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, November 20, 2019

Arthur Conan Doyle Gets His Due

Paul M. Chapman (left) and Mark Jones  
There’s a new podcast in town – “town” being wherever you listen to podcasts. “The Doings of Doyle” is brought to us by British enthusiasts Paul M. Chapman and Mark Jones. I was fascinated by the first episode, which focused on The Doings of Raffles Haw. I’ve read about this novella many times in Conan Doyle biographies, but the podcast for the first time made me want to read the work itself. I decided to ask Paul and mark a few questions about their new venture:

How did the two of you happen to come together around Arthur Conan Doyle?

We met about five years ago at a book fair in York, United Kingdom, where we were both hovering around a bookseller who was selling various early works by ACD. Paul was already very active in Sherlockian circles while Mark was then a “solitary cyclist,” as it were. We’ve been good friends ever since.

Are you both Sherlock Holmes devotees as well as ACD champions?

Absolutely! We both came to ACD through the canon and love it immensely. We’re members of the Scandalous Bohemians of Yorkshire which meets every six weeks or so in Leeds and in York. Our York venue was once the home of Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-82), the inventor of the Hansom cab, which we’d like to say was by design but we only discovered later by chance. Paul was editor of The Ritual, the journal of the Northern Musgraves scion society, and has written for Sherlock magazine, while Mark has written for The Baker Street Journal, Canadian Holmes, The Serpentine Muse and others.

Why did you choose the format of a podcast to explore the writings of ACD, mostly the non-Canonical ones?

We’re both keen radio listeners and thought that podcasting was a very immediate way to bring the works of ACD to the attention of a wider audience. We’ve also been inspired by various Sherlockian podcasts, notably Scott and Burt’s I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, the grand-daddy of them all.

Do you think these writings are less well known by Sherlockians and Holmesians than they should be?

ACD’s wider writings are generally less well known among Sherlockians and the general public alike, which was part of the reason for doing the podcast. ACD was an astonishingly prolific and versatile writer and his bibliography is wonderfully rich. There’s so much to enjoy in his work. That said, we appreciate that most people, like us, come to ACD through the canon, so we try to bring out the canonical connections in each episode. Hopefully, this makes ACD’s wider work more relevant to the Sherlockian audience and helps to shine a new light on the canon too.

Does playing “the Game” that Arthur Conan Doyle was Dr. Watson’s literary agent devalue ACD’s achievements?

The game can be great fun but it’s hard to say it hasn’t worked against ACD and his reputation to some extent. The scholarship of ACD’s wider work is relatively thin compared to that of his contemporaries. That said, it’s all ACD’s fault! The game is really a reflection of ACD’s success – that he could create characters as rich and vibrant as Holmes and Watson that they have, to some extent, overshadowed their creator.

Are you confident that readers who love Holmes will also love other ACD writings?

That’s a good question! ACD’s work is very varied so there is something for everyone. We would tend to favour his short stories over his novels – he was a master of the short story – so its perhaps best for people to dive in there and see what they find. And let us know what they think we should cover in future episodes.

What traits of the Holmes stories are present in all ACD fiction?

Part of ACD’s success was his compact style with those short, crisp sentences and his effortless ability to delineate a character effectively in a sentence or a phrase, or to paint a picture in a lot less than a thousand words. There is an immediacy to his writing that makes him very accessible (while leading some critics to undervalue his work). He has a preoccupation with the gothic, born out of childhood fascination, that carries through a lot of his work, plus there’s a certain “pawky humour” that is often present. 

Possibly two answers to this one: For each of you, what is your favorite ACD work that’s not a Holmes adventure? 

Mark’s favourite is Tales of Long Ago (1922), a collection of short stories that is a reflection on the end of Empire and has a tremendous sense of pathos. That said, he’s been re-reading the Captain Sharkey and Brigadier Gerard adventures recently with much delight.

Paul is particularly drawn to the Gothic short stories, such as ‘Lot No. 249’, ‘The Parasite’, and ‘The Captain of the Pole-star’, and also The Tragedy of the Korosko, ACD’s resonant novel of Imperial Adventure and speculation.

How often will this new podcast be dropping new episodes?

We have set ourselves the target of recording a new podcast every month. We released the first one just after we had recorded the second one, so we hope to always have a month in hand in case life gets in the way! We’ve also asked a number of people to join us on future podcasts. At last count, we had ten shows planned. There’s a lot to go at!

What is the best way to find the podcast?

