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 25, 2015

A Sherlockian Thanksgiving

Thank you, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine!
No blog post would be big enough to list everything I am thankful for on the eve of Thanksgiving Day in the United States. So I will limit myself to gratitude related to Sherlock Holmes and my own mystery writing. This year I’m grateful for:
  • The amazing gift recently of the first two years of The Baker Street Journal from my Portuguese friend Nuno Robles, who is a fan of my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries. I’m also grateful for Nuno’s friendship and fanship. 
  • Book fairs and book clubs. I love meeting people who have read my books – or are willing to give them a try.  Book clubs are especially fun because we have a chance to talk at length, but I also enjoy the Ohioana Book Fair in Columbus and Books by the Banks in Cincinnati.  
  • I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. The world’s first podcast devoted to Sherlock Holmes has been around for some years, but I just started listening a few months ago. Scott Monty and Burt Wolder provide interesting talk and fascinating guests. I was pleased to sponsor two episodes so far.
  • Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. Editor Marvin Kaye, himself a veteran mystery writer and anthologist, has published several of my articles. Next year should see publication of at least one more article and two mystery short stories.
  • A Scintillation of Scions and Holmes, Doyle & Friends. These two annual conferences, in Maryland and Ohio respectively, offer a priceless opportunity to not only hear great talks on Sherlockian topics but also to mingle with like-minded friends that one may never meet otherwise. This year I had the great pleasure of meeting Chris Redmond at Scintillation VIII.
  • My beta readers Steve Winter, Jeff Suess, and Kieran McMullen for all their work on my books; Steve Emecz, of MX Publshing, the easiest publisher in the world to work with, and possibly the most energetic and creative; and Bob Gibson, who produces my great covers.
  • You – for reading this.      
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Mark of a Scheming Mind

For better or (probably) worse, I’m playing chess again for the first time in too many years.

“Amberley excelled at chess – one mark, Watson, of a scheming mind,” Sherlock Holmes commented in “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.” This quote lent itself to a group of chess-playing Sherlockians that Dr. R. Joel Senter and I started some time ago – the Scheming Minds of Sherlock Holmes.

We had these cool T-shirts and sweatshirts, designed by Gerald D. Stratton, associate professor emeritus of fine arts at the University of Cincinnati. We also had about six members. (All it took to become a member was to play a game of chess with another member.)
By the standard of the quote, I could never be accused of having a scheming mind. I’m a terrible chess player. But I enjoy it. I included a match in a chapter of The 1895 Murder, the third mystery in my Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody series. It was based on an actual game that I lost to an adult nephew in six moves.
W: e4
B: ef
W: Nf3
B: Nf6
W: Nxe5
B: Nxe4
W: Nxf7
B: Kxf7
W: Qh5+
B: Kg8
W: Qd5++

Sherlock Holmes played chess on a giant chessboard in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death with Basil Rathbone and against Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with Morton Downey, Jr.

There’s no indication in the Canon that Holmes, like Josiah Amberley, was a chess master, though. But he could have been. His favorite restaurant, Simpson’s in the Strand, was chess center of London in the days when Howard Staunton and other greats played there in mid-19th century.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Crimes of Dr. Watson, Gimmicky But Fun

When it comes to Sherlock Holmes pastiches, I’m a purist. But even I succumb once in a while to a light-hearted riff on the Canon. Take, for example, The Crimes ofDr. Watson.

“Edited” by Duane Swierczynski and published in 2007, this gimmicky but clever work is one of those books that includes physical objects. Billed as an “interactive mystery,” it might be better described as three-dimensional.

During the Great Hiatus, Dr. Watson is inexplicably charged with arson, torture, and murder! Without Holmes to save him, he writes from prison to a Philadelphia detective he once met named Col. H. Kelsh Resno. The bulk of the book is that letter, supplemented with supporting materials to help explain the events leading up to Watsons’s imprisonment.

At one point in the letter, the good doctor recalls Holmes challenging him to identify all the various smells in the London air. “No manure, Sherlock,” Watson replies. “If that is what you were suggesting.”
Most of the book is better than that, but about ultimately about that serious.   

But it’s also well-written in places. I liked this: “I carefully untied the string and opened the leather case, which groaned like an old man struggling to pull himself out of a chair. Inside was a motley assortment of letters, postcards, maps, and other yellowed junk. Whatever turns old, turns yellow. People included.” That’s the “editor’s” voice, not Watson’s.
Those items of yellowed junk are included in the book – theater tickets, a postcard, a railroad timetable, a matchbook, a telegraph, arrest records, the torn pages of a book, the drawing of a strange creature, a diagram of an artificial leg, a brochure, and a newspaper.

