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, March 7, 2014
What have I been reading lately? I'm glad you asked that question!
You probably don't need a review of The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, but I'm going to tell you about four other books I've read recently. They have several things in common: All fit the theme of this blog, all are from MX Publishing, and all are available all the usual e-book and online sources.
The Norwood Author, by Alistair Duncan, was on my to-read stack for far too long. It's the definitive book about a brief but important period in the life of Arthur Conan Doyle - his Norwood years. Many fine biographies look at this protean man's whole life, but this is a close-up of one influential part of it.
Watson is Not an Idiot, by Eddy Webb, is a story-by-story analysis of the Canon. In just over 200 pages, the author offers a lot of interesting insights. The title may be obvious to us Watsonians, but the book isn't.
Never Meant to Be, by Stephen Seitz, takes some familiar elements - time travel, Jack the Ripper, Watson in love - and weaves them into a compelling story. It's a short book that seems longer - in a good way.
A Few Lessons From Sherlock Holmes is a book of quotations from Sherlock Holmes (and a quite few other wise people), systematically arranged to produce lessons. Take these lessons to heart, and you'll be wise, too.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The Sign of Four isn't much of a mystery, but it certainly is a great adventure. There's even a treasure hunt!
The murder of Bartholmew Sholto takes place in chapter five. Holmes announces the name of the murderer, Jonathan Small, in chapter six! There are no other suspects - except to Athelny Jones. There's a wonderful exchange between Holmes and Watson after Jones arrests Thaddeus Sholto along with a housekeeper, a butler, and gamekeeper:
"Isn't it gorgeous," said Holmes, grinning over his coffee cup. "What do you think of it?"(But the butler actually did do it, sort of.)
"I think that we have had ourselves a close shave of being arrested for the crime."
"So do I. I wouldn't answer for our safety now, if he should happen to have another of his attacks of energy."
Shortly thereafter follows the thrilling chase on the Thames - adventure, but not mystery.
I re-read The Sign of Four last week in the splendid Sherlock Holmes Reference Library edition from Gasogene Books, edited and annotated by Leslie S. Klinger. I happened to have re-read The Maltese Falcon immediately beforehand. The two detective novels (and detectives) are very different in type and tone. But it struck me that they are both about a treasure which is ultimately lost.
Ah, the Agra Treasure - "That's the stuff that dreams are made."
Friday, February 28, 2014
“I had a new client calling, but he is overdue. By the way, Watson, you know something of racing?”
“I ought to. I pay for it with about half my wound pension.”
-- "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"
In addition to being a ladies' man with experience extending across three continents, Dr. John H. Watson was a gambler. Of that there can be no doubt. In addition to his horse-racing habit, he dabbled in the stock market.
At the beginning of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," Holmes interrupts a Watsonian reverie to observe, "So, Watson, you do not propose to invest in South African securities?" That was the conclusion of a six-step chain of deductions, but it boiled down to the fact that Watson hadn't asked for his checkbook when he went to play billiards with his friend Thurston, who was trying to talk him into buying the securities.
Can there be any real doubt that those billiard games also with Thurston involved cash on the table?
Sherlockian scholars have long speculated that Holmes, too, had a bit of a gambling penchant. Many believe that he profited handsomely from a bet on Silver Blaze. I don't know about that, but I did recently stumble upon some extra-Canonical evidence that Holmes was involved in wagering. Recently, my brother took me to a casino for lunch. And this what I saw:
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
|Dan Andriacco, left, and Steve Emecz at the Sherlock Holmes Pub, 2012|
My publisher, Steve Emecz of London-based MX Publishing, is one of the most remarkable individuals I have ever known -- always full of energy and excitement for the next project. As a writer, I've found him a dream to work with since he published my Baker Street Beat almost three years ago, followed by five novels. He often answers my e-mails during what is the middle of the night for him. Although he's been ailing recently with an eye problem, Steve characteristically found a way to answer a few questions for me in a more-than-timely fashion.
Let’s start with the numbers. How many Sherlock Holmes books have you published and by how many authors?
We are up to about 150 titles now with a group of authors of about 65. The authors are spread all over the world, though there are a lot in the UK and USA.
And yet you are essentially a one-man band – and publishing isn’t even your day job. How is this possible?
It’s nearly impossible to survive in specialist publishing (as a full-time publisher) these days with all the disruptions and changes in the industry – online to e-books, print on demand to self-publishing. So many small publishers go out of business. By having a day job – outsourcing as much as possible and having some wonderful active authors – we are able to publish the books we want to.
How did you become a publisher?
