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, February 5, 2016

Beacons of the Future!

Timothy S. Greer won the 2014 Beacon Award. Susan Diamond, left,  and Elaine Coppola are Society members.  
With dismay I realize that it's been almost four years since I've written about the Beacon Society in these pages. I'll wait while you follow that link.

As you now know if you didn't before, the Beacon Society is a group "supporting and recognizing exemplary educational experiences that introduce young people to the Sherlock Holmes stories." It's a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars.

I’m happy to report that the Society is once again making grants available to U.S. and Canadian teachers, librarians, and Sherlockian literary societies.  The grants, in honor of a wonderful Sherlockian, the late Jan Stauber, provide up to $500 to fund development of a project introducing young people to the Great Detective.
Interested individuals and organizations are invited to apply for the Beacon Society's major funding project. The grant period will be from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.
For more information on the grant, as well as the grant application, go to the Society’s website:  http://www.beaconsociety.com/awards/the-jan-stauber-grant-winners/jan-stauber-grant
But don't stop there: Check out the main page of the website as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hot News on the Ripper Front

One doesn’t have to consult Phil Jones’s massive database of Sherlock Holmes pastiches (with about 12,000 entries last time I looked) to know that Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is one of the most popular themes of post-Canonical tales. 

That’s understandable: Since Holmes and the Ripper were contemporaries, it’s almost impossible to credit that the Geat Detective didn’t solve the most famous serial killings of his time – and even less credible that he wasn’t asked to do so. 

It’s a good bet, then, that many Sherlockians have more than a passing interest in Ripper lore as well. For that reason, my Ripperologist friend Janis Wilson sent me the following to pass on to you: 

I am a co-organizer of an international Jack the Ripper convention, RipperCon, which will be held in Baltimore April 8-10.  We have people coming from England and Australia, so it is to be an interesting event.  I will be moderating a panel on the Ripper fiction and another on the Jewish suspects in the case. 

For those of you who do not know, Martin Fido is a leading Ripper scholar and historian who, in my opinion, cracked the case and discovered the identity of the real killer, as outlined in my recently completed novel, Goulston Street.  He is our keynote speaker.
Information is available on Facebook: 

The speakers are --

  • Martin Fido - “Ripperology and Anti-Semitism”
  • David Sterritt - "The Ripper, the Lodger, and Hitchcock's Existential Outsider"
  • Stephen Hunter - “Finding a Voice for the Ripper (Writing Ripper fiction)”
  • Mike Hawley - “Francis Tumblety - Amongst the Best Suspects”
  • Robert Anderson - "Long Island Serial Killer"
  • Sarah Beth Hopton - "Jill the Ripper/Mary Pearce"
  • Howard Brown - "Diamonds in the Rough: A Positive View of the Contemporary Papers"
  • Christopher T. George - The Last Days of Edgar Allan Poe -- Murder or Something Else?"
  • Fiction panel chaired by Janis Wilson featuring David Sterritt, Stephen Hunter, and Mr. Hunter's researcher, Lenne Miller
  • Other panels and surprises throughout weekend
MC’s for the weekend are Jonathan Menges of Casebook: Jack the Ripper's Rippercast and Caseboo’s Ally Ryder.

Registration for RipperCon is $250 payable by Paypal to editorctrip@yahoo.com or by check made out to Christopher T. George, 3800 Canterbury Road, Apt 3E, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA. U.S. funds only please. The registration fee includes talks and panels Friday 1 to 6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Maryland Historical Society, including lunch and refreshments; Friday night reception at the Mount Vernon Hotel, and Saturday evening banquet at the hotel. After dinner entertainment is Poe's Last Stanza http://doordiemystery.com/poes-last-stanza/

Sunday bus tour of Baltimore, including Edgar Allan Poe Grave and House, Tumblety and John Wilkes Booth associated sites and Nutshell Studies, is $40 extra. Tour includes on your own lunch at a restaurant in Baltimore's famed Inner Harbor. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ray Betzner: Student of Starrett

Bert Coules, Mark Gegan, Ray Betzner, and Steve Doyle at McSorley's Old Ale House.
Photo courtesy of Jacquelynn Bost Morris
Ray Betzner, BSI (“The Agony Column”), curates the blog Studies in Starrett, “an exploration of the works of Charles Vincent Emerson Starrett.” I asked Ray a few questions about himself and about Starrett, one of the premier figures in the first generation of Sherlockians. 

