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, October 19, 2016

The Sherlock Holmes of Partington

Simon Archard isn’t Sherlock Holmes. But if there were no Holmes, I doubt there would have been an Archard.

The latter is also an eccentric Victorian-era sleuth, and such a cold fish that he makes Holmes look like an emotional basket case. Archard plies his trade in an out-of-print comic book called Ruse, ably assisted by “beautiful but deadly Emma Bishop.” The relationship between Simon and Emma is more Steed and Peel than Holmes and Watson. Perhaps her first name is no accident. As the top of the comic proclaims, “He’s the World’s Greatest Detective. She’s even better.”

I recently picked up all four issues of The Victorian Guide to Murder in a thrift shop and was enchanted by this story of a master detective and the plot against him by a master villain.

The storyline of The Victorian Guide to Murder was exciting and puzzling, the dialogue by Mark Waid quite witty, and the illustrations first-class. I’d like to read more.  

Ruse was originally published between 2001 and 2004 by CrossGen. Marvel Comics revived the title in 2010 with The Victorian Guide to Murder miniseries, which is available as a paperback or e-book if you aren’t lucky enough to stumble on it in a thrift shop. 

One mind-bender: The setting is a city called Partington, a leftover from the original series set on another planet. But this is definitely Victorian England, for the great lady herself makes a late appearance in an unexpected role. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Conan Doyle in Cincinnati

Arthur Conan Doyle - long after his Cincinnati adventures

Christopher Redmond is a gentleman as well as a scholar.

I’ve written previously about his Welcome to America,Mr. Sherlock Holmes, recounting Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1894 visit to the United States. When I mentioned to him online some weeks ago that I would be interested in knowing more about ACD’s visit to Cincinnati on that occasion and in the 1920s, he simply sent me his decades-old file marked “Cincinnati.”

The file is crammed with Redmond’s own hand-written notes, photocopies of contemporary newspaper accounts of Conan Doyle’s talk, pages from nineteenth century guidebooks to Cincinnati, and correspondence with librarians and other research sources.

Right on top as I opened the file was a letter ACD wrote from Cincinnati on Burnet House stationary to the great Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, whom he had met in Indianapolis just before going to Cincinnati. It displays a charming humility, even though Sherlock Holmes did rank humility among the virtues:

“My dear Riley,

Many thanks for the kindly things which my brother says you have said of me in the paper. You’ll send me home all head like a tadpole. It was a delight to me to meet you.

Yours always,

A.    Conan Doyle”

The newspaper accounts were interesting, but mostly familiar to me from having read Redmond’s book. But reading the (Cincinnati) Enquirer story of Oct. 17, 1894, reminded me of ACD’s fondness for the writing of one-time Cincinnatian Lafcadio Hearn.

“Another (writer) who is almost unknown, Lafcadio Hearn, and who, I understand was formerly a reporter on The Enquirer, has done some of the strongest writing in many years,” the British author told an interviewer.   

Almost unknown then, Hearn is even less known today. That’s too bad. A man who lived a lifestyle so eccentric as to make Sherlock Holmes seem a model of conventionalism, Hearn wrote sensational accounts of lurid crimes in the pages of the Cincinnati paper. By the time ACD visited Cincinnati, he had moved to Japan and more literary work. He died there 10 years later.

Hearn’s middle name (used as a first came in his byline) from the Greek island of Lefkada, where he was born to an Irish father and a Greek mother. Not coincidentally, Lafcadio is also the first name of a continuing character in my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody series.

Retired high school drama teacher Lafcadio Figg made his debut in my radio play, “The Wrong Cab,” about a modern-day private eye who mysteriously finds himself transported to the world of Sherlock Holmes. It was reprinted in my book Baker Street Beat. Figg re-appears in The 1895 Murder as a rival of sorts to Sebastian McCabe, and again in my work in progress Queen City Corpse.

When Figg first came to life, I had no idea of the ACD-Hearn connection. I’m grateful to Chris Redmond for making me aware of it. There are no coincidences.    

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Associated Books" in the Sherlock Library

Doctor Dan's Sherlockian library. The globe is a bar.  
What should one include in a Sherlock Holmes library? 

