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.

Monday, July 1, 2024

Sherlockians on the Turf in Chicago

Sherlockians "on track" after the 65th running of the Silver Blaze racea
Saturday saw the 65th running of the Chicago “Silver Blaze” race, now jointly sponsored by the Torists International and the Watsonians, two scion societies of the Baker Street Irregulars. It’s the longest running such race in the country. And no trainers were killed in the process.

Race day details at Hawthorne Race Court were flawlessly presided over by Phil Cunningham of the Watsonians, ably assisted by his wife Loraine. The crowd included a healthy contingent of Illustrious Clients from Indianapolis, who designated the event as their annual field trip. The Silver Blaze race was the third of the day. Whichever horse won, neither Ann nor I bet on him.

Weekend festivities for Sherlockians gathered in Chicagoland began the night before with an informal cocktail hour gathering at a Marriott hotel, followed by a dinner meeting of the Torists International at Palermo’s of 63rd, where the food and hospitality were top-notch. Co-Chief Stewards of the Torists, Linda Crohn and Jon Shimberg, had everything incredibly well organized.

Dinner speaker Monica Schmidt put John Straker on the metaphorical couch with her talk on “A Horse of a Different Color: The Double Life of John Straker.” I was honored to be one of three Sherlockians offering toasts, along with Louise Haskett (to Mrs. Straker) and Dino Argyropoulos (to Silver Blaze).

My toast was to “The Dog in the Night-Time,” and here it is:

What did the dog in “Silver Blaze” do to warrant fame? Absolutely nothing! And yet allusions to this inactive canine are to be found in legal writings, crime fiction, and popular culture.

That master researcher Ira Matetsky reports well over a hundred U.S. court decisions mentioning “Silver Blaze” or a metaphorical non-barking dog—a number that continues to grow each year.

And as early as 1928, in his “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories,” S.S. Van Dine listed among the clichés to be avoided, “The dog that doesn’t bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar.”

Fast forward 66 years to a cartoon published on January 28, 1994. Charlie Brown is reading aloud to Snoopy from “Silver Blaze.” After he hears, “the dog did nothing in the night-time,” Snoopy thinks to himself, “My favorite part.”

Five generations of Sherlockians have agreed—it’s our favorite part, too. So let us raise our glasses to that idle, unnamed, and yet renowned dog who did nothing in the night-time.

The Torists meeting concluded with Ann Lewis singing “221B” to a tune of her own composition. It was beautiful, and incredibly moving—one of many highlights of a five-star weekend.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Pleasure of Re-Reading

However, you define great literature, one its hallmarks is re-readability.

I recently re-read the first (1927) and the last (1958) of the Freddy the Pig books, a series about which I’ve written on this blog before. Those tales of the Bean Farm’s talking animals may not be literature as snobs define it, but they are wonderful. It was interesting to see how consistent the books are—and how much I still enjoy them.

Rex Stout once said about a third of his reading was re-reading. I can’t say that, but I do enjoy re-reading favorite books. And yet, that can change.

I still enjoy Stout’s Nero Wolfe books. Ditto Ellery Queen (even when I see their flaws) and Agatha Christie. I blush to admit that I re-read two of my own mystery novels recently and read favorite passages out loud to my long-suffering wife. On the other hand, I find that I have lost my taste for John Dickson Carr.

In the field of detective fiction—if you consider it fiction—surely the most re-readable body of works is the four novels and 56 short stories of the Sherlock Holmes Canon. I’ve been reading them for 60 years, and each time is a delight. For me, that’s the one fixed point in a changing age.    

More on Freddy the Pig:





Thursday, March 28, 2024

Holmes, Doyle, & Fun in Dayton

Fun and Affordable -- that the annual Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Conference in Dayton, which was held last Saturday, March 23. I'm still basking in the afterglow.

The "Dayton Symposium," as it is often called, has been held under various names, in various places, and under various sponsorships since 1981, making it the granddaddy of all Sherlockian conferences that is still going strong. The Agra Treasurers of Dayton have been the sponsors since it became Holmes, Doyle, & Friends a decade ago. 

