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.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Socially Distant, But Far From Idle

Sometimes I wear this tie when I've pretending to be a writer. 

I’ve been mourning the loss of so many Sherlockian activities, as I mentioned last week. But I have not been idle. Here are some of the writing projects that have occupied me in this Age of Quarantine, with apologies for the necessary lack of specifics:
  • My next Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody book, a collection of three novellas, is in the hands of its second beta reader. This one, Murderers’ Row, fills in some blanks in the series. Two of the stories take place before the most recent McCabe-Cody novel, Too Many Clues. MX should publish the book in September. 
  • Meanwhile I’m making strides every day in plotting the next McCabe-Cody, which will be back to novel length. The title, not yet ready for unveiling, is a quote from Sherlock Holmes.  
  • My new Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel for Wessex Press, The Sword of Death, just got back to me from the second reader and I have incorporated his suggestions. Look for this one next January at the Baker Street Irregulars Weekend.
  • On Thursday of last week I finished editing eight out of nine essays for a book coming this fall from Belanger Books. It’s a project I’ve had in mind for years, putting between the same covers a Canonical Sherlock Holmes story with two related pastiches. Each story will be accompanied by three essays and five original illustrations. This will be a handsome hardcover book in slipcase. 
  • On Friday I sent the Baker Street Journal an essay I’ve been working on for years. But I didn’t know that’s what I was doing until last week! 
That doesn't even include the reading that I've been doing. 

So, though I miss the non-virtual contact with my friends, I’m not bored! I hope that you, too are being productive at this unique time in history.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Woes of Sherlockian Social Distancing

Close-up of the Tankerville Club meeting of March 6, before social distancing

As an introvert, I’ve never thought of myself as very social. But Sherlockian social distancing has me down.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a shuddering halt to scion meetings and conferences across the Sherlockian world. The holes thus blown in my formerly crowded calendar have made me acutely aware of what I have temporarily lost. The opportunity to come together for fun and friendship with a fascinating group of people is a priceless treasure easily available to most.

We were fortunately able to hold our quarterly meeting of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati as usual on March 6, with only one person missing because of health concerns related to the coronavirus. Just nine days later, when bars and restaurants in the state of Ohio were forced to close, the Agra Treasurers of Dayton had to cancel the annual Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference. (Holmes, Doyle will be back at full strength in 2021!) 

By that time, another conference and a scion society meeting Ann and I planned to attend had been canceled. I’m not sick and, being retired, I’m not out of a job. So, I have nothing to complain about compared to others. But I do miss the in-person Sherlockian interaction, which the virtual kind doesn’t quite replace.  

If you’re a Sherlockian who doesn’t belong to a local group, I urge you to do so when life resumes. Mike McSwiggin lists 259 such groups around the world in this year’s Baker Street Almanac. The glorious variety among them is stunning.

A Sherlockian society club may bring together members based on geography or almost other common denominator – from a penchant for bow ties or cigar-smoking to a shared hobby or profession. Membership may be invitation-only, require surviving a rite of passage, or be open to anyone who shows up. (“Attend one meeting and we will consider that an honest mistake. Attend two and you are considered a member of Watson’s Tin Box.”)

Meetings may be annual, bi-annual, quarterly, monthly, or irregularly; for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; and embodying any number of traditions such as quizzes, discussions, toasts, and a recitation of Vincent Starrett’s “221B” to close the gathering. There may be dues or not.

Whatever your other interests or level of congeniality, there is a Sherlockian society – or, more likely, several – ready to welcome you home.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Book That's Hard to Believe

Well, I can’t say they didn’t warn me.

In their introduction to their 1992 paperback novel Believe. (the period is part of the title), authors William Shatner and Michael Tobias announce, “This novel is strictly a work of fiction. Most details that might have harbored even a shred of truth have been freely altered, embellished, imagined, or otherwise invented.”

I’ll say! This novel about Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini (one of many by a host of writers) frustrated me by the degree to which it changed such known facts as the circumstances of the wound that killed Houdini or the occasion on which the two men first met. And for no discernable plot reason!

Worst of all was this gem: “Though he once announced religion in favor of theosophy, the mature Doyle was a Roman Catholic to the core.” Huh? Even the most cursory reading of a thin biography of ACD would leave one with no doubt that the creator of Sherlock Holmes renounced the church of his family in his 20s and never looked back.

The book is, understandably, not well known. I only bought it at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York during Baker Street Irregulars Weekend because I’d seen it sitting on the same shelf every year for four years. So why am I beating this dead horse?

Because I love historical novels, including mysteries that feature historical personages. Writing partner Kieran McMullen and I wrote three Enoch Hale mystery novels populated with such characters as T.S. Eliot, Dorothy L. Sayers, Winston Churchill, Ronald R. Knox, Agatha Christie, and P.G. Wodehouse as well as Mr. Sherlock Holmes. 

And it seems to me that such books should stick to the truth as much as possible, or at least not contradict well-known biography unless the reader is told up front that this is alternative history. Not to do so creates confusion among the innocent, and frustration for those who know better.

In any case, something like the “Notes for Curious” that the great mystery writer John Dickson Carr appended to his historical mysteries – detailing where fact and fancy diverge in the novel –  are always appreciated. Otherwise, the reader is left to wonder.

Writing historical fiction is special task (of which the traditional Sherlockian pastiche is a subset). Carr did it well.  William Shatner (yes, that William Shatner) and Michael Tobias did not.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A Great Book about a Great Bookman

The Last Bookman, a well-known biographical tribute to Vincent Starrett edited by Peter Ruber, contains at the end a bibliographical checklist by Esther Longfellow. And the final item on that checklist is this:

THE LAST BOOKMAN, by Peter Ruber (Biography). New York: The Candlelight Press, 1968. Folio. First edition limited to 2500 copies. You have a copy in your hands.

