Welcome

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, 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
 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Speckled Band: Debunking the Scholars

Tim Greer for the defense! 
For nearly a century, surveys asking critics and readers – including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself – to rank the Sherlock Holmes stories have consistently put “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” at the top. 

And for just as long, scholars have pointed to what they scorned as a laundry list of flaws in the story. Tainted by their views, I didn’t give “the Band” serious consideration when asked recently to name my favorite Holmes story, the best Holmes story, and the strongest Holmes story. 

But the estimable Timothy Greer, BSI, speaking at A Scintillation of Scions in the Baltimore area on June 11, massively destroyed the objections to this fine story. Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version of Tim’s rejoinders to several of the familiar cavils: 

Snakes don’t have ears, are therefore deaf, and the Band could not have heard Dr. Roylott’s whistle. This just isn’t true. Snakes have internal ears and pick up sound vibrations.  

Baboons and cheetahs don’t exist in India. During Dr. Roylott’s tenure in the subcontinent, India was a much larger country which even included what is now Burma. Animals resembling (and referred to as) baboons were found within those borders. And the Indian cheetah, extinct in its homeland for seventy years now, was plentiful in the 1880’s. 

The snake could not have lived in an air-tight safe. Nowhere does the text say the safe was air-tight. As Tim pointed out, the safes in which Houdini was immersed in water poured H2O when they were lifted into the air. 

Milk is fatal to snakes. Yes, but Holmes doesn’t say the snake drank milk. He says that Roylott trained the snake “probably by the use of the milk which we saw” – a very different thing. 

There is no such thing as a swamp adder. No, but the Russell’s viper is the very image of the Speckled Band and merits the title of “the deadliest snake in India.” 

This masterful debunking of smirking critics hasn’t pushed “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” to the top of my own list of favorite Holmes stories, but it has increased my respect for the tale and will heighten my enjoyment next time I read it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In the Island of "Uffa"

Fingal's Cave. Photo by Steve Winter
One of the more famous "untold tales" of Sherlock Holmes (or Dr. Watson) is that of "the singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa" (FIVE), which took place in 1887.

Since Uffa appears on no map, its real identity has long been a matter of speculation since the dawn of Sherlockian scholarship. Upon recently visiting the island of Staffa in Scotland's Inner Hebrides, I became convinced that the Grice Paterson's had preceded us.

Staffa is probably best known as the site of Fingal's Cave, which inspired Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. The cave is undoubtedly where the singular adventures took place. Why else would they have taken place in the island, rather than on it?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Statue of Great Stature


The tie is not my clan tartan, but it looked Scottish enough! 
Great men and women inspire great statutes. I’ve had the good fortune to see three great statues of Sherlock Holmes in person.

 

Earlier on this blog I’ve written about visiting the statues of Holmes in Meiringen,Switzerland, in 2008 and London in 2012 with my wife and another couple. Maintaining the four-year pattern, this year at the end of May we made a courtesy call on the statue in Edinburgh, just across the street from where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born.

 

I found the monument quite satisfactory. To me it’s a good Holmes. It doesn’t look exactly like any other representation of Holmes on state, screen, or printed page, and to me that’s a good thing.

 

Curiously, the plaque at the base of the statue - donated to the city of Edinburgh in 1991 by the Federation of Master Builders - memorializes not Holmes but Conan Doyle.  So does a nearby pub, The Conan Doyle. We’ve also dined at the Sherlock Holmes Pub in London and Sherlock in Meiringen. I’m happy to report that all three are well worth the visit, with both food and Sherlockian artifacts that are worth attention.

 

A curious side note: Our waiter a few days later in Oban, Scotland, told us that he was from Edinburgh and the Conan Doyle had been his local pub as a young man. He then informed us that Conan Doyle was a murderer who killed a rival and stole his plot! And I don’t think he believed me when I told him that this was a crackpot theory that no serious scholar credits.   



 

 

 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Compleat Pastiche Writer



“Try it yourself,” Dr. Watson told Sherlock Holmes when the latter complained about the good doctor’s accounts of their adventures. Holmes did so twice with, it is generally agreed, rather lamentable results.

Literally thousands of other writers also have produced their own Sherlock Holmes stories, usually with even more lamentable results. But now comes Leah Guinn with Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure ofthe Blank Page, an invaluable guide for budding pastiche writers.

As one who has written both Sherlock Holmes stories and an essay on how to write pastiches (you can find both in “The Peculiar Persecution of John VincentHarden”), I found this 62-page entry in the John H. Watson Society’s MonographSeries to be an excellent guide to the craft.

Ms. Guinn manages to be both academically rigorous (28 footnotes) and intensely practical. She begins with a survey of the field, neatly categorizing various kinds of Holmes stories in “A Field Guide to Common Pastiches.” Full disclosure: She very kindly mentions my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries in the “Guest Starring Sherlock Holmes” category.

The sections on “Getting Started,” “Using the Canon in Your Pastiche” (even highly uncanonical ones), “Research in Your Pastiche,” and “Plot in Your Pastiche” (i.e., The Watson Formula, as fist outlined by Msgr. Ronald Knox), are all excellent.

My favorite section, however, is “Characterization in Your Pastiche.” In just two pages, Ms. Guinn nicely sets out some essential elements of our dynamic duo’s characters that no pasticheur should distort – but many do. For example: “Watson is a ladies’ man, but he is always a gentleman.” And I love this sage advice: “Whatever you do, don’t alter character solely to further the plot or dialogue.” Are you getting that, people?

Ms. Guinn’s last writing section, before she deals with the practicalities of publication, is called “Editing: More Fun Than You Might Think.” That is actually true. I wish that more pastiche writers would do it!

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.