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, 2015

Holmes Before Watson

Life is a labyrinthine web wherein one event taking place over here has repercussions over there, affecting relationships down the line. Relationships may be fragile, broken as easily as they were formed, but often they impact a life in so many ways unseen. You see, there is so much more to be learned about Sherlock Holmes than that which has been written . . . as even you, Mycroft, are about to discover.
Those lines from the prologue of When the Song of the Angels is Stilled make an implicit promise which is fulfilled in a most satisfactory fashion. 
This novel of the young Holmes before Watson is in part a retelling of "The 'Gloria Scott'," but only a small part. There's also a subplot about a gruesome criminal enterprise involving babies. But, most of all, there is romance. This is, in fact, essentially a fine romance novel about Sherlock Holmes.
"I like adaptations to be period-perfect and somewhat rigidly and canonically exact," A. S. Croyle writes in an "Author's Note." "Thus, in this novel, I do not attempt to narrate in John Watson’s voice and deliberately place the novel in a 'Before Watson' time period, so that replication of his voice is not an issue."

Instead, the narrator is Priscilla "Poppy" Stamford, sister to "young Stamford" of A Study in Scarlet, and fiance to Holmes's college friend Victor Trevor. It is her dog who bites Holmes on the ankle. An aspiring physician in Victorian England, Poppy is inevitably a strong-willed character. Thus watching her fall in love with the equally strong-willed - and emotion-shy - young Sherlock is fascinating.

We know the relationship is not going to end well because we know the detective's future doesn't include Poppy. That adds to the suspense rather than killing it, and prepares us for a very moving ending.  

The author writes out of a deep knowledge of the Canon. Sly references to familiar characters and other stories abound. Reginald Musgrave, John Watson, Shinwell Johnson, Stanley Hopkins (Sr.) and others we have met before make welcome appearances, along with the not-yet-notorious Oscar Wilde.

Happily,  the epilogue opens the door for more "Before Watson" adventures.  I look forward to them.

When the Song of the Angels is Stilled: A Before Watson Novel is available for pre-order from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers

Technology and scholarship have combined to produce a book that belongs on the shelves of every serious Sherlockian.

Mattias Boström and Matt Laffey used online newspaper archives to search papers from around the world and compile a large sampling of articles for Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers, Volume I 1881-1892 (Gasogene Books, $32.95.)

The articles include both news stories and reviews. It’s fascinating to see what reviewers had to say about Holmes and his author in their early years. A Study in Scarlet, which appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of December 1887, received more press than I had thought – although the reviewers then (and later) often got the author’s name wrong.

“He is a wonderful man is Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” The Glasgow Herald wrote on December 17, 1887, adding that “one cannot lay down the narrative until the end is reached.” Just three years and one more Holmes novel later, The Pittsburgh Dispatch hailed Holmes in 1890 as “the best detective we know of in any of the detective stories.”   

Over the next several years, newspapers commented – almost always favorably – on individual Holmes stories as they appeared in The Strand. One of the few negative voices was the Chicago Herald reviwer who wrote on Oct. 25, 1891 that “Sherlock Holmes will never compare with Monsieur Dupin.” 

In the Dec. 28, 1891 number of The Scotsman, a reviewer compared a detective named Mr. Calvin Sugg unfavorably to Sherlock Holmes. The editors note in an insightful footnote: “Appearing in just six short stories to date, the Great Detective was becoming the definitive yardstick by which all other detectives both literary and real) were to be measured.” 

Interestingly, Conan Doyle’s historical romances, which he thought overshadowed by Sherlock Holmes, were widely and often favorably reviewed before Holmes took off. “No abler historical novel has been published for many a day than Micah Clarke by A.Conan Doyle,” opined The Sunday Chronicle of San Francisco on June 30, 1889.  That sentiment was widely shared. The reaction to The White Company was more mixed.

Later volumes in this series should prove to be at least as interesting, if not more so. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how the newspapers treated “The Final Problem.” Meanwhile, you can order the first volume from Wessex Press.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sherlock Holmes & Mr. Spock

The death of Leonard Nimoy, best known as Star Trek's Mr. Spock, resonated with Sherlockians for obvious reasons: Spock was Holmes-like in his emotionless logic, and Nimoy famously played the title role in a 1976 national tour of William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes.

