Welcome

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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Great Detective" is Really Great


 
Zach Dundas promises a lot with his title The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes. He also delivers.
His book is like a guided tour of the Holmes multi-verse, written from the viewpoint of a long-time Sherlockian who set out to explore just why his hero has been so popular for so long. His searches take him almost everywhere. One charming chapter begins and ends with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, but also bounces into discussions of pastiches, Edgar W. Smith, The Baker Street Journal, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, Leslie Klinger, and the Marylebone Library. 
Is there any aspect of the Holmes phenomenon, past or present, that Dundas misses? I think not.
The Creation Story and Dr. Joseph Bell? Check. Oscar Wilde? Check. Visits in London to the Criterion Bar and the Sherlock Holmes Museum? Check. Dartmoor? Check. The Baker Street Babes? Check. The Great Game? Check. BSI Weekend? Check. William Gillette? Check. Rathbone, Brett, Starrett, fanfic? Check, check, and check. 
Dundas even mentions that masterwork of pig sleuthing, Freddy the Detective.
Steve Doyle appears on page 235, but unfortunately doesn’t make it into the index.
Even the parts that of the Holmes/ACD mythos that are perhaps overly familiar to veteran Sherlockians are engaging because of the chatty way they are written. Dundas triumphantly violates the rule in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style that says “Do not affect a breezy manner.” And it works. The stylistic result is a delightful read that is funny and fun even when you know what’s coming next.
But you don’t always know what’s coming next. Dundas serves up some wonderfully original insights. Such as:
“. . . Arthur Conan Doyle originated Sherlock Holmes. The rest of us, obviously, aren’t yet finished creating him.”
“Though they’re all ostensibly ‘mysteries,’ the Sherlock Holmes tales eventually sweep through just about every major pop-fiction genre. [‘The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor’] alone shifts from comedy of manners to social satire (parodies of newspaper gossip columns convey big chunks of narrative) to Western, of all things. Over the sixty stories, Conan Doyle would jump from hard-boiled noir to romance to Gothic horror.”
“In Watson, Conan Doyle crafts one of literature’s great studies in devotion. In return, Holmes comes to need Watson, though usually that need is unacknowledged. Going down to a major university to study ancient English charters? Bring Watson. Running a long con against a ring of German spies? Bring Watson.”
“The problem is that approximately 98 percent of pastiche, especially in its purely imitative form, is bad. Very. When another writer tries to warm up the magic lantern of 221B, the results usually flicker at best. Dialogue clunks with faux Victorianisms and leaden exposition. Artificial Holmeses and zombie Watsons creak about like creepy broken wind-up toys.”
Sometimes even a good book can exhaust a topic (or the reader, which is worse). But this one reminded me that Sherlock Holmes is a subject that can never be exhausted.    
To hear to a great interview with Dundas, go to the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Doll and Its Maker


If you haven't seen it already, be sure to check out my guest post at Lilac Reviews: For those that love to read and write. In it, I use Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to show that really good writers don't confuse themselves with their heroes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Adventure of the Logical Successor


I bought this paperback when it was new in 1966.
In glancing recently over the September 1982 edition of The Baker Street Journal, then edited by Peter Blau, I was struck by the title of the first article, J. Randolph Cox’s “The Adventure of the Logical Successor.” That could only be about Ellery Queen. 

Shortly after his first appearance in the 1929 novel The Roman Hat Mystery, the American amateur detective was dubbed by a reviewer as “the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes.” The quote appeared on paperback editions for years. I always thought it was a neat phrasing because it could be taken two ways: Ellery Queen was Holmes’s success in the use of logic and/or it was only logical that he would be Holmes’s successor. 

The connection between the two fictional sleuths remained strong over the decades, with Ellery often referring to his logical predecessor. In A Study in Terror, a 1966 movie tie-in book, Ellery becomes involved in Holmes’s solution of the Jack the Ripper murders. 

It’s no coincidence that Frederic Dannay – who with his cousin, Manfred B. Lee, wrote about Ellery Queen the detective under the Ellery Queen pseudonym – was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. 

Cox’s piece in the BSJ is a charming five-page pastiche written from Dr. Watson’s viewpoint in which the young Ellery, still a Harvard student, visits Holmes on the Sussex Downs. Ellery comes for advice, not knowing that Holmes was an old friend of his father, Inspector Richard Queen. They had even met once, Holmes tells Watson. Ellery was just a child, “but even then somewhat precocious, with a decided bent for deductive reasoning.” 

