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, June 20, 2018

Toasting Watson's Bull Pup

Ed Lear, long-time member of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, should be its poet laureate – and not just because he shares the name of the famous limerickwriter and author of The Owl and the Pussycat.

At the quarterly Tankerville Club meeting last Friday (June 15), Ed produced a toast to Watson’s bull pup that confronted the question of just what the heck that pup was.

You will recall that upon first meeting Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, Watson lists one of his shortcomings as “I keep a bull pup.” That’s the last we hear of it. Or is it the terrier that is poisoned in chapter 7? Actually, it may not be a dog at all. A “bull pup” is both a kind of gun and an old British expression for having a quick temper.     

Ultimately, Ed isn’t sure what Watson meant. Here’s the toast: 
It started out as, “yes, I know this one,”But there was more by the time I was done.If truth be toldWe were all probably fooledBy what really is meant by this son-of-a-gun. It was in the story you just readAnd for his part winds up dead,Killed by strychnine pill,But some say he was illAnd in the end his name was never said. Or it could have been what Watson usedTo keep them from being battered and bruised.Easy to carry, easy to hide –
Just the thing when by Sherlock’s side,Or maybe what Sherlock used to keep himself amused. Or it could be his quick temper to some of you,And to others it may mean something I never knew.But now that you’ve read the story,You be the judge and jury –
’Cause it may be something else totally out of the blue! But regardless, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us raise our glasses to Watson’s bull pup!

It’s not exactly T.S. Eliot, or even Edward Lear, but it was terrific toast!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can You 221 Believe It?

I’ve always been intrigued by the number of major figures in the Sherlock Holmes universe who aren’t major figures in the Canon – at least not in terms of their number of appearances.

Think about it: 
  • Irene Adler, the woman, shows up in “A Scandal in Bohemia” and is mentioned by name in three other stories (IDEN, BLUE, LAST). 
  • Mycroft Holmes has speaking roles only in “The Greek Interpreter” and “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” while being alluded to FINA and EMPT. 
  • Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, is a major presence in “The Final Problem” and The Valley of Fear, although Holmes speaks wistfully of him in ILLU, LAST, MISS, and NORW. 
  • The Baker Street Irregulars, while presumably assisting Holmes in unrecorded cases, are on stage only in A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, and “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.”   

With that as background, how often do you think 221B Baker Street – the specific address, that is – is mentioned in the Canon?

Surprisingly, a search turned up just six times in four stories – and three of those are in A Study in Scarlet.

“We met next day as he [Holmes] had arranged,” Dr. Watson tells us at the beginning of the second chapter, “and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting.” The 221B address shows up again in the newspaper advertisement by which Holmes hopes to trap the killer, and the third time in Jefferson Hope’s testimony.

The only other uses of the complete address in the Canon are also in adverts – in The Sign of the Four, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” and “The Naval Treaty.”

At least the good Watson was consistent. Archie Goodwin gives nine different addresses for the old brownstone on West 35th Street in the Nero Wolfe Corpus!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Farewell from an Old Friend

If you felt a disturbance in the Sherlockian Force last evening, it was the announcement from R. Joel Senter that he has discontinued his monthly Sherlockian E-Times and Baker Street Bulletin.

Joel and his wife, Carolyn, for many years operated Classic Specialties, purveying all things Sherlockian. It was a business, but also a labor of love. They transitioned out of that into the non-profit E-Times, a monthly cornucopia of news, scholarship, and quizzes.   

The Senters are good friends of ours, with whom we vacationed many times. We were sorry to get this news by e-mail:  

Well, Loyal Readers, it is time for me to be composing the May issue of the Sherlockian E-Times, however circumstances have conspired such that I find that I can no longer rise to the occasion. Hence, the April 2018 edition will be our final issue. I thank you for your readership and I also thank those of you who helped fill our pages by sharing your Sherlockian scholarship with us. It has been a pleasure serving you first through Classic Specialties and the Sherlockian Times and then through the Sherlockian E-Times during these past three decades. Farewell and so-long.

