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, July 3, 2015

An Early Independence Day Reflection

Sherlock Holmes among the American in "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"

On the 4th of July, Independence Day in the United States, we celebrate our national separation from England – but not from the English. There is and always will be what politicians like to call a “special relationship” between our two countries.

Sherlockians and mystery readers in general should be especially grateful for this.

An American, Edgar Allen Poe, invented the detective story. Without Poe, there never would have been a Sherlock Holmes. But without the quintessentially Sherlock Holmes, the detective story wouldn’t be what it is today. Arthur Conan Doyle took Poe’s brilliant formula and brought it to life with two immortal characters, the sleuth and his Bowell. He has influenced all of his successors, in one way or another.

From the beginning, A Study in Scarlet, the Canon was peopled with Americans. And Americans have been some of the greatest devotees of the Master. Such Yankees as Christopher Morley, Vincent Starrett, Edgar W. Smith, and Julian Wolff helped keep green the memory from the early days of the Sherlockian era.

No wonder that Sherlock Holmes could say in “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor:”  

 “It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being someday citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

The logo of the Diogenes Club of Washington, D.C., a scion society for Americans who have served their country in government or the military, includes just such a quartering.

Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Different View of 1895

Matt Laffey's 1895 sticker

Most Sherlockians have an almost mystical attachment to the year 1895. This comes not so much from the Sherlock Holmes stories themselves – only a comparative few of which take place in 1895 – as from the great Vincent Starrett’s famous sonnetof that name. Many scion societies end their meetings with a ritual recitation of the poem.

Personally, I’ve always preferred Starrett’s prose formulation of the same sentiment, which appears at the end of the title essay in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes:

 But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson . . . Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there this moment, as one writes? . . . Outside, the hansoms rattle through the rain and Moriarty plans his latest deviltry. Within, the sea coal flames upon the hearth and Holmes and Watson take their well-won ease. So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895.

I used this quote at the beginning of my novel, The 1895 Murder. Arguing taste is futile, however, so I do not insist on my preference for this particular version of the assurance that “it is always 1895.”  

Recently, though, I encountered another poem about 1895 that I thought worthy of bringing to your attention, with the permission of Steven Doyle, publisher of The Baker Street Journal. It appeared in the December 1976 issue of the BSJ. While not quite as evocative – or compact! – as the Starrett classic, and not as Holmes-centric, it nicely depicts the broader world outside of 221B Baker Street in that fabled year.

A London Reverie, 1895 by Edgar S. Rosenberger

The gas lamps throw a mellow light upon the pavement, and
The tide of mankind ebbs and flows in Fleet Street and the Strand.
The hansoms and four-wheelers and the buses all compete
To hasten their appointed rounds upon the busy street.

How comforting to contemplate those fascinating names:
Westminster and Belgravia, and Chelsea and St. James;
Bayswater and South Kensington, Whitechapel and Soho,
And Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Hammersmith, Limehouse and Pimlico.

Delightful to the ear are London’s streets and avenues:
Great Portland Street, High Holborn, Ludgate Hill, and Chilworth Mews;
Haymarket, Piccadilly, Birdcage Walk, and London Wall.
The ghosts and bygone centuries pervade and haunt them all.

The high-born and their ladies show themselves in Rotten Row.
It’s really quite the thing for recognition, dontcha know.
Attend the Royal Ascot, and you’re really on your way –
And if the Queen invites you to her party – well, I say!

In Stepney and in Bethnal Green, in Shoreditch and St. Giles,
The hovels of the London poor sprawl out for dreary miles.
The navvy and the hostler and roadmender never fail
To step into the corner pub and down a pint of ale.

The nannies and their charges seek the balmy springtime air,
In Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath, and even Berkeley Square.
The organ grinder’s monkey gathers pennies where he can,
And meets stiff competition from the hokey-pokey man.

