book is The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Peter Haining. I already a Barnes & Noble copy of this 1995 book and recently acquired the earlier Castle Books edition from the library of the late R. Joel Senter, Sr., published in August 1981. Although I’m not a collector, I sometimes keep different editions of a book that happen to come my way.

(The Haining anthology is not to be confused with the Heritage Press book of the same name, edited and with an epilogue by Edgar W. Smith, which brings together His Last Bow, The Valley of Fear, and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. It was published in 1952, the year I was born. I inherited one of those from Joel, too.)

The Haining collection is a good one, but I don’t think it’s the best. For my thoughts on the superior version of the apocryphal Holmes, please click here to read my earlier blog post on Leslie S. Klinger’s The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Discovering A Classic Anthology

Beyond Baker Street, where have you been most of my life?

This Sherlockian anthology edited by Michael Harrison, which Steve Doyle considers “a classic,” came out in 1976 in the wake of the Sherlockian wave created by Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. But, somehow, I missed it.

It recently came to me from Carolyn Senter among a number of Sherlockian books that belonged to her late husband and our good friend, R. Joel Senter, Jr. I consider an inheritance from Joel. 

 By coincidence, I’d only owned the book for about a day when I came across a reference to it in Commissionaire, Sonia Fetherston’s new biography of Julian Wolff. The reason is that the book is fulsomely dedicated to Wolff, who was then head of the Baker Street Irregulars and editor of The Baker Street Journal.

Even before I began reading Beyond Baker Street, I noticed something curious: pages 205-236 of the volume I have are printed upside down! S. Brent Morris says this is almost certainly a complete “signature,” in bookbinding terms, and when the worker gathered the signatures together this one was inadvertently inverted.

That novelty aside, the content of the anthology has something of the feel of such masterworks as Edgar W. Smith’s Profile by Gaslight and Vincent Starrett’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, published more than a generation earlier. 

The quality of the essays by 25 American and British writers is not as uniformly interesting as in those early books, for my taste, but the best ones are very good indeed. John Gardner offers a masterful overview of the Victorian underworld, David Pearson has one of the best articles I’ve read on the question of Holmes’s religious faith, and Martin Gardner’s proof that ACD didn’t write the Canon is clever though rather mean-spirited.

My favorite essay, though, is Anthony Howlett’s piece on “The Impersonators: Sherlock Holmes on Stage and Screen.” His frank assessment – and the frankness is what makes it so enjoyable – lauds Basil Rathbone and Arthur Wontner, but surprisingly finds Peter Cushing “a rather lightweight and prissy Holmes” and his Hound “a feeble and disappointing production”!

Among the many illustrations that add to the enjoyment of the anthology are 13 delightful line drawings by Henry Lauritzen.

Now you must excuse me. I have to add a book to my library shelves.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Getting to Know Dr. Julian Wolff

Dr. Julian Wolff just became real to me. But first, some background:

The most common age for readers to encounter Sherlock Holmes is about 12. Unusually for me, I was a bit ahead of the curve on that. At that age, in 1964, I spent $5.50 of my own money to buy my first Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes. I had read not only half the Canon by then, but also Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar W. Smith’s Profile by Gaslight, and probably some issues of The Baker Street Journal.

So, at the age of 10 or so, I certainly knew about the Baker Street Irregulars and might well have known about its third leader, Julian Wolff. Now I feel like I know Dr. Wolff himself after reading Sonia Fetherston’s new book Commissionaire. It’s a fast and fascinating read.

This is not a complete biography of all the ins and outs of Dr. Wolff’s professional and personal lives. It is, rather, largely a portrait of his BSI service and leadership, with sufficient personal details to make the subject come alive as a complex personality. (A man who courts a woman for 30 years with ultimate success is no quitter.) I love the anecdote-laden way the book is written, with quotes and stories from dozens of people who knew him.

Not surprisingly, many of those anecdotes come from the inimitable Peter Blau. My favorite is his quote from Julian Wolff himself about how he ran the BSI: “Sometimes I’m described as a benevolent dictator. I’m not a dictator. But if I were a dictator I’d be a benevolent dictator. If I were benevolent.”  

In no way slighted is Dr. Wolff’s controversial (then and now) decision to maintain the BSI as a stag organization, at least in terms of attendance at the annual dinner, despite the famous picketing by a half-dozen female Sherlockians at the 1968 dinner. Three of the first six women admitted to the BSI a year after Dr. Wolff's death offer their unique perspectives on him. 