Full disclosure: I'm the Programme Chairman, which means that I get to round up the eight speakers. It's a fun job. The speakers are the heart of the conference, although the vendors are almost just as important. Each speaker gets 20 minutes to speak and 10 to answer questions. The day really moves along.

There's a bit of a family feeling as well because some of the participants have been coming from far-flung parts of the United States for years. As a surprise this time, we celebrated Chicago Sherlockian  Bob Sharfman's 88th birthday with a cake during the afternoon break.

If you've never been to a Sherlockian conference, HD&F is a great place to start. And if you're already on the circuit, Dayton should be one of your stops. The 2025 conference will be held sometime next March. Stay tuned! 

Bob Sharfman and Ann Lewis with Bob's cake

Monday, March 4, 2024

A Screwball Mystery with a Sherlockian Angle

The Hounds of the Hollywood Baskervilles, by Elizabeth Crowns, is a mystery novel set during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Struggling young private detectives Babs Norman and Guy Brandt are trying to keep their business alive by unmasking the force behind the dognapping of Asta from the Thin Man movies and Basil Rathbone’s cocker spaniel, among other canines.

Hijinks ensue, not the least of which is the embarrassment that follows “Sherlock Holmes” losing his dog. For good reason the book has been compared to Hollywood screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s. We put the author under the magnifying glass to learn more. 

Q. This book is much different from your Time Traver Professor trilogy. What prompted you to go in that direction?

Boy, oh boy is it different! That’s saying it mildly. Obviously, while having Arthur Conan Doyle as one of the featured characters in the Time Travel Professor series and, by the way, there will be one more book before that adventure is complete, I read not only about him and what he wrote in the Sherlockian Canon, but many of his other books like The Lost World, obvious from the most recent book in that series, A War in Too Many Worlds. So much of it is a mashup between that and H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau. Those books, however, are in the “alternate history” genre which is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy.

I’ve been veering away from that direction and into good old-fashioned traditional historical mysteries and started with contemporaries or inspirations for Doyle, like Poe and Agatha Christie, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to divorce myself from the humor. My agent and I got into a debate when it came time to pitch this project to publishers. She wanted to label my novel as a cozy, and I disagreed. Usually when I describe a cozy mystery to someone unfamiliar with the term, I say, “Think of Murder She Wrote.” Cozies might have dead bodies or other crimes, but there never is a lot of blood or violence and no graphic sex. It’s always implied or behind closed doors.

When I think of a cozy, it has an amateur sleuth. It takes place in a quaint small town. It’s a Hallmark mystery with someone who owns a bakery or works as a librarian. It’s usually a female who is dating the town’s sheriff, and she has a “talking” cat or dog. Yes, I know I’m exaggerating about the talking pet, but there are quite a few cozies where someone might have a magical or psychic cat—but not in my books. As Sherlock Holmes would say in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, “…no ghosts need apply,” but there are authors who do that, and some do the paranormal element well. I have a hero dog in my book, but he’s more like a self-taught search and rescue dog and smarter than the actual K-9 on the police force.

Hounds of the Hollywood Baskervilles falls into the subgenre of soft-boiled crime, versus hardboiled noir, because it involves two professional private eyes in the large city of Los Angeles. They might be young and inexperienced and sometimes make blunders, but they have legit licenses and this is the way they make their living. In noir, everyone seems bad-to-the-bone with a bleak ending. Hounds has a feel-good ending, and many of the characters will prove themselves worthy of redemption.

Q. Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, William Powell, and Myrna Loy are among the major characters in this book, with Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart in minor roles. Dashiel Hammett and Lillian Hellman also appear. How long did you spend researching the people and the era of this book before you began writing?

I laugh when I’m asked to do an author interview and one of the questions is: “Do you have a hobby, or what do you do in your spare time?” Who has spare time? Writing historical fiction, which I can’t seem to tear myself away from, takes an enormous amount of research. The name I go by in my ASH investiture is A Collector of Obscure Volumes from The Adventure of the Empty House. As you can imagine, I own a crazy library collection beyond Doyle. Besides a lot of nonfiction and biographies, I try to read a lot of fiction written in the time period that my novel is in and, of course, I watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies. A little less than two years ago, I won a trivia contest at a prominent mystery convention. Apparently, I was the only one in the entire room who had read the book version of The Thin Man and knew a specific thing different in the book than from the movie. I’d tell you, but if you read my book you’ll find out.