The final item is a sealed return letter from Col. Resno solving the mystery in all its elements – a solution that, while scandalous, is far less surprising in these post-BBC Sherlock days.  
Reading The Crimes of Dr. Watson made for a pleasant hour or so, an experience much enhanced by Clint Hansen’s wonderful illustrations in woodcut style. In fact, I would love to see his artistry applied to the Canon itself.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Armistice Day Reflection

Happy Veterans Day to all of those who served and are serving (especially my brother and our younger son, the master sergeant)!

Originally we would have been saying Happy Armistice Day. You may remember that this holiday was established to remember the end of the Great War on November 11, 1918. This is an appropriate day, then to look back at the beginning of that awful conflict in August 1914 - "the most terrible August in the history of the world."

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was asked what Sherlock Holmes was doing in the war, his written response is my favorite Sherlock Holmes story, "His Last Bow." In book form, the story was subtitled "An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes." That is fitting, but the original subtitle in The Strand Magazine was "The War Service of Sherlock Holmes."

As I have written before, both the beginning and the end of the story are magnificent, and big part of what makes the story so special to me.

World War I changed everything, and it is worth noting that the Holmes stories written after the war are much darker in tone.

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Light Fun . . . Engaging Mystery"

"Much of the enjoyment of the book comes from the way it references the mystery genre, making a bit of light fun at itself while at the same time providing an engaging mystery. Agatha Christie herself even discusses at length what exactly makes a good mystery, the very same question Ronald Knox would answer with his “Decalogue of Detective Fiction” in 1929 (and thoughtfully supplied in the back of the book.)"

So says Katie Magnusson. Check out her perceptive review of The Egyptian Curse , final volume of the Enoch Hale trilogy, on the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere website.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Big Fan Says "I HATE YOU!"

The first post-publication feedback I received on my latest Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody book certainly caught my attention.
“First let's get this clear I HATE YOU!” Deacon Ken Ramsey wrote to me after reading Bookmarkedfor Murder.

Is that any way for a man of the cloth to talk? And he claimed to like the series! But I kept reading:
“I promised myself I was only going to read one chapter a day no matter what. This as opposed to my usual quaffing it down like a Big Mac meal. I couldn’t resist and went and finished it today. In my humble opinion this is your best work to date! I actually didn’t figure it out until late into the story.”

Admittedly, he’s prejudiced. Deacon Ken is one two experts – both Sherlockians, retired military officers, and former sheriffs – whom I occasionally ask questions about police procedure. (Although my books are not notable for their realism, I do try to avoid situations that would interfere with the willing suspension of disbelief.)
So how about a more objective review? Or several?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Gift That Will Keep on Giving

Why am I smiling?

Because those are the first four issues of The Baker Street Journal, Vo1. 1, numbers 1-4, from 1946.
And because I also own the next four, Vol. 2, numbers 1-14, from 1947. And, incredibly, because they were all presents from a man I've never met.

As I've written before, Nuno Robles of Lisbon, Portugal, is a great fan of my books, especially the McCabe-Cody series. He recently sent me a package of the eight historic Journals as a gift of long-distance friendship. Sherlockian collectors are well known for their generous, sharing sprit - but that was over top!

"Since I don't write, Nuno write, "this is what I wanted: to give you as much pleasure (or almost as much) as I get from your books, from your stories and from the beautiful characters you've created. This was a way to thank you for the wonderful times I had reading your books, Dan."

Nuno bought a lot of Sherlockian books and magazines from Robert Hess and Vincent "Vinnie" Brosnan, BSI, starting in the late 1980s. And now he has shared some of them with me. "Those early Shelockian writings are fascinating, in my opinion," he wrote, "and I love the story of the early Baker Street Journal and Baker Street Irregulars."

The inaugural issue being with the familiar "The Editor's Gas Lamp," written by the legendary first editor of the Journal, Edgar W. Smith. Volume 1, Number 1 is filled with other familiar names as well: Vincent Starrett, Christopher Morley, S.C. Roberts, Jay Finley Christ, Anthony Boucher, Lee Wright, Belden Wigglesworth and Bliss Austin, Helene Yuhasova - it's a bonanza! 

Sooner rather than later, I intend to buy the incredible e-BSJ, which puts every issue of the BSJ from 1946 through 2011 on one searchable DVD. That will be an incredible research tool. But it won't be the same wonderful experience as paging through the fragile pages of 69-year-old print editions.

