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, August 15, 2018

Who's Your Holmes?

Illustrious Clients watch "Mr. Holmes." Steve Doyle photo 
We watched several great actors playing Sherlock Holmes at the annual Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis film festival in Zionsville, IN, on Saturday. I enjoyed them all.

Douglas Wilmer, as Holmes, solved the case of “The Speckled Band” in a 1964 BBC adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle short story. This was a kind of pilot for the series that launched the following year. Wilmer and Nigel Stock, as Dr. Watson, are both excellent here, as are the rest of the cast. The faithful script expands on the original story without doing it any serious harm.

The program was videotaped in black and white, leaving something to be desired in production values. But all and all it, was a great effort.

Twenty years later came Jeremy Brett and David Burke in the great Granada series. The offering on Saturday was “The Red Headed League” from 1985. Brett gives his usual unique and energetic interpretation of the Great Detective, and Burke (like Stock) is a Watson we can recognize from the Canon.

This time the story gets a twist: Moriarty is the genius behind the Red Headed League, as some Holmes scholars posited long ago. This was a set-up for the last episode of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” the next week: “The Final Problem.”

The penultimate showing of the day (before the forgettable silent movie with Detective Hawkshaw) was the feature film Mr. Holmes (2015). I had previously avoided this movie, partly because I didn’t care for Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind (2005), on which it is based. That was a mistake – this is a really great motion picture.

Ian McKellen flawlessly plays a 93-year-old Holmes keeping bees on the Sussex Downs in the late 1940s. Much of the film is told in flashbacks on two tracks – to his last case 20 years previously, and to his more recent trip to Japan. Holmes is trying to recover his failing memory, and it comes back only slowly. In the end it all fits together wonderfully, including what appears to be a toss-off line in a train at the beginning of the film.

Mr. Holmes is beautifully written, beautifully acted, and beautifully filmed.

I’ve often said I think there are a lot of good portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, but not so many good Holmes movies or TV shows. On Saturday, I saw three of them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Arthur Conan Doyle, In Fact and Fiction

Margalit Fox’s new and well-publicized Conan Doyle for the Defense has put the creator of Sherlock Holmes in the spotlight once again. But, really, he has never been out of it.

This larger-than-life character has been the subject of dozens of books, both factual and fictional. I recently enjoyed one of each, neither of them new.

Mark Frost’s The List of 7 (1993) is an exciting thriller in which young Arthur Conan Doyle gets involved with well-placed occultists, a beautiful woman, and Queen Victoria herself. The book is packed with Sherlockian Easter eggs – characters and incidents that later become part of the Holmes saga, including a pair of brothers who suggest Holmes and Moriarty.  

Daniel Stashower’s Teller of Tales (1999) is perhaps the most readable biography of ACD, sympathetic to the subject but by no means sycophantic. Although Stashower explores the entire breadth of Conan Doyle’s extraordinary life, he devotes much attention to the conviction that eventually earned Conan Doyle some praise and much scorn as the “St. Paul of Spiritualism.”

As a young man, Stashower reports, Conan Doyle declared: “Never will I accept anything which cannot be proved to me. The evils of religion have all come from accepting things which cannot be proved.” Thus, when he investigated spiritualism – a phase that lasted for decades – he looked for proof. Once he was convinced, however, belief was enough.

“Years earlier he had lost has Catholic faith, but the need for faith remained,” Stashower says in a chapter called “Is Conan Doyle Mad?” near the end of the book. “At last, be believed.”

Once Conan Doyle believed in a principle or a person, he was unshakeable. That’s highly admirable. But at times he must have been very difficult to deal with!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Delightful Sherlockian Surprise

If you have friends who share your interests, and they are very generous, something interesting may show up in your mail. This happens to me with some regularity.

A few days ago, in the latest example, a large package landed on our front porch. Inside was a gift from our friend Felicia Carparelli of Chiago, who is almost exactly my age. Inside was a note saying that she was downsizing and wanted me to have the enclosed.

As you can see above, what was enclosed is a handsomely framed, limited-issue envelope saluting both Sherlock Holmes and the late Jeremy Brett, who epitomized Holmes for so many TV viewers. It now hangs proudly on our living room wall beneath a trio of busts – Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty.

Felicia is a Sherlockian, and the author of Murder in the Library. Her late mother gave her this memento as a gift, knowing of her interest. She passed it on to me for the same reason. We have been friends for some years, although we have only met in person twice – so far. It is no coincidence that the protagonist of my mystery series, Sebastian McCabe, shares her birth date.

