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, November 14, 2023

Crossover: Christie and Conan Doyle

We may not think about it much, but the careers of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle overlapped significantly. By the time the Canon closed out in 1927, Christie had published eight books, including the classic Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Christie mentions Sherlock Holmes (“the one and only—I should never be able to emulate him”) in her autobiography when describing her creation of Hercule Poirot. And when Christie disappeared in 1926, ACD was one of those quoted in press accounts speculating on her fate.

It was no big surprise, therefore, that in recently reading Dame Agatha’s 1931 uninspiringly named novel The Sittaford Mystery it was easy to spot echoes of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The story takes place Dartmoor, with a Tor and moorland, and there is an escaped convict.

There’s also a séance (like the Rathbone Hound later, but that was a coincidence). And in Chapter 11, journalist Charles Enderly says of the table-turning event: “I’m thinking of writing that up for the paper. Get opinions from Sir Oliver Lodge and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a few actresses and people about it.”

 ACD died in 1930, the year before the book was published, so probably the story took place slightly earlier. Or perhaps Enderly had in mind another séance. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

And The Game Goes On

“Sadly, the Great Game is over,” the late David L. Hammer wrote in a 1995 essay. He thought the Sherlockian golden age and silver age were past and that “too much has been written by too many for too few for too long.”

Was ever a man so wrong?

As editor of the Baker Street Journal, it’s my joy to edit many wonderful contributions to the body of Sherlockian scholarship still being produced, as well as side forays into Arthur Conan Doyle and other related topics.

In the recently published Autumn issue, for example, you will find:

·         An exploration of how much Sherlock Holmes really knew about the law in The Adventures, written by first-class lawyer and scholar.

·        “The Great Moriarty Deception,” for which the world is finally prepared.

·         A look at what happened to two characters in “Black Peter” who seem to disappear from the story.

·         Proof—maybe—that snakes do drink milk, as in “The Speckled Band.”

·         A look at science and Sherlock Holmes, written by a scientist.

·         The  many meanings of guns in “The Gloria Scott.”   

(These examples of traditional scholarship are in addition to an essay about a once-popular silent movie about Sherlock wannabe, a survey of Holmes parodies and pastiches, and examination of when each canonical tale of written.)

 No, the Great Game is far from over, almost three decades after Mr. Hammer pronounced it so.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Worst Pastiche You Ever Read?


One of my favorite Sherlockians (I have many) recently described 1980’s Sherlock Holmes in Dallas, later rebranded as The Case of the Murdered President, as “the worst (Holmes) pastiche ever written.”

That’s a very bold statement, considering that there is so much competition for the honor.

I reviewed that book for the late lamented Cincinnati Post when it was published, back when I was a business news reporter for the paper and writing a monthly mystery review column. I’ve not been able to find that review, so I don’t remember what I thought about it.

To be fair, Sherlock Holmes in Dallas isn’t really a pastiche, or an attempt at one. By that I mean the author didn’t try to produce an imitation of the original, a book that could have been a previously unpublished canonical story taking place during the canonical period. Rather, he put Holmes and Watson in what was then president-day America with no explanation. Holmes is just really a device for the author presenting his theories about the Kennedy assassination.

But there are other stories, hundreds of them, where the authors do attempt to mimic the original and fail at the most basic level—novels that are too long, have uncanonical title formulas, or simply don’t get close to the Watson voice. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also damned near impossible.

Writing is work, and I don’t want to belittle anyone’s efforts at it, so I won’t ask what you think was the worst pastiche you ever read. But it might be an interesting question to ask yourself.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

With Starrett in Chicago

Last week we went to Graceland—not the Elvis mansion, but the cemetery in Chicago where Sherlockian giant Vincent Starrett is buried.

The monument marking his grave was erected in1986, paid for out of love by his friends (many of whom never knew him in life.) Ray Betzner tells the story on his Studies in Starrett blog.

We were in Chicago from Wednesday through Saturday attend meetings of the Torists International and of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic). Starrett, a co-founder of the Hounds, always considered it the Chicago chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars.

As editor of the Baker Street Journal, I made a few comments at the 80th annual Hounds dinner about the connections between Chicago and the BSJ. The Journal was born in New York in the mind of Edgar W. Smith. But from the  inaugural issue of the Old Series in January 1946, it has always had strong connections to Chicago and to the Hounds. Starrett and Hounds member Jay Finley Christ contributed to Volume 1, Number 1 of that “Irregular Quarterly of Sherlockiana.” Its publisher was legendary Chicago and New York bookman Ben Abramson, also a Hound. And a note on page 96 seemed apologetic that “Commentary from The Hounds of the Baskerville of Chicago had not been received at the time of going to press.”

It was good for Ann and me to spend time in Chicago with our Sherlockian friends—living and dead.

As Ray notes, one of the other famous people buried at Graceland is the legendary detective Alan Pinkerton, who—although already in that grave—kind of hangs over The Valley of Fear.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Second Most Dangerous, But Not Famous

Let’s talk about Col. Sebastian Moran.

I don’t mean that rabbit hole of how he managed to escape the gallows so that he was still alive in 1914.  

