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, December 12, 2018

Basil Rathbone on Sherlock Holmes

Some of his fans call him "The Baz"
Reading In and Out of Character, I rather wish the author had stayed in character.

This is the 1962 autobiography of Basil Rathbone, the great Sherlock Holmes of my generation. I bought a copy recently from the Baker Street Irregulars Trust and read it for the first time.

As in most biographies and autobiographies, I learned some things about the subject that I would rather not have not known. On the other, Rathbone is quite stingy with anecdotes about the making of 14 movies and more than 200 radio plays in which he starred as Holmes. And his judgement on Holmes is rather harsh:

"I came to the conclusion," he says, "that there was nothing lovable about Holmes. He himself seemed capable of transcending the weaknesses of mere mortals such as myself . . . "

Ultimately, he concludes that he was jealous of Holmes: "Jealous of his mastery in all things, both material and mystical . . . he was a sort of god in his way, seated on some Anglo-Saxon Olympus of his own design and making! Yes, there was no question he had given me an acute inferiority complex!"

Rathbone follows this assertion immediately with Vincent Starrett's classic poem, "221B," which sends a bit of a mixed message as to how the actor really felt about the Great Detective.

In all, he devotes only 11 pages of his 278-page memoir to his Hollywood years as Holmes -- and four of those pages are a short story!

After being away from the character for five years, Rathbone asked his wife, Ouida, to write him a play about Sherlock Holmes. The curtain went up two years later, in 1953. Rathbone tells the story of that disaster in another chapter, about one-third of which includes another short story! Oddly, he never mentions the name of the play -- Sherlock Holmes: A New Play in Three Acts. It lasted in New York just three days before closing forever.

Rathbone concludes that the play was too leisurely, thoughtful, and analytical for an audience that was already corrupted by television: "We were outdated, hopelessly outdated."

It could also be that the audience shared my opinion that it just wasn't a very good play.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it sounds like it was written by Basil Rathbone, who was certainly lovable even though he wrongly thought that Holmes was not. It was good to hear his voice again, if only in my head.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Welcome to A Virtual Scion Meeting

The Tankerville Club of Cincinnati will hold its quarterly meeting on Friday evening. If you can’t attend, welcome to a virtual meeting! The topic of discussion is “A Scandal in Bohemia.” These are some questions to ponder and discuss with yourself or a fellow Sherlockian:

In what tone of voice does Irene say, “Good Night, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” Is she sarcastic, playful, triumphant, or what?

In literature, there is the concept of the “unreliable narrator.” Is Watson an unreliable narrator in the opening when he says that Holmes felt nothing akin to love for Irene? What did Holmes feel for Irene?

What kind of person is Irene Adler “of dubious and questionable memory?” (Consider, for example, her kindness to the “clergyman” – which made Watson felt like a heel for his part in this adventure.) 

Is Irene Adler a kind of female Holmes? (She figured out what he was up to, and she adopts a disguise just as he did.)

Watson gets up to go and Holmes won’t let him. “I need your help.” Really? He didn’t in all those cases that Watson mentions in which he took no part. The King tries to speak to Holmes alone and Holmes says: “It is both or none.” Why did Holmes really want Watson there?  

Why would a witness at a wedding have to mumble anything? Best man is not a speaking part. (Theory: Holmes really is the groom in this wedding!)

What do you think of Watson’s quick willingness to break the law?

Who is Mrs. Turner?

Ultimately, is this story one of triumph, failure, or both for Holmes?

If you were one of the original readers of this story in the Strand, would be you be eagerly looking forward to the next issue?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Three-Pipe Icon

Meet Toby Baskerville -- our new pet

Nothing says Sherlock Holmes faster than a deerstalker cap and a curved pipe and/or magnifying glass.

Never mind that (except for the magnifying glass) we owe these symbols more to William Gillette and Frederic Dorr Steele than to Dr. Watson and Dr. Conan Doyle. In popular culture, they are all that is necessary to suggest the Great Detective.

Thus, these accoutrements can transform a cat, bear, mouse, dog, praying mantis – you name it! – into Sherlock Holmes. Or into a detective in general. For Sherlock Holmes, though far from the first fictional detective, has become the icon for all the rest.

For all these reasons, we couldn’t resist acquiring the pet above on a recent trip to an antique mall called LT’s Uniquities in West Liberty. He doesn’t eat a thing, but we expect the tobacco bill to be huge!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Sherlockian Thanksgiving

Yes, that's me in the turkey suit. Don't ask. But if you happen to be at the Price Hill Thanksgiving Day Parade . . . 

Let's change the subject.

The past 12 months, like any year, have brought me some personal challenges. But I have many more reasons for gratitude. Since this is Baker Street Beat, I will limit the list to those of a Sherlockian or literary nature.