I started as a writer in the mid-1990s with a bestselling novel (which was bad, but popular) and a sequel (which was good, but not popular) and set up the publishing company when my publisher went bankrupt. It was the early 2000s and the industry had started to hit its big decade of consolidation. I set up the publishing company to enable me to continue to produce books. It really took off in 2006 when we published a groundbreaking book on learning difficulties – Seeing Spells Achieving – which has helped tens of thousands of children. We expanded into several dozen additional NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) titles.
Why did you decide to specialize in Sherlock Holmes and a few other niches?
We are pretty much 100 percent Sherlock Holmes today, and it all started in 2008 with a controversial book by Holmes historian Alistair Duncan – Eliminate The impossible. This review of the Canon and the actors that had played the roles pulled no punches and was very well received. We continued to produce non-fiction, including Brian Pugh’s amazing Chronology of Arthur Conan Doyle, and several biographies, then started on Holmes fiction – which is when things really took off.
What’s in store for publishing in general and MX in particular?
Publishing continues in the West to drive towards e-books and more interactive titles, so at the moment we are focusing on new titles and licensing into regions where “real books” still exist. We’ve launched fifteen titles in Russian, half a dozen in Italian, and we’re working on several deals in India at the moment. In those countries physical print is still dominant. We have some very exciting new book series this year, including adaptations of the originals – graphic novels of some Canon stories and also illustrated versions of the stories using Lego. Fans can keep up to date with the latest Holmes books on our huge fan page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/BooksSherlockHolmes, to which many of our authors contribute.
You’ve been very involved with Save Undershaw and other philanthropic projects. Is it very important for you that you support charities with your business?
It’s critical for us that MX Publishing continues to be our passion, and not a day job. As such, we use the business to enable us to support some key campaigns.
Tell us about your latest project in Africa.
Our project in Africa is our most important to date. Happy Life is a program with two orphanages in Kenya and a new school being built to help with the children’s education. The first orphanage is in Kasarani in the city of Nairobi. They rescue abandoned babies, mainly from the two huge slums in the city. There are millions of orphans in Kenya, and Happy Life has about sixty children at the Kasarani location. That’s where we spent last Christmas and New Year, working with the kids. My wife had previously spent a month there earlier in 2013 and convinced me to join her. It was a life changing-experience. We have already booked the flights back for this Christmas. The holidays is the toughest time for the orphanage as there are few volunteers able to spend the holidays there due to family commitments. We have no children of our own, so spending Christmas with fifty-eight kids is really special.
The second orphanage is located in Juja Farm, about 30 minutes outside Nairobi. It’s the location for the new school. In the next couple of years they hope to provide education for several hundred children.
The special thing about Happy Life is that they have pioneered an adoption program in a country where adoption is rare and relatively new. The more babies who get adopted, the fewer who need long-term accommodation and schooling. With more than 150 children adopted so far, it’s a brilliant program that really needs more awareness. That’s where we think we can add real value. We have helped the Happy Life team with their social media (see https://www.facebook.com/happylifechildrenshome and http://www.pinterest.com/happylifekenya/) and our most ambitious project is to write a book about the program to generate more adoptive parent enquiries.
By sharing the wonderful adoption stories, we hope to encourage more people to adopt from Happy Life as each adoption frees up another place for an abandoned baby. We’ve begun interviewing parents. It’s fascinating and very humbling. What we are doing is a very small part. The staff at Happy Life and the adoptive parents are truly making a massive difference in these children’s lives.
Friday, February 21, 2014
I've much enjoyed the pair of cocktail glasses I received for Christmas from our good friends Joel and Carolyn Senter of Classic Specialties, the well-known purveyor of Sherlockian goods. As you can see, each glass features an etched image of the World's First Consulting Detective, accompanied by the inspiring message "Sherlock Lives." Alas, this is not a product for sale. That makes it even more enjoyable to use!
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
One of the most time-honored Sherlockian amusements is testing our knowledge of the Canon with puzzles and quizzes.
Frank Morley, one of Christopher's two brothers, created a Sherlock Holmes crossword puzzle in 1934 as an entrance test for the Baker Street Irregulars.The grand tradition continues today with almost every meeting of a Baker Street Irregulars scion society including an excruciating quiz as part of the entertainment.
I have written here about Kathleen Kaska's excellent Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book and Ruth Lake Tepper's Sherlock Holmes Crossword Puzzle Book. But The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book by Andrew Murray offers a new wrinkle. Murray doesn't limit himself to the Canon in his 100 quizzes; he also devotes some to the new incarnations of Holmes in popular culture.
