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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Getting to Know Dr. Julian Wolff



Dr. Julian Wolff just became real to me. But first, some background:

The most common age for readers to encounter Sherlock Holmes is about 12. Unusually for me, I was a bit ahead of the curve on that. At that age, in 1964, I spent $5.50 of my own money to buy my first Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes. I had read not only half the Canon by then, but also Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar W. Smith’s Profile by Gaslight, and probably some issues of The Baker Street Journal.

So, at the age of 10 or so, I certainly knew about the Baker Street Irregulars and might well have known about its third leader, Julian Wolff. Now I feel like I know Dr. Wolff himself after reading Sonia Fetherston’s new book Commissionaire. It’s a fast and fascinating read.

This is not a complete biography of all the ins and outs of Dr. Wolff’s professional and personal lives. It is, rather, largely a portrait of his BSI service and leadership, with sufficient personal details to make the subject come alive as a complex personality. (A man who courts a woman for 30 years with ultimate success is no quitter.) I love the anecdote-laden way the book is written, with quotes and stories from dozens of people who knew him.

Not surprisingly, many of those anecdotes come from the inimitable Peter Blau. My favorite is his quote from Julian Wolff himself about how he ran the BSI: “Sometimes I’m described as a benevolent dictator. I’m not a dictator. But if I were a dictator I’d be a benevolent dictator. If I were benevolent.”  

In no way slighted is Dr. Wolff’s controversial (then and now) decision to maintain the BSI as a stag organization, at least in terms of attendance at the annual dinner, despite the famous picketing by a half-dozen female Sherlockians at the 1968 dinner. Three of the first six women admitted to the BSI a year after Dr. Wolff's death offer their unique perspectives on him. 

If you’re as interested in BSI history as I am, be sure to listen to an interview with Sonia Fetherston here on the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast and equally sure to order a copy of the book here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Sherlockian Cocktail

Socially distanced cheers!
We had a nice cocktail last night with our friend Carolyn Senter, who used to operate Classic Specialties with her late husband, Joel.

Here’s the recipe, which our son Mike found somewhere:

Start with –  

·         5-10 basil leaves muddled with an orange wedge
·         1 sugar cube (or a teaspoon of sugar)
·         4 dashes of bitters
·         ½ cup orange juice
·         2 to 2.5 ounces bourbon

Pour into a shaker of ice and shake.
Pour over ice and garnish with cherry.

The words “Basil,” “orange,” “sugar,” “bitter,” and “juice” are all in the Canon. “Bourbon” is not, but you can’t have everything.

There’s a name for this, but I don’t know what it is. It deserves a Sherlockian name. Since basil gives the drink its distinctive taste, how about calling “The Captain Basil” after the disguise Holmes assumes in “The Adventure of Black Peter”?

Or maybe “The Basil Rathbone” after a certain actor?

Or “The Basil of Baker Street” after the Mouster?

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Favorite Holmes Story? The Reverse - in Verse!



When we were students at the University of Cincinnati in the early 1970s, Steve Winter, Peggy Kreimer, and I used to gather occasionally to read stories from the Sherlock Holmes Canon out loud. A few beverages may have been involved – Imperial Tokay, for example.

Other friends, including Ann Brauer (now Andriacco) also took part, but the trio of dedicated Sherlockians considered ourselves The Three Students. Other than that sentimental connection, I’ve never had any affection for “The Adventure of the Three Students.” But erudite Sherlockian Rich Krisciunas really doesn’t like it.

He explained why in verse at a meeting of Watsons’ Tin Box on June 29. He gave me permission to share it with you:

WHY I DON’T LIKE THE THREE STUDENTS

The Canon’s stories have been rated and ranked
by Conan Doyle, Sherlockians and the rest.  
In Watson’s retelling of the adventures  
This one’s definitely not close to the best. 

A half chapter of Thucydides copied. Oh my!!
There’s no murder, no blackmail or ransom to pay.
No vampire, snake bite or secret society.
No one’s kidnapped or poisoned. There’s no foul play.

No Irene’s or Violets. No ladies at all.
No client climbs the seventeen steps at Baker Street.
No hasty rides on trains or traps or hansom cabs.
The weather’s fine. There’s not even a threat of fog or sleet.

No hiding in the dark or amputated thumbs.
No ladies found in coffins to heighten the suspense.
No secret papers stolen or wrongs to avenge.
There’s not a single shooting done in self-defense!

Let’s peruse the story a little more closely. 
Somebody has eyeballed the tutor Soames’ test.
Holmes’ plan to study early English Charters
Was cut short so he could attempt what he does best.

The three suspects were living on the floors above
However, we barely heard any of them speak.
There’s no interaction. Few details about them. 
Admit it, their character development’s weak.

There’s the Indian; “inscrutable and quiet.” 
There’s rude Miles McLaren who won’t open his door, 
A guy named Gilchrist who doesn’t have a first name! 
Why couldn’t we have learned just a little bit more?