I'm thankful for:

  • A record three books published in the last year: House of the Doomed: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure, Death Masque: A Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody Mystery, and School for Sleuths, which I have loved for 27 years.
  • My readers, who continue to encourage me by asking for more.
  • Speakers at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five. At my request, they came to Dayton and drew a record crowd for the current incarnation of this symposium. I'm still hearing kudos for them.
  • Being invited to speak to Hugo's Companions of Chicago, the Red Circle of Washington, D.C., and the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, three legendary Sherlockian scions. The Companions even gave me their Horace Harker Award. And meeting Bob Katz and Ira Brad Matetsky in was a delight, as was staying with Peter Blau and Beth. The Indianapolis talk is Dec. 8.
  • Ann and I finally becoming members of Watson's Tin Box. ("If you attend one meeting, that could be an honest mistake. If you attend two, you are member.")
  • Being asked by Barbara Herbert, widow of Paul Herbert, to assume leadership of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, which Paul founded. My title is Most Scandalous Member. It's more rewarding than I ever imagined.
  • Members of the Tankerville Club, who have helped me in every way possible.
  • Moderating a non-credit class in "Sherlockology 101." What fun!
  • All of my Sherlockian mentors, but especially Steve Doyle.
  • Ann Brauer Andriacco, who does all of this with me and makes it possible.  

We are looking forward to seeing many of our Sherlockian friends from around the country at the annual Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in January.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What I Learned from Teaching A Holmes Class

Students loved "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"

A week ago today, I moderated the last of eight non-credit classes for senior citizens (age 50 and older) on Sherlock Holmes. I learned a lot from the experience. For instance: 

  • Sherlock Holmes is really popular. The class reached the maximum size of 20 the day registration opened. Some had never read a Holmes story before, and some could have led the course. 

  • All the TV shows, movies, and various cultural appropriations of Sherlock Holmes didn’t stop newcomers to the Canon from loving the real thing. 

  • Despite the greatness of the 1939 Rathbone-Bruce Hound of the Baskerville (which we watched in class), everybody seemed to agree the book is better. 

  • One reason for that is that Arthur Conan Doyle is a great writer, not just a great storyteller. The students loved the way he describes people and weather, as well as the sparkling dialog. 

  • My own personal tastes aren’t unusual. The students joined in me in loving “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” “His Last Bow,” and The Valley of Fear. 

The class was built around stories significant to the biography of Sherlock Holmes, not necessarily the best stories. In addition to those already mentioned, we read A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Gloria Scott,” “The Musgrave Ritual,”
“The Greet Interpreter,” “The Final Problem,” “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier,” and “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.”

Several class members approved the story selections in their evaluations. What next? I don’t know! But I would like to do another class. The students were engaged and fun to be with.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Long Time Coming: School for Sleuths

The recent publication of my mystery School for Sleuths is the realization of a long-delayed dream for me.

I wrote the original version in 1991, which is the year in which the story is still set. Although I couldn’t find a publisher then, I never forgot the book. When I read it again a couple of years ago for the first time in decades, I laughed out loud. School for Sleuths is a fully plotted mystery with clues, suspects, and I hope a surprising solution. But it’s also a strongly comic novel.

The A-Plus Detective Agency & Famous Detectives School is rather like a barber college: Its fees are low because the agents are all students still learning the detective trade. As you might expect, these student sleuths vary in age, intelligence, and ability. But Francis Aloysius Finn, owner of A-Plus, pulls their work together to solve the mystery with the help of his super-competent secretary, Mrs. Hilary Kendrake.

The late Ralph McInerny, author of the Father Dowling mysteries that became a TV show, read the manuscript and wrote me a letter on June 22, 1991. It reads in part:

I really enjoyed SCHOOL FOR SLEUTHS! I found it funny, fast paced, extremely well constructed and convincing. The plot is very adroitly handled and you use multiple viewpoint to great advantage. The cast of students is superb, but I mainly like your main character and of course the secretary is an essential role. If there is any justice in the world, you should have a great success with this novel.

Publication eluded it, however. And although I’ve been blessed by having fourteen books see print in recent years, I knew that School for Sleuths wasn’t a good fit for either of my two publishers.

Then last year I had a great experience with Carla Coupe of Wildside Press editing a short story of mine that appeared in the inaugural edition of Wildside’s Black Cat mystery magazine. Thinking that she would also be a great editor for School for Sleuths, I sent her the manuscript. She like it, improved it with some suggestions, and now my old friend is going to see publication at last.

But I hope that is not the end of the story. I expect to send a second School for Sleuth novel, The Medium is the Murder, to Wildside by the end of this year.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Suspense in a Sherlockian Short-Short

Ann and Dan Andriacco - as seen on the big screen by Shannon's students  

Did you ever look at a map at the end of a journey and marvel at where you were on the way to where you are? I had that experience recently with a short story.