But I find it surprising that the Spock-Holmes/Nimoy-Holmes axis was seen and foreseen by the late science fiction great Poul Anderson, a Baker Street Irregular, while the original Star Trek series will still in its first run on the small screen.

In an article called "The Archetypical Holmes" in the September 1968 edition of The Baker Street Journal, Anderson argued persuasively that Holmes was an archetype in a strict sense - an original pattern from which many near-copies sprang. Near the end of the article, he wrote:

"I wish to point out that one science fiction personality, who has seized the mass imagination as no other has done, is pure Holmes. I refer to Mr. Spock on the television show Star Trek."

Anderson cites several reasons why he thinks this is true, and then says: "Spock exasperates his less intellectual companions, but usually meets their sarcasms with a ready and biting wit. At the same time, he is athletic, cool and capable in danger. He is withdrawn, austere, philosophical and, as played by Leonard Nimoy, allowing for the uniform and the pointed ears, presents an excellent physical image for Holmes . . .

"When Star Trek finally goes off the air, which I hope will not be for a long while, Leonard Nimoy will be looking for a new role. I suggest that he is the perfect successor to Basic Rathbone, and that you write to the networks and movie companies saying so. I further suggest that his popularity is another hopeful sign. The girls of today who adore this near 200-proof Holmes archetype will be the mothers of tomorrow. They, their husbands, and their children may well create a new age of Victoria."

Well, that didn't happen, nor did the original Star Trek stay on the air a long time. But Nimoy did play Holmes. And yet he never stopped being Spock.
For more on Sherlock Holmes - Star Trek crossovers, check out "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Another Winner in Dayton

Jacquelynn Bost Morris on poisons; the crowd was bigger than it looks

Holmes, Doyle & Friends: Two, held last weekend (March 20-21) in Dayton, Ohio, proved that the high quality of last year's seminar was no fluke.

Sponsored by the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, this year's program - successor to the long-running Holmes/Doyle Symposium in Dayton hat was not sponsored by the Treasurers, offered a parade of engaging and erudite speakers whose primary purpose seemed to be having fun with the Canon.

Philip K. Jones analyzed why the Sherlock Holmes stories are uniquely popular. Jacquelynn Bost Morris, ASH, BSI, looked at the clues and symptoms which indicate that Anna Coram didn't really die as assumed in "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez." Bill Cochran, BSI, theorized that the real groom at the wedding of Irene Adler was Holmes himself!

David Miller discussed snakes in the Canon in a way designed to evoked titters. Vincent Wright energetically surveyed the hangmen of the Victorian period, lingering over several ghoulishly humorous incidents of botched executions. Lorraine Reibert offered her opinion that the blue carbuncle was actually a Kashmir sapphire. Bill Mason, BSI, closed out the seminar with a fascinating look at Latin Americans in the Canon, and how Arthur Conan Doyle's later work was likely influenced by a Frenchman's book about Central America.

Two social events, an opening-night reception and a banquet on Saturday, served as bookends for the more formal program.

Mark your calendar for Holmes, Doyle & Friends: Three in 2016. Meanwhile, it's not too late to sign up for perhaps the premier annual Holmes symposium - A Scintillation of Scions VIII, coming in June in Maryland. Check it out!  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Look for it - Coming in May!

London, 1924: When Alfie Barrington is stabbed to death outside his club, suspicion quickly falls on his widow, the lovely Sarah – and on her former beau, Enoch Hale. The American journalist has an alibi, but he doesn’t know her name and Scotland Yard can’t find her.

Determined to solve this case without the help of his friend Sherlock Holmes, Hale launches and investigation that brings him into contact with Leonard and Virginia Woolf, bohemian writers and publishers; P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster; Howard Carter, discoverer of King Tut’s tomb; and one of the greatest mystery writers of all time.

A second murder sparks journalistic speculation of a curse related to Alfie’s time in Egypt as a competitor of Carter and his patron, Lord Carnarvon. Hale doesn’t buy that, but he doesn’t come up with a better solution until it is almost too late. And in the end, it is once again Sherlock Holmes who puts it all together.

