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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, February 23, 2021

A SIGN of Controversy


Even Sherlockians disagree at times, and always have.

Did Sherlock Holmes have a romantic relationship with Irene Adler? (No way.) Is “Martha” in “His Last Bow” Mrs. Hudson? (See previous.)

And is the second Holmes novel The Sign of the Four or The Sign of Four? Let’s look at the facts.

The novel first appeared as The Sign of the Four in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in February 1890. And that is the way the phrase appears within the text itself. According to Randall Stock's manuscript inventory at www.bestofsherlock.com, "Conan Doyle later shortened the title to simply The Sign of Four." The British and American first book editions used the shorter version, but even a modest-size Sherlockian library inevitably has multiple examples of both titles.

Christopher Morley, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, preferred The Sign of the Four and used that version of the title in his annotated anthology, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship. Edgar W. Smith, his successor, did likewise in what is often considered the BSI edition of the Canon from Heritage Press.

William S. Baring-Gould’s groundbreaking Annotated Sherlock Holmes followed their example, although the estimable Leslie I. Klinger’s New Annotated doesn’t.

Morley, Smith, and Baring-Gould constitute a formidable trio on one side of the controversy, but their street cred is more than balanced out by three gentlemen on the other side: Watson, Holmes, and Conan Doyle.

In the original Strand magazine publication of the stories, Dr. Watson calls his second book The Sign of Four in “A Case of Identity” and “The Five Orange Pips;” Sherlock Holmes does so “The Cardboard Box” and “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk.” Arthur Conan Doyle used the shorter version of the title in Chapter VIII of his Memories and Adventures.

Case closed! It’s The Sign of Four.

But if you disagree, I respect your opinion. 

 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Even in the 1940s, It Was 1895

                             

A huge percentage of Sherlockians around my age (think Baby Boomers) first became acquainted with Sherlock Holmes from watching reruns of the Basil Rathbone – Nigel Bruce films on TV, but I am not one of them.

I’d already most or all of the Canon by the time I first saw the Universal films around 19645-65. I recall being appalled by the bumpkin masquerading as Watson. And moving the our heroes into the 1940s – what was that all about?

Since then, I’ve learned to love the Rathbone-Bruce movies, although preferring the first two period pieces from Twentieth Century Fox. Now Amanda J. Field’s England’s Secret Weapon: The Wartime Films of Sherlock Holmes has increased my appreciation of their artistry.

Field’s 2008 book is academic in tone and annoying in some of its inaccuracies (such as saying the last Canonical story was published in 1926 rather than 1927 and that the Sir Henry-Beryl romance in The Hound of the Baskervilles was a Fox invention), but well worth reading.

The author divides the 14 movies into four periods: the two Victorian-setting films, the three war-themed films (in which Rathbone wears a bizarre hairstyle previously unknown to man), “the Gothic ambiance of the middle series,” and “the rise of the female villain in the latter years.”

In all periods, but to various degrees, one of Field’s major themes is the time warp of these films. Inside of 221 Baker Street, “it is always 1895” in terms of furnishings. “Even when not at 221,” Field writes, “Holmes and Watson always carry traces of the Victorian with them through their costume.” But their dress is neither entirely modern nor thoroughly old fashioned, making the time ambiguous – an “historical neverwhere,” writer Alan Barnes called it. The ambiguity is especially acute in such Gothic entries as The Scarlet Claw.  

Field gives several of the films a “close reading,” with due praise for director Roy William Neill, a veteran of Universal horror films who made these B-movies into minor works of art. Reading this book made me want to watch them again for the umpteenth time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Revisiting a Holmesian Classic

 


Just as Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes film had nothing to do with the classic Vincent Starrett book of that name, neither is S.C. Roberts Holmes and Watson: A Miscellany guilty of any relationship to a much-reviled movie. 

(“The lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson than does Holmes and Watson.” – Rotten Tomatoes) 

I think of S.C. Roberts as one of the British counterparts to Starrett. He was part of the original Sherlock Holmes Society in England, founded simultaneously with the Baker Street Irregulars in 1934. Faber & Faber (where Sherlockians T.S. Eliot and Frank V. Morley shared an office) published his monograph Doctor Watson, the first biography of the good doctor, 1931. 

Holmes and Watson: A Miscellany, published in 1953, is well-named. It brings together in one book a number previously published essays, including the contents of Doctor Watson. This was exactly the architecture of The Private Life two decades earlier. 

I recently acquired excellent copies of both the book and the monograph from the BSI Trust. Like Starrett, Roberts is a wonderfully evocative writer who plays The Game with the perfect touch; he feels no need to impress with the novelty of his speculations in the parts that profile the title subjects. 