Ellery, who is both a mystery writer and an amateur (and sometimes professional) detective in the Dannay-Lee stories, is torn between the two paths in Cox’s pastiche. This is Ellery Queen of the first period, a Philo Vance clone who wore pince-nez eyeglasses. 

“If he can overcome his affectations and his tendency to impress people with how correct he is in his deductions, he should succeed in both of his careers,” Holmes tells Watson. 

And indeed he did. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A TV Hound Worth Watching


It has long been an axiom of mine that “you can’t have too many copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Although I’m not a collector, I own more than 80 copies of the great Sherlock Holmes novel and a few versions. I recently acquired a film I’d never seen before.
It’s a 1983 British TV movie starring Ian Richardson. Only when I started watching movie did I realize that the script was by Charles Edward Pogue. As I wrote in a previous blog post, I once saw an original Holmes play by Pogue and met him afterward. Pogue also wrote the teleplays for The Sign of Four (1983) with Richardson and The Hands of a Murder (1990) with Edward Woodward.
According to Wikipedia, Pogue considers his take on The Hound his most satisfying achievement. Considering that The Hound has been filmed approximately 150 times, I’m in no position to compare it any meaningful way to other productions. But I can make a few observations.
Ian Richardson and his Watson, Donald Churchill, are thoroughly satisfactory in their roles. Holmes even wears a top hat in London; Sidney Paget would approve.
Among the better actors below top-billing was the phosphorous-coated Hound. 
Sir Henry Baskerville, who comes from the United States rather than from Canada, sounds like an Englishman attempting a Texas accent.
The script departs in significant ways from the novel. Laura Lyons was having an affair with Sir Charles Baskerville. Her black-bearded husband, a violent artist, appears as a character. Pogue lifts the poker-bending scene from “The Speckled Band” to show that Lyons is tough but Holmes is tougher. Laura Lyons is strangled to death and Lyons is charged with her murder.
Holmes appears in disguise as a gypsy who reads Beryl Stapleton’s palm and is therefore able to tell that she formerly wore a wedding ring.   
The purpose of the changes apparently was to strengthen the detective story aspect of the plot by creating a strong new suspect. As a Sherlockian purist, I don’t approve. But as a mystery writer, I applaud the effort. I stand with those who believe that Basil Rathbone’s 1939 Hound was the best filmed adaptation, but this one is worth your time.      

Monday, August 17, 2015

Some Friendly Advice to Pastiche Writers


Sherlock is everywhere - this is a pub in Switzerland 
This is the Golden Age of Sherlockian pastiche. Thanks to the heroic legal efforts of Leslie Klinger to free Sherlock, it has been definitively established that the character of Sherlock Holmes is not protected by U.S. copyright laws.
Anyone can write fiction about Sherlock Holmes, and sometimes it seems like everyone has.
I’ve been guilty of writing pastiches, and I’ve even written an essay about how to do it. (See “The Peculiar Persecution of JohnVincent Harden,” which includes the essay.) Recently, however, I received a new insight from an old book review.
Philip A. Shreffler, then editor of The Baker Street Journal, reviewed L.B. Greenwood’s Sherlock Holmes and the Thistle of Scotland in the March 1990 issue of the BSJ. In the course of that review he made the following astute observation:
There are at least three criteria that must be satisfied in order for a work that presumes to imitate the Holmes stories to succeed: Its plot must be structured similarly to the originals; Holmes and Watson must be characterized as they are in the Canon; and the syntax and diction employed must match Arthur Conan Doyle’s.

That seems simple enough, but a fair number of pastiches fail at all three – and for mostly good reasons.
Take plot structure. A novel-length pastiche that followed the structure of the original would have to be fairly short (from the 43,372 words of The Sign of Four to the 59,452 of The Hound of the Baskervilles), with Holmes missing for half the book.
Syntax and diction? I don’t think any writer can ever completely master the voice of another.
Where I have less patience is with the Shreffler’s second point – remaining true to the characters of Holmes and Watson. Please, pasticheurs, if you must “demythologize” our heroes to fit your own vision, at least give them their own names and don’t pretend that they are our old friends.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Back to The Boys' Sherlock Holmes


 
In his delightful new book, The Great Detective, Zach Dundas recalls that magic moment when he first encountered Sherlock Holmes:
I discovered a thick, brick-red-covered, dog-eared book in my school library in Montana one suitably frigid winter’s day when I was about eleven years old. The volume bore some pre-gender-equity title like The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes. It smelled faintly of mold and many small hands. I opened to the first story, spied the exotic, very adult title “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and tumbled in. In some sense, I suppose, I was never seen again.

