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.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Baker Street on Broadway

A friend of mine and his writing partner are writing a Sherlock Holmes musical. From what I have seen of the incomplete draft script, they are doing a great job. The lyrics are clever and full of nods to the original stories.

Reading that script made me remember the 1965 Broadway musical Baker Street, starring Fritz Weaver, Martin Gable, and Inga Swenson. I didn't see it, but I own a book version of the script. Like William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes and several other plays, the plotline starts with "A Scandal in Bohemia" and throws in Professor Moriarty.

Two of the scenes take place on Moriarty's yacht. The final confrontation takes place not at the Reichenbach Falls but at the White Cliffs of Dover. From the photos I have seen, Gable looks like a wonderful Moriarty.

The play was not a great success. It closed after just over 300 performances. I don't know whether the problem was the book by Jerome Coopersmith or, more likely, the music and lyrics by Marian Grudeff and Raymond Jessel. But there's one bit of dialogue near the end between Irene Adler and Holmes that I enjoyed very much, even though it is un-Canonical in source and tone:

"Mr. Holmes, you are a fool!"
"For all your brilliant deductions, a fool. I could have given you an adventure beyond your wildest dreams. In feelings you have never known before. Feelings that are not grit, but stimulation to the sensitive, reasoning mind. What a pity that Sherlock Holmes has chosen to leave a mystery unsolved."

On that line, she exits, bound for home in New Jersey. Two pages later, in the closing words of the play, Holmes indicates to Watson that he, too, is leaving -- for America.

It may not be a great musical, but I would love to see it performed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Those Great Minor Characters of the Canon

The major characters in Sherlock Holmes are so iconic that you may not have noticed how well-drawn the minor characters are.

My favorites include Jabez Wilson, the red-headed pawnbroker; Charles August Milverton, the worst man in London; Hugh Boone, the man with the twisted lip; Colonel Sebastian Moran, hunter of big game and of men; Baron Gruner, murderer and ruiner of women; Langdale Pike, purveyor of gossip to the trash newspapers and Holmes's source of social gossip late in his career; and Shinwell Johnson, a retired criminal turned informer. 

Consider Jabez Wilson. His only role in the story is to present the problem to Holmes. Once he does this, he is gone and we never see him again. But Dr. Watson’s description of him is almost unforgettable: 

The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some little pride and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside pocket of his greatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrust forward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance.

I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd’s check trousers, a not over-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features.

This description is more static than is common today, but it works well. When we visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum in 2012, my friend looked at the rather lean wax figure that was supposed to represent Jabez Wilson and commented, “not exactly obese, pompous, and slow!” 

Like numerous pastiche writers, I found the characters of Langdale Pike and Shinwell Johnson too enticing to ignore. My co-author, Kieran McMullen, and I put them to work in The Amateur Executioner. We used Pike again in The Poisoned Penman. But - alas - that will be the last time for us. He has the title role, and the poison was fatal.

Who is your favorite minor character in the Canon?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Not-So-Improbable Adventures

This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply." -- Sherlock Holmes, 'The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire."

Recently I watched the 1927 film of Arthur Conan Doyle discussing Sherlock Holmes and spiritualism. I was struck by the fact that he regarded those as two completely separate topics and never the twain did meet on his watch. The Canon offers numerous stories in which the supernatural is evoked, but only to be trumped by a natural explanation.

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams, is a theme anthology with an promising premise: Combine in one volume pastiches in which, like the original, there is a natural explanation and others in which ghosts (or some other supernatural elements) do apply. I liked the idea of not knowing in advance which stories truly venture into the supernatural realms and which don't.

Unfortunately, for my tastes, the collection isn't as strong as it could be. Some of the cases just aren't that improbable to begin with. And some of the others aren't very good pastiches, venturing almost into parody.
There are some real gems among the 29 stories, however.