But the biggest flaw in Watson’s writing 
Is the question of why Holmes got involved?
If he’d remained back at the library.
This is a case that would still have been solved.

While Holmes spied a pencil and sawdust from a shoe
The butler correctly identified the cheat,
The thief confessed, packed his bags to Rhodesia, way
Before Holmes’ investigation was complete.

I thank all of you for listening patiently
Hopefully you’re convinced and I think you’ll agree 
Watson’s other stories are all so much better. 
Any way you read it, this one’s all Greek to me.

© By Rich Krisciunas

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

221 Bee Culture

Beekeeper Tracy Hunt and his productive pals 

One of my favorite passages in Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, is the paragraph that begins: “But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson . . . Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there at this moment, as one writes?”

That is beautiful prose poetry – beautiful and untrue.

For, as Rob Nunn points out here, Holmes has long since “definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs.” So says Watson in “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” published in the December 1904 Strand.

Sudden death followed Holmes there in the July 1907 case that he himself recorded as “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.” Mostly, though, he kept to his bees and “watched the little working gangs as once I watched the criminal world of London,” as he tells Watson in “His Last Bow.” And out of that came “the magnum opus of my latter years,” the Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen.

It is for good reason, then, that Sherlockians have taken an interest in bees, beekeeping, and honey. That led members of the Illustrious Clients, under the intrepid leadership of Steve Doyle, to visit Hunter’s Honey Farm in Martinsville, IN over the weekend.

It was a great day, in equal parts educational and fun. Tracy Hunter, a third-generation beekeeper, greeted us by recalling that Holmes and Watson lived at 221 Bee Baker Street.

Bee-lieve it!  

A beekeeper's suit 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Dying Clue Detective Story Trope

The band - the speckled band! 

I’ve written about Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Age of detective fiction. As a chronological period, that was roughly the time between the world wars. But was really more of an attitude, a way of approaching the genre. As you can read here, I argued that 12 of the Holmes stories were written during that period and many others are “GA” in spirit.

Only recently did I realize that Arthur Conan Doyle apparently created of the favorite detective story tropes of that classic period, and he did it early on. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” turns on the late Julia Stoner’s dying words – “the band, the speckled band!” Thus was born the plot device of the spoken or written “dying clue” from the victim that points to the killer, but only when correctly interpreted.

Or so it seems. No one of the Golden Age of Detection Facebook Page could think of an earlier example. And John C. Sherwood pointed out that two later Holmes stories, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” and “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman” feature dying clues. Both tales fit comfortably in the Golden Age, chronologically, published in 1926 and 1927, respectively.

Ellery Queen employed the dying clue dozens of times. So did most of the other great detective story writers of that age – and the not so great ones as well.  Have I, in my own mysteries? I can’t remember! But I plan to do so. I have two stories in mind, one a short story and one a novel, which turn on dying clues to the killer.

But the world is not yet prepared. Or at least, I’m not.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What I Learned as a Sherlockian Bartender



There were no bar fights on my watch.

On Friday I had the honor of being a bartender at one of the receptions the night before A Scintillation of Scions, the yearly Sherlockian confab in Maryland. Since SOS went virtual this year, my bar was one of 15 chat rooms. Greg Ruby named it The Tankerville Club, for the Cincinnati scion society which I preside over as Most Scandalous Member.  

I mixed up a boulevardier cocktail (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Campari) and chatted with my guests. It was a lot of fun. And this is what I learned: 
  • Digital bartenders get no tips. 

  • What people miss most about these days of lockdown, other than being with their Sherlockian friends, is hugging grandchildren. 

  • Those who are usually active in the Sherlockian world saved a lot of money this year – what they would have spent on travel and registration fees. 

  • But significant numbers of individuals who can’t afford broad travel have enjoyed being plugged into the wider world of Sherlockiana for the first time via Zoom. 

The incredible ingenuity and dedication of Sherlockians has kept a bad situation from being so much worse. And I’ll drink to that!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Holmes & Watson, RIP


We visited the huge, historic, and beautiful Spring Grove cemetery in Cincinnati over the weekend for a walk and a visit to a particular grave.

We’d barely entered Section 125 when we saw this:




As we were getting ready to leave, we encountered:




And nearby:



Have fun with that, Sherlockian chronologists!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Treasury and a Mystery



Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors.” I think good books make good neighbors.

One of our neighbors recently passed on to me A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes. I already have three different editions of this book, so why did I accept another? Because, as a former pastor of mine said while accepting a slug of Bailey’s Irish Cream in his coffee at 10 a.m., “I’m never one to discourage generosity.”

I’ve written about this interesting anthology before, as you can read by clicking here.

But there’s a little mystery that goes with the edition I just acquired, and maybe you can solve it.