Later he refers again to “The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes (or whatever it was).”
That’s exactly what it was. At least, there is a very fine book of that title edited by Howard Haycraft, best known as the author of the classic Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story. And it is a volume that means a lot to me, for it was the first Holmes book I ever read. I borrowed it one Saturday in the early 1960s from the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. (I later cleverly arranged my life so that I now work right across the street from that very building.)
In my opinion, the line-up of stories for readers new to the Great Detective is an excellent one. In addition to an introduction and an essay on Dr. Joseph Bell as the model for Holmes, Haycraft included A Study in Scarlet (with the American section summarized for young readers), The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and a half-dozen of the finest short stories from The Adventures and The Memoirs. (“A Scandal in Bohemia” is among them, but not the first.)
When I had a chance to buy a 1961 edition of the book some years ago, I couldn’t resist. I’ve held it in my hands many times since, but never read it. Therefore, I was taken aback when Dundas commented that the editor expurgated some scenes for younger readers. I opened the volume to The Sign of Four and immediately saw that he was right. The shocking opening passage with the cocaine – gone! Holmes coming full circle at the end with cocaine again – gone!
No matter. I’m not normally in favor of tampering with perfection, but in this case that eccentricity just adds to the charm of a book that I encountered more than half a century ago and am pleased to have in my library now.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Literally a Dream Come True


 
You may have heard by now that master pastiche artist David Marcum is editing a book of pastiches from my publisher so huge that it had to be broken into three volumes - The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. I’ll let David tell you the rest in this Q&A.   

How did the project come about? 

Back in January, I popped awake early, having just had a very vivid dream about a new Holmes anthology. I had edited it, and it was filled with new stories by some of my favorite pasticheurs. If I’d rolled back over and slept late, as I’d intended, the idea would have been gone. But I started thinking more about it, and before long I got up, being very quiet so as not to wake my wife, and went into my Holmes books. I started making a list of names. 

Did your dream involve such a huge record-breaking collection, the biggest of its kind ever assembled? 

No, much smaller. I had a list of about a dozen author names, and I saw it as a standard-sized paperback. I sent an email to publisher Steve Emecz, explaining the idea and listing those first authors, and he was very enthusiastic. Then I started reaching out, explaining the idea, and asking for stories. 

How did you go about adding authors? 

At first, I only asked people that I already knew, either from meeting them or by email. As they said yes, I started to get more ambitious, and began to track down other people. At some point, I decided that I would spread my net wider and ask other authors in the Sherlockian community that I didn’t know. I started contacting strangers whose books and stories I’ve enjoyed for years. Often, they would say yes, and then they would suggest someone else.  

Any examples? 

One author that I really wanted to find was John Hall, who lives in England and is not on the internet. Several people helped me track down John’s physical address, and I sent him an old-fashioned letter. Imagine my amazement when, about a month later, I received a reply in the mail, complete with the typed manuscript of a new finished story. Then, a few weeks after that, I received another letter from John, this time with another story from a Sherlockian friend of his, Kevin Barratt. He didn’t know if I’d want it, but he’d taken it upon himself to send it. It was good, and now Kevin is in the anthology too. 

At what point did the single book become multiple volumes? 

It was just a natural progression. My inspiration for the whole thing was The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, edited by Mike Ashley. It has around two dozen adventures, arranged in chronological order. As someone who has a major interest in the entire Holmes chronology, both Canon and pastiche, I knew that I wanted to set this new anthology up the same way.  

But it just became too big to stay as one volume? 

Exactly. Early on, I set up a book template. As stories would arrive, I would edit and format them, and then drop them into the book. It was growing faster than I had thought it would, and there were still a lot of stories left to come. I experimented with reducing the font size, but even then it was going to be a giant book, so big that the spine would likely crack, and the print would be too small to read. 

So you had to make the decision to expand. 

