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.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sherlock Holmes of the 87th Precinct

Meyer Meyer criticizes fellow detective Bert Kling for reading a book on the job instead of working.

“I am working,” Kling protests. “These are stories of the deductive method.”

“The what?”

“Of detection. Haven’t you ever heard of Sherlock Holmes?”

“Everybody’s heard of Sherlock Holmes,” another detective interjects.

So it goes in an early chapter of Ed McBain’s The Heckler, the 12th book in his 87th Precinct police procedural series. Written in 1960, it’s also the first novel to feature McBain’s “Moriarty,” a methodical criminal known only as “the deaf man.”

Later, the deaf man pulls a ploy straight out of the pages of “The Red-Headed League,” which is mentioned by name, when he places an ad for redheads to model women’s dresses. “No experience necessary.”

The Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street is far removed from McBain’s fictional big city Isola in the twentieth. And yet, the influence of the Great Detective is obvious even there.

Fifteen years later, McBain (legal name Evan Hunter) would write a tongue-in-cheek introduction to A Study in Scarlet in which he defended Scotland Yard and argued that Holmes should have been arrested for bribing Constable Rance.

But Holmes foiled Moriarty. It was a patrolman, not the 87th Precinct detectives who are the collective heroes of McBain’s series, that defeated the deaf man.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Sherlock, Yes: Sherlockians, Not So Much

Julian Symons, the late mystery writer and critic, understood Sherlock Holmes – but not Sherlockians.

Last week in these precincts we looked at my recent re-reading of his novel, A Three-Pipe Problem. Insightful comments in response from Bob Katz had me running to Symons’ 1972 historical-critical book Mortal Consequences.

In this history of crime fiction, subtitled “From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel,” Symons inevitably devotes a chapter to the Great Detective of Baker Street. The acid that often flowed out of the Symons pen is nowhere in evidence as he displays an undiluted and apologetic admiration of Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes triumphs as a character from the moment we meet him,” he writes. Conan Doyle doesn’t just tell us that Holmes is superior, Symons says – he shows it again and again.

Symons defends the Holmes stories from the criticism by fellow mystery historian Howard Haycraft (a member of the Baker Street Irregulars!) that the Holmes stories are “all too frequently loose, obvious, imitative, trite, and repetitious in device and theme.” Symons pushes back that “some of Haycraft’s objections are wrong and others are of little importance.”

He lauds Conan Doyle (correctly, in my view), as “a fine story teller.” And therein lies his rub, apparently, with Sherlockians. In a section called “The Myth of Sherlock Holmes,” he writes that he has an uneasy feeling that members of Sherlockian societies “are more interested in having fun with Sherlock Holmes than in the merits of the stories.”

This seems to me a snobbish objection. Perhaps, though, it is not a surprising one from a writer who brands Conan Doyle a “Victorian philistine.” Certainly, Sherlockians have fun with Sherlock Holmes! We do so in many ways. Some of us even enjoy the essays that Symons smugly considers “high among the most tedious pieces of their kind ever written.”

Surely tediousness, like beauty, is in the eye (or mind) of the beholder.

Disagreements about that aside, probably none of us who wear the Sherlockian label would quarrel with Symons’s chapter-closing comment, still true 46 years later: “that if one were choosing the best twenty short detective stories ever written, at least half a dozen of them would be about Sherlock Holmes.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Man Who Would Be Holmes

Rex Stout, the great mystery writer – and Sherlockian – once estimated that about a third of all his reading was books he’d read before. I can’t say the same, but I do enjoy revisiting old friends from time to time.

Not long ago, for example, I picked up a copy of the Julian Symons novel A Three-Pipe Problem, which I remembered enjoying when I read it in paperback back in the 1980s. And I enjoyed it all over again.

