Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Adventure of the Unique Satirists

“I have never failed to read a Solar Pons adventure with satisfaction and pleasure,” the great Vincent Starrett wrote. Clearly, the admiration was mutual. “The Adventure of the Unique Dickensians,” from the title on, is a call-back to Starrett’s classic Holmes pastiche, “The Adventure of the Unique ‘Hamlet.’”

Like the Starrett story, “Dickensians” is “a good-humored satire on book collectors,” as my edition of “‘Hamlet’” says. Each story features two bibliophiles and (spoiler) a forged book or manuscript. “You know my opinion of collectors,” Pons tells Parker. “They are all a trifle mad, some more so than others.” This echoes Holmes’s comment near the end of “‘Hamlet’”: “They are a strange people, these book collectors.” Even more telling is the opening scene, where Watson tells Holmes “surely here comes a madman” in reference to their future client.

Both stories open with a view of the street, with Pons calling Parker to the window in “Dickensians” and the reverse in the Starrett story. And both end with a measure of forgiveness on the part of the client.

“Dickensians,” as even a Watson or a Parker could deduce without reading the story, is also a tribute to another great British writer. The client is Ebeneezer Snawley, who has more in common with Scrooge than just his first name. This “Christmas Carol” sendoff is an element that is completely lacking in “‘Hamlet.’” But “‘Hamlet’” was first published privately for Christmas 1920 – exactly when “Dickensians” takes place. A coincidence? I think not!

These two great short stories have one other commonality: They represent some of the best work of their respective authors. Reading them is a pleasure that does not diminish with repetition. 

This short article appears in the last issue of The Solar Pons Gazette, an impressive and fascinating journal of Ponsiana edited by Bob Byrne. It's a heavy 54 online pages, and this piece appears on page 44. You should read the whole issue!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Sherlockian in Lisbon

A Christopher Morley inscription from Nuno's collection

Nothing is more gratifying to me as a writer than to encounter someone who has enjoyed my mysteries. One of those fans for whom I have a special fondness is my Sherlockian friend Nuno Robles of Lisbon, Portugal, to whom I dedicated The Poisoned Penman. It’s a thrill for me to a have a reader in Europe who communicates with me quite regularly. He also turned out to be a very interesting interview:

Is Sherlock Holmes popular in Portugal?

Yes, of course, Sherlock Holmes is very popular in Portugal. All the stories have been translated and have been in print since the early days, I believe. In the last decade, with the Sherlock Holmes movies and with the “Sherlock” and “Elementary” TV  series, the popularity of Holmes has increased even more. And, in the last two summers, the Canon was distributed as a book series with two very popular daily newspapers. According to my local newspaper agent, these books always sold out and, if he had more copies, he would have sold them. The great thing about both series is that the covers were much nicer than the ones we can find in the book shops. Most of non-Holmes Conan Doyle books have been translated as well, but only a few remain in stock.

 How did you become a Sherlockian?

I first read the Sherlock Holmes series when I was 13-14 years old. My mother had (and still has) a complete collection of Agatha Christie novels, Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, and also several Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler books. I read all those books really early on, but I always went back to Holmes. Those books are still in my mother’s collection, but in a very fragile condition. And, of course, I bought my own books as soon as I could.

One day (I can’t quite remember when, but it was many years ago) I read a Holmes book that I bought in London. That book was not written by Conan Doyle, but I found it fascinating and it was then that I was introduced to the fascinating (but also dangerous…) world of Holmes pastiches. The book was a paperback edition of The Seven Per-Cent Solution and I bought it in a bookstore in Charing Cross Road. After that, I bought some Portuguese-translated Holmes pastiches. I was lucky because those were very good and I enjoyed them immensely. I liked this so much that I wrote to Randall Stock. These days Randall runs the great website http://www.bestofsherlock.com/. His end-of-the-year Sherlock Holmes lists are a must-read for me. Randall wrote back immediately, with very detailed and fascinating information. From there, I subscribed to The Baker Street Journal and The Sherlock Holmes Society of London and I’ve been hooked ever since. So, although I don’t know if he actually still remembers me, I guess that me becoming a Sherlockian was all Randall’s fault. God bless him.

I’m a wine producer and, although I live in Lisbon with my wife and kids, I work in a farm about 100 kms from Lisbon. I often have to stay there at night and those Sherlock Holmes stories are a great company to those cold and rainy nights.