Very sincerely yours,
R. Joel Senter
(Carolyn joins me, of course, in this "Farewell.")

I will this monthly e-publication. If you’ve never seen it, go to the last issue, Vol. 18, No. 4, and see what you’ve been missing.   

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sherlock Holmes, Italian-Style

Sherlock Holmes turns up in the most unexpected places.

Recently I was re-reading an Italian comic book to brush up on my Italian language skills in preparation for a trip to Rome. Martin Mystère: Detective Dell’Impossible is an American adventurer whose travels often bringing him to Italy, where he studied in his youth.

The comic has been around since 1982. In episode 293, from 2007, Martin is involved with a group of international Robin Hood types called the Aristocrats, who steal for charitable purposes.

The story is set in modern day, but a flashback scene from a diary has Oscar Wilde describing the famous Langham Hotel dinner at which he and Arthur Conan Doyle were each commissioned to write a novel. “Imagine my disappointment,” Wilde says (my translation), “when I realized that Sherlock Holmes really exists. I thought that he (Conan Doyle) had invented him.”

Forty-two pages later, Wilde encounters ACD again years later and congratulates him on Il Segno dei Quattro – “great title, my dear doctor . . . but, above all, a grand adventure, in which the investigative genius of Sherlock Holmes shines again.”

This passage is illustrated by a drawing of a deerstalkered Holmes with Watson and the body of the late Bartholomew Sholto.

Conan Doyle responds to Wilde, in part: “I owe it all to my friend John Watson, who gave me permission to draw on his diaries.”

I own a nice paperback copies of Il Segno dei Quattro, Il Mastino dei Baskerville and Tutto Holmes (the Complete). I hope I can add to my Sherlock Holmes library on our Roman holiday . . . and I wouldn’t mind picking up another adventure of Martin Mystère: Detective Dell’Impossible as well.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Victorian England, a Little at a Time

Data! Data! Data!

Dr. Liese Sherwood-Fabre’s writing is full of that. She specializes in brief but fact-pact essays. My friend Joel Senter, proprietor of The Sherlockian E-Times, calls them “both entertaining and informative, as well as very well researched.”

You may have heard Dr. Sherwood-Fabre’s wonderful presentation on the criminal justice system in Victorian England at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five symposium in Dayton this past March.

Her short essays have appeared in Sherlockian newsletters in five countries. Fortunately, Dr. Sherwood-Fabre has also shared these gems more widely in The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Victorian England, Volume One and now in Volume Two. They would be great reference books for anyone wanting to writing Sherlock Holmes stories.   

Dr. Sherwood-Fabre answers questions about Victorian England you didn’t even know you had!

The 23 essays in her latest book, for example, open a window on inns, pubs, and ale houses; parsons, vicars, and rectors; “new women” and governesses in the Age of Victoria; circuses; vampires; the temperance movement; weddings (of a nature far removed from the recent doings at Windsor); boxing; and magnifying glasses.

And it all goes back to Sherlock Holmes. Every essay has its inspiration in at least one Canonical tale, and most cite several of them. “The Canon has thirty-five references to tea and thirty-one for coffee,” our author tells us. Who knew? Liese Sherwood-Fabre did!

Writing these educational little pieces seems to be a habit with her. I hope it’s one she doesn’t break.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Companionable Time in Chicago

Hugo's Companions Annual Birthday Celebration and Awards Dinner
If there’s anything Sherlockians love, it’s history. The Chicagoland group called Hugo’s Companions, which we visited over the weekend, has plenty of that.

The Companions were founded in 1949 by the iconic Vincent Starrett, Matthew Fairlie, and other members of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), the senior Sherlock Holmes society in Chicago. “The name refers to the drunken and wicked companions of Sir Hugo Baskerville in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles,” according to the program for Saturday’s event.