Grazie, bella amica!

The package happened arrive just as I was reading Michael Cox’s A Study in Celluloid, which is subtitled A Producer’s Account of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. It’s a fascinating inside story, exploring some of the practical challenges (think: money) and artistic decisions faced in bringing a classic to life on the small screen.

Cox is remarkably objective as he talks about what worked and what, in retrospect, didn’t. Perhaps equally remarkable, he displays a true devotee’s knowledge of the Canon throughout the book. Originally published in England, the volume is now available from Wessex Press and well worth reading for anyone who enjoyed the Granada series.

Ann Andriacco, Felicia Carparelli, and Dan Andriacco in 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Giant Passes Beyond the Reichenbach

As Roger Johnson reminded us recently on the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast, the Sherlock Holmes community is as much about friendship as it is about scholarship. Yesterday I drank a manhattan in honor of our great Sherlockian friend R. Joel Senter, who crossed the Reichenbach that morning. And I drank it in a Sherlock Holmes glass that Joe and his dear wife, Carolyn, gave me.

(Technically, the drink was an Annhattan, as Joe and Carolyn dubbed Ann Brauer Andriacco’s version of that classic cocktail. The ingredients are the same; it’s the artistry that’s different.)

Joe passed away peacefully with Carolyn holding his hand.  

Ann and I and our friend Steve Winter, also a Sherlockian, studied psychology with Joe at the University of Cincinnati in the 1970s. Since we were in a class of roughly 800 students, it would be a fib to say we knew him well. We could barely see him! We did come to know him well the following decade, however, as a fellow member of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati.

Far beyond Cincinnati, Joe and Carolyn are well known to Sherlockians around the country and Holmesians around the globe as the former proprietors of the Classic Specialties online business and the Sherlockian E-Times. Joe produced the E-Times until his energies flagged a few months ago.

Ann and I are blessed to have numerous other memories of the Senters, however. We vacationed together, watched election returns together, celebrated Halloween together, and for several years even went to Easter Vigil Mass together although they are not of our faith.

Joe and I also played chess together. I think he gave up the game when I sort of beat him, even though I am the world’s worst chess layer. We started an online Sherlockian society called “The Scheming Minds of Sherlock Holmes” because Holmes called adeptness at chess the mark of a scheming mind (RETI). I have a T-shirt and a sweatshirt to prove it.

I am forever indebted to Joe for helping me to become a published mystery novelist. He told me about MX Publishing, which is still the publisher of most of my books. He and Carolyn also helped me brainstorm the book that eventually became The Amateur Executioner, which I wrote with Kieran McMullen.

These are all happy memories, and fun to write about at this point while I am still numb from the shock of Joe’s passing.

Good-bye, Joe. And thanks for everything.

Joe, Dan, and Carolyn

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From Great Emancipator to Great Detective

Prairie Archives Bookstore, Springfield, IL
All roads lead to Holmes.

Ann and I were in Springfield, IL, last week to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. It must be one of the great museums of the world, by the way – a wonderful marriage of education and entertainment.

Ambling our way back to the car, we saw and bookstore and (believe it or not) walked in. Prairie Archives is a gem, everything you want it to be right down to the old-book smell. It even had a bookcase of a few dozen vintage Sherlock Holmes/ Arthur Conan Doyle books nicely grouped together.

I came away with a few of them: 
  • Murder Most Irregular by H. Paul Jeffers is a book I’ve known about for many years, since a reviewer compared my No Police Like Holmes to it. It’s a 1983 mystery novel in which members of the Baker Street Irregulars are murdered from New York to London to a modern Baskerville Hall. Part of the fun is that several of the characters are based on real Sherlockians. (Amusingly, some readers assumed thought that was also true of No Police, but it wasn’t!) I’ve never owned or read the novel until now.
  • The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by John Dickson Carr, still valuable after all these years. This is a first U.S. edition, with a beautifully illustrated dust jacket. I already had several copies of the biography, including the same edition – but without the jacket. And the price was more than reasonable, one-fourth what I paid another dealer about a generation ago. All the prices at Prairie Archives were reader-friendly, at least for the books I bought.  
  • The Sherlock Holmes Companion by Michael and Mollie Hardwick, which is just what it sounds like. This is the hardback edition, just like the one I borrowed from the public library when I was a kid. Holding it reminds me of those days. The copy I already had was a later paperback.
  • The Complete Brigadier Gerard by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Gerard, a Napoleonic era French soldier, was Conan Doyle’s third great creation after Holmes and Professor Challenger. This book collects both volumes of those humorous and enjoyable tales. Only after I got home did I realize that I own another book, with a different title, that does the same. 
Hmm. It turns out that three out of the four books I bought, I already had. But no regrets! Sometimes it’s good to have more than one copy, even if you have a library and not a collection.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Early Rex Stout: Prelude to Nero Wolfe

Sherlock Holmes changes over the course of the Canon; Nero Wolfe not so much. But though Wolfe arrived full blown, he didn’t come from nowhere.