First of all, just to get our bearings on this topic, where would you place Vincent Starrett’s star in the Sherlockian galaxy? How important was he in the twentieth century and how important is he today? 

I place Starrett on equal footing with Christopher Morley and Edgar Smith, the troika of the Sherlockian Golden Age in the United States. Like Morley and Smith, Starrett’s affinity for Holmes started when he was a boy. But they diverged in adult life: Morley collected friends and Starrett collected books, while Smith had a mind for organization and a secretary to do the hard work.

Starrett’s book, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, helped many in this country realize they were not alone in their Holmes idolatry. Before the internet connected Sherlockians, Starrett was one of those vital links that helped build the Holmes community we enjoy today. He deserves a good-sized star in the Sherlockian firmament for that alone.

Probably Starrett’s best-known work is the groundbreaking The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. You edited Gasogene Books’ handsome 75th anniversary editionHow many copies of the book in various editions do you own? 

All of them. Which is to say, that I have at least one copy of every edition produced in the U.S., England and Japan. All together, it’s 15 by my count.  

Steve Doyle and Mark Gagen deserve a lot of credit for that book. They didn’t stint in the production values. We wanted to make a book that Starrett would have been proud to put on his shelf, and I think we succeeded.  

Is The Private Life the most important book about Sherlock Holmes not written by Arthur Conan Doyle? 

That’s a tough question. As much as I am an advocate for Private Life, its influence in the last several decades has waned as newer works have come along, like William S. Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which will likely be eclipsed by Les Klinger’s books.

To really enjoy it today, you have to treat Private Life as a product of its time. Otherwise, it will seem hopelessly out of touch with modern life. Despite this, there are some passages that are timeless. Like this: 

“But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Watson … Shall they not always live on Baker Street? Are they not there this instant, as one writes? … Outside, the hansoms rattle through the rain, and Moriarty plans his latest devilry. Within, the sea-coal flames upon the hearth, and Holmes and Watson take their well-won ease … So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart: in a nostalgic country of the mind: where it is always 1895.” 

As a teenager, you encountered the Canon and The Private Life at the same time. Do you think that simultaneity had anything to do with your passion for Starrett? 

Absolutely. The two books are forever linked for me. It’s also true that the copy of Private Life I first read (the 1960 University of Chicago edition), opened my eyes to a group called the Baker Street Irregulars. The BSI seemed like a Valhalla to a teenager growing up amidst the steel mills of Pittsburgh. I never thought I would one day be a member of that group. I am still amazed. 

Billy Wilder’s “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” has nothing to do with the Starrett book. Do you ever wish the film had a different title?  

I like the film, although Starrett did not. He was a huge fan, and friend, of Basil Rathbone and ranked his Sherlock among the best. Rathbone fit Starrett’s desire for a cold, calculating machine capable of working out the most tangled skein. Billy Wilder’s camp and hints of homosexuality did not sit well with Starrett.  

What is your second favorite Starrett work? And why? 

Starrett’s sonnet, “221-B” is immortal. I can still get a little choked up reading it. There’s one line that summarizes my relationship to the Holmes world: “Only those things the heart believes are true.” If you lack this sense of child-like wonder, you will only see Holmes as cardboard caricature.  

Starrett only attended one meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars in his long life, but was very active in the Sherlockian community in Chicago and in print. What has it meant to you to be part of a large network of friends sharing your interest in the great detective? 

Starrett stayed close to Chicago because of the fragile emotional health of his second wife, Ray Latimer. I, on the other hand, have had the great joy of being with Sherlockians in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Indianapolis and even little Morgantown, W.Va. Many of the men and women I meet in these places have become an extended family. Their wit, scholarship and friendship have been a big part of my life.  