I had a copy in my hands when I read that because I bought the book during Baker Street Irregulars Weekend in New York this past January. When I saw it at a bookstore on Friday of that week for $25, I thought that price was a steal. But when I saw it the dealer room on Saturday for $10 – how could I resist?

Starrett is best known to most of us as the author of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and the unforgettable sonnet “221B.” This handsome volume, printed on beautiful paper, makes it clear that he was much more – journalist, adventurer, mystery writer, collector, and above all a lover of books. More than half of the volume is an anecdotal biography by Ruber. Part II contains tributes from friends, written during Starrett’s lifetime. (He died in 1974.)

Chicago legends Ben Hecht and Carl Sandburg salute Starrett as an old friend. August Derleth credits him for helping to re-animate Solar Pons. And one of my favorite lines in the book comes from Christopher Morley, writing in 1948: “Vincent, like all of us inlandish or outlandish soliloquists, has written some occasional tripe; but never without knowing it.”

I’ve mentioned before the BSI Trust as a great source of Sherlockian books at often-incredible prices. Denny Dobry gamely carts dozens and dozens of tomes to conferences all over. And on May 17, he will be selling thousands of them at a book fare and open house at his home and famous 221 recreation in Reading, PA. He advises: 
These books have been donated to support the Baker Street Irregulars Historical Archives.  The selection includes many editions of the Canon, rare Sherlockian Scholarship titles, hundreds of pastiches and parodies, a variety of non-Sherlockian Doyle works, titles from other mystery writers (Sayers, Christie, Queen, Starrett, etc.), an extensive Christopher Morley and P. G. Wodehouse selection, and crime and British reference works.  In addition, many items such as statues, glassware, mugs, games, jigsaw puzzles and posters will also be available.  This sale likely provides the widest selection of Sherlockian items available anywhere.”
 When: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., May 17, 20205003 Stony Run DriveReading PA 
Need to know more? Write to Denny at dendobry@ptd.net.

Vincent Starrett, who surely will be at the book fare in spirit, gets the last word about himself in this blog post. In a letter to Morley, quoted in Part III, he wrote:

“With this century more than half gone, I find myself increasingly happy to belong by birth and temperament to the last one.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Holmes, Doyle Profile: Regina Stinson

Regina Stinson and her Sherlockian crafts
My friend Regina Stinson will be speaking at Holmes, Doyle, & Friendsthe annual Sherlockian conference in Dayton, OH, for the second time. This year her topic is "Disguise and Deception" in the Canon. Here's another look at the interview I did with her last year:  

When and how did you first encounter Mr. Sherlock Holmes?

It was during the summer when I was allowed to stay up and watch the late show on TV—I was probably about 12, or so—when I first saw the Basil Rathbone series of Sherlock Holmes movies. My older brother informed me that these were updated and that the Holmes of the stories was from an earlier era. He also gave me a paperback book containing a collection of short stories. Craving more Holmes, I bought myself a complete Canon and the thing blossomed from there.

You make a wide range of beautiful and creative Sherlockian crafts. How did that come about?

I was looking for a way to support my dear friend Jacquelynn Morris with her symposium, A Scintillation of Scions, and being somewhat artistic, I came up with the idea to make a Sherlockian charm bracelet for their auction. It was so popular that people were asking me if I made jewelry to sell. One thing led to another and I began selling my creations. The first symposium I ever sold at was in Dayton. I also sell my items on Etsy under the name Artful Pippin.

How did you come to start the Ribston-Pippins in 1988? And don’t forget to explain the name!

I had wanted to join a scion society for some time and had made several calls to the contact person for the Amateur Mendicants, but all I got were promises that they would be starting up again soon. (They had been on a long hiatus.) I finally decided that if I wanted to belong to a scion, I’d have to start my own. So, I distributed fliers to libraries and bookstores in my area announcing our first meeting, which took place at our home on November 18, 1988. We had about 12 members at that time and have been studying the Canon and having Sherlockian fun since then! (Ten years later, the Amateur Mendicants started up again.)

Oh yes, the name. We were looking for a name that hadn’t been used before and that sounded interesting. I leafed through Tracy’s Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana when I ran across the term “Ribston-Pippin.” We had a vote at our second meeting and everyone liked that name best. It comes from Watson’s description of one of the men, James Lancaster, who came to interview with “Captain Basil” in “The Adventure of Black Peter.” Subsequently, we acquired a member who actually grew Ribston-pippins in his yard. His chosen nom was “James Lancaster,” of course.

To what other Sherlockian groups do you belong?

I’m in the BSI, ASH, Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), Amateur Mendicants, Watson’s Tin Box, Illustrious Clients, and Bar of Gold.

What has it meant to you over the decades to be part of worldwide community of friends devoted to Sherlock Holmes?

I love being a part of this wonderful community! I’ve met a lot of great people and become close friends with many of them. I feel like I’ve found my people!

When did you become a member of the Baker Street Irregulars?

I was given the investiture of “A Little Ribston-Pippin” in 2006.

What did that feel like?

It was one of the most awesome experiences in my life! I was floating on a cloud for a long time. I’m sincerely honored to be a part of this illustrious organization.

What question have I not asked you that you would like to answer?