In the introduction, Murray writes:
"Who's the greatest Sherlock? For myself it depends on my thirst of the moment: if I'm craving a swig of Holmes Classic, then I'll unscrew a bottle of Brett; if I'm in the mood for an illicit brew, full of all sorts of war-time additives, then I'll dust down a vintage Rathbone '42; but if I want a Holmes that fizzes on my tongue and froths in my nostrils and makes me feel alive, right now, then I'll order a triple-shot Cumberbachaccino from Speedy's Cafe."All are represented in this quiz book, and Robert Downey Jr. besides.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
|Steven Doyle, BSI|
Publisher, author, conference organizer, and more -- that's Steven Doyle, BSI. We recently asked this prominent Sherlockian a few questions about his relationship with the Great Detective and with other Sherlockians. I was interested, and I knew that you would be, too.
Let’s start at ground zero: When and how did you become a Sherlockian?
I was 14 years old, and for Christmas I got a set of Sherlock Holmes books…trade paperback first edition facsimiles of Adventures and Memoirs. I don't know what it was, but I was hooked. This was December 1974. The enormous Sherlockian boom of the 1970s had just recently been ignited with Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Percent-Solution, and so I had become aware of this person Sherlock Holmes. When I finished Memoirs, and "The Final Problem," I immediately picked up Meyer's pastiche. So, I immediately got an immersion not only in the Canon, but a peek into this larger world of non-Canonical writing as well.
When I was a younger, I knew very few Sherlockians. What has it meant to you to be part of a Sherlockian community?
It meant everything. When I first became a Sherlockian as a kid, I also didn't know any Sherlockians. But I quickly discovered they exist. I read some magazine article which referred to the Baker Street Irregulars, and never, ever imagined I'd be a member. I mean, come on, they had people like Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson. I learned there was a local Sherlock Holmes society in my home town of South Bend, Indiana, which is the home of the University of Notre Dame. Some professors from the university and others had formed a scion society, and there was an article in the local newspaper about them, along with contact information. I was a bit precocious, and so wrote asking to join. I was only 14 or 15 years old. Now, they could have turned me down, and that probably would have been that as far as Sherlock Holmes and I went. But they didn't, and that act of generosity put me on a path that has informed and enhanced my entire life.
When did you become a member of the Baker Street Irregulars?
I became a member of the BSI in 1996. My first dinner was in 1994.
What’s your take on the fandom surrounding all the new incarnations of Sherlock Holmes?
I'm not a big on the word "fan," not out of any overly-seriousness about the hobby, but because I don't think it reflects the depth of sincerity and devotion of many of this new generation of Sherlockians. One advantage of being active a long time in this hobby is you are able to see that everything is cyclical. As Sherlock Holmes himself says, "there's nothing new under the sun." We've been having periodic waves of new Sherlockians repeatedly over the decades. This is just the latest. Prior to now we had a legion of new Sherlockians who found Holmes through the Jeremy Brett series…many of them young females who were quite naturally attracted to the lead actor. There's very little difference in kind here. In scale? Yes, in that the sheer number of new people discovering Sherlock Holmes is much higher, thanks to the films and television series. I think, if precedent is any indication, in ten years many of them will have moved on, but the 10% of those who stay with Sherlock will make up the backbone of our hobby for the future.
Our paths first crossed when you published my Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden,” almost a quarter of a century ago in the late lamented Sherlock Holmes Review. Tell us a bit about your history as a publisher. Specifically, how did you become publisher of The Baker Street Journal?
I became a publisher in 1987 when, at the age of 26 I decided, despite having zero knowledge or experience in publishing anything, to create a Sherlockian periodical entitled The Sherlock Holmes Review. I had the great good luck to work with someone who did know something about the nuts and bolts of actually physically laying out pages, and with his help I did it. It succeeded way beyond my expectations. SHR ran for ten years. We had to pull the plug on it because it had become too big for us to actually sustain. It was then that my friend Mark Gagen, who had come on board SHR during its third year, decided to get out of periodical publishing and start doing books. That's when we founded Wessex Press. This was in 1992.
During that time I learned everything about publishing. There's no better education in a topic than actually just doing it. After we founded Wessex Press, we had the opportunity to buy Gasogene Press, which was going to close down otherwise. We made Gasogene the Sherlockian imprint of Wessex. As for The Baker Street Journal, Wessex had been volunteering graphic design for the BSI (Mark and I are both BSI, after all, and at some point Mike Whelan, who is the head of the BSI, came to me and asked if I could take on the role of BSJ publisher. Mike knew that I had experience that could bring the BSJ into a new era. It's kind of mind-blowing when I think about how that 14-year-old would have reacted had he learned he'd some day be publishing The Baker Street Journal.