How is being a Sherlockian in the age of social media different than it was in 1934, when Christopher Morley founded the Baker Street Irregulars, or even in 1974, when Starrett died? 

There are a lot of differences, but here’s one that strikes me as significant: In the past, you were largely restricted to being a Holmes fan at those moments when you corresponded with others or attended an event. Now, people live out their association with Holmes 24/7. 
While some lament the loss of exclusivity that came with the fading of an elect (and eclectic) group of (mostly) men who controlled the Holmes movement in the past, the Sherlock Holmes movement of today is diverse, lively, challenging and often utterly delightful. This is meant to fun, not a religion with a litmus test of orthodoxy.  To quote Morley (from a different context): "The whole matter is now hopelessly, delightfully and permanently confused. Long may it so remain!"

I have come to appreciate today’s movement, while maintaining a great respect for those of the Golden Age.  

What is your favorite Sherlockian activity or event? And why? 

While I love the twice-yearly meetings of the Sons of the Copper Beeches in Philadelphia, nothing beats the Baker Street Irregulars dinner weekend. The energy and joy that comes from gathering hundreds of like-minded men and women from around the globe is like Christmas, New Year’s and Mardi Gras rolled into one. At the same time, I especially cherish the quiet moments spent with a handful of folks over a meal or a drink as we share stories, remember absent friends, and plan new projects. Why else would otherwise sane people go to New York City in January? 

To learn more about Vincent Starrett, check out Studies in Starrett and the Facebook page

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bookmarked for Murder: 'A Must-Read'

"The ingenious twist at the end is an example of Andriacco’s masterful ability to pen a page-turner. Bookmarked is a must-read for anyone who loves a classic who-done-it."

Who am I to argue? Reviewer Kathleen Kaska also calls this fifth novel and sixth book in my Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody series "Andriacco’s best yet."

Read the whole review at Kings River Life Magazine.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sign Up Soon to Scintillate

Dan Andriacco, Ann Margaret Lewis, and Bonnie MacBird at A Scintillation of Scions VII 
The other day I dropped in the mail my completed registration form for A Scintillation of Scions, which has become the premier annual symposium on matters Sherlockian, Watsonion, and Doylean.

This will be the ninth edition, sponsored by Watson's Tin Box in Maryland, and the fifth I have attended. I posted on this blog about the program in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

But don't just read about it - register!

There are at least three reasons you should do so:

Great speakers: This year's line-up is as impressive as ever. At least three of the names will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog - Al Gregory, Bonnie MacBird, and Diane Gilbert Madsen. Although I consider them all friends, I'm looking forward to actually meeting Al and Diane.

Great friends: There's that word again. Whether you know anybody there or not (and I didn't in 2012), you will be surrounded by 99 new friends. And the next year they will be even better friends. Founder Jacquelynn Bost Morris thinks of Scintillation as a Sherlockian family reunion. And so it is.

Great conference: A conference the size of this one has a thousand moving parts, and yet they always seem to mesh together with the smooth efficiency of a Swiss watch. Jacquelynn and her crew of Tin Boxers make it look easy.

At this point, June 10 and 11 seems a long way off, but registration is limited to about 100. Sign up now to make sure you're among them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Secrets of Successful Series Sleuths

The Strand Magazine featured many series sleuths after Holmes 
Upon request, I wrote a guest blog post about how to create a successful series sleuth. As you might imagine, I mentioned Mr. Sherlock Holmes a few times, as well as my own Sebastian McCabe. Check out the post here at TheWriteChris.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

No Holmes Without Watson

Dr. John H. Watson and friend
Steven T. Doyle’s fascinating Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual for 2015 quotes Nicholas Meyer as saying this about his third Sherlock Holmes novel, The Canary Trainer: 

“I know there are good things in it. But ‘good things in it’ doesn’t add up to a good book. It just doesn’t. It’s a book, for instance, where Watson really isn’t in the book, and as a lot of people have pointed out, there may be no such thing as Holmes without Watson.” 