It’s on Apple podcasts, Google Play podcasts and Spotify or you can get to it directly from the website, www.doingsofdoyle.com.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Collecting Sherlock Holmes: "It's the Stories"

Glen Miranker, left, in conversation with Otto Penzler

Otto Penzler, not a mystery writer but nevertheless one of the most significant figures in mystery fiction over the past half-century, amassed a collection of some 60,000 books in the genre.

Then he sold them all. He seemed sad about that as he and fellow collector Glen Miranker discussed “Reflections on Collectors and Collecting” at the “Building an Archive” symposium last weekend in Bloomington, IN.

The conference celebrated the move of the Baker Street Irregulars archives from Harvard University to the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington. Many of the panels involved the disease known as bibliomania. Nicholas Basbanes, one of the panelists, wrote a book about the subject called A Gentle Madness.

This ailment, for which there is no known cure, causes otherwise sane people to acquire lots of books, and sometimes artefacts associated with the subject of those books.  

“Whatever it is, I’ve got some,” Peter Blau, one of the great collectors of Sherlockiana, said in an early panel. He acknowledged following in the footsteps of the late John Bennett Shaw, who famously admitted to collecting with all the selectivity of a vacuum cleaner.

(Having stayed at Peter’s house once, I know this is true. His library includes some of the same inexpensive items as mine – cheap trinkets, even! – along with, for example, a Holmes volume once owned by T.S. Eliot.)

But collecting is not just about things. “It’s the stories,” Peter said. And he’s a tremendous storyteller. He mentioned that he once had two copies of a particular multi-volume edition of the Canon. One was in better condition, and with dust jackets. But he sold that set and kept the one in poorer condition – because it had belonged to Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur’s daughter.

Otto Penzler is also a fascinating teller of tales. His discussion with Glen Miranker came after dinner, at the end of a jam-packed day that included a display of 221 Sherlockian objects at the Lilly Library. But I’m sure that no one nodded. For me, it was the piece de resistance of a memorable conference. 

Publisher, bookseller, editor – that’s Otto Penzler. He described how he backed into bookselling about 40 years ago: He began as a publisher. Eventually, he needed an office that wasn’t just a space in his apartment. Buying a building in Manhattan was cheaper than renting, so he bought a building. He had so much extra space in that building, he decided to fill it with a bookstore. 

He now owns five publishing companies. They subsidize the Mysterious Bookshop, which has never made a profit.

It’s the stories.  

This was on display at the Lilly Library 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The (Bow) Ties that Bind

Sebastian McCabe, the protagonist of my primary series of  mystery novels, wears bow ties. I wear bow ties. And now my new business card wears a bow tie, and will make its debut appearance this weekend at the Baker Street Irregulars' "Building an Archive" conference in Bloomington, IN.

Maybe I'm projecting here, but there seems to be a disproportionately high number of bow tie wearing Sherlockians. I have dubbed us His Last Bow, a mythical or perhaps virtual Sherlockian scion society. Ray Betzner very kindly called me the Top Knot. Here are some of us at a meeting of the Sons of the Copper Beeches in Philadelphia on Oct. 25:

Steve Rothman, Ray Betzner, Dan Andriacco, James Reibman, Greg Ruby 
And earlier in the month at the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago:

Andriacco, Carlina de la Cova, Jonathan Shimberg, Don Izban (seated), Bob Sharfman
Earlier still, at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends symposium in Dayton at the end of March:

Carlina de la Cova, Scott Monty, Monica Schmidt, Andriacco
I've even on occasion (New York in January springs to mind), provided pre-tied bow ties for those who don't normally wear them. So next time we meet, let's be sure to tie one on!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Showing Sherlock Everywhere

It pays to advertise!

While we were in Philadelphia last weekend for a meeting of the Sons of the Copper Beeches, Ann and I had a great time walking through the historic part of the city (Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Museum of the American Revolution) with our friends Michael and Lois Bush.

Along the way, several people commented on my sweatshirt (above) and expressed their admiration for Sherlock Holmes and/or the eponymous pub.

I’ve owned the shirt since long before we visited London the first time in 1997. Our good friend of more than 40 years, Margaret Richter, bought it for me as a present during a trip. Since Margaret is not a woman normally to be found in pubs, this shirt has always been very special to me. I always think of her when I wear it. (Hi, Margaret!)

And in view of the reaction over the weekend, I think I’ll be wearing it more often.

By the way, the phrase that began this blog post has been attributed to a great Sherlockian. Dorothy L. Sayer purportedly coined the phrase during her years as an advertising copywriter. Kieran McMullen and I fictionalized that phase of her life in our mystery novel The PoisonedPenman.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Storied Sherlockian Scion Society

There are numerous novels about the Baker Street Irregulars, the premier Sherlock Holmes society in America, of which most other societies are scions. (I especially liked Baker Street Irregular and The War of the Worlds Mystery, and there was also The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, Murder Most Irregular and The Sherlockian.)