If you’re as interested in BSI history as I am, be sure to listen to an interview with Sonia Fetherston here on the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast and equally sure to order a copy of the book here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Sherlockian Cocktail

Socially distanced cheers!
We had a nice cocktail last night with our friend Carolyn Senter, who used to operate Classic Specialties with her late husband, Joel.

Here’s the recipe, which our son Mike found somewhere:

Start with –  

·         5-10 basil leaves muddled with an orange wedge
·         1 sugar cube (or a teaspoon of sugar)
·         4 dashes of bitters
·         ½ cup orange juice
·         2 to 2.5 ounces bourbon

Pour into a shaker of ice and shake.
Pour over ice and garnish with cherry.

The words “Basil,” “orange,” “sugar,” “bitter,” and “juice” are all in the Canon. “Bourbon” is not, but you can’t have everything.

There’s a name for this, but I don’t know what it is. It deserves a Sherlockian name. Since basil gives the drink its distinctive taste, how about calling “The Captain Basil” after the disguise Holmes assumes in “The Adventure of Black Peter”?

Or maybe “The Basil Rathbone” after a certain actor?

Or “The Basil of Baker Street” after the Mouster?

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Favorite Holmes Story? The Reverse - in Verse!

When we were students at the University of Cincinnati in the early 1970s, Steve Winter, Peggy Kreimer, and I used to gather occasionally to read stories from the Sherlock Holmes Canon out loud. A few beverages may have been involved – Imperial Tokay, for example.

Other friends, including Ann Brauer (now Andriacco) also took part, but the trio of dedicated Sherlockians considered ourselves The Three Students. Other than that sentimental connection, I’ve never had any affection for “The Adventure of the Three Students.” But erudite Sherlockian Rich Krisciunas really doesn’t like it.

He explained why in verse at a meeting of Watsons’ Tin Box on June 29. He gave me permission to share it with you:


The Canon’s stories have been rated and ranked
by Conan Doyle, Sherlockians and the rest.  
In Watson’s retelling of the adventures  
This one’s definitely not close to the best. 

A half chapter of Thucydides copied. Oh my!!
There’s no murder, no blackmail or ransom to pay.
No vampire, snake bite or secret society.
No one’s kidnapped or poisoned. There’s no foul play.

No Irene’s or Violets. No ladies at all.
No client climbs the seventeen steps at Baker Street.
No hasty rides on trains or traps or hansom cabs.
The weather’s fine. There’s not even a threat of fog or sleet.

No hiding in the dark or amputated thumbs.
No ladies found in coffins to heighten the suspense.
No secret papers stolen or wrongs to avenge.
There’s not a single shooting done in self-defense!

Let’s peruse the story a little more closely. 
Somebody has eyeballed the tutor Soames’ test.
Holmes’ plan to study early English Charters
Was cut short so he could attempt what he does best.

The three suspects were living on the floors above
However, we barely heard any of them speak.
There’s no interaction. Few details about them. 
Admit it, their character development’s weak.

There’s the Indian; “inscrutable and quiet.” 
There’s rude Miles McLaren who won’t open his door, 
A guy named Gilchrist who doesn’t have a first name! 
Why couldn’t we have learned just a little bit more?

But the biggest flaw in Watson’s writing 
Is the question of why Holmes got involved?
If he’d remained back at the library.
This is a case that would still have been solved.

While Holmes spied a pencil and sawdust from a shoe
The butler correctly identified the cheat,
The thief confessed, packed his bags to Rhodesia, way
Before Holmes’ investigation was complete.

I thank all of you for listening patiently
Hopefully you’re convinced and I think you’ll agree 
Watson’s other stories are all so much better. 
Any way you read it, this one’s all Greek to me.

© By Rich Krisciunas

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

221 Bee Culture

Beekeeper Tracy Hunt and his productive pals 

One of my favorite passages in Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, is the paragraph that begins: “But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson . . . Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there at this moment, as one writes?”

That is beautiful prose poetry – beautiful and untrue.

For, as Rob Nunn points out here, Holmes has long since “definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs.” So says Watson in “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” published in the December 1904 Strand.