At a recent meeting of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, we discussed how the Holmes we meet in A Study in Scarlet is not the Holmes we know best. In this first adventure, his youthful self-assurance is unleavened by defeat. The more mature Holmes, though not humble, is at least human. He can admit to John Openshaw the unpleasant truth that “I have been beaten four times—three times by men, and once by a woman.”

Or perhaps it is just that we get to understand Holmes better over the years along with Watson, who had never heard of Sherlock Holmes before the opening chapter of A Study in Scarlet.

By contrast, the Nero Wolfe of Fer-de-Lance in 1934 is little different from the Wolfe of A Family Affair in 1975. Archie has already been working for Wolfe some years as the book begins. In fact, the whole familiar establishment at W. 35th Street is already in place just as it would be for the next four decades.

Before he created Nero Wolfe, however, Rex Stout had a long apprenticeship writing fiction for at least 10 magazines between 1911 and 1918. And in these stories, we can find previews of Wolfe’s character and intimations of the mystery-spinning skill that Stout would later refine. Ira Brad Matetsky, leader of the Wolfe Pack, relates this backstory in his introduction to The Last Drive and Other Stories. “Some of Stout’s early stories show signs of the literary talents that would later give rise to the Nero Wolfe corpus,” he writes, “and some, frankly, do not.”

One that does is the title story in this Matetsky-edited volume, The Last Drive, the second mystery Stout ever wrote. While the amateur detective here bears no relationship to Nero Wolfe, the plot would be echoed years later in Fer-de-Lance. To say more would be a spoiler. “Stout was . . . demonstrably his own best inspiration,” Matetsky quotes Ross Davies as saying.

For that reason, the 11 stories in various genres brought together in The Last Drive and Other Stories provide a fascinating look at a great writer in the making.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Age

A giant in any age - golden or otherwise

A kind review of my Sherlock Holmes novel House of the Doomed took me aback recently by suggesting the book seemed more like a Golden Age mystery than a Holmes story.

Certainly, the Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries are thoroughly Golden Age in spirit, but I hadn’t thought of my Holmes efforts in that vein. Then my friend Ann Margaret Lewis, herself a talented pasticheur, reminded me that Holmes and what devotees call GA are not antithetical.

In its strictest meaning, the Golden Age is a time-period – basically the years between the two world wars. Arthur Conan Doyle’s final 12 Sherlock Holmes stories collected in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927) were published during this period. So, as a factual matter, the later-written Holmes adventures are Golden Age. And a few of them are excellent.  

But GA is also an attitude, as well as an era. In an introduction to the two “Golden Age” volumes of the Masterpieces of Mystery anthology series (Davis Publications, 1977), Ellery Queen summed up the characteristics of Golden Age novels as:
·                     ingenuity of plot,
·                     originality of concept, including the locked room, the miracle problem, and the impossible crime,
·                     subtle and legitimate misdirection of clues – poetic license – but always with complete fairness to the reader,
·                     and often a stunning surprise solution,
·                     in a phrase (R. Austin Freeman’s), “an exhibition of mental gymnastics.”

In other words, Golden Age stories often turn on logic, brilliant deductions, and clever plots. So do most of the Holmes tales, several of which are locked room stories. (This is admittedly not true of some of the weaker tales, which are scarcely mysteries at all.) In a nice play on words, an early Ellery Queen novel even called Queen “the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes.”

Like Queen, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Dorothy Sayers, and Rex Stout – some of the brightest lights in the Golden Age firmament – all adored Sherlock Holmes and mentioned him and some the more famous Holmesian plot tropes frequently in their own stories. Even Carr’s ornery old Sir Henry Merrivale owes a lot to the Master.