Do you read the original stories in English, Portuguese, or both?

When I first read the stories, I read them in Portuguese. Later, I read them in English. The annotated volumes edited by William Baring Gould and, later, Leslie Klinger, have been a great company of mine and invaluable source of information. When I finished reading the three Leslie Klinger books I felt that my knowledge of the Canon much better than before. I also felt much stronger. Those books are heavy!

Do you also collect Sherlockiana?

Yes, I do. Over the years I bought so many Holmes and Holmes-related books that I must say that I do collect Sherlockiana. However, my collection is very small, although very important to me. I hope that my kids will love Holmes as much as I do and that they’ll treasure it and enjoy it.

I should mention here that there was a very important person that helped me find most of my books of my Sherlockiana collection, Vincent “Vinnie” Brosnan in Los Angeles. Vincent run a mail-order book business (with a strong focus on Sherlockiana books, but also some other subjects) called “Sherlock in LA.” He had some great catalogues and, in later years, he also sold his books through ebay. Vinnie was a BSI and the most amazing person. Although we never met personally, we changed many letters and, later, e.mails. We spoke not only about books but also about our lives, our families, and our friendship. Through him, I found the most amazing books of my collection. He seemed to have everything! And, from Sherlock Holmes to Solar Pons, I bought many fascinating and first editions books from him. He died two years ago, and I still miss our letters and his Christmas postcards. I considered him a friend and I’m glad that I met him just because I was interested in some books and he was there.

As I live here in Portugal, and it’s expensive to go to the great events that the SHSL and many other societies organize, I don’t know many Shelockians. However, the ones I’ve met or changed correspondence with (you, Randall Stock, Vinnie, Nick Utechin, among some others) have always been great to meet and, for that alone, I’m very grateful to Conan Doyle.

What is the most prized item in your collection?

Compared to other collections, my own is very modest. But I have some nice items that I treasure and I’m really proud of. I have a first edition copy of Memoirs, a complete set of Strand magazines, and some very important reference books. I should mention a fine edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes published by Garden City Publishing in 1938 with a great preface by Christopher Morley. My edition has the bookplate of Edgar W. Smith and is signed by him, which is lovely. I have a signed first edition of one of the most important and influential reference books (in my opinion), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Another very important book to me is Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, edited by Christopher Morley (Harcourt, Brace and Company 1944), of which I have a Morley-signed copy with his beautiful bookplate. I’m also very proud of my collection of first editions Solar Pons books, most of them signed by Derleth.

Do you belong to any Sherlockian groups?

Well, unfortunately there is no SH Society here in Lisbon or Portugal (at least that I’m aware of). But that’s an idea – who knows? I’m a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and I subscribe to The Baker Street Journal. I strongly hope that, in the near future, I’ll be able to go to one of the SHSL events and the BSI Dinner in New York in January….now that would be a great experience, I’m sure! I’m also a member of the John H. Watson Society, which has a great journal that I recommend to anyone reading this.

What Sherlockian websites do you usually check?

Well, Dan, I visit your blog on a weekly basis (and congratulations, it’s is very informative and an inspiration). I usually visit the SHSL website and the Baker Street Journal websites regularly to have some news and buy their publications. I also visit regularly the Randall Stock website, although it is not updated as much as I’d like  (http://www.bestofsherlock.com/), the great “Always 1895” website (http://always1895.net/), the Sherlockian website is great for reference (http://www.sherlockian.net/), the John Bennett Shaw 100 book list website is also a great reference that I often used (http://webspace.webring.com/people/sp/porlock/shaw_yop.html), the Barefoot On Baker Street is a great site that I strongly recommend (https://barefootonbakerstreet.wordpress.com/), as is the John H. Watson Society website (http://www.johnhwatsonsociety.com/), of which I’m a proud founding member. By the way, the John H Watson MD website is also a great and very informative read (http://www.johnhwatsonmd.com/). There are many others, I guess, but these are the ones I visit frequently. Oh, one more Internet source that I feel is most important, the Roger Johnson’s District Messenger monthly bulletins. Those bulletins are essential and I’m happy to be in Roger’s mailing list!

How about physical places of Sherlockian interest?