Usually I devour my copies of The Journal as they arrive each quarter. (I expect the latest any day now.) But these early issues I intend to savor a few articles at a time. And each time I will be thinking gratefully of my friend and fan Nuno in Lisbon.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mycroft Holmes: A Journey of Mind and Heart

Based on its name, one might expect Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse to be a novel of sweeping scope, like Doctor Zhivago or David Copperfield. Instead, it covers just over three weeks in the life of a 23-year-old government official.

But they are crucial weeks, pivotal in creating the man we meet later in the Canon. A turning point in the story comes when Mycroft declares: “It is as you said, Douglas. The small evils I encountered here and there in my life are nothing to the utter depravity I have now witnessed. I was unprepared. I swear on all that is holy that it shall never happen again.” 

It is tempting but misleading to characterize Cyrus Douglas, a 40-year-old black man, as Mycroft’s Watson. He doesn’t tell the story, nor is he the only viewpoint character. It is the strong bond of friendship between the two men that evokes the Holmes-Watson comparison.

Another key player is Mycroft’s fiancĂ©, Georgiana. Since the Mycroft we know is every bit as much a bachelor as his younger brother, it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to know that we shouldn’t get attached to her. The question is not whether our hero loses her but how.

Georgiana suddenly departs for her (and Douglas’s) native Trinidad early in the book. Mycroft and Douglas follow after on a quest to find her. By the time Mycroft returns to England after many harrowing adventures – and several chances to show off the deductive prowess he learned from Dr. Joseph Bell – he’s a different man.

Some of the twists and turns in the plot leading up to that point strain plausibility. It might have been an even better book if it hadn’t been so clever. But that is nitpicking. This is a tale well worth reading.

The opening of the novel arrests our attention immediately:

“The old man had heard of them, of course. Everyone on the island had heard of them. A few had even seen the evidence – imprints in the sand – but he never had.

“Not until the children began to die.”

Murdered children is the hook. But it’s one of the novel’s strengths that the real crime isn’t revealed until two-thirds of the way through the book, and the real villain almost at the end. In the final pages, Mycroft’s take-down of the mastermind behind a truly colossal scheme is as satisfying as it is surprising.

Although Mycroft Holmes is different at the end of the book, he still isn’t the rotund Diogenes Club founder who occasionally is the British government. I would gladly read more from the imaginative minds of Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse about his further adventures on the way to becoming that man.  
To hear an interview with the authors, go to I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Art of Bonnie MacBird

Amid a bumper crop of new Sherlock Holmes stories, Bonnie MacBird’s Art in the Blood stands out.

MacBird demonstrates that one doesn’t have to re-imagine Holmes as unshaven, African-American, or a highly functioning sociopath in order to be creative and engaging.

Art in the Blood is what we have come to call a “traditional” Sherlock Holmes story, meaning that Watson tells the tale and Arthur Conan Doyle would recognize the characters. MacBird doesn’t substitute her vision for the Agent’s. When Holmes impatiently says “Yes, yes, of course” and Dr. Watson immediately orders brandy for a stricken man, our heroes are acting true to form.

With its interlocking story lines, the plot is more complex and the book longer than any of the four Canonical novels. But the fast pace evokes The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles: “I fingered the revolver, cold and reassuring, in my pocket. Against my better instincts, I found the thrill of adventure rising inside in me like an unwanted fever.” That’s our Watson!   

The burned-out Holmes we encounter at the beginning is saved from his own self-destructive impulses by the good Watson’s attentions and a problem presented by a letter in invisible ink from a beautiful French chanteuse whose son has disappeared. That is only the beginning of a case that involves aristocracy, art theft, and the murders of several young boys.

MacBird’s years in the film business show in the sold structure of the novel. Art in the Blood is not just a good Sherlock Holmes story, but also a fine mystery with an unexpected villain and a strong finish.  

(Full disclosure: Bonnie MacBird had kind words for my Rogues Gallery and thanked me at the end of Art in the Blood for a minor favor. But if all of her Sherlockian friends banned themselves from writing about the book it would get almost no reviews at all.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Return of William Gillette

Today I’m turning over the blog to a guest columnist, Janis Wilson, for an extensive – and somewhat irreverent – review of a Sherlockian classic.  
Sherlock Holmes is in his laboratory pouring liquid from a beaker into a bowl, from which bursts a column of flame.  The dramatic experiment takes place in a 1916 film of William Gillette’s play, Sherlock Holmes. The film, made on silver nitrate, was long thought to have been lost.  Fortunately for Sherlockians, it was found in a French cinema house cellar and carefully restored by the Cinematheque Francaise.  The saved version was screened for delighted Sherlockians in Bethesda, MD. 

