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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, February 15, 2017

Excellent Escapade for Houdini and Conan Doyle


There’s practically a cottage industry in novels about Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, not to mention a short-lived TV series.

That’s understandable. The escape artist and the author were two of the most famous men of their times. The fascinating true story of their friendship, with its ups and downs, has been chronicled in a number of non-fiction books, as well as in every biography of the two.

After passing up several opportunities to buy Walter Satterthwait’s Escapade, a 1995 Houdini - Conan Doyle mystery novel, I finally succumbed at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend last month. I’m glad I did.

It’s a great book for several reasons: 
  • ·         It’s an English country-house mystery.
  • ·         And yet, narrator Phil Beaumont is a hard-boiled Pinkerton detective from America who cracks wise on every page.
  • ·         Interspersed with Beaumont’s prose is another refreshing voice – that of paid companion Jane Turner, a young Englishwoman telling the story from her viewpoint in breathless letters to a friend.
  • ·         It’s a locked-room mystery.
  • ·         The plot is excellent, most especially in the way the subplot comes back in at the end when the reader has mostly forgotten about it.
  • ·         The characters of Conan Doyle and Houdini are, it seems to me, largely true to life. This isn’t always the case in what passes for historical fiction. 

As in any genre or subgenre, some Houdini - Conan Doyle stories are better than others. This is one of the good ones, well plotted, well written, and highly entertaining. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Quiz on Dr. Watson


Fellow MX Writer Tim Symonds, who once made it possible for us to get a guided tour of the Reform Club in London, asked me to re-post this. I'm happy to do so: 

Many of us know quite a bit about Sherlock Holmes – his Stradivarius violin, his ear-flap hat, the fact he keeps his tobacco in a slipper, that he bumps off the Professor Moriarty, the ‘Napoleon of Crime’. But what about Holmes’s great friend and biographer Dr. John H. Watson?  Try these multiple-choice questions. A score of 8 out of 10 would be brilliant.


How did I do? Perhaps I wouldn't answer that question if I hadn't answered all 10 questions correctly, And perhaps you will do as well as I did. It's a good quiz, but even better are the explanatory paragraphs by Tim once you choose an answer.  

Tim Symonds has published five full-length Sherlock Holmes novels including ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Sword Of Osman’ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/178092755X) and his latest, ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil’

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bringing the Great Detective to Life



If you’ve been seeing pictures of your Sherlockian friends posed with the new Life magazine publication “Sherlock Holmes: The Story Behind the World’s Greatest Detective,” you may wonder whether it’s worth picking up a copy. In my opinion, it is.
 

For veteran admirers of the supersleuth, or even well-read neophytes, there’s little new in the five-chapter, 96-page magazine. But the story of the detective who never lived and so can never die is told in a very engaging fashion with no more than the usual number of minor errors. The writers may not be experts in the subject matter, but they talked to four Baker Street Irregulars who are: Otto Penzler, Leslie Klinger, Lyndsay Faye, and Mattias Boström.
 

Most of the magazine is devoted to the story of Sherlock Holmes from the point of view of his creator, but chapter five concerns what might be called the sleuth’s afterlife – fandom and dramatic presentations and re-imaginings of the sleuth of Baker Street. The weakness here is lack of attention to Jeremy Brett, although contemporary screen Sherlocks are covered. 
 

Not incidentally, this is a beautiful publication, lavishly illustrated throughout with striking photos – many of them new – and well worth revisiting just to look at. In short, it does not disappoint. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Clever Book - But That's Not Why I Own It


There can be many reasons to buy a book, especially a used one. The most recent example of that in my library is a copy of ResurrectedHolmes, an anthology of pastiches edited by Marvin Kaye.
I bought it at Mysterious Bookshop over the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend.

Kaye’s name on the binding was probably the initial attraction because he has bought a number of articles from me for Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, which he edits. Upon opening the book, I noticed that both Kaye and Otto Penzler, the owner of Mysterious Bookshop and one of the two people to whom the volume was dedicated, had both inscribed the book. And they had inscribed it to Jerry Margolin, a famous collector of Sherlockiana, particularly artwork.

So that gave me three great reasons to buy the book.