I hope that one day I’ll go to one of those Reichemback Falls events that the SHSL periodically organizes. That should be memorable. But I love London and I’ve visited the most obvious Sherlockian sites. I’ve been to Baker Street, of course – always in search of the real 221B. I like the museum, actually. It’s a cozy place and a nice site to visit. As is the Sherlock Holmes pub, by the way. I’ve been to the Strand, of course. I had a nice meal there. I went to see the Lyceum Theatre and the Royal Opera House. And I also went to the Langham Hotel, but I didn’t stay there.

How did you become familiar with my books?

I think that I first read about your books (No Police Like Holmes – yes, I’ve been your loyal reader since the beginning) in one of the Roger Johnson bulletins. He’s always been very supportive of your books and I think that it was in a District Messenger that I first read about you.

What do you like about them?

I like everything about them! In the first place, I like the stories and your writing. Your stories are very creative and unpredictable – and beautifully written. The dialogues are a pleasure to follow and so are your descriptions of the city, of the cafes, the college, etc. You really put us there, like watching a play, right in front of the action. Of course, the Holmes references are always a joy to read. But, most of all, I like your great sense of humor and the characters you’ve created. It never ceases to amaze me. And, of course, I feel that Jeff, Sebastian and Linda are part of the family these days. And it’s great to have the same feeling with Enoch Hale now. I was very happy when I first knew that you were starting a new series with Kieran. And I absorbed and loved the first book. Due to personal circumstances, I’m only starting to read the second Enoch Hale book now.
Which is your favorite Dan Andriacco mystery so far?

That’s hard to say, Dan. As I once told you, when it comes to your books, my experience has always been similar: I always enjoy your latest book most. As I became more familiar with the characters and their environment I seemed to enjoy the books even more than before. But I think that I must say that my favorite is No Police Like Holmes. And this is no contradiction to what I first said. It’s not that I think it is better than the others, but because it is the book that introduced me to your writing, to those characters, and to the fascinating universe of Dan Andriacco’s creative literature. 

Nuno and his son

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Amazing Philip K. Jones

Mr. Jones is himself a contributor to the literature of Sherlock Holmes

I've been guilty of writing a few pastiches. I've even written an essay on how to write pastiches, which appeared in Baker Street Beat. But nobody knows pastiches like Philip K. Jones.

Mr. Jones has compiled a database of a mind-boggling 10,205 Sherlock Holmes pastiches. And, perhaps more amazingly, he has generously made it available online to anyone with access to a computer!

The spreadsheet includes not only pastiches, but also parodies and related fiction. For example, my Sebastian McCabe-Jeff Cody mysteries are included in the database, even though are set in modern day (but each one with a Sherlock Holmes angle).

It's understandable that anyone with such a strong interest in pastiches would be equally consumed by the topic of untold tales - those cases of Holmes that Watson mentioned but never wrote up. Many of these stories have been written up as pastiches by other writers, usually many times.  (How many versions of "The Giant Rat of Sumatra" are out there?)

So, in another astounding feat of scholarship, Mr. Jones went through all the Canonical stories (and even the apocryphal ones by Arthur Conan Doyle) and itemized every untold tale by the story in which it was mentioned. He originally published his results in the Summer 2011 Baker Street Journal. But you don't need to find a copy if you don't own one. This, too is online at the same website.

Here's to Philip K. Jones for his wonderful work. I hope he's ready for the deluge that is sure to follow the U.S. court rulings that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Golden Years that Shine

I've always been intrigued by what happened to Holmes and Watson after the stage went dark - the years after "His Last Bow."

Like many writers before, Kim H. Krisco provides some answers in Sherlock Holmes - The Golden Years. That's not a title that immediately attracted me, but the book actually is golden.

It's a series of five interrelated short stories, most of them featuring a well-drawn new villain. Some of the familiar characters of the Canon show up as well. Krisco gives one of them a very touching death scene, followed later by what may be a supernatural reappearance.

Some historical characters stroll through these pages as well, including G.K. Chesterton and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Key to most of the stories is the eugenics movement, which was supported by some famous and still highly-respected individuals of the day in both Great Britain and the United States. The treats us to some thought-provoking dialogue on the subject.