Anyone more than casually familiar with Sherlock Holmes will recognize the title’s reference to the Holmes quote “It is quite a three-pipe problem” from “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League.” But this isn’t a pastiche. It’s a 20th century mystery about a television actor named Sheridan Haynes who lives on Baker Street and plays Holmes on television. When chance puts real-life murders in his path, how can he not don the deerstalker?

With the help of his own Irregulars, and the hindrance of Scotland Yard, “Sheri” takes on the case – all the while insisting (to general disbelief) that he hasn’t confused fact and fiction. The solution is surprising and satisfying. And even better, I didn’t remember it!

I must say it proceeds at a rather leisurely pace, which may not be for everyone. 

Haynes appeared again in The Kentish Manor Murders, which I’ve not read.

Symons was a well-known British mystery critic, as well as a practitioner of the craft. His books of interest to Sherlockians include Great Detectives, Conan Doyle: Portrait of an Artist, and Mortal Consequences: A History from the Detective Story to the Crime Novel.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Class in Session: 221B in Tennessee

In Shannon Carlisle’s classroom at Moore Elementary School in Franklin, TN, it is always 1895.

Shannon, the accelerated learning teacher, has turned her classroom into 221B. Ann and I visited recently and were bowled over her methods of using Holmes to incorporate critical thinking into both language arts and math lessons for fourth graders.

From the front door on, it’s obvious that something special is going on in Shannon’s 221B. Visual reminders are all over the place.

There is even a delightful Sherlock Holmes Museum housed in a former cloakroom. 

And in this room, there no doubt as to what constitutes a Sherlockian. One of the dozens of signs posted proclaims:

If you are a “true” Sherlockian, you believe:
  • ·         Sherlock Holmes is still alive, is retired from consulting detective work (for the most part) and living in South Downs, Sussex.
  • ·         Dr. John H. Watson wrote the Canon (the 4 novels and 56 short stories) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was his literary agent  

Not surprisingly, the Beacon Society presented Shannon with the Beacon Award in 2013 for her work in introducing Sherlock Holmes to young people. She directs the Society’s one-year-old Junior Sherlockian Society -- check out its fabulous website! And last year she was invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars.

We were delighted to come and see this wonderful classroom for two fast-moving hours, but there was almost too much to observe!

Friday, August 24, 2018

A Note from Portugal

It’s always good to hear from Nuno Robles, my one-man fan club in Lisbon, Portugal. Here’s his take on my Sherlock Holmes novel:  

Dear Dan,

It's 2.23 a.m. here and I just finished reading House of the Doomed. What an amazing achievement! I’ve read hundreds of Holmes post-ACD books and your book is really special. You bring back beautifully the Holmes and Watson of Conan Doyle. The dialogues, the cozy feeling, the description of a typical English environment, great English (and American, of course) characters and a great, unexpected story with an even more unexpected ending. You put me there, at ACD’s Victorian England and vintage Holmes...and that’s a great feeling.

I also enjoyed the references to some of the Canon’s best stories and characters (your portrait of Baynes is a masterpiece...a masterpiece indeed...). I loved it, and also the references to ACD, with Norwood, spiritualism, and much more. Congratulations, my friend! You’re in the best of your writing and creative powers. My favourite dialogue? “I'm a doctor, not a writer!” “One could be both.” Indeed. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Holmes Away from Home, Southern Edition

The Nashville Scholars meet and eat

There could never be a Stranger’s Room for a Sherlock Holmes scion society – because there are no strangers among Sherlockians.

A case in point: Members of the Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem warmly welcomed Ann and me to their monthly meeting last Saturday. We much enjoyed their southern Sherlockian hospitality, although we knew only a few members (other than via Facebook).

We met for lunch at the Corky’s Barbeque in Brentwood, TN. Instead of puzzling over a quiz and discussing a story, we had convivial conversation, show and tell, and a paper.