Only after I had it home and began to pursue it more carefully did I discover a fourth reason: One of the stories is by the late William L. DeAndrea, whom I met once, talked to on the phone once, and corresponded with a bit. He was about three months older than me and died in 1996 at the age of 44. I think he’s one of the most under-rated mystery writers of our time.   

The gimmick of the anthology – and it is a gimmick, though a delightful one – is that each story is written not in the style of Dr. Watson but in that of another famous writer. DeAndrea’s entry, “The Adventure of the Cripple Parade,” for example, is told from the point of view of Holmes and in the style of Mickey Spillane.

Some of the contributors are better at pulling off the approach than others, but most of the stories are quite entertaining. I especially liked “The Adventure of Ricolleti of the Club Foot” in the style of P.G. Wodehouse (featuring a butler named Reeves) and “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” as if by H.P. Lovecraft. From humor to horror, it’s an interesting collection that I am glad to have on my shelves.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Still Hounded by The Hound


One of my Sherlockian maxims is, “You can’t have too many copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

That’s obvious, I know. Although I’m not a collector, I own about 90 copies of that masterpiece, each bought for a specific reason. I’ve written about this too often to provide the links. Until recently, however, I didn’t have the bookpublished by the Baker Street Irregulars. I filled that lacuna during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. And high time, too!

In 2001, as part of its wonderful Manuscript Series, the BSI published a volume containing a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript of Chapter XI of The Hound, along with the typescript of the chapter and nine often-insightful essays.

As a mystery writer myself, I was fascinated to see how few changes the author (Arthur Conan Doyle? Dr. Watson?) made in the manuscript, and what those changes were. Many of the alterations showed a careful writer in search of the precise word – “keen” becomes “eager” near the bottom of the first page, for example. In other kind of change, the real village of Newton Abbot in Devon becomes the “Combe Tracey” familiar to readers in the revisions.

Like Sherlock Holmes with magnifying glass in hand, the essayists in this volume examine The Hound as a work of literature from many different angles – the plot, the atmosphere, the many hypothesized sources. Richard Lancelyn Green makes a strong argument, but to me ultimately unconvincing, that the story was suggested by a tale about a snake in The Strand magazine.

Michael Dirda’s “The Spell of The Hound” closes out the book with a charming reminiscence of his own first reading of the work which introduced him to Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

A special treat of this volume is a reprint of an ad for the American edition of The Hound. It ran in the May 10, 1902 issue of The Publisher’s Weekly. The three paragraphs of text, unillustrated, contains this startling statement: “The new Sherlock Holmes novel may be dead one hundred years from now, but it’s very much alive today.”

Dead one hundred years from now? How wrong could a publisher get?!  


Friday, January 13, 2017

A Canonical Toast and the Answers to a Quiz

Holmes overpowers Von Bork
I was unexpectedly asked to offer a toast to Von Bork, Sherlock Holmes’s antagonist in the chronologically last Sherlock Holmes story, at the Gaslight Gala a week ago today during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. The wording follows. And at the end – answers to a quiz!   

More than 50 years ago, when I was in the seventh grade, I first read, fell in love with, and memorized the final paragraph of “His Last Bow.” And so, it is a great joy and a singular honor for me to propose a toast tonight to a key character from that story – one for whom I retain a special fondness.  
           
You no doubt recall that on the second of August, the most terrible August in the history of the world, two famous Germans stood talking in low, confidential tones beside the stone parapet of a garden walk on the English coast. The glowing ends of their cigars resembled some malignant fiend looking down in the darkness. It is to one of them that we raise our glasses now. He was Sherlock Holmes’s last known opponent . . . but was he truly a villain? Well, you shall judge for yourselves.