Yes. With some pain on my part, Steve Emecz and I agreed that it should be two volumes. That’s also when we discussed the idea that the books should be released as simultaneous hardcovers instead of paperbacks. I had already drawn up a rough draft of how I saw the book’s cover, a painting by Atkinson Grimshaw with a silhouette of Holmes in the foreground. I found another Grimshaw painting and fixed up a draft version of it for the cover of the second volume. I sent them both off to the incredible graphic artist who works with MX, Bob Gibson at staunch.com. Within days, he had sent back beautiful finished versions.  

They really are beautiful covers that let people know exactly what to expect inside. 

I agree. But even then, the cover text for the two volumes wasn’t set in stone, which was good, because it was soon apparent that the two volumes needed to go to three. I found another Grimshaw painting, and Bob fixed it up too. After that, all that was left was to finish receiving all of the promised stories, and then to figure out how the books would be divided by the chronologically arranged stories. 

How do the dates break down? 

I think of the different volumes as all part of the same book, just spread out in different covers. Part I covers the period from when Holmes and Watson meet, in 1881, to 1889. Part II is from 1890 to 1895, and Part III is from 1896 to 1929, when Watson passed away. The collection is a very good representation of Holmes and Watson’s friendship and professional partnership from start to finish. 

What were your requirements for the stories? 

Basically, they had to be about the traditional Canonical Holmes and Watson. No modern settings, no vampire hunting or time travel, and no parody. There could be nothing that altered what was set up in the Canon, such as unexpected marriages or deaths of the main characters. And Holmes had to call Watson “Watson,” and Watson had to call Holmes “Holmes.”  

Tell us about how the authors are donating their royalties? 

When I first had the idea for the anthology, it was to find a way to get some new stories about Holmes and Watson. But I soon realized that keeping track of individual royalties would be a nightmare. There needed to be a common cause to support, and I immediately thought of Undershaw, Doyle’s former home in England that had needed to be saved from destruction or horrible disfigurement. MX Publishing had previously done quite a bit of work to help save Undershaw, and has actually published several books specifically to raise money for the house. Additionally, some MX authors already donate their royalties toward this cause. When I presented the initial idea to Steve, I already knew that’s where the money should go. Many authors joined the project specifically because they wanted to help, and this was a great way to do it.  

I understand that there is a Kickstarter in place for the anthology. 


It has gone way past both its initial goal and its “stretch” goal, but every bit raised is of benefit. It will run until August 16, so don’t forget to visit the website and purchase copies of the anthology, available for early delivery at reduced prices.

I also read that the Conan Doyle Estate has approved of the project. 

That’s right. They entirely support the efforts to save Undershaw, and they donated the use of their seal to appear on the covers of each book. 


Didn’t I hear something about a huge launch party for the books? 

It’s going to be on October 1, on the 35th floor balcony of the Heron Tower in London. The site has been donated by publisher Steve Emecz’s daytime employer, Powa Technologies. Attending will be members of the Doyle family, representatives of Sherlock Holmes societies from all around the world, celebrities, and some of the anthology authors as well. It sounds like it will be amazing! 


Where can I find out other information? 

There have been several news articles and blogs about the anthology, including a RadioTimes article, and a series of author interviews at I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere (IHOSE). A few of these can be found here:




Thank you for sharing with us what went into the creation and editing of the collection. 

Thank you! I really hope that everyone enjoys it. The stories are incredible, and it’s for a great cause too!
 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Film Festival: Sherlock in the Afternoon



Twenty-eight years and counting!


That's how long the Illustrious Clients of Indiana have been presenting their Sherlock Holmes film festival. Ann and I attended the 28th annual edition last Saturday (Aug. 1) at the Hussey-Mayfield Public Library in Zionsville, IN. The venue was perfect, with the library even furnishing the popcorn.


I'm not film reviewer. I don't even see a lot of movies. But here are my quick impressions of a highly entertaining afternoon organized by Steve Doyle and his fellow Clients:


The previews: The day started with trailers for several of the Basil Rathbone - Nigel Bruce films. It was fun to imagine seeing these classics in a movie theater in the 1940s.


"The Case of the Thistle Murders:" This episode from the Ronald (not Ron!)  Howard TV series of the 1940s had a nice plot, but I thought the dialogue limped a bit.