Sudden death followed Holmes there in the July 1907 case that he himself recorded as “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.” Mostly, though, he kept to his bees and “watched the little working gangs as once I watched the criminal world of London,” as he tells Watson in “His Last Bow.” And out of that came “the magnum opus of my latter years,” the Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen.

It is for good reason, then, that Sherlockians have taken an interest in bees, beekeeping, and honey. That led members of the Illustrious Clients, under the intrepid leadership of Steve Doyle, to visit Hunter’s Honey Farm in Martinsville, IN over the weekend.

It was a great day, in equal parts educational and fun. Tracy Hunter, a third-generation beekeeper, greeted us by recalling that Holmes and Watson lived at 221 Bee Baker Street.

Bee-lieve it!  

A beekeeper's suit 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Dying Clue Detective Story Trope

The band - the speckled band! 

I’ve written about Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Age of detective fiction. As a chronological period, that was roughly the time between the world wars. But was really more of an attitude, a way of approaching the genre. As you can read here, I argued that 12 of the Holmes stories were written during that period and many others are “GA” in spirit.

Only recently did I realize that Arthur Conan Doyle apparently created of the favorite detective story tropes of that classic period, and he did it early on. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” turns on the late Julia Stoner’s dying words – “the band, the speckled band!” Thus was born the plot device of the spoken or written “dying clue” from the victim that points to the killer, but only when correctly interpreted.

Or so it seems. No one of the Golden Age of Detection Facebook Page could think of an earlier example. And John C. Sherwood pointed out that two later Holmes stories, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” and “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman” feature dying clues. Both tales fit comfortably in the Golden Age, chronologically, published in 1926 and 1927, respectively.

Ellery Queen employed the dying clue dozens of times. So did most of the other great detective story writers of that age – and the not so great ones as well.  Have I, in my own mysteries? I can’t remember! But I plan to do so. I have two stories in mind, one a short story and one a novel, which turn on dying clues to the killer.

But the world is not yet prepared. Or at least, I’m not.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What I Learned as a Sherlockian Bartender

There were no bar fights on my watch.

On Friday I had the honor of being a bartender at one of the receptions the night before A Scintillation of Scions, the yearly Sherlockian confab in Maryland. Since SOS went virtual this year, my bar was one of 15 chat rooms. Greg Ruby named it The Tankerville Club, for the Cincinnati scion society which I preside over as Most Scandalous Member.  

I mixed up a boulevardier cocktail (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Campari) and chatted with my guests. It was a lot of fun. And this is what I learned: 
  • Digital bartenders get no tips. 

  • What people miss most about these days of lockdown, other than being with their Sherlockian friends, is hugging grandchildren. 

  • Those who are usually active in the Sherlockian world saved a lot of money this year – what they would have spent on travel and registration fees. 

  • But significant numbers of individuals who can’t afford broad travel have enjoyed being plugged into the wider world of Sherlockiana for the first time via Zoom. 

The incredible ingenuity and dedication of Sherlockians has kept a bad situation from being so much worse. And I’ll drink to that!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Holmes & Watson, RIP

We visited the huge, historic, and beautiful Spring Grove cemetery in Cincinnati over the weekend for a walk and a visit to a particular grave.

We’d barely entered Section 125 when we saw this:

As we were getting ready to leave, we encountered:

And nearby:

Have fun with that, Sherlockian chronologists!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Treasury and a Mystery

Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors.” I think good books make good neighbors.

One of our neighbors recently passed on to me A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes. I already have three different editions of this book, so why did I accept another? Because, as a former pastor of mine said while accepting a slug of Bailey’s Irish Cream in his coffee at 10 a.m., “I’m never one to discourage generosity.”

I’ve written about this interesting anthology before, as you can read by clicking here.

But there’s a little mystery that goes with the edition I just acquired, and maybe you can solve it.

The book was published by Hanover House, Garden City, New York. But it’s exactly the same, page for page, as the edition pictured above published by Doubleday & Co. It’s also the same as another edition I have, published by the International Collectors Library. My third copy is a book club edition from Nelson Doubleday Nelson, on thinner paper but paginated identically.

In each edition, no matter the publisher, the second sentence of Adrian Conan Doyle’s introduction begins, “When our old friends at Hanover House . . . .”

Were Hanover House, the International Collectors Library, and Doubleday all the same company? Perhaps the answer is elementary.