I refer, of course, to “a remarkable man . . . a man who could hardly be matched among all the devoted agents of the Kaiser” –
·                     A man who was a master spy, the most astute secret-service man in Europe;
·                     A man who, as a born sportsman, yachted against his hosts, hunted with them, played polo, matched them at every game, and took the prize at Olympia; 
·                     A man who grudged Altamont nothing and paid him well;
·                     A man who was a kind master by his own lights, trying to protect his servant Martha by sending her to Germany along with his wife in August 1914;
·                     A man whose cousin Heinrich was the Imperial Envoy when Sherlock Holmes prevented a scandal in Bohemia;
·                     A man who owned a remarkable wine, an Imperial Tokay, from the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s special cellar at the Schoenbrunn Palace;
·                     A man who could have inspired a new village inn called The Dangling Prussian had he been so foolish as to shout for help while being kidnapped by Holmes and Watson;
·                     A man who was the herald of an East Wind coming, such a wind as never blew on England yet;
·                     And a man who – despite all of that – was never accorded a first name in the text!   

Fellow Sherlockians, let us lift our glasses of Imperial Tokay – we wish! – and toast our favorite German spy, Herr Von Bork, by saying –

Prost!

Here are the answers to Karen Wilson’s quiz on “Sherlockian Firsts and Lasts” at the Gaslight Gala.
1.      C. August Dupin
2.      Beeton’s Christmas Annual
3.      “A Scandal in Bohemia”
4.      “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place”
5.      “‘The Gloria Scott’”
6.      A Study in Scarlet
7.      “How are you?”
8.      “His Last Bow.”
9.      D. H. Friston, Charles Altamont Doyle
10.  Sherrinford
11.  William Gillette
12.  The Hound of the Baskervilles
13.  The Voice of Terror
14.  The Last Sherlock Holmes Story
15.  The Final Solution
16.  Sherlock’s Last Case
17.  Granada
18.  The Benedict Cumberbatch
19.  1934

20.  1992 (although the decision to admit women to the BSI was made in 1991 and that is their investiture year) 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Quiz About Sherlockian Firsts and Lasts


Those three images of Sherlock Holmes were my prizes. 


One of the many high points of the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend 2017 in New York was Gaslight Gala on Friday night, flawlessly hosted by Carla Coupe and Mary Alcaro. It was just plain fun. More about that in a future post.

To my surprise and delight, I won the quiz about Sherlockian first and lasts. I don’t usually do well on quizzes, but general knowledge seems to be my strong suit. By popular demand, here’s the quiz, which was compiled by Karen Wilson:
  1. Even Arthur Conan Doyle acknowledged that the first detective in fiction was not Holmes, but which literary character disparaged by him in A Study in Scarlet?
  2. In what publication did Sherlock Holmes make his debut?
  3. What was the first Holmes short story to be published?
  4. What was the last Holmes short story to be published?
  5. In the Canon’s internal chronology, what is Holmes’s first case?
  6. In the Canon’s internal chronology, what is Watson’s first case?
  7. What is the first sentence uttered by Holmes to Dr. Watson?
  8. In the Canon’s internal chronology, what is Holmes’s and Watson’s last case?
  9. The first illustrator of a Sherlock Holmes story was not Sidney Paget. For two points, who did the first magazine illustrations? (Or, for one point, who did the first book illustrations?)
  10. In ACD’s first draft of his first Holmes story, what was the detective’s first name?
  11. The first radio adaptation was “The Speckled Band,” by Edith Meiser, in 1930. In it, Holmes was voiced by what actor much better known for playing the detective in another medium?
  12. 20th C. Fox’s two Sherlock Holmes films were both released in 1939. Which came out first?
  13. What was Universal Studios’ first Sherlock Holmes film, inspired by “His Last Bow”?
  14. In what 1978 pastiche by Michael Dibdin does Holmes meet the Ripper “up close and personal”?
  15. This 2004 novella by Michael Chabon never names its Holmes hero, but its title is a macabre riff on one of Dr. Watson’s.
  16. In 1987, Frank Langella starred on Broadway as a rather unpleasant incarnation of the title character in what play by Charles Marowitz, which ran for 124 performances?
  17. Ciaran Hinds appeared as a tragic Jim Browner in the 41st and final episode of the Holmes series by what production company?
  18. Which of the three current Holmes portrayers recently gave an interview teasing that “this may be the last time I play Sherlock Holmes”?
  19. In what year was the first BSI dinner held?
  20. In what year did the BSI dinner first admit women?