  • Stephen King's "Doctor Watson's Case" is already a minor classic.
  • "A Study in Emerald," Neil Gaiman's unique take on the first meeting of Holmes and Watson, gives us an unforgettable Queen Victoria who isn't human.
  • "The Human Mystery," by Tanith Lee, with long haunt me, and not because it's a ghost story of sorts.
  • "The Other Detective" drops Dr. Watson into an alternate history in which Moriarty is the sleuth and Sherlock Holmes the villain.
  • In "A Scandal in Montreal," Edward D. Hoch imagines another meeting between Holmes and Irene Adler that I prefer to many others.
A nice thing about anthologies is that there can be something for everybody!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What's in a Name?

As a fiction writer, I work hard to try to create names that fit my characters. My notebook has lists of first names, last names, and complete names to use in future stories.

Arthur Conan Doyle must have gone through something similar. We've probably all seen the page of his notebook where he originally sketched out his novel about "Sherrinford Holmes" and "Ormond Sacker" before settling on Sherlock and Watson.

The Holmes canon is replete with excellent names. Whether good guys, bad guys, or something in between, they all seem appropriately named. The Hound of the Smiths just wouldn't sound quite so Gothic, would it?

Names are especially important when it comes to villains. When Holmes faces the likes of Jephro Rucastle, Charles Augustus Milverton, Baron Gruner, and Dr. Grimesby Roylott, we know he has a worthy opponent. And doesn't the name Moriarty just pulse with evil?

But wait! Which came first - the chicken (character) or the egg (name). Doesn't the name Moriarty carry devilish overtones only because we associate that name with Holmes's unforgettable arch-enemy?

Think of James Bond. To most of us, that moniker is derring-do personified. But, as you may know, Ian Fleming borrowed the name from that of an American ornithologist (author of Birds of the West Indies) precisely because it struck him as "the dullest name I ever heard." No one else has considered that name dull for more than half a century now!

Names do matter, and so I'll continue to spend a lot of time making my names match the characters who wear them. But creating a good character comes first.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Those Victorian Motives in Sherlock Holmes

Violet Hunter consults Holmes in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"
 Tomorrow (Saturday, April 5) I'm giving three talks at the annual Mad Anthony Writers Conference. One is called "What Every Writer Can Learn From Sherlock Holmes." But I can't help but talk about Holmes in the other talks as well.

Consider my presentation on "Whydunit: Motives and Motivation in Fiction," for example.

When I make the point that what constitutes a plausible motive can change with the time period of the story and with the culture, I naturally turn to Sherlock Holmes for some great examples.

In the wonderfully Gothic, "Adventure of the Copper Beaches," a sinister father takes extraordinary steps to keep his daughter from marrying so that he can keep control over her income. I never noticed before how similar this is to "A Case of Identity," where a wicked stepfather schemes for the same evil motive.

Although this motive was perfect for the Victorian era, it wouldn't work so well today. At least, I hope not.

Neither would the indiscreet letters that lead to blackmail and potential blackmail in the plots of "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" and "A Scandal in Bohemia," respectively. One can't blackmail a person unless the exposure of the secret would cause grave harm to that person. Today, at least in America and Europe, the term and the concept of "indiscreet" are about as outdated as the bustle.

Fortunately for mystery writers, however, there's always something scandalous in every culture.That's one reason the game is always afoot.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

23 Paces to Baker Street

This blog and the book that inspired it use "Baker Street" in the title for a simple, obvious reason: Those two words instantly suggest Sherlock Holmes.

221B Baker Street is one of the most famous addresses in the world, either right behind or right ahead of No. 10 Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When I first saw Cay Van Ash's book Ten Years Beyond Baker Street much more than ten years, ago I knew right away it had to do with Sherlock Holmes.

So when Dana Richards recently gave me a poster (not the one above) for an old film called 23 Paces to Baker Street, I wondered how I could have missed a Holmes movie starring Van Johnson and Vera Miles - A-list actors in their day. The name of the flick seemed vaguely familiar to me, but no more than that. The mystery was quickly solved. "It has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes," Dana said.