Q. Which came first—the plot or the research? In other words, how much of the storyline emerged from immersing yourself in that time and place?

The answer to that question will surprise you. Obviously, in writing my alternate history series with Doyle, I had to read the Canon over and over. Besides A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes meets Watson for the first time, the other stand-out story for me has always been The Hounds of the Baskervilles. It was also the first of the fourteen Rathbone-Bruce films. What’s ironic is that both Rathbone and Doyle had something in common—they hated being typecast. Doyle wanted to kill off Holmes and write other things. Rathbone wanted to return to theater and Shakespeare.

But getting back to your question, my background is in film production and film history. One of my best friends, who sadly is no longer with us, used to be an actress in Hollywood during the forties. She gave me the legal rights to her life story, but the challenge of putting those adventures into print was she wasn’t famous. However, she was the type of person who always read mysteries and watched everything from Murder She Wrote on television to TCM to NCIS and Law & Order. If she wasn’t watching a mystery on television, she watched Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild, because she was a major animal lover. One day, the lightbulb went off in my head. I told her, “I figured out how to write your story. We’ll turn you into an actress-turned-PI and you will solve mysteries. How does that sound?” She loved that idea and gave me her blessing. She was my inspiration for Babs Norman who would solve celebrity cases. Who would be her first big client? That’s where my Holmes background came in. During the forties, Basil Rathbone was synonymous with Sherlock Holmes in Hollywood.

Q. From the title onward, there are a lot of Sherlockian references and Easter eggs in this book—such as characters named Jefferson Hope and Wiggins—as well as Canonical quotes. Is it fair to say this book owes a lot to our Baker Street hero?

Dan, you know the answer to that. But of course! Also to Basil Rathbone. As a kid, I grew up in Cincinnati just like you. Having only three network channels on an analog television set, my only exposure to Holmes was through the old Basil Rathbone films on Saturday afternoons or late at night. William Gillette? Who was he? I didn’t luck into Granada Television or Jeremy Brett until much later, and I had a lot of catching up to do.

Q. What’s next for the B. Norman Agency?

In the last chapter of Hounds, the reader discovers that one of the missing dogs belonged to Humphrey Bogart. He and one of my hero private detectives exchange banter and business cards. So now, I’ll let you play Sherlock Holmes. If Hounds takes place and solves the crime towards the end of 1940, in what famous movie does Humphrey Bogart star which is filmed and released in 1941? That’ll clue you in to what the next major crime novel is about. Now, I’ll keep my mouth shut and let you do the sleuthing.

Q. What question haven’t I asked that you want to answer?

You might run out of space. Just kidding. If you want updates, sign up for my free monthly newsletter at elizabethcrowens.com. Don’t worry, I won’t spam you. Who has time if you’re writing historical mysteries? Newsletter subscribers also get inspirational insights and free eBooks of Best of the Caption Contests based on a popular post I have on Facebook at facebook.com/thereel.elizabeth.crowens. If you send me a FB request, send me a private message to say you heard about me through Dan’s blog so I know you’re not a robot. You can also find me on Instagram.com/ElizabethCrowens and x.com/ECrowens.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

A Children Mystery Series Worth Revisiting

Encountering Christian Monggaard, a Danish Sherlockian, at Baker Street Irregulars Weekend in New York last month led me to renew my acquaintance with some old friends—the Three Investigators.

Christian’s essay on “Sherlock Holmes and the Three Investigators” in the Autumn 2021 issue of the Baker Street Journal explores the connection between this children’s mystery series and Sherlock Holmes. Suffice it to say that those connections were significant over the 43-year run of the original series, from 1964 to 1987.

I just happen to own the entire series, a gift of our daughter who picked them up at a flea market, and I read many of them when I was young. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up #11, The Mystery of the Talking Skull, the last book written by the series creator, Robert Arthur, Jr., and was soon back in the small town of Rocky Beach, California, with Jupiter Jones, his friends Bob and Pete, and the introducer of their early adventures—Alfred Hitchcock!

It was a delightful book, most of all for me because it involves a magician’s trunk. And the title of my next McCabe & Cody mystery novel is The Magician’s Trunk! Aside from that, the tale is full of twists and turns on its way to a surprising and satisfying solution.