But so far as I know, the only mystery novel about an real-life scion society was Arthur H. Lewis’s Copper Beeches from 1971. Since I will be attending the October meeting of Philadelphia’s venerable Sons of the Copper Beeches later this week, I re-read the book for the first time in about 40 years.

It’s not a “whodunit” but a kind of “will-he-get-by-with-it” mystery. A member of the SOCB, Col. H. Wesley Eberhardt, makes a bet with five other members (soon to be joined by a sixth, the narrator) that he can elude them for six months. If he wins, they will have to fork over a total of $100,000, which he will use to buy a rare Sherlockian treasure.

In the course of this cat-and-mouse game, the pursuers learn enough about Col. Eberhardt’s backstory to be concerned about the safety of his much more popular wife.

A good deal of the fun here is the ironic distance between how the narrator, one of the Sons, thinks of himself and how the reader will think of him. He imagines himself to be very enlightened about “betters.” This makes for high humor at times because he’s actually a prig.

Speaking of irony, here’s a passage from the author’s brief forward to the book:

“Meetings of the Copper Beeches are held in October and April and no – repeat “no” – woman has ever been admitted to one and, despite Women’s Lib, chances are no woman ever will be.”

The Sons of Copper Beeches, founded in 1947, has been co-ed since 2017. For which I am most grateful! 

A Good Book Can be a Bad 'Forgery'

Your scribe meets Nicholas Meyer
Nicholas Meyer has given me the vocabulary to articulate what I have long believed.

The brilliant and witty author of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution has been making the rounds launching his newest Sherlock Holmes pastiche, TheAdventure of the Peculiar Protocols. In a talk to the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis last weekend, and in an interview on “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere,” he talked about his fascination with forgeries.

Meyer considers a pastiche a kind of forgery. I believe he has said this before.

And here’s what I think: A non-Canonical Sherlock Holmes short story or novel can be a good read, with a great plot and characters that jump off the page, and yet be a lousy forgery. By that I mean it doesn’t give the reader the illusion of the real thing. It may fail to do in many ways – by being too long, by having a title that doesn’t sound Watsonian, by bringing in historical characters, by referring to Arthur Conan Doyle as Watson's friend, etc. These characteristics don’t necessarily make a bad book – but they do, in my view, make a bad forgery.  

I’ve even read stories touted as “traditional” pastiches in which Holmes and Watson refer to each other by their first names! That will never do.

Whether a forgery (to use Meyer’s term) is a good one or not is largely subjective, of course. For that reason, I am loath to give examples of each. But I’ll risk saying this: Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story fails because it is pure heresy, whereas Vincent Starrett’s “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” is pitch-perfect, as close to the real thing as you will ever read.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

An Interesting Though Elementary Interview

In effect, I'm turning over the blog this week to Rob Nunn, leader of the Parallel Case of St. Louis scion society and proprietor of the "Interesting Though Elementary" blog. It's an interesting blog indeed! In Sunday's installment, he asked me a number of interesting questions. In fact, I hope my answers were as interesting as his questions!

Check it out at 

Monday, October 14, 2019

"A Happy Exception," Says Review

The review below of my Sherlock Holmes novel House of the Doomed is immensely gratifying to me because reviewer Pat Ward not only grasped precisely what I was trying to achieve, she thinks I succeeded! 

The review appears in the Fall 2019 number of Canadian Holmes, the journal of the Bootmakers of Toronto. If you are unfamiliar with this fine publication, check it out. 

Now, the review:

There are now far more Sherlock Holmes pastiches than the 56 short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Most of these, in my opinion, aren’t very good. House of the  Doomed is one of the happy exceptions. It has an excellent, traditional, English country house mystery and avoids the pastiche’s many sins. Holmes and Watson act and speak like Holmes and Watson. Holmes does not have to save the world, or at least the British Empire. He does not encounter historical figures. There are no romantic interests for Holmes and Watson (Irene Adler does not appear, and Watson doesn’t get any additional wives). The story’s structure is not unlike that of Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels, and at 119 pages, the book is roughly as long as Doyle’s longer works. Unlike many pastiches, this story is not bloated or overwritten, but well-paced and plotted. 

Dan Andriacco is a mystery writer and a Sherlockian, and both are evident in this book. The setting is an old dark house full of potential victims, suspects and possibly a few ghosts. 

House of the Doomed is an excellent mystery, one that compares well with Conan Doyle’s work. It is also that rare thing, a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It may not be from Conan Doyle’s pen but it could have been.