Have you ever had anything of your Sherlockian writings published? Yes! I’ve had two small monographs published in the Baker Street Journal, a short story published in Charles Prepolec’s Curious Incidents II, and essays in About Sixty and Sherlock Holmes is Like. I’ve also contributed a monograph to an upcoming Baker Street Irregulars book, Corporals, Colonels and Commissionaires.

Register now for Holmes, Doyle, & Friends and get the early-bird discount.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Burt Wolder, Sherlockian and Doylean

Scott Monty, sans his customary bow tie, and co-host Burt Wolder 

Burt Wolder and Scott Monty are known throughout the Sherlockian world as the genial hosts of “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere,” the first podcast dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and his world. Burt will go solo as a speaker at the Holmes, Doyle, &Friends conference in Dayton, OH, on March 28 with an opening reception on March 27 – just as Scott did last year. Alone or together, they are interesting fellows, as you will see in interview:

I’ll start with the question Scott asks every IHOSE guest: How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

I first met Sherlock Holmes in the fifth grade, when I checked a volume of Sherlock Holmes stories out of the school library. Like many Sherlockians, I was always a great reader, and even then I was dividing my time between the school library and the public library in town. I remember what seemed to me like a big, thick volume of stories with illustrations. I thought it was a great joke to share with my fifth grade teacher.  “Look, Mrs. Ricci: heavy reading!” I thought this was hysterically funny.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

I think I became an enthusiast when I discovered there were other enthusiasts. It was certainly after the Baring-Gould annotated was published.  I don’t remember any of my grade school friends who were particularly interested. The late Steve Clarkson helped me connect to other, younger Sherlockians.

I’ve heard your talk for Holmes, Doyle – which draws heavily from the  writing of Arthur Conan Doyle – and was much moved by it. Tell us a little about it and how you came to produce it.      

It’s something I literally talked myself into. I have always read a lot of Conan Doyle beyond the Canon, and I have usually had the experience of finding a paragraph, a little bit of description, a character’s observation or comment, a bit of dialogue – something that stops me, that I read again, and sometimes read out loud, just to get the rhythm of it. That was the basis of it, so when I was asked to speak at a scion society I suggested the general topic of Conan Doyle, which was fine with the organizers. As I prepared, I re-read Dan Stashhower’s biography of Conan Doyle, and I realized that hearing more Conan Doyle and less from me would make the whole thing more successful. I also thought there could be interesting lessons learned from considering the connection between Conan Doyle’s life and the way memories are codified.

What’s the best part about co-hosting IHOSE?

Talking with Scott Monty on a regular basis. Without the rigor of the podcast schedule I would have much less time, hardly any, for Sherlock Holmes during the month. The podcasts are like a vacation for me. I love talking to Scott, and the next best part is our guests. It has been thrilling to talk with and learn from some of the folks who share a deep interest in Sherlock Holmes.

Do you have a favorite episode?

My favorite episode is IHOSE 26 (ihose.co/ihose26) from 2010, when we interviewed the actor Fritz Weaver, who played Holmes on Broadway in the musical Baker Street.  I had been greatly impressed by the music and lyrics when I was very young. I admired his work and had been delighted to meet him, and he had some very funny anecdotes about the show and his cast-mates. And it turned out he was also a Conan Doyle fan. Listening to song clips with him and hearing his stories was a great experience.

What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

The BSI, ASH, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, The Speckled Band of Boston, the Sons of the Copper Beeches, The Cornish Horrors, the Grillparzer Club of the Hoboken Free State, The Three Hours for Lunch Club, the Clients of Adrian Mulliner, the Pondicherry Lodgers, His Last Bow (ha!), and I am probably leaving some out, for which I apologize.

What’s your favorite Sherlockian event?

Well, the diplomatic answer would have to be “the next one on the calendar.” But the Baker Street Irregulars weekend is my favorite because it includes many other meetings (ASH, the Three Hours for Lunch Club, the Pondicherry Lodgers, the Clients of Adrian Mulliner.) For me, it’s all about the people, and the chance to see so many of the people I have respected and enjoyed for such a long time.

What has it meant to you to be part of the Sherlockian community?

There’s a lot of evidence that suggests communities help us live longer and happier lives. So there’s a good argument to made around the idea that Sherlock Holmes, for example, might be the secret to happiness. I’ve used variations of that conclusion in different ways over the years.

What question haven’t I asked you that I should?

What books have meant the most to you; who has had the greatest influence on your life; how did you get into your line of work; what three ingredients are in your refrigerator right now, from which you could make a healthy and satisfying meal; what inventions do you consider most and least beneficial to society; what are your hopes and fears for mankind; if you could own four homes anywhere in the world, where would they be; what recordings and what luxury would you take to a desert island; what are your thoughts about the meaning of life; what makes you laugh; what are your hobbies; who are your heroes; who put the tribbles in the quadrotriticale, and, of course, the one, glaringly obvious question, “Are you going to finish that donut?”

And yes, I am going to finish that donut, thanks.

You can still register here to take part in Holmes, Doyle, & Friends on March 28, with an opening reception on March 27. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Karen Wilson, Singing Sherlockian

Karen Wilson at BSI Weekend's Gaslight Gala; photo by Kristen Pedersen Prepolec

Karen Wilson will talk about “Remarkable, but Eccentric: Sherlock Holmes, Violinist” at the Holmes, Doyle,& Friends conference in Dayton, OH, on March 28, with an opening reception on March 27.  She is herself remarkable as you will learn from this interview.