But Wikipedia calls the movie "Hitchcockian," and the IMDB plot summary sounds intriguing. Although the Baker Street of the title isn't our Baker Street, 23 Paces nonetheless seems like it would be worth tracking down and watching.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Book

One of the interesting things about maintaining a Sherlock Holmes library (insisting that it is not a collection saves me a lot of money) is that it affords me the opportunity to acquire such a wide range of books related to Sherlock Holmes.

Such a volume, recently added to my library, carries the unpromising name of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Book. Sounds rather generic, doesn't it? It's actually a fascinating, nicely illustrated hybrid of anthology of original Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle mixed in with and numerous short but informative essays.

The anthology part of the over-sized book consists of "The Musgrave Ritual," ""The Man with the Twisted Lip," "The Crooked Man," "Charles Augustus Milverton," "Shoscombe Old Place, and "The Lion's Man." (The books drops "The Adventure of" from the titles.) There are two things that I like about that seleciton: It avoids all the usual suspects, and it takes Holmes's career from his first case to post-retirement.

About the center of the book is an amazing full-color comic strip rendering of The Hound of the Baskervilles - amazing because it manages to convey a good bit of the story in just 10 pages. Illustrations are credited to Paul Compton and Glenn Rix. I didn't know which did the comic strip and which did the often-stunning pen and ink drawings with which the volume is crammed, but they are worth seeing.

Much of the essay material about Conan Doyle, Holmes, and Victorian England will be familiar to old hands, but author Clive Hopwood really knows his stuff. I spotted no mistakes, and the book is replete with appropriate quotations from the Canon. I also learned a few things. For example: "London in the late 19th century was the capital of the world: the largest city mankind had ever seen. More people lived in London than the total population of Australia, and it boasted more Irishmen than Dublin."

Published in 1981, I don't think this book would be particularly easy to find. I just lucked into it. I hope you get as lucky.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Case of the Long-Awaited Book

We all have long "to-read" lists (or stacks). It took me almost 50 years to get around to reading The Case of the Aluminum Crutch. Here's what happened:

Earlier this month, at the "Doyle, Holmes & Friends" symposium in Dayton, Dana Richards had dozens of enticing books for sale. One that jumped out at me was the aforementioned Crutch, a juvenile mystery about a lad named Sherlock Jones and his pal Doc Botson. In an instant I recalled seeing the slim paperback around 1964 or 1965.

I don't remember why I never actually bought the book all those years ago, but I knew right away that I couldn't let it slip through my fingers again. I bought the book at a friendly price. It was a quick, delightful read - everything you would want in a mystery for kids.

Sherlock (not his real name) Jones is, of course, an admirer of the Great Detective who makes credible deductions in the manner of his hero. Doc Botson is a loyal, dependable boy of action. Together they tackle a seemingly impossible mystery of a wealthy boy who disappears from a tree house with the door locked from the inside, leaving behind an aluminum crutch. Perhaps "the singular affair of the aluminium crutch" alluded to in "The Musgrave Ritual" was something similar.

Was the book worth the half-century wait? I'd rather say that I wish I hadn't waited so long.

Despite language on a promotional page in the book about this being "another fascinating case," it was unfortunately Sherlock Jones's only case to make it into print. Long out of print, the book is available from used-book dealers, including through Amazon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Slight Trick of the Author

The Sherlockian world buzzed last autumn with word that Ian McKellen had signed to play an aging Sherlock Holmes in the film version of Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind.

I'd never heard of the book, but I was instantly intrigued because I've always been fascinated by speculation about the Great Detective's Sussex Downs years, the period of his retirement. I'd already hugely enjoyed a book set during World War II, Michael Chabon's The Final Solution., that is clearly about Holmes even though his name is never mentioned. 