His contemporary account of the Sherlock Holmes Exhibition of 1951, though nowhere near as complete as the 2018 Christmas Annual from The Baker Street Journal, is quite interesting. 

In the vein of pastiche, Holmes and Watson includes a radio play (“Christmas Eve”), a short story (“The Adventure of the Megatherium Thefts”), and a curiosity. The curiosity is six and a half pages of what Roberts says is a draft Watson manuscript recounting Holmes’s investigation of the death of Cardinal Tosca, one of the famous untold tales of Dr. Watson. 

The curiosity is that Roberts presents the beginning and the end of the case, from which any reader can deduce the middle. Basically, all the plot is there. Why not write the whole story? The fragment is already half the size of “Megatherium,” with just as good a storyline.  

That takes nothing away from the fact that Holmes and Watson is a fine book, full of pleasing passages. I will end with one of them: 

“The Baker Street mise-en-scène is indeed one of Conan Doyle’s master-strokes. In some way not easy to define, No. 221B has become a focal point of the metropolitan civilization of the nineties – the November fogs, the hansoms, the commissionaires, the gasogene, the frock-coats, the Wigmore Street post office” (p. 106). 

Indeed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Forgotten Master of Mystery

 


The late Herbert Brean isn’t particularly famous among Sherlockians, but he has meant a lot to me over the years. 

Invested in the Baker Street Irregulars in 1961 as “The Ferrars Documents,” Brean was executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America and editor of The Mystery Writers Handbook. I think that work, published in 1956, was the best of its kind and still useful many decades later. 

Brean, who died in 1973 at the age of 65, also wrote seven mystery novels. They are well-plotted and equally well-written. I read all of them about 40 years ago and wished Brean had written many more. Recently I acquired two Brean novels from the Paul Herbert collection of Sherlockiana. They earned their place there by their frequent references to the Great Detective.  

Wilders Walk Away was Brean’s first novel, introducing freelance writer and photographer Reynold Frame, who professes himself to be “an old Sherlock Holmes addict.” Every chapter is headed with a quote from the Canon, and halfway through Frame cries “Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot.” 

The story in set in Vermont in the late 1940s and involves a family whose members over the generations have a habit of disappearing. The Wilders just walk away. 

The Traces of Brillhart, the first book in a series of just two about magazine writer William Deacon, is set by contrast in the Manhattan of 1960. It fairly throbs with an early ’60s New York vibe that seems in no way forced. 

The Brillhart of the title is apparently dead when the book starts, but just won’t stay dead. The story is divided into three parts, with each part again headed by a Canonical quote. There’s also a little byplay with the female lead calling herself Watson, and Deacon receiving a first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles (!) as a birthday present. 

For me re-reading these old friends was like going back in a time machine. The Sherlockian references are icing on the cake – a very good cake indeed. The Reynold Frame novels are hard to come by, but Brillhart and its sequel, The Traces of Merrilee, are available in paperback and as e-books. 

Sidenote: Brean once enlivened a BSI Dinner with a Bob Newhart style-telephone conversation involving J. Edgar Hoover and Rex Stout. It's on this CD set from Wessex Press.   

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Golden Scholarship from the Copper Beeches

Leaves from the Copper Beeches: Don't judge this book by its cover

 A literary society doesn’t have to create literature. But in the Sherlockian world, many of them do. I’m astonished at how many scion societies have published books over the years.

The subject at hand is Leaves from the Copper Beeches, published in a limited run of 500 copies by Philadelphia’s Sons of the Copper Beeches (SOCB) in 1959. I recently bought copy number 53 from the Baker Street Trust.

This book is a gem. The essays have all the verve, creativity, and spirit of fun that characterized the Sherlockian scholarship of a generation before. For example:

Charles Fisher serves up a hilarious parody about Holmes and Jack the Ripper, followed by a masterful essay demonstrating that the Ripper was – wait for it – Horace Harker of “The Six Napoleons,” at the direction of Moriarty. The Napoleon of Crime created the Ripper scare so he could sell protection to likely victims in Whitechapel.

The legendary A. Carson Simpson explains that Mary Morstan not only wasn’t the first Mrs. Watson, she wasn’t a Mrs. Watson at all! Less surprisingly, H.W. Starr lays out a case that Captain Nemo was Moriarty, and John Ball Jr. quite logically maintains that Watson had only one wound and it was in his buttocks.

Other essays explore the London of Sherlock Holmes, poisons in the Canon, “that little thing of Chopin’s,” the princes in the tower, and the fictionality of all the post-Reichenbach adventures. This is great stuff.

There are also some interesting nuggets of SOCB history in the introduction. One of the names originally floated for the scion was The Tankerville Club, later chosen by Paul D. Herbert as the name for our Cincinnati area scion society when he founded it. And one of my favorite mystery writers, John Dickson Carr, attended a SOCB meeting on Sept. 23, 1949.

