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, January 23, 2015

Only the Quote Was Unforgettable

"How do you know that?
"I followed you."
"I saw no one."
"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
- "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"
Monsignor Ronald Knox, in his landmark "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes," cited that bit of dialogue between Dr. Leon Sterndale and Holmes as an example of what he called "Sherlockismus."

Another great Sherlockian, Anthony Boucher, alluded to this passage in his first Sister Ursula novel, Nine Times Nine, originally published under his H.H. Holmes pseudonym.

Here's the dialogue among Lt. Terence Marshall, his wife Leona, and protagonist Matt Duncan. Marshall speaks first:

"There's a passage I remember in one of the Holmes stories -- "

"I thought you didn't like mysteries," said Leona.

"Hell, darling, Sherlock Holmes isn't just mysteries, anymore than Macbeth is just a play or Bist du bei mir is just a tune. The Holmes chronicles are something wonderful and superhuman and apart. I grew up on them and I worship at the shrine."

"I'll agree they aren't mysteries," said Leona, with a noticeable absence or her husband's enthusiasm.

"Anybody that'll hold out clews on you like that --"

"This passage now," Matt suggested.

"I think it's in The Lion's Mane. The explorer says, 'I saw no one,' and Holmes replies, 'That is what you may expect to see when I follow you.' Well, that's the ideal of all shadowing. We aren't all Holmeses in the police force, but nobody should let a man notice he's being followed."

All that is very nice, but here's my question: Was it Lt. Marshall who got the wrong story as the origin of that great passage of Sherockismus, or was it Anthony Boucher - famed mystery writer, critic, and member of the Baker Street Irregulars?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Some of My Favorite People

More proof that Sherlockians, some of the my favorite people, are among the most fun:

Ann and I had a wonderful time over the weekend at the annual Masters Dinner of the Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay in Toledo. I was the keynote speaker, talking on "Sherlock Holmes, For Crown and Country: The Great Detective in Public Service."

Other hijinks of the evening included an "Unmasking," in which costumed members of the Petrels threw out clues and challenged other members to guess which Canonical characters they represented. The venerable Italian priest was fairly easy - there is only one in the Canon! (See "The Final Problem.")

Long-time member Jim O'Keefe was honored as "Stormy Petrel of the Year" - in part because he comes all the way from Detroit for the monthly meetings!

We hope to join these new friends again on March 14 when they go to The Valentine Theatre in Toledo to watch “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” The director of the play, the stage manager, and two of the actors are Stormy Petrels. And tickets are only $20 each!

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Were the Other Six?

Holmes and Watson with their client in "The Copper Beaches"
"What can be the matter, then? Can you suggest no explanation?""I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts so far as we know them."

-- "The Adventure of the Copper Beaches"
Has anybody figured out what were the other six?

Holmes says something like this on a couple of other occasions, as I recall - again tossing out the mystical number of seven possible solutions or courses of action. The good Watson, of course, never challenges him.

Enoch Hale, hero of what eventually will be a trilogy of Holmes-related historical mystery novels by Kieran McMullan and me, isn't so passive. In the The Poisoned Penman, in a chapter called, "The Seven Solutions of Sherlock Holmes," Hale challenges Holmes's claim that he could think of seven separate solutions.

“Wait a minute.” Hale looked at Holmes square in the face. “Whenever you told Watson that kind of thing—‘seven separate solutions’—he just swallowed it without question. I’m not so easy. What are all these possible solutions? And I want to hear seven, not six.”

With a sigh, Holmes lists all seven. But, of course, there will be no spoilers on this blog. I hope you read the book and see what they are.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

You, Too, Can Be Sherlock Holmes

"The world is full of obvious things nobody by any chance over observes," Sherlock Holmes said in the Hound of the Baskervilles.

But Holmes observed, and does Mark A. Williams, Sr. Now Williams is teaching the rest of us how in his new book, How to Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes.

"I have used the techniques in the book,"  he assured me. "I am still learning, however, and am by no means an expert or on Holmes’s level.  My mentor and friend, Thomas Stanziale, Sr., could size up people just like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Joseph Bell.  I saw him do it many times and became interested in learning how to do it myself. After seeing him in action, I became interested in trying to do what he did.  I read books on body language, psychology, etc. and eventually found the 54 short stories and four novels about Sherlock Holmes."

He was in his forties when he discovered the Great Detective, who was not part of his cultural background. "One interesting fact about me is that I am African American and not many of my friends know anything about Holmes, although they’ve heard about Sherlock and seen his movies."

The degree to which Williams absorbed the Canon is impressive. Almost every page contains multiple examples drawn from it, although the book also contains 28 pages of footnotes and bibliographical references to other works as well. 

