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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.

Friday, September 23, 2016

It's St. Patrick's Day in September!



The timing is not the best, but sometimes life is like that. Today is the official publication date of Erin Go Bloody, most of which is set in March around St. Patrick's Day.

This is the sixth novel and seventh book detailing the mystery-solving adventures of Sebastian McCabe and Jeff Cody. Here's the story:
   
When Erin, Ohio native Jamie Ellicott returns home as best-selling author James Ivanhoe after a 13-year absence, it’s like the return of the Prodigal Son. His ill and aging father welcomes him with open arms. Ivanhoe’s two brothers, however, are less forgiving.

The whole town gets drawn into the family drama when Ivanhoe seeks to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade under the banner of an anti-technology group called the Ned Ludd Society. That’s a thumb in the eye of his siblings, who own a company that makes microcircuits.

As a member of the parade committee, St. Benignus University communications director Jeff Cody has a stake in what soon becomes a heated national debate. But to his genius brother-in-law Sebastian McCabe, the contretemps soon becomes less important than investigating murder in the Ellicott family. 

And this time, solving the mystery doesn't put everything back in order exactly as it was before. Something's going to change in Erin.

As a side note, of the great joys I have had as a writer is dedicating books to friends and family. This one is for my friend Steven Doyle, BSI, who published my first piece of fiction in the 1980s in The Sherlock Holmes Review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Somewhere, There's a Place for You


Sherlockians like to say, in the words of the immortal Vincent Starrett sonnet, "It is always 1895." But that doesn't mean the calendar doesn't change. It does, and every year it's crammed with Holmes-related activities.

Seemingly dozens of aficionados of the Great Detective took part in a spirited discussion recently on Facebook about the growing cost of engaging in what many think of as their hobby (a term I never even heard applied to Holmes-mania until a few years ago). It's a sad reality of life that nobody has time and money to do everything.

But several participants pointed out that there are more ways to get involved in Sherlock Holmes now that ever before. That's certainly the way I see it. When I first began reading the Canon, probably about 55 years ago, I only knew one other Sherlockian - a boy only slightly older than me.

As Robert Katz pointed out, a look at www.sherlockiancalendar.com verifies the richness of possibilities out there. Just between now and the end of the month, it lists seven Sherlockian meetings and events from Nashville, TN, to Sydney, Australia, with contact information for each. Many are open to everyone and inexpensive.

Not being an early adapter, I only learned about the Sherlockian calendar in June from Evelyn Herzog. The calendar itself proclaims that it exists to serve:
  • those who are traveling and might like to connect with other Sherlockians;
  • those who are scheduling Sherlockian events to avoid conflict (although that is not always possible;
  • those who are just curious.
I'm thinking of it as a vacation planner!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What a Profile!

The latest edition to my little library
Sometimes even a non-collector likes to have more than one copy of a very special book. I put Profile by Gaslight in that category. I picked up my second at an antiques mall in Columbia, PA, during a recent vacation.  

Edited by Edgar W. Smith and subtitled An Irregular Reader About the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, this cornerstone book is a stellar collection of essays from the early days of Sherlockian scholarship. How early is indicated by the annotated bibliography, which runs a mere six pages -- including all the books of the Canon. That's just about all there was in those days.

The list of contributors to the volume is dazzling roll call of Sherlockian giants: Morley, Davis, Stout, Wolff, Woolcott, Sayers, Boucher, Starrett, Haycraft, Pratt, Bell . . . Even some of the individual articles and poems are justly famous, such as “Watson Was a Woman,” “That Was No Lady,” “221B,” and “Dr. Watson's Christian Name.”

The front carries a notice: “The characters in this book are real persons. Any resemblance to fictional characters, living or dead, is purely accidental.”  If this isn't the first Sherlockian book to make that claim, it is one of the first and far from the last.

The volume already sitting on my library shelves has a dust jacket, and my new acquisition doesn’t. But the new one is slightly larger in its physical dimensions and has something the other lacks – end papers featuring maps of the Sherlockian world by Dr. Julian Woolf. That probably means it was the original edition, and the other a cheaper reprint.