No, I’m wondering why he isn’t better known to the world at large. After all, Professor Moriarty’s chief of staff was “the second most dangerous man in London.” (He was also a member of the Tankerville Club, which is why the #2 officer of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati has the title “Second Most Dangerous.”)

Kristen Mertz gave a fine talk on the Colonel—one of many evil Colonels in the Canon, by the way—at the “Holmes in the Heartland: Arch Enemies” conference in July. She teased out a rather full portrait of the old shikari from deductions and speculations.

But Moran is “as famous to Sherlockians as he is unknown to the public,” as Watson might say with “a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour.” It’s not that he hasn’t appeared in a lot of adaptations. The character appears in Rathbone’s Terror by Night, three Arthur Wontner films, Brett’s The Empty House, and Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Alternate versions appear in anime’s Moriarty the Patriot, in The Empty Hearse episode of “BBC Sherlock,” in “Elementary,” and on and on.

So why isn’t he better known to the world at large? That’s a three-pipe problem!

Monday, September 11, 2023

An Interview with a Mystery Writer I Know

I like to think this is Sebastian McCabe's car 

My new book, The Woman in Red—now available for purchase but also the subject of a Kickstarter campaign—is the 12th novel and the 14th book overall in the McCabe & Cody series, with #15 now in the hands of my first reader. This seems to me a good time to interview the author. Some of the questions are ones that I’ve been asked since No Police Like Holmes appeared in 2011.

Is Sebastian McCabe a pastiche of Nero Wolfe? No. Can you imagine Wolfe smoking cigars, driving a red 1959 Chevy with tail fins, or performing magic? They mainly share corpulence and a propensity for multisyllabic vocabulary.  

Are you Jeff Cody? No. No matter what my wife said. (“Yeah you are; you’re just like that.”) Jeff has a habit of making sarcastic comments in italics and I have no idea where they come from. (Although somebody did once say I have a “wicked sense of humor.”) When I re-read the books, Jeff’s italic comments  make me laugh out loud and think “I have no idea where that came from.”

What are your biggest writing inspirations? Sherlock Holmes, all the great Golden Age writers (especially Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, and John Dickson Carr), and the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal? Really??? Really. I’m constantly finding characters and situations there that are ripe for redeploying in mystery fiction.

Where does Erin, Ohio, the location of most Mac and Jeff’s adventures, come from? I really feel that it exists in some alternate universe, just as my characters do. Although it’s located about where you will find Ripley, Ohio, it’s not based on Ripley or any one small town. The map of downtown Erin that appears in No Ghosts Need Apply is based on a small river town not in Ohio, with all the street names changed.    

What about the name? Erin is named for our daughter-in-law, Erin Dwyer Andriacco. The town had a different name when I first wrote No Police about 20 years before it was published. So did St. Benignus University.

About St. Benignus, which employs Mac and Jeff—where did that come from? I have no idea. But I had to create it and people it with all sorts of professors and administrators. I’ve never attended or worked at a small Catholic college, so I’m thrilled when people tell me how true-to-life it is.

What about the name of the institution? Well, that’s interesting because there’s a coincidence attached to it—if is it a coincidence. SBU, then St. Benignus College, appears from the very first book. Sometime later, I decided that Sebastian McCabe’s birthday is November 9 because that was the publication date of No Police Like Holmes (and the birthday of a fellow writer who shares my birth year). Only later did I learn, to my astonishment, that November 9 is also the feast day of St. Benignus of Armagh, for whom SBU is named!

Your newest mystery, The Woman in Red, is about a comic convention. How did you get the idea for the book? I started with the title, then I had to figure out who the woman in red was. The murder motive in this book is unique, so far as I know, and I’ve had it in mind for about a decade waiting for the right story to fit it into. I think I found it. Reading the book during the editing process, I was very satisfied with it.

Dear Readers: If you enjoy this blog and my writing, please support my Kickstarter for The Woman in Red by following this link. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

A List, Neither Exhaustive Nor Exhausting

The great collector and Sherlockian evangelist John Bennett Shaw was known, among many other things, for creating his Basic Holmes Library—commonly called the Shaw 100. But he really couldn’t keep it to just 100.

Not long ago, a budding Sherlockian asked me for a key list of a dozen or so books. How could I do that when Shaw’s “basic” list was more than 100? The answer is that my purpose is not to cover the field. My roster of seven books is designed to plunge the neophyte very quickly into the Sherlockian world, particularly the earliest players and their writings. I can almost guarantee that some of your favorites aren’t on it.

Here we go:    

From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström—an amazing history of the Sherlockian world from Conan Doyle to Cumberbatch

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett—the first and best biography of Sherlock Holmes

Studies in 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, edited by Vincent Starrett—the first BSI anthology of Writings About the Writings

Profile by Gaslight, edited by Edgar W. Smith—the best (I think), BSI anthology of Writings About the Writings

The Standard Doyle Company, edited by Steve Rothman—a compendium  of Christopher Morley’s writings about Sherlock Holmes

“A Remarkable Mixture,” edited by Steven Rothman—an anthology of award-winning essays in the BSJ from 1959 to 2007

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, by Leslie Klinger—invaluable as a quick reference to major commentaries on issues raised in each story 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Back in Time with Professor Challenger

When last we met, dear readers, I wrote about “Dear Starrett—”/“Dear Briggs—” as a sort of time machine that allowed us to look at The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in the making. There’s another kind of book that can be a time machine.