Golden Age or Sherlock Holmes? They are different – but not different as it seems at first thought.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Gnomes Sweet Gnomes for the Collector

My Sherlock Gnomes

My wife Ann and I just had the great pleasure of spending a long Sherlockian weekend, bracketed my talk to the Red Circle of Washington, D.C., on Friday and attending a delightful meeting of Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD, on Monday. It was great to see the faces of so many friends, and so many friendly faces.  

The Red Circle is presided over by Peter Blau, a wise and witty force of (benign) nature who has been a member of the Baker Street Irregulars since 1959. He explained that he doesn’t hold an office in the scion, however, so that he can’t be impeached! Although "DC" is part of its name, the group actually meets in Bethesda, MD, where Peter also lives. 

Peter’s collection of Sherlockiana is beyond description – at least, it’s beyond my description. Every shelf of his large and beautiful library contains gems I never even imagined. I’m not a collector, but I love to look at the collections of others.  

Perhaps my favorite item from our tour of the Blau shelves was the volume of Holmes stories containing the signature of its original owner – T.S. Eliot. Peter believes that when Eliot wrote the famous scene in Murder in the Cathedral based on the Musgrave Ritual, it was to this very book that the great poet went to refresh his memory of the ritual’s wording.

In addition to thousands of books, Peter also has memorabilia – lots and lots of memorabilia, from the tacky to the sublime. When Ann mentioned that she had bought me a Sherlock Gnomes statue for Father’s Day, and where to get it online, a new edition to the Blau collection was in the mail as soon as Peter could get to his computer.

As one of the worst villains in the entire Canon remarked to Dr. Watson, “If a man has a hobby he follows it up, whatever his other pursuits may be.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Toasting Watson's Bull Pup

Ed Lear, long-time member of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, should be its poet laureate – and not just because he shares the name of the famous limerickwriter and author of The Owl and the Pussycat.

At the quarterly Tankerville Club meeting last Friday (June 15), Ed produced a toast to Watson’s bull pup that confronted the question of just what the heck that pup was.

You will recall that upon first meeting Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, Watson lists one of his shortcomings as “I keep a bull pup.” That’s the last we hear of it. Or is it the terrier that is poisoned in chapter 7? Actually, it may not be a dog at all. A “bull pup” is both a kind of gun and an old British expression for having a quick temper.     

Ultimately, Ed isn’t sure what Watson meant. Here’s the toast: 
It started out as, “yes, I know this one,”But there was more by the time I was done.If truth be toldWe were all probably fooledBy what really is meant by this son-of-a-gun. It was in the story you just readAnd for his part winds up dead,Killed by strychnine pill,But some say he was illAnd in the end his name was never said. Or it could have been what Watson usedTo keep them from being battered and bruised.Easy to carry, easy to hide –
Just the thing when by Sherlock’s side,Or maybe what Sherlock used to keep himself amused. Or it could be his quick temper to some of you,And to others it may mean something I never knew.But now that you’ve read the story,You be the judge and jury –
’Cause it may be something else totally out of the blue! But regardless, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us raise our glasses to Watson’s bull pup!

It’s not exactly T.S. Eliot, or even Edward Lear, but it was terrific toast!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can You 221 Believe It?

I’ve always been intrigued by the number of major figures in the Sherlock Holmes universe who aren’t major figures in the Canon – at least not in terms of their number of appearances.

Think about it: 
  • Irene Adler, the woman, shows up in “A Scandal in Bohemia” and is mentioned by name in three other stories (IDEN, BLUE, LAST). 
  • Mycroft Holmes has speaking roles only in “The Greek Interpreter” and “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” while being alluded to FINA and EMPT. 
  • Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, is a major presence in “The Final Problem” and The Valley of Fear, although Holmes speaks wistfully of him in ILLU, LAST, MISS, and NORW. 
  • The Baker Street Irregulars, while presumably assisting Holmes in unrecorded cases, are on stage only in A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, and “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.”   

With that as background, how often do you think 221B Baker Street – the specific address, that is – is mentioned in the Canon?

Surprisingly, a search turned up just six times in four stories – and three of those are in A Study in Scarlet.

“We met next day as he [Holmes] had arranged,” Dr. Watson tells us at the beginning of the second chapter, “and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting.” The 221B address shows up again in the newspaper advertisement by which Holmes hopes to trap the killer, and the third time in Jefferson Hope’s testimony.

The only other uses of the complete address in the Canon are also in adverts – in The Sign of the Four, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” and “The Naval Treaty.”

At least the good Watson was consistent. Archie Goodwin gives nine different addresses for the old brownstone on West 35th Street in the Nero Wolfe Corpus!