What book are you most proud to have brought to the public as a publisher?
It's very hard to choose. We never publish a book we don't believe in. Never. I think what makes Wessex Press the premier Sherlockian publisher in the world (and I think the longest-lasting) is an ability to know (a) if the book should be published, and (b) if it should be published by us. There have been many titles that we have passed on not because they lacked merit, but because we knew it wasn't right for us. So, picking just one is difficult. I suppose I would have to say I'm proud of our first title, The Annotated Lost World, which exploded Wessex Press onto the scene in a big way. I'd also point to the 75th Anniversary Edition of Starrett's Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which was published as a facsimile of the 1933 first edition, along with new editorial material by Ray Betzner. It is the single greatest book ever written about Sherlock Holmes, and it had been a dream of mine for well over a decade to bring that book out. It came out exactly as I imagined it.
You also wrote Sherlock Holmes for Dummies. I think it’s a great book because it can edify newcomers to the field without boring those who have been reading Holmes for 50 years. How hard was that to accomplish?
The most difficult thing about it was the schedule that the publisher had put me on to write it. Very accelerated. It took me a bit to adapt to the Dummies format. I think a few others considered it before they signed me, and they opted out. But once I began writing, it all just poured out. I've been living with Mr. Holmes since I was a boy. It's all up there.
You have a day job at Purdue University and you also play in a band called the AgTones. How in the world do you find time for all of your Sherlockian activities?
Well, I wonder that myself sometimes! You just do it! I love life, and friendships, and things that grab me intellectually and creatively. To quote Baron Gruner from "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," "If a man has a hobby, he follows it up no matter what his pursuits may be."
What event(s) are you most looking forward to on the Sherlockian calendar this year?
That Sherlockian calendar is mighty full now…not like the old days. I am looking forward to The Scintillation of Scions conference in Maryland, the annual meeting of The 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash, a return visit to The Sons of the Copper Beeches in Philadelphia, and most of all, our own huge Sherlockian film conference, From Gillette to Brett IV in September. That is going to be big.
What genres and particular writers do you like to read outside the Holmes universe?
Outside of Sherlock Holmes, my favorites have been Dorothy Sayers (both Wimsey and her apologetics), Hornung's Raffles (masterpieces in their own right), and Tolkien. I love science fiction, and I read a lot of history and theology. There are others, all waxing and waning given the season.
What question have I not asked you that you would like to answer?
Well, I would have recommended you ask me "what is the best part of being a Sherlockian?" My answer would be that being a Sherlockian gives you a key to a community of simply the best people I've been privileged to know. Literate, loyal, amazingly generous, absolutely delighting in the intellectual game of Sherlock Holmes. There's absolutely nothing like it.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Since the beginning of the Game, Sherlockians have always been fascinated by Sherlock Holmes's connections to America. "I am always happy to meet an American," he famously said. Speculation is strong that he went to the United States in his youth or during The Great Hiatus.
And that is the basis of an excellent pastiche anthology from Michael Kurland, perhaps best known for his series of novels about Professor Moriarty. In Sherlock Holmes: The American Years, he presents nine quality short stories from some excellent writers.
As is often the case with Holmes pastiches, the pages of this book are graced with many familiar personalities from history - Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum, Dr. Joseph Bell, and Edwin Booth, among others. In almost every case they well done, really coming across as the persons they are supposed to be rather than just fictional characters using their names.
One of my favorite characters in the book appears in a story called "The Old Senator" by Steve Hockensmith, author of the fun "Holmes on the Range" series of mysteries featuring a cowboy Sherlockian. This story is written from the point of view of a
It's hard to pick a solid favorite in this bunch, though, because of Kurland set the quality bar so high.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
|Take that, Carlo!|
Baker Street Babe Amy Thomas, of the Girl Meets Sherlock blog, once noted that "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" is her favorite Holmes story. The story - the last in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - seldom appears on lists of favorites, including Arthur Conan Doyle's. But on a recent re-reading, I suddenly saw all that it has going for it:
- a strong Baker Street opening;
- a wonderfully Gothic plot, suggested by Arthur Conan Doyle's mother;
- a truly creepy villain;
- a damsel in distress;
- a loyal boyfriend;
- some great quotes ("Crime is common. Logic is rare." and ". . . the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.");
- a vicious mastiff that could get a job as as stand-in for the Hound of the Baskervilles;
- an exciting conclusion, topped by poetic justice for the villain.
Have you ever grown to appreciate a story more with successive re-readings?