Dr. Marino Alvarez spoke about the Silver Blaze Weekend at Saratoga Race Track in New York, and the talk he gave there. Jim Hawkins reported on the successful “Holmes in the Heartland” conference put on earlier in the month by the Parrallel Case of St. Louis. Tom Vickstrom read a paper discussing means of travel in the Canon, summarizing chapters in Mobile Holmes, edited by Walter Jaffe and published by the Baker Street Irregulars.

If you ever have a chance to experience Holmes away from home, don’t hesitate. You’ll fit right in.

(Coming next to this blog: a report on a primary-school classroom in Tennessee called “221B.” This introduction to Sherlock Holmes is elementary, but not dumbed down.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Who's Your Holmes?

Illustrious Clients watch "Mr. Holmes." Steve Doyle photo 
We watched several great actors playing Sherlock Holmes at the annual Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis film festival in Zionsville, IN, on Saturday. I enjoyed them all.

Douglas Wilmer, as Holmes, solved the case of “The Speckled Band” in a 1964 BBC adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle short story. This was a kind of pilot for the series that launched the following year. Wilmer and Nigel Stock, as Dr. Watson, are both excellent here, as are the rest of the cast. The faithful script expands on the original story without doing it any serious harm.

The program was videotaped in black and white, leaving something to be desired in production values. But all and all it, was a great effort.

Twenty years later came Jeremy Brett and David Burke in the great Granada series. The offering on Saturday was “The Red Headed League” from 1985. Brett gives his usual unique and energetic interpretation of the Great Detective, and Burke (like Stock) is a Watson we can recognize from the Canon.

This time the story gets a twist: Moriarty is the genius behind the Red Headed League, as some Holmes scholars posited long ago. This was a set-up for the last episode of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” the next week: “The Final Problem.”

The penultimate showing of the day (before the forgettable silent movie with Detective Hawkshaw) was the feature film Mr. Holmes (2015). I had previously avoided this movie, partly because I didn’t care for Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind (2005), on which it is based. That was a mistake – this is a really great motion picture.

Ian McKellen flawlessly plays a 93-year-old Holmes keeping bees on the Sussex Downs in the late 1940s. Much of the film is told in flashbacks on two tracks – to his last case 20 years previously, and to his more recent trip to Japan. Holmes is trying to recover his failing memory, and it comes back only slowly. In the end it all fits together wonderfully, including what appears to be a toss-off line in a train at the beginning of the film.

Mr. Holmes is beautifully written, beautifully acted, and beautifully filmed.

I’ve often said I think there are a lot of good portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, but not so many good Holmes movies or TV shows. On Saturday, I saw three of them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Arthur Conan Doyle, In Fact and Fiction

Margalit Fox’s new and well-publicized Conan Doyle for the Defense has put the creator of Sherlock Holmes in the spotlight once again. But, really, he has never been out of it.

This larger-than-life character has been the subject of dozens of books, both factual and fictional. I recently enjoyed one of each, neither of them new.

Mark Frost’s The List of 7 (1993) is an exciting thriller in which young Arthur Conan Doyle gets involved with well-placed occultists, a beautiful woman, and Queen Victoria herself. The book is packed with Sherlockian Easter eggs – characters and incidents that later become part of the Holmes saga, including a pair of brothers who suggest Holmes and Moriarty.  

Daniel Stashower’s Teller of Tales (1999) is perhaps the most readable biography of ACD, sympathetic to the subject but by no means sycophantic. Although Stashower explores the entire breadth of Conan Doyle’s extraordinary life, he devotes much attention to the conviction that eventually earned Conan Doyle some praise and much scorn as the “St. Paul of Spiritualism.”

As a young man, Stashower reports, Conan Doyle declared: “Never will I accept anything which cannot be proved to me. The evils of religion have all come from accepting things which cannot be proved.” Thus, when he investigated spiritualism – a phase that lasted for decades – he looked for proof. Once he was convinced, however, belief was enough.

“Years earlier he had lost has Catholic faith, but the need for faith remained,” Stashower says in a chapter called “Is Conan Doyle Mad?” near the end of the book. “At last, be believed.”