The volume is delightfully illustrated throughout with humorous sketches by H.W. Starr.

Ann and I attended our first meeting of the Sons (and even the female members are sons) in October 2019. The April 2020 meeting was canceled for the predictable reason, and we attended the virtual meeting of October 2020. Reading Leaves from the Copper Beeches and its similar sequel from 1976, More Leaves from the Copper Beeches, makes me even more eager to attend an in-person meeting. But it won’t be in April: That one is already set to be virtual.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

40 Years With My Local Scion Society

A Tankerville Club meeting

This Saturday, January 16, marks the 40th anniversary of the first time I attended a meeting of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars. In those days, it was presided over by our late Founder and Official Secretary Paul D. Herbert. He is well remembered for his quizzes, like this one:

 


Although we contain to attract new faces, I am just one of an incredibly high number of our members who have been faithfully attending meetings since the 1980s. That connection and stability has been important to me as much else in my life changed over the decades.   

Now I preside over the Tankerville Club as Most Scandalous Member. Our last physical meeting took place March 6, 2020, on the very cusp of COVID, but we have had three virtual meetings that I think went well. We still have toasts, a quiz, show-and-tell, and a story discussion – plus a guest speaker, which was a relative rarity in the past.

Zoom has opened up the possibility of bringing in speakers from all over the world, and many groups have. In fact, a good number of our virtual attendees as well as the speakers come from other states. They have made a great contribution to the club. The downside is that some of our longstanding members can’t or won’t join us virtually. I miss them and look forward to seeing them again when we can meet in person. 

Last Friday I was honored (and shocked!) to be invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars with the investiture name of "St. Saviour's Near King's Cross." It means a lot to me to be part of this storied literary society. But the BSI scion societies, such as the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, the Agra Treasurers in Dayton, the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, and hundreds more, are where most Sherlockian socializing goes on throughout the year.  

If you are a Holmes enthusiast and you don’t belong to a Sherlockian society, this is a great time to join one. But if you’ve only been to virtual meetings, I hope you’ll soon have the chance to go to a physical one. It’s a different experience, and a good one.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

An Essay Contest for Young Sherlockians

Joel and Carolyn Senter 

Young Sherlockians have additional time to show their stuff.

The Beacon Society, a scion of the Baker Street Irregulars devoted to introducing Sherlock Holmes to young people, has extended from February 1 to March 1 the deadline for submitting entries in the second annual R. Joel Senter Sr. Memorial Essay Contest.  

The contest is open to students in the 4th-6th grades, 7th-9th grades and 10th-12th grades. Contestants must read a Sherlock Holmes story from the Canon and then compose an essay on that story. What a great pandemic project! Details and rules are posted on the Beacon Society website (www.beaconsociety.com).

Cash prizes (1st - $300, 2nd - $200, 3rd - $100) and award plaques are presented to the winners in each category.  

The Senter Essay Contest memorializes our late friend Joel Senter, and is primarily funded by his widow, Carolyn. Funds generated by the recently published A Three-Pipe Christmas will also support this great cause.

If you know a student who is eligible to compete – and you probably do – please spread the word!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Haunted by Holmes? Strangely Enough, Not


Today is the birthday of Sherlock Holmes, as determined by Christopher Morley. So it is appropriate that I call your attention to the curious incident of Sherlock Holmes in Morley’s novel The Haunted Bookshop.

You know what’s coming: There is no Sherlock Holmes in The Haunted Bookshop, not a single reference, and “that is the curious incident.”

Morley is revered as the founder of the Baker Street Irregulars (although it is fair to say that Edgar W. Smith saved it and molded into what it is today). It curious indeed that Morley mentions Holmes not at all in a book filled with prose about writers and their characters.

Nevertheless, The Haunted Bookshop is a book well worth reading. It features bookseller Roger Mifflin from Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels, no longer on wheels but now the proprietor of a used bookstore in Brooklyn “haunted by unread books.”

It’s a mystery, a romance, and a book that is for the most part a delight to read from the very first sentence: “If you are ever in Brooklyn, that borough of superb sunsets and magnificent vistas of husband-propelled baby-carriages, it is to be hoped you may chance upon a quiet by-street where there is a very remarkable bookshop.”

Remarkable indeed! A copy of Thomas Carlyle’s Oliver Cromwell, a book much beloved by Woodrow Wilson, keeps disappearing from its shelves and reappearing again. Advertising copywriter Aubrey Gilbert fears that bookshop employee Titania Chapman, with whom he is head over heels, is in danger. His efforts to protect her almost kill the romance in its infancy.