In France, the film was released as a four-part serial and was, of course, in black and white. Gillette, a playwright, actor and stage manager, transformed several Doyle stories into a play, and the play then became this film.  Gillette was known for two key accomplishments.  He performed the role of the world’s greatest detective 1,300 times, into 1932, according to his biographers.  In addition, he developed theatrical lighting and sound techniques, which he employed to advantage in the film.
Gillette borrowed from Sidney Paget’s Strand illustration by wearing a deerstalker hat.  His own contribution was a curved pipe, adding to the silhouette universally recognized today. 

Gillette recognized the theatricality of Holmes and wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle, reporting his intention to write the play.  He asked Conan Doyle if he could have permission to create a love interest for Holmes.  The letter arrived just as Doyle, the only person known to have grown tired of Holmes, had written “The Final Problem.”  Doyle, in granting staging rights to the Holmes stories, had but one caveat – Holmes could not marry.  Oddly sick of the Holmes character, when asked to reconsider that requirement, Doyle wrote back that the producers could “marry him, murder him, do anything you like with him.” 
And so it came to pass that Holmes – in the play and the movie of the play – fell in love with Alice Faulkner, played by Marjorie Kay.  Alice’s sister had received compromising letters from a prince and subsequently died “in misery and despair,” apparently of a broken heart.  The prince has asked Count von Stalberg to retrieve the documents.  Alice held onto the letters, believing in some way that they would protect her sister’s reputation.  The count’s thugs want to take the letters from her, but Holmes wanted to help Alice.

The slimy, scheming Larrabee gang contrives to win Alice’s confidence and persuades her to move into a rented house, where she is kept secret.  Watson, played by Edward Fielding, was as insignificant to the story as poor Nigel Bruce was to the Basil Rathbone-helmed films.  Holmes showed a diagram of the outlaws’ house to Dr. Watson and informed him Miss Faulkner was being held against her will.  How he received this information, or how he knew the location and plans of the house, were not shared with the audience.  Another of Holmes’ unexplained foresights was to place one of his minions in the hideout house, posing as a butler.
Far from needing Watson’s assistance, Holmes asked him to just sit and “read some books” in his absence.  If he expected Watson to read multiple books, Holmes cannot have expected to complete his work with dispatch.

The gang called in a safecracker, thinking Alice had hidden the letters there. She had not.  In retaliation, Alice was locked in her room but a kind-hearted maid freed her.  Alice thought nothing of walking into the parlor where the gang was gathered.  Her punishment was to have her arm pulled behind her body and rude words spoken to her, demanding she turn over the letters.
In a great flourish of drama, a hansom cab arrived at the house and a stranger rang the bell.  Madge Larrabee turned her eyes from the extreme left to the extreme right, resulting in audience chuckles.  Then Larrabee told someone to peak out the window.  The man at the door was described as slender and wearing a long coat. “Damnation!” Larrabee said.  “Sherlock Holmes!”  How he concluded the man’s identity from so spare a description was not made clear, but it was good for a hearty laugh from the crowd, and was not the last one.

Holmes examined the safe and pronounced, not that it had been forced open, but that it had been “forced open five minutes ago.”  Facing Alice, Holmes said he believes she is being held against her will, adding that “the marks on your neck show the clutch of a man’s fingers.”  It was a good deduction, especially in light of the fact that the audience did not witness her being strangled. 
“What is the meaning of your behavior toward this young girl?” Holmes said to the thugs.  Alice said she needed to keep the letters to safeguard her sister’s reputation.  Holmes slipped a note to the fake butler, who produced some oil that was set alight.  Alice ran to a chair and the letters emerged from the back.  Homes said he had the fire set so that she would “betray your hiding place.”  Alice began to weep, prompting the genius Holmes to remark, “I see you are in great distress.”  Unmoved, Larrabee pulled a gun and demanded Holmes hand over the letters.  With what appeared to be the gentlest possible touch, Homes pushed the gun barrel upward and Larrabee made no effort to thwart the gesture.  Ever the gentleman, Holmes told Larrabee he would “persecute” Alice “at your peril.”  Meanwhile, Watson was still waiting for Holmes.