That’s a matter of taste, of course. Mine contains several categories you might expect:  editions of the Canon, pastiches (including the Solar Pons series), critical works, biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle, and other works of Arthur Conan Doyle. Then there’s shelf I think of as “associated books.” 

Associated books, often but not always mystery novels, have some kind of plot connection to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, or related characters. Examples from my library include The Name of the Rose, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Murder in the Library, Freddy the Detective, Baker Street Irregular, and many more. 

And if I didn’t already have a place for them elsewhere, all of my novels would go there as well. 

The three Enoch Hale books I wrote with my friend Kieran McMullen – The Amateur Executioner, The Poisoned Penman, and The Egyptian Curse – all include an aging Holmes as a character. That could qualify as pastiches, by some definitions. But Holmes is mentioned multiple times in all of my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries. 

Mac, an eccentric amateur sleuth in the Golden Age, is a Sherlockian who often quotes the Master and references the Canon on his way to solving the case. In his latest adventure, Erin Go Bloody, the name “Sherlock Holmes” appears 11 times.  Some of the allusions are important to the solution. Perhaps this scrap of dialogue is one of theme: 

 “She admitted she was just guessing based on behavioral clues.”

“That is precisely what Sherlock Holmes did, old boy. He called it deduction.” 

What's your favorite book “associated” with Sherlock Holmes?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Adventure of the Consistent Sleuth

The multiple inconsistencies in the 60 Sherlock Holmes adventures have kept Sherlockians material to ponder and argue over for more than a century.


Less noticed is the remarkable consistency of the tales, given that they were written over a period of exactly 40 years and held in little regard by their author.  


In Memories and Adventures, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes: “To make a real character, one must sacrifice everything to consistency and remember Goldsmith’s criticism of Johnson that ‘he would make the little fishes talk like whales.’” ACD says this of Watson, but it applies to Holmes as well. 


Holmes makes his famous comment that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the truth” not only in The Sign of Four but also in three other stories. That doesn’t even count A Study in Scarlet, where he employs the same technique and calls it “the method of exclusion.”


Also in A Study in Scarlet, the debut adventure, Holmes remarks, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” He goes on to say something similar not just once or twice but in six other stories.


Recently, I came across a much less obvious example of Holmes uttering variations of a sleuthing maxim across several different stories.   


“It is of the highest important in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which are vital,” Holmes says in “The Reigate Squires.”   


In “The Naval Treaty,” he complains of too much evidence making that difficult. “What was vital was overlaid and hidden by what was irrelevant.”


And in “The Adventure of the Priory School,” there’s this: “Before we start to investigate that, let us try to realize what we do know, so as to make the most of it and to separate the essential from the accidental.”


Dr. Watson may be a little fuzzy on whether he was shot in the shoulder or the leg, but over four decades he gives us a remarkably consistent portrait of Holmes the sleuth-hound.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

It's St. Patrick's Day in September!

The timing is not the best, but sometimes life is like that. Today is the official publication date of Erin Go Bloody, most of which is set in March around St. Patrick's Day.

This is the sixth novel and seventh book detailing the mystery-solving adventures of Sebastian McCabe and Jeff Cody. Here's the story:
When Erin, Ohio native Jamie Ellicott returns home as best-selling author James Ivanhoe after a 13-year absence, it’s like the return of the Prodigal Son. His ill and aging father welcomes him with open arms. Ivanhoe’s two brothers, however, are less forgiving.

The whole town gets drawn into the family drama when Ivanhoe seeks to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade under the banner of an anti-technology group called the Ned Ludd Society. That’s a thumb in the eye of his siblings, who own a company that makes microcircuits.

As a member of the parade committee, St. Benignus University communications director Jeff Cody has a stake in what soon becomes a heated national debate. But to his genius brother-in-law Sebastian McCabe, the contretemps soon becomes less important than investigating murder in the Ellicott family. 

And this time, solving the mystery doesn't put everything back in order exactly as it was before. Something's going to change in Erin.