As another Wolfe, Nero, would say: “Most satisfactory.” 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Late, Great Sherlock Holmes Stories


"Welcome to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry."
It has long been held by some readers that later Sherlock Holmes stories show a decline in quality from the early days.  

 

In his memoirs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quoted a Cornish boatman who told him, “I think, sir, when Holmes fell over that cliff, he may not have killed himself, but all the same he was never quite the same man afterwards.

 

To quote Nero Wolfe: “Pfui!”

 

Five out of the nine volumes of the Canon were written in the Twentieth Century. The first of those five was The Hound of the Baskervilles, the greatest, the most famous, and the most filmed Holmes adventure of them all.

 

Let’s look at just a few other standout stories of the post-Reichenbach period: 

  • “The Adventure of the Empty House” – Holmes’s account of his wanderings during The Great Hiatus is a little suspect, but the tale has a great mystery and wonderful drama.
  • “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – surely this is a classic cipher story.
  • “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” – a detective story and a spy story in one, plus we learn that Mycroft occasionally is the British government.
  • “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” – what a villain and what a denoument!
  • “His Last Bow” – my personal favorite Sherlock Holmes story because of the ending.
  • The Valley of Fear – no less a critic than John Dickson Carr considered this the best Holmes novel, with a first-rate puzzle in the first half and a hard-boiled detective in the second.    

Of course there are some clinkers among the later stories, notably “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.” But there are some weak stories among the first two dozen as well. Think of “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk.”

 

Conan Doyle himself argued that “the last one is as good as the first.” The last Holmes story published in The Strand was “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.” It’s a good mystery, highly underrated, and ends the 60-story series on a high note.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Many Doctors of Sherlock Holmes

Dr. Marilynne McKay at the Indiana Medical History Museum

Is there a doctor in the house?

In the Canon, the answer is definitely “yes.” Each of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 Sherlock Holmes stories has at least one doctor, either as a major character or referred to and significant by his absence. His name, of course, is Watson.

But many of the other stories include doctors in major roles. You will find them as villains, victims, clients, colleagues, consultants, and suspects, for example. Marilynne McKay, MD, gave a delightful overview of some of the most important last Saturday to a packed audience of about 100 at the Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis.

All Sherlockians know that our hero was inspired by one of Conan Doyle’s medical-school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell. But I learned from Dr. McKay that Dr. Leon Sterndale may have been based on both Stanley and Livingston (as in “Dr. Livingston, I presume?).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of her talk was a discussion of social ranking of the various medical men in Victorian England. Surgeons learned their profession by apprenticeship and were called “Mr.” Apothecaries, also trained as apprentices, were the equivalent of today’s general practitioners. Only MDs were called “doctor,” but sometimes in the Canon they achieved the loftier title of “Professor” or “Sir.”

This stuff is so interesting it should be in a book – and it is: Nerve and Knowledge: Doctors, Medicine andthe Sherlockian Canon, published by the Baker Street Irregulars. Marilynne McKay wrote one of the chapters, which covers some of the same ground as her Saturday lecture.  Co-editors, Andrew L. Solberg, also spoke Saturday, giving an overview of the book.


“Nerve and Knowledge: Two Lectures on Doctors, Medicine, and Sherlock Holmes” was sponsored by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the Baker Street Irregulars (both speakers are members), and the Indiana Medical History Museum. Now that’s what I call great synergy. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A New 'Vatican Cameos'


As far we know, Sherlock Holmes worked for only one client twice (other than Lestrade, Gregson, and colleagues). That truly illustrious client was His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.

Both of these Vatican cases are alluded to by Watson, but never recorded – the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca (mentioned in “The Adventure of Black Peter”) and the matter of the Vatican cameos (referenced in The Hound of the Baskervilles).

As a member of a group of Catholic Sherlockians called the Vatican Cameos, I have a special interest in the latter case. I even wrote a short story called “TheAdventure of the Vatican Cameos.” It was a modern-day story about Jeff Cody and Lynda Teal’s honeymoon in Rome. I think it’s my best short story. 

The leader of the Vatican Cameos, Ann Margaret Lewis, wrote about both cases and the adventure of the two Coptic patriarchs in her wonderful collection of three novellas, Murder in the Vatican: TheChurch Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.