The Haunted Bookshop, published in 1919, has aged remarkably well but is still a period piece. That is inevitable, given that it was highly topical when written. All the characters are haunted by the recently concluded Great War, which is not incidental to the plot. President Wilson is mentioned so much he is practically a character in the story. A sadly modern twist, however, is Roger Mifflin’s disdain bordering on hatred for the political party to which he doesn’t belong.

I’ve read all of Morley’s Sherlockian writings, which were collected by Steven Rothman in The Standard Doyle Company, but this was my first brush with his fiction. It made me sad once again that my friends and I won’t be occupying our usual place under the painting of Morley at McSorley’s Pub in Manhattan this Friday during the Baker Street Irregulars Weekend.

McSorley's Pub, 2018


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020: Annus Horribilus, but Productive

I even worked in virtual bartending for A Scintillation of Scions

 As terrible as 2020 has been, it was also a productive year for me:

Murderer’s Row, a McCabe-Cody casebook made up of three novellas, came out in late September, followed by A Three-Pipe Christmas, which I conceived and edited. My short story, “Done with Mirrors,” appeared earlier in the book Sherlock Holmes and The Great Detectives.

My account of the BSI Weekend appeared on the Baker Street Irregulars website and my toast to The Worst Man in London appeared in the spring issue of Canadian Holmes

I wrote two novels that will be published in 2021 – No Ghosts Need Apply, a McCabe-Cody mystery, and The Sword of Death, a Sherlock Homes pastiche. And plotting on the 2022  McCabe-Cody, to be published around the time of my 70th birthday, is well underway.

In other developments, I advertised on six episodes of the wonderful “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast, accepted chairmanship of the Awards Committee of the Beacon Society, and was invited to the Baker Street Irregulars dinner in January.

Writing is often thought of as a solitary occupation, but the journey from idea to printed page could never happen without the help of many, many people other than the writer. For all who have helped to make what I do possible over the past nine years – especially Ann Brauer Andriacco! – I offer my profound thanks and best wishes for a brighter 2021.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Staying at Holmes for Christmas

What a Christmas present the world received in 1887!

Even a non-collector like me can understand the sheer wonder of reading A Study in Scarlet in its original publication setting, Beeton’s Christmas Annual for that year.  No wonder a copy sold for $156,000 at Sotheby’s in 2007, although others have gone for less. If you can’t afford that, you can hold a copy in your hands for free at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, IN.

You can also buy a facsimile from a British publisher online at a very reasonable price, $25 or less. But that wasn’t always possible, which is why the Baker Street Irregulars and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London together produced the first facsimile edition in 1960 based on two incomplete copies.

That effort was part of the BSI’s Baker Street Incunabula series that began in the 1950s. And because the volume was “strictly limited” to a printing of 500 copies, 100 of which were allocated to the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, it became a collectable in its own right.

Which is why Magico Magazine issued a facsimile of the facsimile in 1987, the 100th anniversary of the original. It has a illustration cover by Scott Bond, originally commissioned by Don Pollack for the Spring 1987 issue of the late lamented Baker Street Miscellanea. And that is what I have, courtesy of the late R. Joel Senter, Sr. 

(Denny Dobry reports that John Gibson, dba Conan Doyle Books, also produced a facsimile in a slipcase in 1987.)

Reading A Study in Scarlet in the same format as its first readers is a little like taking a trip in a time machine, and that makes it a singular pleasure. 

The Magico book is hardback, and it comes value-added: Catherine Cooke, the well-known British Holmesian, provided a nice introduction covering the familiar story of A Study in Scarlet’s origins and the not-so-familiar stories of Mr. and Mrs. Beeton; H. D. Friston, the first illustrator of Sherlock Holmes; and how the 1960 facsimile came to be.

The latter story is also covered in Edgar W. Smith’s afterword to the 1960 book.

A Study in Scarlet is a short novel, but somehow seems longer in the Beeton’s. Maybe that’s because there is so much advertising. The last page of the Annual is numbered 168, but that doesn’t count the 32 pages of adverts before the novel starts. It does count the 26 similar pages that follow Study and the two predictable but rather entertaining short plays that follow it. So, in sum, 58 pages of advertising out of 200. Maybe that helped keep the price down to one shilling.

The ads are delightful, from the patented “lung invigorator” to “Steiner’s Vermin Paste” with a charming illustration of said paste throttling a rat. But I’m mystified by the assurance that Yorkshire Relish is “sold by all grocers and Italian warehousemen.”

There are deeper waters here, however. Did “Matthews’s Purified Fuller’s Earth” inspire Col. Lysander Stark? Did Sherlock Holmes have recourse to “The Great Buxton Remedy for Rheumatism!” in his later years on the bee farm? And, most of all, does “Watson’s Castor Oil Pills” hint that the good doctor had a side gig?

After all these years since 1887, there is still much to be explored about the world’s first consulting detective and his Boswell.