Dialogue is one of the delights of the book, as when Holmes says: "If honor appears as a choice, then you have already lost it." And then there's this, which I like very much:
"You know what you want, but that is not the same as knowing, with any certainty, that your actions today will deliver what you want. Life is not a chess game in which there is a final end. The real world does not stop with check-mate. What is more, simply because something does not end well does not mean it is good and right."
This comment by Sherlock Holmes is part of a debate with his brother Mycroft. The larger question they are contesting is whether it is right to join forces with one evil in order to defeat another. Almost a hundred years after the setting of the book, that question remains very much alive in our complicated world.

Sherlock Holmes the Golden Years- Five New Post-retirement Adventures is available for pre order from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository .

Friday, November 7, 2014

Doing Dr. Watson Proud

The Watsonian, official journal of the John H. Watson Society, was excellent at the start and keeps getting better.

The 160-page third issue, which landed in my mailbox last week, is typographically appealing and intellectually stimulating. With 18 substantive articles packed into this issue, plus a quiz, there is sure to be much of interest to almost any Watsonian.

I say Watsonian advisedly. After all, the journal is The Watsonian. It is only to be expected that most of the articles focus on the Good Doctor. And so we have Alexian Gregory with a new theory about Dr. Watson's middle name (bolstered by a neat chart of names in the Canon), Dr. Robert Katz revisiting the much-discussed issue of his war wound(s), Don Libey discussing "A Few of Dr. Watson's Literary Devices," and both Stefano Guerra and Molly Carr weighing in on Dr. Watson's famous but never-seen bull pup.

There are many other Watson-centric articles well worth reading in this issue. But Sherlockian scholarship is to be found there as well. Enrico Solito retraces Holmes's steps during The Great Hiatus and comes up with a chronology of his travels. Drs. Robert J. Stek and Gary E. Schwartz examine Holmes's five levels of understanding in "You See, But You Do Not Observe."

My favorite sentence in the entire glorious issue comes in Judith Freeman's "Will the real Sherlock Holmes Please Stand Up?" She ends her survey of various portrayals and perceptions of  Holmes with this conclusion: "The real Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson live within the pages of the Canon and nowhere else."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Favorite Sherlock Holmes

The first incarnation in which we meet Holmes affects our view of him thereafter. Every generation has a different image in their head. Whether that Holmes comes from an actor's face or voice, or an illustrator's pen, your first Holmes is always, in some vital way, the one true to you.
This quote, which seems so timely in this Downey-Cumberbatch-Miller era, actually comes from "The Editor's Gas-Lamp" in the Summer 2008 issue of The Baker Street Journal. When I read it over the weekend, these words leaped out at me because they are so true in my case.

My first - and favorite - Sherlock Holmes was that of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sidney Paget. I read the Paget-illustrated stories long before I saw Holmes portrayed by an actor in a series of movies on late-night television. I remember the initial disappointment. Basil Rathbone was okay, even good, but that buffoon was not Watson! And where were the gaslights and the hansom cabs?

Only recently have I come to appreciate that Rathbone at times looks very much like the Paget illustrations. And I have to admit that when I have committed pastiches, the voice of Sherlock Holmes that I hear in my head sounds very much like a certain South African actor.

Many fine actors have played Holmes wonderfully, including Rathbone. But, as the BSJ editorial suggested, none of them quite matches up to the Holmes in my head.

Speaking of Basil Rathbone, that same BSJ issue has a truly fascinating article by Paul Singleton, "Hounded from Script to Screen," about the development of the script for Rathbone's Hound of the Baskervilles.

And the last article, by Rhoda Steel Kalt, includes a letter which Rathbone wrote to her in 1955. At the end of it, he asks to "be one of those few to remember me in your prayers as long as you live, & long after I am gone." How touching!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sherlock Holmes on Tape

Do you remember VHS? It's what came after Beta - eons ago in technology time.

I was forced to remember VHS recently when we cleaned out a room and discovered quite a few of the old tapes. You can see where this is going - many of them were Sherlockian:
  • Four tapes for kids: Chip 'n Dale SuperSleuths, Sherlock Undercover Dog, Wishbone's Hound of the Baskervilles, and an episode of the Japanese steampunk classic, Sherlock Hound.
  • Without a Clue, the comedic masterpiece starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley.
  • Ian Richardson's The Sign of Four.
  • The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, starring Arthur Wontner and Ian Fleming (not the author), based on The Valley of Fear.
  • Four episodes of Ronald Howard's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes TV series from the 1950s.
  • Four tapes of Basil Rathbone movies - three of which were the same one (Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon)! 
  • Elementary, My Dear Data, one of the two Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in which the android goes into the Holodeck as Holmes.
That list was in no particular order, so I can't say that I saved the best for last, but Data does make a cool Holmes as I recall the episode.