What all those citations illustrates is that the Holmes technique, as analyzed by Williams, boils down to four questions and eight principles. The questions are: What so I observe? What can I deduce? How can I verify it? What does it mean? The principles for principal application are: observation, deduction, knowledge, experience, listening, memory, imagination, memory, and intuition. Yes, Holmes used them all - even intuition.

Chapter 12, the one on how to practice, is worth of price of admission all by itself. I especially liked the section on movies, those which contain scenes of practical deduction you might not have noticed, and Williams's admonition to "watch/learn magic." 

"I’ve been practicing the techniques each day trying to get better," Williams said. "I wrote the book to help me improve my skills, since a person understands and learns more as they explain and teach others.  I’ve had successes and failures in sizing up people.  I am a union shop steward at work in the Postal Service and use the techniques when I deal with people on my job.  I have to size up people constantly to tell if they are speaking the truth or not, to help them resolve their problems and so forth.  One guy who just bought the book challenged me to size him up.  I did and was 75-80% correct."

That's impressive. So is this book.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Holmes in Ohio

Quick, Watson - the registration form!

Even though we are in the cold and dreary winter, you should register now for the Holmes, Doyle & Friends: Two seminar which will be presented in Dayton, Ohio, March 20-21. There's a discount if you register before Feb. 27. This was an excellent event last year, a worthy successor to the famous Dayton program of years gone by, and I'm looking forward to being there again. So check out the details and register here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Sherlock Holmes, a Fairy Tale?

Vincent Starrett
Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies. Vincent Starrett believed that ACD wrote fairy tales.

At a dinner in Chicago in his honor on June 4, 1963, Starrett gave a talk later reprinted under the title "How I Got That Way" in the March 1974 issue of The Baker Street Journal after his death. He ended that little speech with this thought:
More than any other form of fiction except perhaps the children's fairy tale - of which it is perhaps the successor - the detective story is (or should be) an allegory of Wickedness overcome by Virtue; of Evil confounded and put to flight by Justice and truth. It is Conan Doyle's triumph that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are the best of all fairy tales for grownups.
The mind rebels a bit at the notion of Sherlock Holmes as a fairy tale. In our day the designation seems dismissive. But the great G.K. Chesterton, a huge (in several senses) admirer of fairy tales and of Holmes, likely would have agreed with Starrett. His most famous observation about fairy tales is often paraphrased or misquoted, so here's what he actually wrote in an essay called "The Red Angel":
Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
What is Sherlock Holmes but a St. George? What are Moriarty, and Milverton, and Moran ("a fine collection of M's") and all the other villains of the Canon but dragons to be slain?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

H.M. and M.H.

The first book I read this year turned out to have an unexpected Holmes connection. But I shouldn't have been surprised.

One of my reading projects for 2015 is to re-read, in order, the 22 novels, one novella and one short story featuring semi-amateur sleuth Sir Henry Merrivale, written by locked-room master John Dickson Carr under his Carter Dickson pseudonym.

The irascible Merrivale is better known as H.M. or "the old man." But in his inaugural appearance, The Plague Court Murders (1934), we learn that he has another nickname - Mycroft! When H.M. was head of the British Counter-Espionage Department, one of his agents wrote from Constantinople:

"The most interesting figure in the stories about the hawk-faced gentleman from Baker Street isn't Sherlock at all; it's Mycroft. Do you remember him? He's the one with as big or bigger detective hat as S.H., but is too lazy to use it; he's big and sluggish and won't move out of his chair; he's a big pot in some mysterious department of the government, with a card-index memory and moves only in his orbit of lodgings-club-Whitehall. I think he only comes into two stories, but there's a magnificent scene in which Sherlock and Mycroft stand in the window of the Diogenes Club rattling out a chain of deductions about a man passing by in the street - both of them very casual, and poor Watson getting dizzier than he's ever been before . . . . I tell you, if our H.M. had a little more dignity, and would always remember to put on a necktie, and would refrain from humming the words to questionable songs when he lumbers through rooms full of lady typists, he wouldn't make a bad Mycroft."

All of this is completely spot on.It turns out that H.M. is even a member of the Diogenes Club.

This homage to the Holmes brothers is only natural, given that Carr was such a devotee of the Master. (He later wrote The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and co-authored The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes with ACD's son Adrian.)