The never-ending trains chug in and out of Waterloo,
And Paddington, Victoria, King’s Cross and Euston, too.
Majestically and splendidly St. Paul’s Cathedral stands,
And overlooks an Empire and its distant, far-flung lands.

The years roll by, and few remain who knew the distant day.
Well loved and well remembered, it must sadly pass away.
The fog descends on Baker Street; then let us turn the page,
And learn again of Sherlock Holmes, the spirit of an age!

Amazingly, all issues of the BSJ from its inception in 1946 through 2011 are available on one DVD in PDF format.

Friday, June 26, 2015

"The Play's the Thing" for Sherlock Holmes

"Adventure of the Copper Beaches"

There have been Sherlock Holmes plays almost as long as there has been Sherlock Holmes.

William Gillette’s eponymous 1899 melodrama wasn’t even the first. Two largely forgotten plays featuring Holmes appeared in 1893. And Conan Doyle himself the detective on the boards twice – in The Stonor Case (AKA The Speckled Band) and in The Crown Diamond: An Evening with Sherlock Holmes.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen at least five Sherlock Holmes plays. Two of them, with different scripts, were highly creative adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The others drew heavily on “The Final Problem,” “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and the Gillette classic. That’s true of most Holmes plays I’ve seen (Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club excepted).

I’m ready for something different. How about a play based on one of the great stories that has been overlooked by the playwrights. I suggest:

  •          “The Adventure of the Copper Beaches.” It’s a wonderfully Gothic tale featuring a creepy house in the country, a damsel (actually two damsels) in distress, a grinning villain, a psychotic child, and a vicious dog. The atmospherics could be great.

  •            “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.” My third Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mystery, The 1895 Murder, revolves around a play called 1895 which is based on this story. Highlights include the presence of Mycroft, a burglary by Holmes and Watson, and Holmes tackling spies. It’s also a nifty mystery.

  •          “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.” This one has another outstanding bad guy, some drama over Holmes being attacked, a nice assignment for Watson, two memorable minor characters (Kitty Winter and Shinwell Johnson), and a vitriol-throwing finale that no reader can soon forget.

Which of these stories would you like to see adapted as a play? What other stories of the original 60 do you think might work better? Remember – for a drama, the story needs to be dramatic. It also should be one capable of expanding beyond the narrow limits of the short story. I’d love to get your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Strand - More than Sherlock Holmes!

Sherlock Holmes and The Strand Magazine had something of a symbiotic relationship.

The great detective’s fame and popularity began not with the first two novels but with the short stories that began running in The Strand during the magazine’s  inaugural year of publication. So if it hadn’t been for the magazine, Holmes may have been a footnote in detective story history.

But if it hadn’t been for Holmes, The Strand may have never achieved such great success in 1891. Arthur Conan Doyle conceived, and editor H. Greenhough Smith accepted, the innovative notion of a series of stories featuring continuing characters but complete in each issue. The idea was a winner.

It’s always been hard for me, therefore, to remember that The Strand was – and is – more than just Sherlock Holmes. Detective Stories from the Strand Magazine may have changed that. I picked up the book recently a library sale. What a happy purchase!

Not only are the stories great, but they represent the work of some of top talents in both detective fiction and wider literature – G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, A.E.W. Mason, E.C. Bentley, Somerset Maugham, Sapper, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Wallace, and Quentin Reynolds to name a few.

The tales are conveniently divided into categories, such as “The Great Detectives,” “Legal Niceties,” “The Twist,” “Rogues, Knaves, and Fortune-Hunters,” and “Mostly Murder.” The sixth section, appropriately called “The Master,” includes three Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and an excellent pastiche by Ronald A. Knox.

The ACD stories are interesting because the editor, Jack Adrian, deliberately shied away from the more familiar and frequently anthologized adventures of the Master. Instead he included “Charles Augustus Milverton,” “The Creeping Man,” and “The Lion’s Mane.”

At the time this book was published in 1991, The Strand was dead. Happily, like Sherlock Holmes, it came back to life. That’s interesting story in itself.