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

It was the summer after eighth grade – so, July of 1975 – and my 14-year-old self happened upon an intriguing display at the local Waldenbooks (remember them?). It was a whole table full of Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Percent Solution, newly out in paperback and sporting the Best Tagline Ever: “Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud, together again for the first time!” Now, I’d have described myself as pretty well-read for a teenager, but the fact was that I hadn’t read any Holmes at all, and I was confused. How could Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud …? That is, wasn’t Freud a real person and Holmes a …? Curious, I dug into my babysitting money, acquired a copy, and got only two pages into Watson’s “Introductory” before realizing that I was reading a sequel of some sort. Clearly, I needed to get my hands on some of the books mentioned in Meyer’s footnotes – A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, and so on – before attempting this “lost Watsonian manuscript.”

So I began to read the Canon, more avidly with each installment, and then came a happy coincidence. That same summer, 20th Century Fox’s 1939 The Hound of the Baskervilles, after decades in legal limbo over the rights, was making the rounds on the big screen. By the time the ad for the Rathbone-Bruce film showed up in the paper in my town (luridly alluding to the movie’s single line regarding Holmes’s drug usage), I was more than primed to see it. Rathbone’s interpretation helped lodge Sherlock Holmes even more firmly in my imagination, and, well, he’s still there.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

I really count that summer as the beginning of it. All the hoopla (did I just write “hoopla”?) surrounding the still-best-selling Seven-Per-Cent and that Hound roadshow meant that the Features sections of newspapers and magazines were full of articles not only about the Great Detective, but about the wider Sherlockian phenomenon, as well. Before I’d even finished my first read-through of the Canon, I’d learned about the Game and some of its most famous founding players, and also about the BSI and some of its scions. The impression I got, however, was that there was no point in aspiring to join one of those clubs if you had my combination of chromosomes, so I just resolved to do the thing on my own. There followed years of indiscriminately buying pastiches (remember when you thought you could collect them all?), staying up till all hours whenever a Holmes flick was scheduled on a local TV station, gleefully ordering esoterica from Magico (which I found via an ad in the back of some one-off “Sherlock Holmes” magazine), and always being on the lookout for classics by Baring-Gould, Starrett, and others in secondhand bookshops.

Fast-forward to the end of the millennium: with home Internet access came “The Hounds of the Internet” and my discovery that the Sherlockian world had moved on considerably since I first learned about it in the ‘70s. Maybe when my kids are older, I thought, I’ll find myself a group … and then, eight years ago, I decided it was time.

You are a church musician, a lovely singer, and a composer of extremely moving or extremely funny Sherlockian lyrics, as fits the occasion. How do music and Holmes come together for you?  

And you, sir, are my new best friend! Seriously, thanks for your kind words. I come from a very musical family, and there’s really no context in which my siblings and I weren’t always making music. It has been my natural impulse in every setting I’ve been a part of: I was the person among my set of college friends who wrote the parody songs, and, later, the one at the office who composed the “Night Before Christmas” pastiche for the annual Christmas party. Music and Holmes come together for me because music and everything come together for me, so I count it a lucky thing that there was already a tradition of Sherlockian music-making that I could fit myself into.

What instruments do you play, and when?

I suppose my main instrument is piano, which I’ve played since third grade (at this point, I might as well say “all my life”). I didn’t pursue music as a primary profession, but between church and the various schools where I have taught philosophy over the decades, I have never lacked opportunities to accompany choirs, all types of soloists, and group singing. After a brief attempt at organ lessons in my thirties (when I was starting my family and could never find time to practice), I resumed in middle age and now feel confident enough to call myself an organist, as well. (Thankfully, the church that employs me agrees.)

But my favorite instrument is voice, and my favorite way to use it is in a chorus. Indeed, the majority of my most satisfying musical experiences have been as a tiny cog in a big old classical choir, singing some old warhorse of a composition with an orchestra sawing away in front of us. (Yes, that was three metaphors, but I’m not sure which ones to drop.)

What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD is my original home scion, and I have served both as Gasogene (XXV) and Tantalus there. I’m also invested in ASH as “A Faithful Scotchwoman” and in the Sherlockians of Baltimore (SOBs) as “Rosa Ponselle.” In addition, I’m a charter member of the Diogenes Club of Washington, D.C., and, most recently, I’ve been named a Master Copper Beechsmith in the Sons of the Copper Beeches and Napoleon No. 270 in the Six Napoleons of Baltimore. That’s a lot of good times!

For the past few years you have been the coordinator of “A Scintillation of Scions” in Maryland, which was foundational to my own re-entrance into the Sherlockian community. What has that been like for you?

A Scintillation of Scions, for those who aren’t aware, is an annual symposium held near Baltimore, MD on the second Saturday of June. Now in its thirteenth year, SoS features a roster of speakers drawn from both the local and wider Sherlockian communities, who address a variety of topics related to Holmes and/or Doyle, Victoriana, media, and fandom. There’s humor, scholarship (both old-school and new), and plenty of camaraderie! We also feature vendors, a bag raffle, a Friday-night cocktail party, and, beginning last year, the Silver Blaze (Southern Division) race at Laurel Park on the Sunday after. If anyone reading this has never attended, I hope you’ll visit http://www.scintillation.org/ to learn more about the event, which will be held June 12-14, 2020.

Now, as to what it’s been like for me to be the co-ordinator, I’ll confess that it was a little intimidating to take over a successful event from its founder, but so far I’ve had a great time soliciting speakers and planning programs. This year will be my third at the helm, and if I’m honest, I still haven’t drifted far from Jacquelynn Morris’ template (if it ain’t broke …). That said, an increasing challenge is presented by the sheer number of other annual and bi-annual (etc.) symposia that exist nowadays, compared to when SoS began. We’re not in competition, of course (I’ll be attending some of those other conferences this year), but the existence of alternatives pushes all of us both to think hard about what our own gathering’s particular character and purpose ought to be, and to work to make it as great a time as possible.