"The Adventure of Boscombe Valley Mystery:" Peter Cushing played Holmes brilliantly in the 1960s-era British TV series, even though he was a bit long in the tooth for the part by then. The script of this episode was largely faithful to the Canon, and the departure from the text at the end may have been an improvement, given the dramatic medium.


Sherlock Holmes Meets Tom & Jerry: Don't laugh. Well, do laugh. Yes, this is a 50-minute cartoon feature in which Holmes and Watson are aided by Hanna-Barbera's Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse. It's full of wonderful "Easter eggs" - inside jokes for Holmes fans. There's a Rathbone Pub, a Bruce Nigel Theatre, and a character named Brett Jeremy. I'd forgotten that cartoons could be so violent!


Young Sherlock Holmes: This 1985 movie featuring Nicholas Rowe holds up well. The mystery/thriller plot is first-rate and the special effects  hold up well (at least to my uncritical eye). The characters are wonderful. I have fond memories of seeing this in the theater 30 years ago with fellow members of the Tankerville Club, our Sherlock society in Cincinnati.


Enduring memories are one of the great things about belonging to a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars - memories of a film festival, for example.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Great Hiatus

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted here on the blog. I have no lack of topics and thoughts about Sherlock Holmes. What's lacking is my desktop, which was attacked by malware. I will be posting again as soon as it's back from the shop.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In Good Company


In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, is the book that launched a lawsuit – and the Free Sherlock movement.
 

Most Sherlockians probably know the gist of the story:
 

When King and Klinger edited their first volume of original stories suggested by the world’s first consulting detective, A Study in Sherlock, the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. asserted rights to the character. Their claim was based on the fact that the ten Holmes stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote after 1922 remain under copyright in the United States – and Estate owns the copyright.
 

Although King and Klinger didn’t believe it was necessary, their publisher paid a royalty. When the Estate came around for another bite of the apple as In the Company of Sherlock Holmes was being readied for publication, Klinger put his foot down. He sued.

 

Klinger argued that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and their milieu, are firmly set in the 50 stories not under copyright. Therefore, the character is in the public domain. The federal District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Sherlock was freed (for use in creative writing that did not encroach on remaining copyrights).
 

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes followed – and how fortunate that is!

 

The range of creativity in the fifteen contributions to this is book is amazing. It includes pastiches, cartoons, detective stories, horror tales, and the memoirs of a horse. Perhaps not all of it will be to your taste, but almost certainly some of it will be. There’s only room here to mention about half the entries. 

 

Jeffrey Deaver’s “The Adventure of the Laughing Fisherman,” about a young man thoroughly versed in the Canon who successfully investigates a serial, will stay with me a long time. I don’t think I could forget it if I tried.
 

“The Memoirs of Silver Blaze,” by Michael Sims, give us a new take on one of the most familiar stories in the Canon. Not surprisingly, the title character saw things that no one else did.

 

Several of the authors represented in the collection are well known, but perhaps none more so than Michael Connelly. In “The Crooked Man,” he gives his series character Harry Bosch a case based on the Canonical story of the same name, but with a very different ending. Bosch isn’t exactly the protagonist, though – that honor goes to an assistant coroner named Art Doyle.
 

Andrew Grant’s retelling of The Hound of the Baskervilles as a series of social media posts. For example, we get “Dr. John Watson was at A Neolithic Stone Hut” with the notation “Sherlock Holmes likes this.”  Spoiler alert: The case ends with “Sir Henry Baskerville has joined the group Hound Attack Survivors in Need of a Stiff Brandy.”  

 

Leah Moore and John Reppion contributed a very funny comic strip called “The Problem of the Empty Slipper,” illustrated by Chris Doherty and Adam Cadwell. Gahan Wilson’s three panel cartoons are very typical of his distinctive style of line drawings, somewhere between macabre and whimsical.
 

The only thoroughly traditional Sherlock Holmes story comes from Sara Paretsky, creator Chicago private eye V. I. Warshawski. In style, plot, and spirit, “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer” strongly resembles the real thing written by Dr. Watson – but with a twist. There’s another detective in this story, one from the pages of American fiction who predated even Sherlock Holmes (but not who you think).

 

Michael Dirda, in “By Any Other Name,” reveals at last the explosive truth behind the real relationship between Dr. Watson and A. Conan Doyle.
 

Don’t sit down to read just one of these stories. I don’t think you can stop there.