The safecracker skulked about and Holmes inexplicably but obligingly returned one of his tools to the cracksman.
Thwarted now, the gang knows that regaining control of these letters is beyond their capability.  “We must see Professor Moriarty,” one said and they penned a letter to the man referred to in the film as the “emperor of Crime” to enlist his aid.  Moriarty, enacted by Ernest Maupain, brought another round of laughs when the group saw his menace established by black eye shadow above and, especially, below his eyes.

The cheesiest moments occurred when Gillette employed modern film techniques to depict that couple in love.  Alice was thinking of Holmes, whose image suddenly appeared beside her and Holmes then turned his thoughts to Alice whose image, likewise, arose beside Holmes’ head.
The safecracker went to Moriarty’s lair, where the desk had a compartment from which flames emerged so that documents could be immediately destroyed.  Moriarty recommends the mob make a packet of letters that resembles those from the prince.

For some reason, Gillette chose not to show the interior of the famed 221B Baker Street, explaining that it had been burned.  Consequently, Holmes must use Watson’s office for a meeting with Alice.  Moriarty pays a call on Holmes, gun in hand.  Holmes also had a gun but put it down.  Someone arrived to beg Dr. Watson to come and help a man who suffered a seizure.  Watson obliged, but found nothing wrong with the man.  Holmes’ young assistant, Billy, removed Moriarty’s gun.  “Will it be peace or war?” Holmes inquired.  “You die, Holmes,” was Moriarty’s inhospitable reply as he pulled the trigger of a gun that failed to fire.  Holmes, ever the gentleman, said, “Allow me to return your cartridges.” “We will meet again, Mr. Holmes,” Moriarty warned.
For reasons not made clear, Holmes tracked the gang in a hansom cab.  Alighting, he declared, “I know this place.  It is the Stepney Gas Chamber.”  The crowd gave the biggest laugh of the morning and several couples were heard laughing about it after the movie ended.  Holmes entered the chamber and, as it was locked, asked that his compliments be paid to the professor.  The gang appeared to gag Alice, who begged that Holmes not be injured.

When the phony packet was produced, Holmes declared it to be a forgery.  After lighting a cigar, Holmes left and the gang was told to follow the glow of his cigar.  But, unsurprisingly, Holmes was too clever for the gang.  He called for the police, but the three gangsters got in a circle and made fists.  Inexplicably, none of them managed – or really even tried – to land a punch on Holmes. 
In the final episode, Moriarty made one new attempt at Holmes.  Watson was in his office and the safecracker entered posing as a patient.  When Watson looked away, he raised the blind.  Watson threw him out, but Madge Larrabee entered.  Only then did Watson notice the blind had been raised.  The window signal was not overlooked by Holmes, however.  He noticed a cab outside and had Billy invite the driver to come in and take away a valise.  As the driver bent to lift the case, the wily Holmes slapped handcuffs on him, called him by his proper name – Moriarty – and turned him over to the just-summoned police.  On two occasions in the film – at the arrest of Moriarty and at the entry of the Stepney Gas Chamber – police saluted Holmes, who returned their salute.

Holmes was still under a commission to obtain the prince’s letters.  Downcast, Holmes said he could not take the letters by force from Alice.  “Holmes, my good man,” said the affable Watson, “you are in love.”  Holmes gave the prince’s men the phony letters, saying he had been duped, but we all knew better.  Alice, filled with love, turned over the letters.  Watson made an excuse to leave the couple alone and closed the door of his office.  They did not kiss.
After the film, Peter Blau of Washington, D.C.’s Red Circle, addressed the crowd and said Doyle had learned that Gillette was coming to London with the Holmes play.  He knew the play would be a hit and that the demand for the return of Holmes would again be heard.  Doyle, Blau said, thinking he had buried Holmes forever, had begun a story involving a “ghostly dog.”  With the coalition of these two facts, Doyle amended the story, inserted Holmes, and what resulted was the House of the Baskervilles.

Though the movie was served up with a hefty slice of cheese, there was no doubt the Sherlockians assembled felt they were watching the true embodiment of the great consulting detective.  Gillette demonstrated great stage presence and seemed to have the intellect Holmes enjoyed.
Janis Wilson is a retired trial lawyer who has just finished a novel, Goulston Street, which is expected to be published in 2016.  The novel concerns efforts to solve the Jack the Ripper crimes in London 1888.  Ms. Wilson is a frequent lecturer on the Ripper and is organizing an international Ripper Conference in Baltimore April 8 – 10.