Pat Ward

House of the Doomed is available at http://www.wessexpress.com/html/houseofdoomed.html

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Howling with the Hounds (sic)

Dr. Carlina de la Cova at the Hounds dinner (Photo: Monica Schmidt)

After re-reading The Hound of the Baskervilles so many times over the past 50 years, I thought I’d looked at it from just about every angle. Then I attended the annual dinner meeting of the Hounds of the Baskerville(sic) over the weekend.

The scion, founded in 1943 by the legendary Vincent Starrett, is accurately self-described as “Chicago’s original, senior, and most singular Sherlockian society.” Attendance at its only meeting each year is by invitation, as is membership in the group.

This year’s after-dinner speaker was our dear friend Dr. Carlina de la Cova, who offered her unique perspective on The Hound – that of a Sherlockian who is also associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina and a deputy coroner in Colombia, SC.

In brief, she said, “Anthropology is what makes the story what it is.” This is an insight that will inform my future re-readings.

Carlina pointed out that multiple sub-disciplines of the field are represented in the novel: 
  • Physical anthropology
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Criminal anthropology
  • Archeology 

Most importantly: “The mystery is solved with anthropology,” she noted. How so? That has to do with a certain painting of Sir Hugo Baskerville and what it told Sherlock Holmes.

As the Hounds of Baskerville (sic) is a scion rich in history, it is appropriate that the before-dinner speaker imparted a little recent history: Michael Whelan, leader of the Baker Street Irregulars (“Wiggins”), discussed the recent move of the BSI Archives from the East Coast (Harvard) to the Midwest (Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington).

At the end of the evening, Carlina was inducted as a member of the Hounds, along with Mike McSwiggin, BSI, Second Most Dangerous Member of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati; and Rodney Henshaw. Congratulations to them all!

Now, back to Dartmoor . . .     

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Welcome to My World of Mystery

My latest mystery novel, Too Many Clues, marks a minor milestone – the 10th book in the Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mystery series.

(The spine says “Book Nine” because it’s the ninth novel. Rogues Gallery, one of my favorites in the series, is a collection of three novellas and two short stories.)

When I launched the series in 2011 with No Police Like Holmes (FREE on Kindle), I expected that it would be called the Sebastian McCabe series. But early readers liked Jeff Cody, Mac’s brother-in-law and “Watson,” so much that Holmes Sweet Holmes and all the subsequent books have been labeled “A Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody Mystery.” 

As the first two titles suggest, the entire series is an homage to Sherlock Holmes. The Great Detective is mentioned in every book, and his adventures often supply a clue to the solution – although one need not be a Holmes devotee to enjoy them.  

But Sebastian McCabe is more than just a Sherlockian and a professor at a small Catholic university in equally small Erin, Ohio. He is also a mystery writer, a magician, and an amateur sleuth. In other words, he is the embodiment of my fantasy life. Why not? I created him.

Jeff Cody, by contrast, failed at writing mystery novels but is a highly successful foil for Mac, his best friend and brother-in-law. I’ve often related how I once told my wife, Ann, that Jeff was a comic exaggeration of my neurotic tendencies. “Oh, no,” she said, “you’re just like that.”

I beg to differ. Jeff is much taller than me and has red hair. He began the series as a bachelor. In Too Many Clues, he’s the married the father of three. His beloved spouse, Lynda Teal (Cody), has been an integral part of the series since No Police Like Holmes.

Lynda is not the only key character besides Mac and Jeff. A few major characters are in almost every story, such as Jeff’s assistant and her paramour, Police Chief Oscar Hummel. Minor characters pop in and out. “By this time, Dan Andriacco has created a world,” author and editor David Marcum wrote about one of the earlier McCabe-Cody books. That was my intention. I’m always gratified when readers tell me that reading the latest is like going home again.

Part of any world – even my invented one – is change. St. Benignus College, Mac and Jeff’s employer, became St. Benignus University in Erin Go Bloody. By Queen City Corpse, Jeff had a new boss. Lynda has had several jobs as a journalist, and she is now writing a novel.

Too Many Clues brings some of the biggest changes yet as two characters who have been part of Mac and Jeff’s world from the start take their leave and a disarming new assistant chief joins the St. Benignus University Police. Oh, and there are a couple of murders, too.

When people ask me which Dan Andriacco mystery is my favorite, I usually say, “I love all my children.” And that’s true. But I think Too Many Clues is one of the best yet. I hope you agree. 

The Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mystery series need not be read in order of publication. There are no spoilers, and any background necessary is provided in each book.