This exciting historical mystery concludes the Enoch Hale – Sherlock Holmes trilogy that began with The Amateur Executioner and continued with The Poisoned Penman

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Very Different Hound

Dr. Dan on the set with Sir Hugo Baskerville
Ann and I saw a very different - but very fun - rendition of The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Valentine Theatre's Studio A in Toledo, Ohio. This is an intimate black box theater, holding about 80 patrons.

Playwright Tim Kelly and the production staff managed to present the essence of the novel in a two-act play that lasted 97 minutes, intermission included, and used only one set - a sitting room at Baskerville Hall.

Naturally, some creative liberties with the text were necessary. I think they worked quite well. A new character, the maid Perkins, was added to convey some vital information. Sir Henry's shoe is stolen from Baskerville Hall, not his hotel in London. And Dr. Mortimer is an old colleague of Watson - except that Dr. Mortimer is now Lady Agatha Mortimer.

Beryl Stapleton became Kathy Stapleton for no obvious reason. But that's not the biggest change from the novel. Skip the next paragraph if you don't want to know what it is. Consider this your spoiler alert.

The Stapleton female turns out to be the villain behind the villain, an Iago-like figure who planned the whole thing. Even though I'm a strict constructionist when it comes to Holmes, I couldn't help liking that. And some scholars have speculated that this was the case.

The best lines from The Hound made it into the play, as well as several great lines from elsewhere in the Canon. ("The most winning woman I ever knew . . .")

Greg Kissner's Sherlock Holmes reminded me of Robert Downey, Jr., but he told me afterwards that he watched a lot of Rathbone and Brett to prepare for the role and tried to make his interpretation an amalgam of the best Holmes actors. Whatever the inspirations, his Holmes worked very well - all of the Canonical arrogance with a leaven of humor.

Adding to the fun for us was seeing the play with our friends Mike and Tamy Hagan and other fellow members of the Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay. Members Ted and Rhonda Cowell played the Barrymores, Elizabeth Cottle was the director and Susan McCann was the stage manager. They all did a great job. 
Ted Cowell as Barrymore

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes

Of all the literally thousands of Sherlock Holmes pastiches written, one of the most famous collections of them is The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes.

This classic contains six short stories by Adrian Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur's son, and six by him in collaboration with the great mystery writer John Dickson Carr. The stories were published in magazines from 1952 (the year I was born) to 1954. The book came out in 1954.

Although I'm not a collector, I'm fortunate to own three copies. The oldest is the one above, a fifth printing for which I paid one dollar, probably at a library sale. I also have a newer hardback edition and a paperback.

The edition shown above has a quote on the back that any author would envy. It's from Winston Churchill, commenting on Carr's The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: "I shall keep this book among my most treasured possessions." (My former boss, a multilingual intellectual, once said the same about The Complete Sherlock Holmes.) 

For years I had the impression that the two authors had a falling out that led to Carr leaving the project. But Douglas G. Greene's wonderful John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles, relates that Carr had a physical breakdown (only partially related to alcohol) that kept him from honoring his commitment. The strong Doyle-Carr friendship was ruptured for a while, but later repaired.

Today there is no shortage of Holmes pastiches in many different styles. But there's only one book of them written by the Literary Agent's son and one of the great mystery writers of the Golden Age of detective fiction.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Great Beginning With a Great Name

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.

Mickey Spillane, whose Mike Hammer books sold millions of copies each in the 1950s and early 1960s, once said, “The first chapter sells the book. The last chapter sells the next book.” In other words: Hook them in the beginning, and leave them wanting more at the end.

Arthur Conan Doyle is a writer of great beginnings and great endings.

The openings of the Sherlock Holmes stories are great not only because they catch your attention, but also because they are well written.

For example:

It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning during the winter of ’97 that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was Holmes. The candle in his hand shone on his eager, stooping face, and told me at a glance that something was amiss.


“I am inclined to think –” said I.
“I should certainly do so,” said Sherlock Holmes, impatiently.

And the unforgettable:

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.

You will have seen, though you may not have observed, that all three of these openings include the Master’s name. Cornelis Helling, a Dutch Serhlockian, noted in the December 1963 number of The Baker Street Journal that fully 37 of the 60 stories (including half the novels) include the name of Sherlock Holmes in the first sentence! In three others he is mentioned implicitly, for a total of 40 stories – two-thirds of the total. Great beginnings with a great name!

If that indicates a certain lack of variety in approach, I never heard anyone complain. Nor will I.