As a side note, of the great joys I have had as a writer is dedicating books to friends and family. This one is for my friend Steven Doyle, BSI, who published my first piece of fiction in the 1980s in The Sherlock Holmes Review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Somewhere, There's a Place for You

Sherlockians like to say, in the words of the immortal Vincent Starrett sonnet, "It is always 1895." But that doesn't mean the calendar doesn't change. It does, and every year it's crammed with Holmes-related activities.

Seemingly dozens of aficionados of the Great Detective took part in a spirited discussion recently on Facebook about the growing cost of engaging in what many think of as their hobby (a term I never even heard applied to Holmes-mania until a few years ago). It's a sad reality of life that nobody has time and money to do everything.

But several participants pointed out that there are more ways to get involved in Sherlock Holmes now that ever before. That's certainly the way I see it. When I first began reading the Canon, probably about 55 years ago, I only knew one other Sherlockian - a boy only slightly older than me.

As Robert Katz pointed out, a look at www.sherlockiancalendar.com verifies the richness of possibilities out there. Just between now and the end of the month, it lists seven Sherlockian meetings and events from Nashville, TN, to Sydney, Australia, with contact information for each. Many are open to everyone and inexpensive.

Not being an early adapter, I only learned about the Sherlockian calendar in June from Evelyn Herzog. The calendar itself proclaims that it exists to serve:
  • those who are traveling and might like to connect with other Sherlockians;
  • those who are scheduling Sherlockian events to avoid conflict (although that is not always possible;
  • those who are just curious.
I'm thinking of it as a vacation planner!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What a Profile!

The latest edition to my little library
Sometimes even a non-collector likes to have more than one copy of a very special book. I put Profile by Gaslight in that category. I picked up my second at an antiques mall in Columbia, PA, during a recent vacation.  

Edited by Edgar W. Smith and subtitled An Irregular Reader About the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, this cornerstone book is a stellar collection of essays from the early days of Sherlockian scholarship. How early is indicated by the annotated bibliography, which runs a mere six pages -- including all the books of the Canon. That's just about all there was in those days.

The list of contributors to the volume is dazzling roll call of Sherlockian giants: Morley, Davis, Stout, Wolff, Woolcott, Sayers, Boucher, Starrett, Haycraft, Pratt, Bell . . . Even some of the individual articles and poems are justly famous, such as “Watson Was a Woman,” “That Was No Lady,” “221B,” and “Dr. Watson's Christian Name.”

The front carries a notice: “The characters in this book are real persons. Any resemblance to fictional characters, living or dead, is purely accidental.”  If this isn't the first Sherlockian book to make that claim, it is one of the first and far from the last.

The volume already sitting on my library shelves has a dust jacket, and my new acquisition doesn’t. But the new one is slightly larger in its physical dimensions and has something the other lacks – end papers featuring maps of the Sherlockian world by Dr. Julian Woolf. That probably means it was the original edition, and the other a cheaper reprint.

As another Wolfe, Nero, would say: “Most satisfactory.” 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Late, Great Sherlock Holmes Stories

"Welcome to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry."
It has long been held by some readers that later Sherlock Holmes stories show a decline in quality from the early days.  


In his memoirs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quoted a Cornish boatman who told him, “I think, sir, when Holmes fell over that cliff, he may not have killed himself, but all the same he was never quite the same man afterwards.


To quote Nero Wolfe: “Pfui!”


Five out of the nine volumes of the Canon were written in the Twentieth Century. The first of those five was The Hound of the Baskervilles, the greatest, the most famous, and the most filmed Holmes adventure of them all.


Let’s look at just a few other standout stories of the post-Reichenbach period: 

  • “The Adventure of the Empty House” – Holmes’s account of his wanderings during The Great Hiatus is a little suspect, but the tale has a great mystery and wonderful drama.
  • “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – surely this is a classic cipher story.
  • “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” – a detective story and a spy story in one, plus we learn that Mycroft occasionally is the British government.
  • “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” – what a villain and what a denoument!
  • “His Last Bow” – my personal favorite Sherlock Holmes story because of the ending.
  • The Valley of Fear – no less a critic than John Dickson Carr considered this the best Holmes novel, with a first-rate puzzle in the first half and a hard-boiled detective in the second.    