What’s your favorite Sherlockian event other than A Scintillation of Scions?

I look forward to BSI Weekend all year. I’m one of those people who signs up for every “open to all” event on Scott Monty’s list, so it’s a busy, breathless time … but always such a treat!

What has it meant to you to be part of the far-flung Sherlockian community?

It’s meant a lot. I was actually navigating a difficult personal crisis when I first decided to dip a toe into the waters of Sherlockian groups, and I credit the hobby with helping me to get through that hard time. Almost immediately, I was welcomed and encouraged by an eclectic group of clever, talented people – many of whom I now call friends – who seemed genuinely to value my contribution to the fun. It would be churlish to ask much more of a leisure activity than that, and I’m duly grateful.

What question haven’t I asked you that I should?

Let’s see… how about, “Do you have any grandchildren you’d like to brag about?”

Why, yes, Dan; yes, I do! Milo, who’s nine months old as I type this answer, is the light of his old grandmother’s life. More perfect than any child has the right to be, he’ll be receiving his Sherlockian indoctrination as soon as he can say “Baskerville.”

You can still register here to take part in Holmes, Doyle, & Friends on March 28, with an opening reception on March 27. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sherlockian Pharmacist Mike McSwiggin

Mike McSwiggen, decked out for the Baker Street Irregulars dinner  

If you spend much time traveling in Sherlockian circles, sooner or later you will run into Mike McSwiggin, BSI. Mike is Second Most Dangerous Member (vice president) of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati and one of the speakers at the upcoming Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference in Dayton, OH on March 28. Let’s meet Mike:   

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

I was in the first grade.  My school librarian saw me repeatedly grab Encyclopedia Brown and Hardy Boys books.  She suggested I try something different.  By third grade, I had read them all.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

In middle school, I started reading about mystery writers.  Then, at some point early in high school, I came across Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  That opened up Pandora’s Box for me.  Explanations for terms that I didn’t know, theories about why certain things happened, and (probably most importantly) a chronology of the stories – all of these things just lit a fire inside me.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I went to a few conferences (such as From Gillette to Brett), but kept to myself until I met Paul Herbert and all of the great folks at the Tankerville Club in Cincinnati.  Sharing this interest with other like-minded people truly made me a Sherlockian.

Your talk at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends will be about Solar Pons, who is almost but not quite Sherlock Holmes. How do you rate your interest and/or affection for Pons vs. Holmes?

Pons is certainly not quite on the same level for me as Holmes, but I do enjoy the stories very much.  The magic of the Holmes stories is the relationship between Holmes and Watson: two genuine friends who care about each other and happen to have adventures and solve mysteries.  The language of the stories, the atmosphere, and the genuine goodness of the main characters all set the original Holmes stories at the top tier of detective fiction.  The Solar Pons stories are pastiche – good pastiche – driven far more by mystery and plot than building up atmosphere or characterization.  At their best, the plots are outstanding.  However, they rarely achieve the same emotional complexity as Holmes and Watson.  But that is a very high bar.  I recommend the Pons stories to any Holmes fan who needs more than the 60 stories in the Canon.

And where does Nero Wolfe fit in there?

Ah, now Wolfe is another thing entirely.  The Wolfe and Goodwin stories (which is really what we should call them, especially if I’m saying Holmes and Watson) are the only other stories I put on the same level as the Canon.  We’re both Wolfeans, Dan.  We fell in love with the language of Rex Stout.  It drives me crazy that so many fans of twentieth-century American literature always mention Hemingway and Chandler, yet omit Stout (the word “omit” is a nod to fans of Wolfe).  When at his best, Stout could write RINGS around those two!  I love Chandler, too, but Stout seems to have been forgotten by too many.  The plots weren’t always tops and the two main characters didn’t age in the many decades covered by the books, but so what?  I smile every time I read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories, and I have read them all multiple times.  Any fan of Holmes and Watson (especially those who read the stories for the relationship) should give Wolfe a try.

Your BSI investiture is “a seven per cent solution” in homage to your profession as a pharmacist. How has that profession affected the way you read the Canon?

Well, I certainly have a better understanding of the poisons mentioned in the Canon than when I first read the stories as a kid.  I did a presentation at A Scintillation of Scions last year entitled “Pharmacy in the Canon,” where I went through the state of pharmacy in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period, as well as talked about every drug and poison mentioned in the Canon.  It is actually pretty chilling the lack of understanding so many in medical world had regarding the substances they were prescribing or recommending.  That’s not to say we live in a perfect world now, by any stretch, but we have a better understanding of how things work.  But honestly, part of what drew me to mysteries is what drew me to pharmacy: I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and am always trying to turn chaos into order.  That is essentially what a detective in a story does: he or she is presented with a problem that needs to be solved.  The world needs to be made right (at least this small piece of it).  So, too, must a pharmacist (or anyone in the medical field) solve a problem presented to them.  Of course, I rarely meet engineers with nine digits, but I do try to help make things better where I can.

Although you and I both live on the same side of Cincinnati, we’ve crossed paths in numerous other cities at scion meetings and at conferences. What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

Well, our home scion is the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, of course.  I also belong to the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the Six Napoleons of Baltimore, the Sherlockians of Baltimore, the Denizens of the Bar of Gold (Eastern Shore of Maryland), the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago, the 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash, the Fourth Garrideb, the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC, and the Baker Street Irregulars.

What’s your favorite Sherlockian event?