I’m thinking of those volumes that we encountered as youths and reread as adults, not just in any edition but in the very edition that introduced us to the works. I’ve acquired, for example, the editions of The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes, Profile by Gaslight, and The Private Life that I originally borrowed from the public library as a preteen.  

And last month, at the excellent Holmes in the Heartland conference in St. Louis, John Alexander of Books on the Square in Virden, Ill., kindly traded me one of my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries for the edition of The Poisoned Belt that I first read in a library copy. (In fact, this one was also an ex-lib). It’s the 1964 McMillan version, with an introduction by John Dickson Carr.

Most of my casual reading is on my tablet but reading the second Professor Challenger in this familiar form, so wonderfully illustrated by William Péne Dubois, was a delightful trip back in time. And, by the way, it's still a roaring good story! 

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Into a Sherlockian Time Machine

Sometimes watching the sausage made can be fascinating. “Dear Starrett—”/“Dear Briggs—,” edited by John Nieminski and Jon L. Lellenberg, affords that opportunity.

This first volume in the BSI Archival History Series, published in 1989, is a series of letters between Old Irregulars Vincent Starrett of Chicago and Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs of St. Louis. The correspondence begins with Briggs writing to Starrett on March 30, 1930 about Starrett’s “proposed book on Sherlock Holmes, William Gillette, Conan Doyle, et al.” Soon they were sending each other books and artwork.

That “proposed book” was published in 1933 as The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a Sherlockian classic dedicated to Briggs along with the actor William Gillette and the artist Frederic Door Steele. But the Briggs-Starrett correspondence shows that the concept of the book changed a lot along the way. The profuse illustrations that Starrett envisioned didn’t make it, but the map of Baker Street by Dr. Briggs (who identified 111 Baker Street as the true address) did.

Reading these letters is like stepping into a time machine as Starrett’s project unfolds. We know what will become of it —what it will be and how important—but he doesn’t.

And then there’s this: On Nov. 20, 1933, Starrett wrote to Briggs, “We must really organize an international Holmes society. We could meet at irregular intervals and call ourselves the Baker Street Irregulars.” That passage evoked this charming reflection from Jon Lellenberg:

“There we have it! Vincent Starrett’s suggestion of founding a Sherlockian society called the Baker Street Irregulars—made apparently with no inkling at all of Morleyesque stirrings in New York, which were still contained within the unreported gatherings of Morley’s Three Hours for Lunch Club and the Grillparzer Sittenpolizei—though that was about to change, after the Duane Hotel gathering which Morley called for Holmes’s birthday on January 6, 1934.”

Lellenberg then lays out a charming “critical mass” theory about the birth of the BSI: “that it had to happen somewhere about that point in time, and that if Morley had not done it, then Starrett, Briggs, Bell and others of their circle would have.”

And 90 years later, the Sherlockian world is still a very lively place to be.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

In the Footsteps of Sir Arthur in Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Art Museum -- not quite as ACD saw it!

Sherlockian societies each have their own distinctive vibe, but they also play well together. Last month, for example, 26 members of four Midwest scions came together for an Arthur Conan Doyle Tour of Cincinnati.

Ann Brauer Andriacco, Sparking Plug of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, led us to sites that were either visited by ACD on his 1894 lecture tour of the United States (which also included Indianapolis) or had some other connection to Conan Doyle.

Before lunch, the group visited by turns the Harriet Beecher Stowe House for a guided tour of the home now under renovation (which ACD “looked at with interest” when he was in the neighborhood) and a nearby school where Maria Longworth Storer, the founder of Rookwood Pottery, kept an apartment. (ACD wanted to visit the Rookwood factory but was unable.) Ann also led  a walking tour of one of the nicest streets in the Walnut Hills neighborhood, which ACD probably saw.

After a convivial lunch at Skyline Chili, where tables were arranged for us by management to make conversation easy, we drove through Eden Park, where many of us stopped at the overlook to enjoy the view that Conan Doyle proclaimed to be “the finest he has seen in America.” (All quotes come from a contemporary newspaper account of ACD's visit.)

Then it was on to the Cincinnati Art Museum, “the subject of much admiring comment on his (ACD’s) part.” Ann showed us, in person and via an Art Museum map, where the entrance was in 1894, before the building was added to. Her handouts and the map also called attention to some of the artwork that was part of the Art Museum collection in 1894. We also found a few more by exploring!

One of the highlights of the Art Museum for many of us was the large Rookwood gallery, which also told much of the story of Maria Longworth Storer. She was an entrepreneur who built a highly successful business on female artists.

There is also a Gallery 221 at the Art Museum—but it is just a hallway!

The field trip was organized by the Tankerville Club and co-sponsored by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis and the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, with participation by the Ribston Pippins of Michigan. (Ann and I are members of all four scions.) It was a follow-up to a similar ACD excursion by the Clients in Indianapolis some years ago.