Then I read series finale #43, The Mystery of Cranky Collector by M.V. Carey. I found it entertaining, but somehow lacking the spirit of the Robert Arthur book. The former was a better mystery with more interesting elements—a magician, a talking skull, the surprise ending. There were more ingredients in the soup, even though the number of words was slightly less.

 “The Robert Arthur books are the best,” Christian agreed. “He deliberately set out to make a series for kids that had a certain literary quality—at least compared with Stratemeyer’s Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.”

If you’ve never read the early Three Investigators mysteries, they are well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

One Year in the Editor's Chair: Reflections

Publisher Steven Doyle with Winter issue; cover by Ann Brauer Andriacco 
Whew! I’ve now completed a year as editor of the Baker Street Journal—four quarterly issues and the Christmas Annual. It continues to be an amazing honor to be the tenth editor in such a distinguished line from Edgar W. Smith to Steven Rothman. But what have I learned?

  • The writers have been a dream to deal with, even the ones whose submissions I had to edit significantly or not use at all.   
  • Comments from readers indicate they’ve noticed the variety of offerings in each issue, which has been one of my goals.
  • My often-stated observation that the BSJ is published by the Baker Street Irregulars but not just for the Baker Street Irregulars is demonstrably true: Many of the writers and readers are not BSIs. The Journal has always served the entire Sherlockian community.
  • The availability of good material has not been a problem. After all these years, there are still new things to say about Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Canon, and the world they created.
  • Being editor of the BSJ can be very time-consuming but is rewarding in equal measure.
  •  And even after a year, I still occasionally go to the always-helpful editor emeritus Steven Rothman for advice and information.

Of course, production of a quarterly publication is a team effort. Steven Doyle is publisher; Mike McSwiggin, associate editor; Rich Krisciunas, copy editor; Mark Gagan, art director; and Ann Lewis, subscription manager. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Holmes, Doyle, & Friends: Sherlocking in Spring

In a fairly busy Sherlockian life, one of the things I'm happy to make time for is organizing speakers for the annual Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference in Dayton, OH, each spring. This year's event, the ninth such under that name -- although the "Dayton Symposium" has a history of more than four decades -- takes place March 22-23. And once again we have a great lineup! 

Speakers and their topics:  

“Setting Up Camp: How I Build a Scene”—David Harnois, BSI (on how to put together a Holmes radio production)

“We Love Sherlock, But Would Sherlock Love Us?”—Kira Settingsgaard (on Holmes and intimacy)

"Playing the Game” —Tim Kline (on collecting Sherlock Holmes games)

“I Hear Sherlockians Everywhere”—Madeline Quiñones (on the world of Sherloockian podcasts)

“Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Liberty Magazine”—Ira Matetsky, BSI  

“No Ghosts Need Apply”—George Skornickel, BSI (on ACD and spiritualism)

 “Becoming a Sherlockian”—Max Magee (on the adventures of a newly minted devotee)

“ACD: Adventurous Life, Enduring Memories”—Burt Wolder, BSI (on the life of Arthur Conan Doyle and the lessons it holds for us in making memories)

There will also be a hilarious playlet called The Mysterious Adventure of the Syntax

Learn more and sign up at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends website.  

Sunday, January 21, 2024

17 Steps to a Solid Sherlockian Library

Last August on this blog I wrote about what I thought were seven essential books for every Sherlockian. Now Peter Eckrich and Rob Nunn have gone me ten better with Canonical Cornerstones, a book of essays about 17 books you should own -- like the 17 steps to 221B.

The authors of these essays include some of the greatest living Sherlockians (plus me). None argues that any one book is the only book, just that it's an important one. They give you enough information to know which books you want to buy and in what order. But I warn you, they may also drive you to your bookshelves to revisit a favored classic you already have. 

From the beginning of this blog in May 2011, I have insisted that I have a library and not a collection. All of the canonical cornerstones are in my library, and most of them are books that I have mentioned here and that I consult frequently for research.  