As much as I love the Birthday Weekend in New York, I think I have to be honest and say From Gillette to Brett in Bloomington.  Steve and Mark (and everyone else in Indiana) do such an amazing job there.  The guests, the presentations, the movies on the big screen – all fantastic!  Which reminds me, I haven’t nagged Steve and Mark yet this year about when the next one is happening…

What has it meant to you to be part of the far-flung Sherlockian community?

It really means more to me than I can say.  I work a lot, I have a child with special needs, and I don’t have a lot of other hobbies.  I spent a long time reading everything I could get my hands on that involved Holmes, but I never knew the joy of sharing it with others (face to face).  When I finally got the nerve to start attending Tankerville Club meetings, I really began to understand the community aspects of this obsession hobby.  And that has made such a difference to me. Two or three folks in my personal life have said that I am a happier person as an active Sherlockian.  And they are absolutely right.

What is your Sherlock Holmes guilty pleasure?

Without a doubt, it is the much-panned Hound of the Baskervilles starring Tom Baker (BBC, 1982).  Is it great?  Nope.  Does it add an original twist, like Brian Blessed as Geoffrey Lyons in the Ian Richardson version from 1983?  Nope.  Is it at least commercially available on DVD in the United States?  No.  It is the Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who, chewing scenery.  And the title sequence is a cartoon, for some unknown reason.  But I love it anyway.   

You can still register here to take part in Holmes, Doyle, & Friends on March 28, with an opening reception on March 27. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Sherlockian and His Pipes

Al Shaw, pipe smoker and master Sherlockian 
Al Shaw, BSI, is the new Master of the Hounds (i.e., leader of the pack) for the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), founded in Chicago by the legendary Vincent Starrett in 1943. He is also Sir Hugo of another Windy City group of Sherlockians, Hugo’s Companions. And on March 28, he will be one of the presenters at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference in Dayton, OH. Al is a great friend of mine, and one of the wittiest people I know. You should know him, too.   

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

Ahh, the implication here is that there is some seminal moment when we bump into the master detective coming out of a yellow Victorian fog and exclaim, “Who is this guy?! I must know more.”

I suspect the reality is not that simple. Growing up in the 20th century I, like all of you, have always known of Holmes as he is part of our culture. When we are kids, we see Mikey Mouse, Goofy and even Popeye sporting deerstalkers, smoking a pipe, and being “detectives.”  When we are older, he is still there in Classics Illustrated and even Batman comics. In school, the odds are one of the first pieces of literature we read will probably be a Holmes story. 

Still, there was one encounter that motivated me to read all the stories, to take that Doubleday volume of complete stories and read it through. I was 16 years old and working till closing time at a drug store on weekends. When I would come home, I was too wired to go right to sleep. I would turn on the TV for a while and there were late night showings of Sherlock Holmes films each Friday night. It should be noted that this was the same year that I had begun smoking a pipe.  That was how Basil Rathbone went, for me, from Guy Gisborne to the quintessential Sherlock Holmes.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

First, for me, being Sherlockian means the desire to revel in the Canon and the Victorian setting therein. There are moments when one transitions from “a guy reading the Sherlock Holmes stories” to being a “Sherlockian” – a student of the canon.

The 1960’s had just ended. My brother was in the Peace Corps in Africa. He took only one book with him – The Complete Sherlock Holmes. In those days, the Peace Corps (and sometimes the government) would open your mail.  So, my brother wrote to me in the dancing men cypher so that our letters would not be understood by others.  This rekindled my interest and Sherlock Holmes.

My interest in Holmes was further sparked by another event.  In 1971, Hugo's Companions, a Scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, was featured in an article in the Chicago Tribune.  They posted a notice that they were hosting their annual birthday party for Sherlock Holmes.  I decided to attend and my reservation was graciously accepted. The dinner was a very formal affair, with everyone in jackets and ties or dresses.  This was my first experience with a large group of people with a common interest. It was also my first experience with a group of Sherlockians “playing the game.” The members, recognizing me as new, greeted me warmly. It was then that I became aware of the term “Sherlockian” and realizing that I had been one for quite some time.

What has it meant to you to be part of the Sherlockian community?
The interaction with various scions and Sherlockians has been a golden thread woven throughout most years of my life. The first time my son, as a child, was invited to a costume party, he decided we should attend as Sherlock Homes and Sherlock Jr. (not Buster Keaton for the erudite among you). It has been there for me through multiple marriages, moves, and jobs. As I have stated elsewhere, during those years, I have had the privilege to walk among Sherlockian Giants.

You’ve been a Sherlockian a long time. What are one or two of your fondest Sherlockian memories?

My first meetings in 1971 of Hugo’s Companion, when I formed my “Theory of Determining the age of a Sherlockian by their Choice of Favorite Sherlock Portrayal.” I mentioned to someone sitting next to me that I thought Basil Rathbone portrayed the quintessential Sherlock Holmes. The retort was, “Ellie Norwood was the best homes in film.” Who the hell was Norwood? I was to find out that Sherlockians in every generation chose their own Holmes as portrayed on film or television, and, if you knew who their favorite Holmes was, the odds were that you could guess their age better than a carnival conman could.

In those early meetings, one would little suspect the day-to-day identity of the person you sat next to. Some examples:

John Nieminski.  John, I later discovered, was manager of the Midwest Regional Office of the U.S. Civil Service Commission offices. He authored The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic): A History of Chicago’s Senior Sherlockian Scion Society, 1943-1983.  He twice co-chaired the annual Bouchercon (the national Anthony Boucher Memorial Mystery Convention). Mystery scholars prized his notable bibliographies of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (1974) and The Saint Mystery Magazine (1980), He co-founded the quarterly Baker Street Miscellanea. (He was primarily responsible for publishing my previously referenced paper in said Miscellanea).  John also compiled histories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visits to Chicago in 1894 and the 1920s. He authored “Sherlock Holmes in The Tribune.”