I have to recall rather than revisit because I no longer have a VHS player. I do have about half the titles on that list in DVD form, but Elementary, My Dear Data isn't one of them.

The VHS format didn't last long. How many more years will DVDs be viable? I don't know what's going to happen to e-readers, either, but I'm confident that as long as my eyes and brain are in working order I will be able to read the books on my shelves. I take a lot of comfort in that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Great Scots!

A Sherlock Holmes novel built around the quest for Scottish independence is, admittedly, of slightly less interest to most people than it might have been just a couple of months ago, before the great referendum. But those who know me realize that I am not most people.

Mike Hogan's The Scottish Question: Sons of the Thistle caught my interest for three reasons: (a) my mother was of Clan Paterson (although her ancestors became Americans well over 200 years ago), (b) my wife has decided that we are going to Scotland next year to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, and (3) I have enjoyed all of Mike Hogan's other Sherlock Holmes stories.

I wasn't disappointed by my choice. Here's the setup:

It's 1897, Victoria is still on the throne and Sherlock Holmes has been engaged to find the missing Stone of Scone (AKA Stone of Destiny) and the fabled lost Crown of Scotland. Oh, and the Queen's younger son, the Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, and his wife have been abducted. Throw in a great new villain in the person of a Prussian baron and you've got a great story.

The novel is also a good Scottish history lesson, but that never overshadows the story. At the heart of it all is a very clever conceit, and at the end is an exciting climax involving the airship on the cover.

As in other Mike Hogan books, the tone of the writing is more light-hearted than the Arthur Conan Doyle originals, but never quite veers into parody. The author seems to be serious about having fun with Holmes, Watson, the Royals, and the English (I mean British) Government in the person of Mycroft Holmes.   

Sherlock Holmes and The Scottish Question is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository .

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Hope This Will Be a Well-Read Review

It is beyond obvious to anyone following this blog that write what I might call "bottom-line" reviews: I give my reaction to the book I'm reviewing in short order and without a lot of plot description.

I'm grateful that Leah Cummins Guinn, proprietor of the Well-Read Sherlockian blog, is of the opposite school. Her wonderful review of Rogues Gallery gives loving attention to each of the five shorter tales in the book.

Having reviewed previous McCabe-Cody books, Ms. Guinn comes to the latest with a lot of perspective. I was greatly encouraged, therefore, by this passage in particular:
One of the enjoyable things about following a series is seeing how both the characters–and their author–develop. When I first began reviewing Mr. Andriacco’s books, I found them creative and enjoyable, but there were occasional passages which read “rough” to me, or abrupt insertions that, while they illuminated the characters, interrupted the general flow of the story. Those have vanished, and these stories go down as smoothly as Lynda’s favorite bourbon.
But please read the entire review.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Frederic Dannay, Sherlockian

Fred Dannay and a young James Yaffe in 1943

My friend Bob Byrne recently wrote a blog post over at Black Gate about the role of Ellery Queen's suppressed anthology of parodies and pastiches, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, in bringing Solar Pons back to life after a 10-year hiatus.

That was just one accomplishment of Frederic Dannay's life as a great Sherlockian, as well as half of the team of mystery writing cousins best known under the joint pseudonym of Ellery Queen.

Among his accomplishments (not shared by his cousin and partner-in-crime Manfred B. Lee):
  • Dannay was an early member of the Baker Street Irregulars.
  • He wrote an unforgettably evocative memoir of his discovery of Sherlock Holmes when he was a boy. It has appeared in many different forms, sometimes under the title "Who Shall Ever Forget?"
  • As the hands-on editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, he was godfather to many pastiches and parodies of The Master - most notably Robert L. Fish's hysterical Schlock Homes stories.
Ellery Queen, the fictional sleuth, was once known as "the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes." Sadly, his fame has not proved to be as durable as that of the original. Most of his adventures are no loner in print. But his co-creator, Frederic Dannay, BSI, will long be remembered fondly within the Sherlockian community.