The book was published by Hanover House, Garden City, New York. But it’s exactly the same, page for page, as the edition pictured above published by Doubleday & Co. It’s also the same as another edition I have, published by the International Collectors Library. My third copy is a book club edition from Nelson Doubleday Nelson, on thinner paper but paginated identically.

In each edition, no matter the publisher, the second sentence of Adrian Conan Doyle’s introduction begins, “When our old friends at Hanover House . . . .”

Were Hanover House, the International Collectors Library, and Doubleday all the same company? Perhaps the answer is elementary.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

When Familiarity Does Not Breed Contempt

The murder of Milverton: Holmes compounded a felony as usual 

Same old, same old isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s just what we want.

“The Adventure of the Three Gables” contains many lines that are painful to read. But one quote that always makes me smile is Sherlock Holmes saying, “Well, well, I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual.”

This is a wry acknowledgment that Holmes often puts himself above the law by breaking it and/or giving a pass to someone else who does. It happens again and again. That was one of the numerous plot tropes from the Canon that I listed in an article in the Summer 2018 Baker Street Journal. Others included: 
  • The current case which has its roots in the soil of another country many years earlier, often being a killing for revenge or to silence a blackmailer; 

  • Holmes employing a disguise, an alias, a false pretense, or a pretended illness to fool the villain – and/or Watson; 

  • A wedding that fails to come off because of death, scandal, or estrangement; 

  • Holmes assigning Watson a task, then unexpectedly showing up to sharply criticize his friend’s lack of perfection in carrying it out; 

  • Holmes and Watson observing a long vigil, often in the dark; 

  • A woman missing or otherwise in danger, along with numerous other elements of the Gothic romance in the spooky spirit of Mrs. Radcliffe. 

For me, the familiarity of these plot engines isn’t a negative; it lets me know I’m home. That may not be true of all mystery series, but I think it characterizes many of the greatest. Consider, for example, the devices repeated by two premier mystery writers of the 20th century:

Nero Wolfe: The unusual murder method, the “charade” to expose the killer, the use of a newspaper ad or a planted story (often part of a ruse) to generate a break in the case.

Ellery Queen: The dying clue, the brilliant solution followed by the real solution, the adult siblings and other family members living near each other in the same house or a compound of houses, the Iago-like killer behind the killer, the nursery rhyme theme.

Conan Doyle, Queen, and Stout were each active for about 40 years. As a mystery writer myself, I am awed that they so successfully reworked familiar themes in various combinations over four decades to create different stories in their own unique styles.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Is Any Canonical Story Really Dull?



“Could a Canonical tale really be dull?”

The eminent Sherlockian Donald Pollock asks that question in “Death and Derbies,” an article published in The Saturday Review of Literature in 2014. He very kindly sent me a copy in response to my post last week, “Ranking the Best is a Fool’sErrand.”

The article was in response to a challenge by Russell Merritt for Don to talk about his choice of the dullest story in the Canon. After some thought, Don settled on “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” the last Canonical adventure published.

He makes a great argument that Holmes delayed his report to the police about the circumstances of Lady Beatrice Falder’s death until after the Derby in order “to invest a few quid in his own future, at exceptional odds.”

But “Shoscombe” as the dullest story? This is a tale with a haunted crypt and an angry baronet. What’s dull about that?

Here’s the wonderfully Gothic crypt passage:

It was pitch-dark and without a moon, but Mason led us over the grass-lands until a dark mass loomed up in front of us which proved to be the ancient chapel. We entered the broken gap which was once the porch, and our guide, stumbling among heaps of loose masonry, picked his way to the corner of the building, where a steep stair led down into the crypt. Striking a match, he illuminated the melancholy place–dismal and evil-smelling, with ancient crumbling walls of rough-hewn stone, and piles of coffins, some of lead and some of stone, extending upon one side right up to the arched and groined roof which lost itself in the shadows above our heads. Holmes had lit his lantern, which shot a tiny tunnel of vivid yellow light upon the mournful scene. Its rays were reflected back from the coffin-plates, many of them adorned with the griffin and coronet of this old family which carried its honours even to the gate of Death.

Then later:

Someone was walking in the chapel above. It was the firm, rapid step of one who came with a definite purpose and knew well the ground upon which he walked. A light streamed down the stairs, and an instant later the man who bore it was framed in the Gothic archway. He was a terrible figure, huge in stature and fierce in manner. A large stable-lantern which he held in front of him shone upward upon a strong, heavily moustached face and angry eyes, which glared round him into every recess of the vault, finally fixing themselves with a deadly stare upon my companion and myself.

“Who the devil are you?” he thundered. “And what are you doing upon my property?” Then, as Holmes returned no answer, he took a couple of steps forward and raised a heavy stick which he carried. “Do you hear me?” he cried. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” His cudgel quivered in the air.

Whew!

But maybe it’s not fair to pull out these moments of high drama from the story. As Rex Stout who said in a January 1941 radio interview, “It is impossible for any Sherlock Holmes story not to have just one  marvelous scene.”