Dick Olberg was a French Horn player in the Chicago Symphony.

Ely Liebow. He was Chairman of the English Department at Northeastern Illinois University. It turns out that Ely took part in the historic 1965 Selma Alabama march! In 1982, Ely presented me with one of the first copies of his book Dr. Joe Bell: Model for Sherlock Holmes

Dave Stevens was an editor for Playboy! (A magazine, which at the time, to which I faithfully subscribed for the fine articles).

Jay Marshall from his TV show, “The Magic Ranch.  Jay appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” fourteen times. 

Nieminski and Liebow came up to me after my first meeting. John said, “Let me buy you a drink. We expect you to sit with us at the next meeting.” 

What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

The Baker Street Irregulars, Hugo’s Companions, The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), The Criterion Bar Association, The Torists International, and 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash. Any others that I may have omitted are strictly due to failing memory.

Your topic for the Dayton conference is pipes in the Canon. Tell us a little about your fascination with pipes and your involvement in the pipe-collecting community.    

On my 16th birthday I am known, in some circles, as not only the guy who reads, but the guy who reads Sherlock Holmes. My dad comes into my room with the box and he says “You’re 16 years old now. I would rather not have you smoke cigarettes.”

I open the box and inside is a pipe. It is a “Yellowbole Thorn.” There is a box of tobacco called “Cherry Blend,” a particularly nasty blend available in drug stores at the time. My dad says, “When you smoke a pipe you do not inhale.”  My dad, himself was “Kaywoodie” pipe man as was his father before him. This was the most expensive brand of pipe sold at Walgreen’s drug stores.  I have related in articles and monographs elsewhere, many of the shapes and materials that we associate with Sherlock Holmes are available today or were indeed available to Holmes during his time. I have endeavored over the years to acquire many examples of these pipes both modern and antique.  I belong to the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors. We put on the largest pipe collectors show in the country each spring.  Holmes just seems to read infinitely better when smoking a pipe and creating my own “Yellow Fog.”

Besides Holmes, Doyle, & Friends, what other major Sherlockian events are on your calendar this year?   

It is actually my plan to cut back a bit this year. In the past I have gone to the Norwegian Explorers event, BSI in NY of course, and numerous events hosted by The Illustrious Clients in Indiana.  This year it is my intention to limit myself to mostly local Chicagoland gatherings.

What question haven’t I asked you that I should?
Pizza… Chicago or New York?

You can still register here to take part in Holmes, Doyle, & Friends on March 28,with an opening reception on March 27.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Profile: A Lawyer Looks at Sherlock Holmes

Rich Krisciunas with daughter Emily and wife Kathy

Rich Krisciunas, a veteran attorney and law professor, has prepared a marvelous talk for the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven conference in Dayton, March 27 & 28. Let’s get to know him better.

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

I first met Sherlock Holmes as a child in the 60’s watching Basil Rathbone movies on Sunday afternoons on Bill Kennedy’s Showtime television show. I was impressed with how Sherlock Holmes remained calm and cool and was able to use his mind to solve a variety of crimes. I enjoyed the genre of the detective story, and also remember watching the Charlie Chan movies as well.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

There are many layers to this answer. I watched the movies in the early 60’s. I started reading the stories in the Canon. I am the kind of person who becomes obsessed with anything I do. I throw all of my energy into a subject. So as I went to law school in 1972, my focus was on my studies. I became a trial lawyer at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in 1976 and attended a meeting of the Amateur Mendicant Society in Detroit and began subscribing to the Baker Street Journal. I read the journals in what spare time I had, but I only had time to read one book a year during Christmas break when the courts were closed My wife would buy me a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, like The Seven-Percent Solution and The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer or The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren D. Estleman. She also bought me a deerstalker which I wore in the winters.

Over the years, I played softball four or five nights a week. After my daughter was born in 1985, I threw myself into being Emily’s dad. I coached my daughter’s soccer team for 12 years. I coached high school soccer. I taught Trial Practice as an adjunct professor in law school for 38 years. I taught a Criminal Trial Clinic and was Director of Externships at Detroit Mercy School of Law. These duties interrupted my ability to focus on the Canon.

Ultimately, three years ago, I retired and looked for something else to do in addition to playing golf. I Googled Sherlock Holmes scions and discovered several in my midst. I started attending meetings, which forced me to read a different story for each meeting. I tried to read as much scholarship about each story as I could find. I bought the CD of old Baker Street Journals and read articles about every tangential topic so that I could contribute something meaningful to the discussions at the meetings. The more I read, the more meetings I attended, the more I enjoyed the new friendships I had made.

Your topic for the Dayton conference is “No Obstruction, but Much Collusion: The Alleged Crimes of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson.” There are many such apparent crimes! Has this been a fascination of yours as you read the Canon over the years?