In fact, the original name of the society was Hugo’s Drunken Companions, according to Irregular Records of the ’Early Forties, edited by Jon L. Lellenberg. Then as now, the titles of the officers were Sir Hugo, Most Idle Companion, Most Drunken Companion, Most Wicked Companion, and (since 1955) Most Bold Companion.

The current Sir Hugo, the leader of the pack, is the affable Alan Shaw, who just this year was invested by the Baker Street Irregulars as “Sir Hugo Bakersville.” On Saturday he emceed the group’s annual celebration of Sherlock Holmes’s birthday, which the group uniquely chooses to believe takes place on May 17. The co-ed assembly included specially invited Sherlockians from around the Midwest, as well as Hugo’s Companions. Like all Sherlockians, they were a fun crowd.

As the guest speaker, I hope that I was well prepared for my talk on familiar plot tropes in the Canon. I was not prepared, however, to receive the society’s Horace Hawker Award, “given to one who keep the memory of Sherlock Holmes green through publication.”

As a recovering journalist, I was certainly honored to receive an award named for one of only three journalists named in the Canon. (The others are Neville St. Clair, “the Man with the Twisted Lip,” and a newspaper editor named James Stanger in the American section of The Valley of Fear.) In addition to a scroll, the award included a handsome tile bearing the Baskerville coat of arms.  

There is one glitch, however: Harker gets the story wrong in “The Six Napoleons” because Holmes manipulates him to fool the criminal. The late Paul Herbert, founder of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, occasionally bestowed his own informal Horace Harker Award to newspaper stories about Sherlock Holmes or Sherlockians that were rife with error.

Al Shaw assured me that the award I received was given for more positive reasons!

Like many other Sherlockian societies, Hugo’s Companions has waxed and waned over the decades. It is good to see the group waxing into the 21st century.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Morley, McSorley's, and a Mystery

Re-reading is a good thing. Good books only get better the 15th time around. That’s why devotees of Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, and a select few other characters read their adventures again and again.

Rex Stout once said that one-third of his reading was re-reading. I don’t do that, but maybe I should. Recently I had the pleasure of re-reading The War of the Worlds Mystery by Philip A. Shreffler, former editor of the Baker Street Journal.

The novel, published in 1998, has been in my library for years. I don’t know what prompted me to open it again, but I’m glad I did. It’s a wonderful mystery that takes place around Orson Welles’s famously panic-inducing Halloween 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.

In the world imagined by Shreffler, Christopher Morley and other members of the first-generation Baker Street Irregulars get sucked into the case of a missing actress because they had been consultants to Welles’s earlier radio adaptation of William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes.

The characters, including Welles at points, make their way through Morley’s favorite haunts, including the Algonquin Hotel and McSorley’s Ale House. These locations have a resonance for me that they didn’t have when I first read the book. They have since become among the highlights of our visit to Manhattan each January for the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend.

Imagining Morley in these places is easy, especially at McSorley’s where his painting hangs above the table where a group of us gather. Last year when we entered, the server said, “Is it that time already?”

But you don’t have to have been there to go there in The War of the Worlds Mystery.

McSorley's Ale House, 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Reference Books, Give Me Reference Books!

If one claims to have a library, not a collection, one needs a lot of reference books – even in this search-engine age. So I was delighted recently when a friend gifted me with a copy of Good Old Index: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Thomas W. Ross, published in 1997.

I already own the similarly named Good Old Index and its revision, The New Good Old Index, by William D. Goodrich. It's been an invaluable resource to me for many years. Comparisons between the Ross and Goodrich books are inevitable – and perhaps helpful. At this point I can only offer first impressions, having used my new acquisition very little so far for actual research.

The Ross book is slight compared to The New Good Old Index – only 171 pages compared to the older and better-known book’s 602 pages. One reason is that Ross offers some prose under each entry, albeit in telegraphic style. Goodrich just has the entry, and the page number in the Doubleday Complete where it can be found. Those page numbers are very helpful! But each gets its own line, which takes up a lot of space.  