Putting one of my prizes to good use!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Year of Sherlockian Delights


The beginning of the new year is the perfect time to pick up A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes and read it every day.

And if you don't already have a copy, get one.

This is a day book, meaning it has an entry for every day of the year - in this case, all of them related in some way to the phenomenon that is Sherlock Holmes. Today, for example, you can read about one of the early Holmes parodists (the creator of "Picklock Holes") and about the founding of the Western Morning News (whose type face once gave young Sherlock Holmes some trouble.)

A Curious Collection of Dates is not only a great idea, but superbly executed. I have been reading it daily since May. And when I get back to where I started, I just may begin again. If I haven't persuaded you yet, check out what wrote about it last year. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another Adventure of Sherlock Holmes


As 2016 winds down to its final days, I have taken up a task I never imagined as recently as mid-year: I’m writing a full-length Sherlock Holmes novel. 

At least, Arthur Conan Doyle would have considered it full length. His four Holmes novels ranged in size from The Sign of the Four, at 43,372 words, to The Hound of the Baskervilles, at 59,452 words. Mine will fall within that range, probably at the lower end. Many pastiches are twice as long, which spoils verisimilitude for me before I open the book. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy such a novel, but I will never get lost in the fantasy that it’s the real thing. 

My work in progress is an attempt to write a book that ACD might have written in terms of plot, character, and style so far as I can imitate a master writer. That means no steam punk, no famous historical characters, and “no ghosts need apply.” Lots of fun books have contained those elements, but mine won’t.  

What will it have? Spoiler alert: It’s narrated by Dr. Watson. And it probably won’t hurt to say that the plot will include elements that the creator of Sherlock Holmes used over and over again in his 60 short stories and novels about the Great Detective: 
  • a damsel in distress
  • an American;
  • a secret society;
  • revenge;
  • and burglary (by Holmes).   
I’ve written two Holmes short stories, “The Peculiar Persecution of John VincentHarden” and “The Adventure of the Magic Umbrella,” and co-authored the Enoch Hale trilogy in which Holmes appears. But I never expected to write Sherlock fiction again, much less a novel. 

So why am I rushing in where wise men fear to tread? For one of the best reasons I can image: A friend asked me to do it. And one chapter into the writing, I’m having a heck of a lot of fun at it.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Conan Doyle and the Hilltop Writers


Sherlock Holmes died, or so the world thought, at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. He was reborn in “England’s Switzerland.”

The latter was the nickname for the hamlet of Hindhead in Surrey. There in 1897 Arthur Conan Doyle built Undershaw, the home where he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles and other post-Reichenbach Holmes tales. The story of Conan Doyle’s productive decade at Undershaw is masterfully told in Alistair Duncan’s An Entirely NewCountry. And efforts to save the house have attracted support of Holmes and Conan Doyle enthusiasts around the globe.

But thanks to a recommendation from my friend Roger Johnson, BSI, of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, I recently read a book that tells the bigger story of Hindhead and surrounding communities around the time ACD lived there. The title tells it all – The Hilltop Writers: AVictorian Colony Among the Surrey Hills, by W.R. Trotter.

Hindhead is the highest point in that part of England, with an elevation of 800 feet. The air is famously pure, which is what attracted Conan Doyle and his tubercular first wife. And until a railway line opened at nearby Haslemere in 1859, putting the area just an hour and a half from London, the heather-covered hills were unspoiled by major developments.

Within a few decades of railroad arrival, however, a colony of writers and scientists briefly flourished on those Surrey hilltops. Trotter’s book sets the scene in the first two sections, giving an overview. In the final and biggest section, he profiles the dramatis personae of the colony in sketches of several pages each. It reads like a Who’s Who of late Victorian England, but much more interesting than that reference book.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Christina Rossetti, and George Eliot are some of the more famous. But some of the not-so-famous are equally interesting.  

Arthur Conan Doyle gets four solid pages of biography, as well other references sprinkled throughout. Notably included are photos of Undershaw and of the Beacon Hotel where ACD held a fancy dress Christmas Ball in 1898, at which he dressed as a Viking.


I bought the book to research a Sherlock Holmes novel that will be set in Surrey. But I read it with which much greater enjoyment than I expected.