Of course there are some clinkers among the later stories, notably “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.” But there are some weak stories among the first two dozen as well. Think of “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk.”


Conan Doyle himself argued that “the last one is as good as the first.” The last Holmes story published in The Strand was “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.” It’s a good mystery, highly underrated, and ends the 60-story series on a high note.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Many Doctors of Sherlock Holmes

Dr. Marilynne McKay at the Indiana Medical History Museum

Is there a doctor in the house?

In the Canon, the answer is definitely “yes.” Each of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 Sherlock Holmes stories has at least one doctor, either as a major character or referred to and significant by his absence. His name, of course, is Watson.

But many of the other stories include doctors in major roles. You will find them as villains, victims, clients, colleagues, consultants, and suspects, for example. Marilynne McKay, MD, gave a delightful overview of some of the most important last Saturday to a packed audience of about 100 at the Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis.

All Sherlockians know that our hero was inspired by one of Conan Doyle’s medical-school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell. But I learned from Dr. McKay that Dr. Leon Sterndale may have been based on both Stanley and Livingston (as in “Dr. Livingston, I presume?).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of her talk was a discussion of social ranking of the various medical men in Victorian England. Surgeons learned their profession by apprenticeship and were called “Mr.” Apothecaries, also trained as apprentices, were the equivalent of today’s general practitioners. Only MDs were called “doctor,” but sometimes in the Canon they achieved the loftier title of “Professor” or “Sir.”

This stuff is so interesting it should be in a book – and it is: Nerve and Knowledge: Doctors, Medicine andthe Sherlockian Canon, published by the Baker Street Irregulars. Marilynne McKay wrote one of the chapters, which covers some of the same ground as her Saturday lecture.  Co-editors, Andrew L. Solberg, also spoke Saturday, giving an overview of the book.

“Nerve and Knowledge: Two Lectures on Doctors, Medicine, and Sherlock Holmes” was sponsored by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the Baker Street Irregulars (both speakers are members), and the Indiana Medical History Museum. Now that’s what I call great synergy. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A New 'Vatican Cameos'

As far we know, Sherlock Holmes worked for only one client twice (other than Lestrade, Gregson, and colleagues). That truly illustrious client was His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.

Both of these Vatican cases are alluded to by Watson, but never recorded – the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca (mentioned in “The Adventure of Black Peter”) and the matter of the Vatican cameos (referenced in The Hound of the Baskervilles).

As a member of a group of Catholic Sherlockians called the Vatican Cameos, I have a special interest in the latter case. I even wrote a short story called “TheAdventure of the Vatican Cameos.” It was a modern-day story about Jeff Cody and Lynda Teal’s honeymoon in Rome. I think it’s my best short story. 

The leader of the Vatican Cameos, Ann Margaret Lewis, wrote about both cases and the adventure of the two Coptic patriarchs in her wonderful collection of three novellas, Murder in the Vatican: TheChurch Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.

The latest writer to tackle the cameos business is Richard T. Ryan in The Vatican Cameos. It’s an excellent pastiche-length novel, very much in the spirit of the original Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  

Holmes’s task in 1901 is to recover seven stolen cameos crafted 400 years earlier by Michelangelo and being used to extort political concessions from Leo XIII. This is not so much a “whodunit” as “how do we outwit him” story. Holmes faced similar situations in his Canonical career, notably in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” and in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.”

The real mystery for the reader is the nature of the cameos. Why could these old artworks hurt the papacy if they came to light? We learn the answer slowly through third-person chapters interspersed with Watson’s accounts, an effective technique for maintaining suspense.

Much of the Renaissance material is based on fact, even when it isn’t pretty fact. The cast of characters includes Pope Alexander VI and his infamous daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, but Michelangelo is the protagonist. This window on the past will remind Sherlockians of the second halves of A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, also presented in the third person.

Whether the time is 1901 or 1501, Richard T. Ryan keeps the game afoot in a way that should entertain and satisfy the most demanding Sherlockian pastiche reader.

The Vatican Cameos: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure is available for pre order from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.