Here's the lineup of books and the authors of the essays about them:

Vincent Starrett's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes -- Ray Betzner

Michael Harrison's In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes -- Catherine Cooke

The Baker Street Journal -- Peggy McFarlane

Leslie S. Klinger's The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes -- Peter E. Blau

D. Martin Dakin's A Sherlock Holmes Commentary -- Mike McSwiggin

Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution -- Anastasia Klimchynskaya

Daniel Stashower's Teller of Tales -- Mark Jones

Beyond the Canon: Apochrypha et Cetera -- Ross E. Davies

Jack Tracy's Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana -- Sonia Fetherston

Ellery Queen's The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes -- Timothy J. Johnson

S.C. Roberts's Holmes and Watson: A Miscellany -- Roger Johnson

Mattias Boström's From Holmes to Sherlock -- Mark Alberstat

Steven Doyle's Sherlock Holmes for Dummies -- Regina Stinson

Ronald Burt De Waal's The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson -- Ira Brad Matetsky

The Classic Doubleday Omnibus -- Russell Merritt

Edgar W. Smith's Profile by Gaslight -- Dan Andriacco

William S. Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes - Julie McKuras

Canonical Cornerstones is published by Gasogene Books. You can buy it in all the usual places, and if you happen to pick it up at a Sherlockian conference there's a good chance many of the authors will be standing around you at the time. 

Monday, January 8, 2024

Nero Wolfe Turns 90, But Still Ageless

2024 is the 90th anniversary of the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, as well as that of the Baker Street Irregulars. In celebration, I re-read that inaugural adventure of the Corpus for the umpteenth time since my teenage years. (I was 14 when I wrote Rex Stout a fan letter.)

To an amazing degree, it’s as if the whole W. 35th mise en scène sprang full-bodied from the head of Zeus (or Stout). Much of what we remember so well from the other novels and novellas is there in the beginning: Wolfe wiggling his finger, Wolfe pushing his lips in and out as he solves a case, the daily routine in the plant rooms, the ban on business talk at meals, Archie prodding Wolfe and Wolfe poking Archie, what Archie calls a “charade” at the end as the killer is outed.  

Many of the usual dramatis personae are also present from the creation at least in name, including the one who turns out to be the killer in the final outing, A Family Affair, 41 years later.

At the same time, there are a few differences. Archie drives a roadster, and there is no mention of the Herron sedan  of the later tales; his friend at the Gazette is Harry Foster rather than Lon Cohen. Nathaniel Parker, Doc Vollmer, and Lilly Rowan have not yet made their appearance.  

As every Wolfean knows, these stories always reflect the outside world even though Wolfe and Archie don’t age. It is not “always 1934.” As Fer-de-Lance begins, Wolfe is testing the newly legal 3.2 beer after the end of Prohibition and finding that, “So far, none of this is sewage.” A Family Affair is firmly set in the Watergate era.

Speaking of which, I’ll go read that now . . .

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A Sherlockian Tinge to a Magical Tale

I'm re-reading my way through Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy books with great enjoyment. 

If you know these three books at all, you know that they take place in an alternate universe in which the Plantagenet kings rule over a globe-spanning Anglo-French empire and the laws of magic have been discovered.

Lord Darcy is the chief investigator for the His Royal Highness, the Duke of Normandy, brother to King John IV. But in Too Many Magicians - a title reminiscent of three Nero Wolfe novels and one Wolfe novella - he assists his cousin the Marquis of London, who is nothing more or less than Wolfe under another name. Garrett evokes Wolfe wonderfully in speech and mannerism. And his primary associate Lord Bontriomphe is, of course Archie Goodwin.

All this I remembered from previous readings, along with the fact that Garrett manages to set up seemingly impossible crimes despite the ability of killers to use magic.

What I didn't remember was the callbacks to Sherlock Holmes.

In Chapter 10, Lord Darcy proclaims: "Once we have eliminated the impossible, we shall  be able to concentrate on the merely improbable." 

In Chapter 18 of Too Many Magicians, we get a play on the curious incident of the dog in the night-time :

"I should like to call you attention to the peculiar condition of that knife."

Master Sean frowned. "But . . . there was nothing peculiar about the condition of that knife."

"Precisely. That was the peculiar condition."

You don't have to be as Wolfean and/or a Sherlockian to enjoy the Lord Darcy stories, but it adds to the pleasure.