As a criminal trial lawyer, when I watch a movie or read a story, I always consider how a case would be prosecuted in a real courtroom. There are so many movies that leave me shaking my head, saying, “That would never happen in court.” As I read the Canon, I always think about the evidence and what I would argue in a closing argument to convince a jury or what I would say in an opening statement to capture a juror’s attention. How would I defend the person accused by Holmes or how would I defend Holmes for the crimes he committed? I would always think about how the Crown could prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Which witnesses would have to testify? Would they be willing or able to testify?  How would the defense cross-examine them, and would they be credible? It’s easy to say that Holmes broke into a house to steal some papers or he carried a gun, but it’s quite another thing to be able to go into a courtroom and find a witness with personal knowledge who could testify to their observations in front of a judge and jury. As I examined all the crimes that Holmes and Watson allegedly committed, I thought about writing my paper and sharing my experience as a trial lawyer.

Tell us a little about your law career – especially how it has been affected by Sherlock Holmes.     

I graduated from the University of Detroit School of Law in 1975. I had worked as a student intern in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit, Michigan during my third year in law school. I had worked in a special unit that prosecuted repeat offenders and serial rapists, robbers and murderers. I had a chance to watch some of the best trial lawyers in the state. I also played shortstop on the office softball team and batted cleanup. After I passed the bar, I was hired by the prosecutor’s office. I always joked that I was hired on the basis of my athletic ability.

I was an introvert and assumed I was going to be an appellate prosecutor because I had written several appeal briefs as a student. I never saw myself as being a trial lawyer.But when I came in to work on my first day, I was assigned to the Trial Division to work for the manager of the softball team, who was the chief of the Trial Division.

He told me to watch a jury trial on a rape case. I watched the trial and took notes on jury selection and evidentiary objections and closing arguments. After the trial ended, I told my boss that I was ready for some more training. He handed me a file and said, “Go try this misdemeanor jury trial.” I tried the case and he gave me another jury trial. Next week, I tried three more jury trials. I had tried five misdemeanor jury trials in six days. It was Friday and I was sitting in my office when a prosecutor came into my office and said, “Hey kid, you want to try an Armed Robbery?” “Whoa. I’ve never tried a felony case. Will you sit with me?” “Sure,” he said. He lied. When the jury came in, he disappeared and I tried the case by myself. I ended up winning my first nine jury trials. I was trying cases every day. Robberies, drug cases, bad checks, breaking-and-enterings, rapes, thefts and homicides.

Within a year, the judge I was assigned to, who had been a former prosecutor, wrote a letter to the elected prosecutor and praised my ability as a trial lawyer. I was promoted to the Prosecutor’s Repeat Offenders Bureau (PROB), the same unit I had worked in as a law student intern two years before. I continued trying high visibility cases in that unit for several years until I was promoted to become the special prosecutor assigned to the Detroit Police Department’s Felony Murder Squad Seven headed by Inspector Gilbert Hill, who gained fame for acting in the movie Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. For two years, I handled nothing but Murder First Degree trials. In seven years, I had tried over 150 hundred jury trials and another 400 bench trials. Ultimately, I became a supervising attorney, responsible for the prosecution of 4,000-5,000 cases a year and training new assistant prosecutors, and retired, after 28 years in the office, as the Chief of the Trial Division.

I rose through the ranks very quickly. I think what made me successful was, like Holmes, my attention to detail and my ability to keep an open mind. I felt that no one could outwork me. I thought I needed to be as prepared as possible to make up for my weaknesses as an introvert and my lack of experience. I began my preparation for trial in every case in an unorthodox way as a prosecutor. Instead of thinking how I would convict the defendant, I started by assuming that I was prosecuting an innocent man. I looked at the defendant’s story as if it were true and tried to corroborate the defendant’s theory of the case. If the defendant was really at work, as he claimed, there would be records at his place of employment that would confirm it. I subpoenaed the records and found that he was off on the day of the crime. I looked for physical evidence of injuries, witnesses who could corroborate the defendant’s claims, common sense explanations for apparently guilty behavior. Ultimately, I could poke holes in every defendant’s story and that helped me build a stronger case for conviction. I found that many times, my case ended up being so strong that most defendants elected to plead guilty rather than go to trial.

In the Canon, there are many examples of cases where Holmes would do some investigation that would prove that the man he suspected was not being truthful. In “The Speckled Band,” for instance, Holmes looked at the will of Grimesby Roylott’s widow to see how much he stood to lose if his stepdaughters married. In that way, he determined Roylott’s motive to kill his stepdaughters. It’s that extra bit of knowledge that helped Holmes solve a case.

After I retired as a prosecutor in 2004, I decided to take court-appointed criminal cases so I could take my students to court. I defended clients for 12 years until I gave up my practice. Now, I work one day a week as a city attorney prosecuting traffic and misdemeanor offenses in my local district court. I also golf four times a week with my friends. This gives me much free time to read the Canon and related books and articles.

What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

I joined the Ribston-Pippins, the Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit, The Greek Interpreters of East Lansing, and the Bootmakers of Toronto. I subscribe to the Baker Street Journal and listen faithfully to Scott Monty’s podcasts “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” and “Trifles.”

Besides Holmes, Doyle, & Friends, what other major Sherlockian events are on your calendar this year?

I am hoping to attend the BSI Conference at West Point, New York in July and was thinking about attending “Holmes in the Heartland” in St. Louis.

What has it meant to you to be part of the Sherlockian community?

I have really enjoyed being part of the Sherlockian community. With only one exception, everyone has been warm and welcoming. There are some really smart people who play the game. I have learned so much about many different aspects of the Canon’s stories – the era, London, history, Baker Street, etc. I have been surprised by how many people who don’t belong to a scion enjoy talking about Sherlock Holmes. We have a lot in common.

What else is up your Sherlockian sleeve?

I have written a paper on who killed Charles Augustus Milverton. Spoiler alert. He is a close personal friend of Doctor John Watson.

You can still register here for Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven, March 27-28.