We learn a lot about H.M. in this first adventure, which is a great locked room mystery with surprises right up to the last paragraph:
  • H.M. has a sister named Letty and a nephew named Horace.
  • His phone number is Whitehall 0007. (007 anyone?)
  • He was born in 1871, so "the old man" is only 59 in this case, set in 1930.
  • He stands five-foot-ten.
  • A fanatical Socialist (quite unlike Carr!), he once ran for Parliament.
  • His favorite authors are Dickens and Twain.
  • Despite his atrocious grammar, he is both a barrister and a physician.
But the most important thing about the outrageous H.M. is that he is fun to read about. I look forward to doing more of that throughout the year ahead.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Madcap Murder and a Spot of Holmes

I’ve seen a lot of Sherlock Holmes plays of varying quality, but I’ve never seen one like “Sherlock Holmes at the Alamo.” Neither have you.

For starters, Holmes uses time travel to go to the aid of Davey Crockett and company.           

“What object is served by the circle of misery and violence and fear?” said Holmes, looking over the future battle site. “It must tend to some end, or else or universe is ruled by –”    

“Santa Anna, by the looks of it,” said Dr. Watson in a Texas drawl that drew a hearty chuckle from the audience.

Oh, and Holmes is played by a 12-year-old girl named Lydia, who also wrote the play.

That’s just part of the fun, a minor bit of amusing byplay in Kathleen Kaska’s new Murder at the Driskill (LL-Publications). Like the first three mysteries in her Sydney Lockhart series, the latest is a highly entertaining mash-up of screwball comedy (think 1930s movies) and Texas noir.
Murder at the Driskill finds Sydney, an intrepid 1950’s newspaper reporter, with a new gig in addition to her day job at the Austin American. She and her boyfriend, former cop Ralph Dixon, and their associate Billy Ludlow have formed their own private detective agency in Austin.
One of their first clients is a rancher who wants them to investigate his business partner, who is also his brother-in-law. Before they can even begin, the subject is shot and killed at the Driskill Hotel just as he is expected to declare his candidacy for governor of Texas. His wife confesses to the murder, but nobody believes she did it – including their client, who now wants them to prove his sister-in-law’s innocence.
Sydney and Ralph’s investigation turns up lots of motives – for killing their client. Everybody liked the victim, including his wife.
The 1950s were seldom as exciting as in this fast-paced and funny mystery, which is packed with action right to the end. The central problem around which the story revolves is an intriguing one and the solution is satisfying. What will bring you back to the next Sydney Lockhart novel, though, are the snappy dialogue and a cast of memorable characters – the child prodigy Lydia not least among them.
If you’re tired of the 21st Century, or just need a little break from it, pour yourself a martini and open Murder at the Driskill for the perfect escape.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Touch of Holmes

The late Herbert Brean was a Sherlockian and a mystery writer. Even though his stories were written and set in mid-Twentieth Century America, far from Baker Street, the shadow of Holmes hangs pleasantly over them.

I first encountered Brean's novels almost 40 years ago, before and after having wisdom teeth removed. Unable to sleep in the hospital, I stayed up much of the night reading. They took my mind off what was to come in the morning. I was inspired to re-read the Brean corpus after reading a review of his first book, Wilders Walk Away (1948), on Curtis Evans's fine blog, The Passing Tramp.

This first of what would eventually be an all-too-few seven mystery novels is a fine "impossible crime" story about the generations-old penchant for members of an old New England family to disappear. The explanation for how one of them vanished leaving footprints in the snow going in only direction is simple and plausible.

Each chapter is headed by a quote from the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Interestingly, and significantly, they aren't particularly famous quotes (with one or two exceptions). But they are quotes that are really relevant to the actions of the chapter ahead.  

The amateur detective sleuth who appears in this and other early Brean books, free-lance writer Reynold Frame, thinks to himself at one point, "Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot."

Later, we get this: "He was a faithful reader, and disciple, of Sherlock Holmes, and had occasionally thought he might successfully put the Baker Street consultant's methods into practice, if opportunity ever offered." And, of course, it was.

In Frame's second adventure, The Darker the Night (1949), the scene shifts to Manhattan and a neat plot involving hypnotism. At one point the hypnotist challenges Frame: "You're supposed to be a sort of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes could look at people and deduce things about them, couldn't he? Well, what do you deduce about her?"

Frame makes the very astute observation that people don't wear their clothes as long or stay in one place as long as they did in the Great Detective's day, thereby giving less material on which to base deductions. "Nevertheless, the Holmesian method is still valid." This he goes on to prove with a series of plausible - and accurate - deductions about another character in the story.

Also in this book we learn that Frame's landlady is Mrs. Hudson and that he has a touch of the dramatic reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes - a comparison the amateur sleuth himself makes.

I most remember Brean, a one-time executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America, as the editor of the excellent first edition of The Mystery Writer's Handbook. I've gone back to this book time and again over the years. His own writing, while not as memorable as that of his greatest contemporaries, deserves to be better known to fans of the Golden Age of detective fiction.