Once Conan Doyle believed in a principle or a person, he was unshakeable. That’s highly admirable. But at times he must have been very difficult to deal with!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Delightful Sherlockian Surprise

If you have friends who share your interests, and they are very generous, something interesting may show up in your mail. This happens to me with some regularity.

A few days ago, in the latest example, a large package landed on our front porch. Inside was a gift from our friend Felicia Carparelli of Chiago, who is almost exactly my age. Inside was a note saying that she was downsizing and wanted me to have the enclosed.

As you can see above, what was enclosed is a handsomely framed, limited-issue envelope saluting both Sherlock Holmes and the late Jeremy Brett, who epitomized Holmes for so many TV viewers. It now hangs proudly on our living room wall beneath a trio of busts – Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty.

Felicia is a Sherlockian, and the author of Murder in the Library. Her late mother gave her this memento as a gift, knowing of her interest. She passed it on to me for the same reason. We have been friends for some years, although we have only met in person twice – so far. It is no coincidence that the protagonist of my mystery series, Sebastian McCabe, shares her birth date.

Grazie, bella amica!

The package happened arrive just as I was reading Michael Cox’s A Study in Celluloid, which is subtitled A Producer’s Account of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. It’s a fascinating inside story, exploring some of the practical challenges (think: money) and artistic decisions faced in bringing a classic to life on the small screen.

Cox is remarkably objective as he talks about what worked and what, in retrospect, didn’t. Perhaps equally remarkable, he displays a true devotee’s knowledge of the Canon throughout the book. Originally published in England, the volume is now available from Wessex Press and well worth reading for anyone who enjoyed the Granada series.

Ann Andriacco, Felicia Carparelli, and Dan Andriacco in 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Giant Passes Beyond the Reichenbach

As Roger Johnson reminded us recently on the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast, the Sherlock Holmes community is as much about friendship as it is about scholarship. Yesterday I drank a manhattan in honor of our great Sherlockian friend R. Joel Senter, who crossed the Reichenbach that morning. And I drank it in a Sherlock Holmes glass that Joe and his dear wife, Carolyn, gave me.

(Technically, the drink was an Annhattan, as Joe and Carolyn dubbed Ann Brauer Andriacco’s version of that classic cocktail. The ingredients are the same; it’s the artistry that’s different.)

Joe passed away peacefully with Carolyn holding his hand.  

Ann and I and our friend Steve Winter, also a Sherlockian, studied psychology with Joe at the University of Cincinnati in the 1970s. Since we were in a class of roughly 800 students, it would be a fib to say we knew him well. We could barely see him! We did come to know him well the following decade, however, as a fellow member of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati.

Far beyond Cincinnati, Joe and Carolyn are well known to Sherlockians around the country and Holmesians around the globe as the former proprietors of the Classic Specialties online business and the Sherlockian E-Times. Joe produced the E-Times until his energies flagged a few months ago.

Ann and I are blessed to have numerous other memories of the Senters, however. We vacationed together, watched election returns together, celebrated Halloween together, and for several years even went to Easter Vigil Mass together although they are not of our faith.

Joe and I also played chess together. I think he gave up the game when I sort of beat him, even though I am the world’s worst chess layer. We started an online Sherlockian society called “The Scheming Minds of Sherlock Holmes” because Holmes called adeptness at chess the mark of a scheming mind (RETI). I have a T-shirt and a sweatshirt to prove it.

I am forever indebted to Joe for helping me to become a published mystery novelist. He told me about MX Publishing, which is still the publisher of most of my books. He and Carolyn also helped me brainstorm the book that eventually became The Amateur Executioner, which I wrote with Kieran McMullen.

These are all happy memories, and fun to write about at this point while I am still numb from the shock of Joe’s passing.

Good-bye, Joe. And thanks for everything.

Joe, Dan, and Carolyn