The latest writer to tackle the cameos business is Richard T. Ryan in The Vatican Cameos. It’s an excellent pastiche-length novel, very much in the spirit of the original Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  

Holmes’s task in 1901 is to recover seven stolen cameos crafted 400 years earlier by Michelangelo and being used to extort political concessions from Leo XIII. This is not so much a “whodunit” as “how do we outwit him” story. Holmes faced similar situations in his Canonical career, notably in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” and in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.”

The real mystery for the reader is the nature of the cameos. Why could these old artworks hurt the papacy if they came to light? We learn the answer slowly through third-person chapters interspersed with Watson’s accounts, an effective technique for maintaining suspense.

Much of the Renaissance material is based on fact, even when it isn’t pretty fact. The cast of characters includes Pope Alexander VI and his infamous daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, but Michelangelo is the protagonist. This window on the past will remind Sherlockians of the second halves of A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, also presented in the third person.

Whether the time is 1901 or 1501, Richard T. Ryan keeps the game afoot in a way that should entertain and satisfy the most demanding Sherlockian pastiche reader.

The Vatican Cameos: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure is available for pre order from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Good Old Invaluable Index!


“Good old index. You can’t beat it.”– Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”

I agree with Holmes!

One of the delights of having a personal library, even a modest one like mine, is occasionally rediscovering a forgotten treasure. William D. Goodrich’s Good Old Index was just that for me.

For some forgotten reason I have two editions, the original from 1987 and The New Good Old Index from 1994. Both were published by Gasogene Press, then based in Dubuque. I keep the second one near my computer, where I know that I will refer to it often in the coming years.

The original “good old index” Sherlock Holmes’s giant book of clippings about all sorts of people, crimes, and phenomenon. His collection of M’s was a fine one, you will recall!  

Goodrich’s Index is a kind of Concordance to the Holmes Canon. Almost any topic you can think of shows up within its 602 pages, along with the story in which it appears and the page of its first reference in the most common edition the Canon, the Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes.

This is pure gold for a Sherlockian writing a scholarly article or a pastiche. For example, I have recently consulted the Index to find which Canonical stories mention South African gold shares, secret societies, Sussex, Australia, South Africa, fog, fishing, the devil, ciphers and codes, Canada, wills, public houses, and commonplace books. And they were all there!


Lately I’ve been looking to trim my library, but this book is a keeper in both editions. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Big Book and a Great Book


I like Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories so much I bought it twice.

The first copy was in paper, a very large book that fully justifies the title – 6 7/8 inches by 9 inches in size, and 789 pages long to accommodate a mammoth 83 stories. The printing is in double columns and the type is necessarily small.

In fact, the type too small for my aging eyes, so I bought the Kindle edition as well. I don’t regret having the physical book, though, because it’s a wonderful volume to page through. And it looks so nice on my shelves.

Of course, size isn’t everything. It’s the scope and quality that makes this book valuable. It includes parodies and pastiches from the earliest days of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon to Neil Gaiman’s 2011 classic “The Case of Death and Honey.” 

Just to drop names, a few of the writers represented here are Leslie S. Klinger, Laurie R. King, Lyndsay Faye, Daniel Stashower, Anthony Boucher, Poul Anderson, Loren D. Estleman, P. G. Wodehouse, Dorothy B. Hughes, Kingsley Amis, David Stuart Davies, Robert L. Fish, Anne Perry, Stephen King, Colin Dexter, A. A. Milne, James M. Barrie, and O. Henry.

The book is divided into a number of categories. I’m particularly attracted to the category called “Holmesless.” These are neither parodies nor pastiches, but stories that in some way are inspired by the Canon. Holmes doesn’t actually appear in them, but his specter haunts them.

My favorite of these is “The Final Problem” by the great Sherlockian Bliss Austin. Written as an entry for an Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine contest, the characters include two real-life judges of the contest – Christopher Morley and Howard Haycraft – plus the fictional character Ellery Queen. And Queen is murdered!

The story won a special prize in the contest.

The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories should win a special prize for not only collecting the most Sherlock Holmes and Holmes-related stories in one volume, but some of the best. 

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.