Under “Newspapers,” for example, Goodrich lists every newspaper mentioned in the Canon, with the corresponding page number. Ross only mentions a few journals by name, he but describes how Holmes uses newspapers in various specific stories and how they play into the plot in others.

To find out something about Holmes’s thoughts on religion in Goodrich, one must to go to the massive (128-page) entry on “Sherlock Holmes” to find just one sub-entry leading to the famous passage in “The Naval Treaty.” Ross does much better with references to five stories, although he misses some opportunities.  

Each of these book has its strengths, so that together they make good companion volumes. I will keep them next to each other on the bookshelves near the computer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Discerning Critic of Holmes on Film

“No Sherlockian library is complete without at least one book on the films of Sherlock Holmes,” Steven Doyle writes in Sherlock Holmes for Dummies.

Well, I had at least one. Now I have three more. I bought them from Don Curtis at a mini-auction during the most recent meeting of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis.

I decided to work my way through the trio starting with Sherlock Holmes on the Screen, by Alan Barnes. It’s “a real cracker,” as my British friend Roger Johnson might say.

The book covers both movies and TV shows – English-speaking and otherwise. It presents them in alphabetical order rather than chronological, with a chronology at the end. This approach has a lot of merit, but Barnes’s pedantic approach to titles does not. The first Basil Rathbone – Nigel Bruce movie shows up under the “S’s” because it’s official full title is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Therefore, all the many Hounds covered in the book aren’t considered together. Too bad, that.

In most cases, Barnes considers the plots in three sections: “The Mystery,” “The Investigation,” and “The Solution.” That’s a neat idea in theory, but rather arbitrary in practice.

The great strength of this book is the author’s strong opinions, which are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Here he is on Patrick Macnee as Holmes in 1993’s The Hound of London:

“Macnee was merely bad as Roger Moore’s Watson in Sherlock Holmes in New York, and only terrible as Christopher Lee’s sidekick in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady and Incident at Victoria Falls – but he makes a truly dreadful Holmes, wheezing out every line while resembling nothing less than an unshelled tortoise poured into a monkey suit.”


Many of his comments are more balanced, as when he differentiates the best episodes of the 1950’s Ronald Howard TV series from the worst.

Surprisingly, Barnes finds “a certain gauche charm” in Sherlock Holmes in New York. He also defends Nigel Bruce as the perfect Watson for Rathbone. Their Hound, he says, “would be blissful even without such a fine detective/doctor team. The fact of that team’s presence makes it quite probably the only Sherlock Holmes film that can hold its head among the true classics of the cinema.”

That sounds about right to me.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Forward with the Tankerville Club

We flew the flag for a Tankerville Club party 
Over the weekend, I accepted the responsibility of leading the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars. I’m honored and excited!

One of issues yet to be decided is my title. Paul Herbert, BSI, founded the club 41 years ago and led it as Official Secretary until his death in February, as I have recorded previously on this blog. Nobody can fully replace Paul, so I don’t believe that any else should have the Official Secretary title. We’ll come up with another.

About 30 members of the club, many of them long-standing, met to salute Paul’s memory at a party on Saturday. Joel Senter, of Classic Specialties and the Sherlockian E-Times, rightly called Paul “a legend.”

Member John Bloomstrom proposed a toast that saluted Paul’s well-known penchant for unsolvable quizzes: 
We’re here to toast a Sherlockian whiz,Who loved nothing better than a devilish quiz.You could read the Canon multiple times,But his questions rarely referenced the crimes.You could argue for points, or act like a jerk,The best you could do was get Paul to smirk.Puns, songs, and references to all things oddWhere carefully crafted simply to get your panties in a wad.So raise you glass and taste the fizz,Let’s savor the times we cursed that damn quiz.

I can’t compete with Paul Herbert’s quizzes. I won’t even try. But I will do my best to see that we continue to have a lot of fun with Sherlock Holmes in the Tankerville Club.