The students in Shannon Carlisle, BSI’s fourth grade classroom at Moore Elementary School in Franklin, TN, where it is always 1895, last week read and discussed my 780-word short story “The Adventure of the Amateur Players” from my book, BakerStreet Beat. The story features a group of crime-solving kids called the Deerstalker Club, led by the pompous Toby Motherwell.

Meeting in small groups, the students identified the different elements of the short story's plot. Shannon then wrote those elements on one document as a story map. The map follows the Freitag Pyramid of dramatic structure, which I learned about in freshman English at Elder High School, 1966-67. And yet I never think of dear old Freitag while I plot -- it just happens!

Two of Shannon's students wrote to me, “We liked how even a short story could be suspenseful. And once Toby asked two questions and observed the ‘suspects’ in the room, he quickly knew who stole the money.  Clever character!

He certainly is!

My first attempts to write novel-length detective fiction in the early 1980s were a series of Deerstalker Club novels for young people. The narrator, Billy Piccolo, is the son of a newspaper journalist, which happened to be my profession at the time. Ralph “Ski” Wysnewski is a budding actor. But perhaps my favorite character is Sara Moon, who is every bit as smart as Toby and has a knack for pricking his pomposity with a few well-chosen words of her own.

The three Sherlockian-infused Deerstalker Club books – The Riddle of the Silent Dummy, The Secret of the Seven Sherlocks, and The Enigma of the Elusive Unicorn – were never published. But I’ve always loved the characters. And the adult Toby Motherwell makes a cameo appearance in  my  2015 McCabe-Cody mystery novel Bookmarked for Murder.

I’m happy that the students at Moore Elementary School like these old friends of mine from long ago. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Yes, McCabe-Cody for Free!

If you haven't gotten around to reading my Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody mysteries, here's a chance to start at the beginning for free.

The series opening,  No Police Like Holmes, is now available free on Kindle. Just click here. 

The book has been well received since its publication in 2011. One of my favorite comments was from the blog Girl Meets Sherlock: "No Police Like Holmes is a chocolate bar of a novel -- delicious, addictive, and leaves a craving for more."

And there's a lot more! The ninth novel, and tenth book in the series, is in production now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Holmes for Christmas

Sherlock Holmes has a way of bringing people together – or together again.

A few years ago, I reconnected to grade school classmate Carolmarie Stock after 46 years through our shared interest in Sherlock Holmes.

She joined the Tankerville Club, our local scion society, and I dedicated my novel Bookmarked for Murder to her, “with fond memories of the class of ’66.”

Last month, when I turned 66, she gave me this great gift out of her personal collection. It’s a 1994 Hallmark Christmas Club ornament. Although I’m at that stage in live where I am letting go of a lot of things, I’m going to keep this.

Thanks again, Carolmarie!  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Gillette to Brett V

Silent but sensational - a German take on The Hound of the Baskervilles 

Gillette to Brett V, held last weekend on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, IN, was another wonderful symposium in this series devoted to media adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Organizers Steven Doyle and Mark Gagen, of Wessex Press, only do this every three or four years. When they do, they make it count.

More the 120 Sherlockians from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom gathered to hear eight world-class speakers and view three films. It was a gathering of friends. Rather than trying to summarize the event, I’ll tell you what I learned from each speaker.

Nicholas Utechin: A numbers of actors who don’t look like each other can nevertheless look like the Sidney Paget illustrations of Sherlock Holmes. He showed photos of actors and asked us to vote yes or no – doe he resembles Paget’s Holmes?

Ashley Polasek: Technology helps to determine how scenes are recorded on film, which in turn influences how the story is told. She showed examples from three televised versions of “The Six Napoleons,” and explained the difference in a way that even I understood.

Glen Miranker: Silent movies could be really good, and just as sophisticated as what’s in your neighborhood theater today. He showed the last silent Sherlock Holmes film made, a German version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The was only the second public U.S. showing of a film lost for decades. And it was wonderful!

Leslie S. Klinger interviewing Robert Doherty: In creating a story season-long story arc for Elementary, the producers focused each season on a different character. Doherty, creator of the show, said his biggest regret was not doing more with Moriarty.

Terence Faherty: The Sherlock Holmes radio programs featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce fixed them in the public mind as Holmes and Watson more than the films.

Charles Prepolec: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who became great friends, appeared in three movies together before they actually met. Cushing was Holmes and Lee was Sir Henry Baskerville in the Hammer Films 1959 version of The Hound, which we saw on the big screen Saturday evening. Cushing later made a second version of The Hound.

David Stuart Davies: Jeremy Brett was a kind man who completed a phone interview with Davies even though he was quite ill. “Don’t worry about me!” he said cheerfully in an excerpt we heard. A year later he was dead. During the short interview, Brett said he wished he could have remade The Hound (like Cushing) and done better with is.

Jeffrey Hatcher: The author of the Mr. Holmes screenplay and the Holmes & Watson stage play is a very, very funny man.