Recently, I acquired and read the Cullin book. It's a beautifully written psychological study about love, life and death - and about a fatherless boy and childless men . But there's very little action, and the only slight mystery in the end - the very end - leads to another mystery that is unsolvable.

Cullin's command of the Canon and the Baring-Gould additions is impressive. One wonders why he chose to have Holmes refer to Watson as John, and to say that's what he always called him despite what Watson wrote. Holmes also wears a beard, which he clearly hated in "His Last Bow."

The book opens with Holmes, age 93, returning to his villa after a trip to post-war Japan, including Hiroshima. He has outlived the good Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and his brother Mycroft. The book flips from that present to the immediate past of the Japan visit, and then to the remote past of a case Holmes worked on in 1902. This is all somehow compelling, but I couldn't say why.

It's hard to see this as a movie - but the movie will probably bear little resemblance to the book anyway.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Detective, The Woman, and More to Come

Amy Thomas and the TARDIS

This week saw publication of the third book in Amy Thomas’s The Woman series. I think The Detective, The Woman and The Silent Hive is best of the bunch so far. A seemingly minor matter of Irene Adler’s poisoned bees (Holmes’s friend but not yet a love interest) is just the beginning of a revenge scheme that endangers some of the people closest to Sherlock Holmes. Let’s ask Amy a few questions about well-plotted and well-written  book:

I’ll start with an author question: What was the starting point of this story?

This story had two main starting points: The personal threads of the characters’ lives and Doyle’s “The Five Orange Pips.” My novels have much more personal information about the main characters than Doyle’s stories usually did, so I always have ongoing plotlines and personal development that I want to cover with each book. At the same time, I wanted to take Doyle’s story and explore what might have happened if the slightly open-ended conclusion of “The Five Orange Pips” had come back to haunt Holmes and Watson.

Your plot picks up a thread from the Canon, but not one of Dr. Watson’s famous untold stories. That’s intriguing. Do you expect to do that again?

I wouldn’t rule anything out. My second book The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree delved into one of the untold stories, and I was conscious of the pitfall of seeming overly contrived, like I was going down a list of Watson’s untold stories and ticking them off one by one. I might pick up another one later, but I was drawn to doing something different for Silent Hive.

There’s an American connection in your story, as there is in a good many of the Canonical stories. Do you have a special interest in Holmes’s American interactions?

As an American myself, I’m certainly interested in them. I also write half of each book in Irene Adler’s voice, and she’s American by birth, so I think that in a meta way, as an American who is actually part of Holmes’s life, she would be interested in those connections as well.

This is the third year in a row, about the same time of the year, that you’ve given us an adventure of The Detective and The Woman. Do you plan to keep that up?

I definitely have more ideas, and book four exists, so far, as a few notes on a page, so I’m on the way. I never plan to write at the same time each year, but it’s worked out that way so far.

Do you ever expect to write any Holmes-less fiction, perhaps a modern-day detective story?

I write other types of fiction frequently, though the rest is currently unpublished. I like writing in the modern day, and I certainly hope to publish in other genres eventually. I haven’t written a modern-day detective story, but the idea certainly interests me. I consider myself a very character-driven writer, but I love a good mystery as well.

You’re one of the wonderful Baker Street Babes. What has that association meant to you?

For those who may not know, the Baker Street Babes is an international, all-female podcasting organization with a Sherlock Holmes theme. We cover everything from The Great Mouse Detective to the Guy Ritchie films and everything in between. Prior to joining the Babes, I had no idea what a wide, wonderful world Sherlock Holmes fans had created for themselves. It’s been a joy to watch the fandom grow through the BBC’s Sherlock, Elementary, and new generations discovering the Doyle canon. Each of the Babes has a slightly different area of focus within the Holmesian world, but we all unite in our love of a set of stories and characters that are truly timeless, and our greatest desire is to share that love with other fans.

The Detective, The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.