The book had a few other problems. I, for one, was disappointed that the Canary was a singer, although S.S. Van Dine did the same thing in The “Canary Murder Case in 1927. 

Nevertheless, Meyer’s comment reminds me of a story the late John McAleer, biographer of Rex Stout, once told me. As I remember it, an elderly woman asked a librarian if she had any of those “Archie books.” After a few moments of head-scratching, the librarian said, “Oh, you mean Nero Wolfe!” “Nonsense!” the patron replied. “We know who does all the work!” 

McAleer observed that one realizes while reading In the Best Families, where Wolfe is largely absent, that there could be Archie stories without Wolfe, but not Wolfe stories without Archie. Similarly, the three of the four Holmes stories not narrated by Watson are among the least successful in the Canon. 

I thought that with the formation of the John H. Watson Society a few years ago the Good Doctor was finally receiving long-overdue recognition. But that is far from true. In reading over some of the first issues of the Baker Street Journal, I’m impressed by how many of the articles written in those early days are Watson-centric.  

Ed S. Woodhead took up his pen “In Defense of Dr. Watson” in Volume 1, Number 1. Dirk J. Struik lauded “The Real Watson,” “stalwart veteran and crack shot,” in Volume 2, Number 2. Those just happen to be the two most recent issues that I’ve read. And they serve to illustrate a conviction I have had for some time and articulated here before:
Scratch any true Sherlockian (or Holmesian) and you will find a Watsonian as well.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Living Legacy of a 14-Year-Old

This month marks the 35th anniversary of my joining the Cincinnati scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Tankerville Club.

That's more than half of my life and most of the history of the Tankerville Club. It's been a great ride. Paul Herbert founded the Tankerville, named after the only club mentioned twice in the Sherlock Holmes Canon, in the late 1970s. He is still our beloved Official Secretary.

A few other scion societies are much older. It's a treat to read about them in "The Scion Societies" section of the very early issues of The Baker Street Journal.

In Volume 1, Number 4 from 1946, for example, Mr. J.N. Williamson announced the formation of The Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. "Anyone interested in joining this new Scion must past a test taken from the Complete and Immortal Works," he wrote. Fortunately that rule was not still in effect when I joined the Clients a few years ago!

In 1946, Gerald "Jerry" Williamson was all of 14 years old. Thirty-one years later, he write a horror novel. He eventually published more than 40 novels and 150 short stories in the horror genre before his death in 2005. By that time he had long since left Sherlock Holmes and the Clients behind.

But the club he founded still thrives today, with a large and growing membership under the leadership of Steven Doyle, BSI. That's a funny thing about Sherlock Holmes and endeavors connected with him - they have a way of outlasting the mere mortals who gave them birth.

Just ask the shade of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Book Under My Christmas Tree

In honor of Sherlock Holmes's birthday today, I'll tell you about a book I received for Christmas.

The Sherlock Holmes Handbook: The Methods and Mysteries of the World's Greatest Detective by Ransom Riggs isn't exactly what it sounds like, but it's a worthy addition to your library nonetheless.

Perhaps a better title would be A Sherlock Holmes How-To Handbook. The book is made up mostly of how-to chapters, some quite surprising, with lessons largely (though not exclusively) drawn from the Canon.

Part I, "Detective Skills," contains chapters with about what we would expect: "How to Use Analytical Reasoning," "How to Question a Suspect," "How to Decode Ciphers," "How to Examine a Body at a Crime Scene," and even "How to Locate a Secret Chamber," among other topics.

Parts II and III, "Survival Skills" and "Life Skills" are where the fun really begins. Here we find such helpful advice as "How to Outwit a Criminal Mastermind," "How to Survive a Plunge Over a Waterfall," "How to Disguise Yourself," ""How to Stage a Dramatic Entrance," "How to Sniff Out a Hoax," "How to Raise Bees," and  more.

On all of the aforementioned topics, I will readily concede Sherlock Holmes to be an expert. But would you really want his advice on "How to Manage  Children" and "How to Handle Women?" I think not! And yet, Riggs goes there.

In between the "how to" chapters, Riggs provides sidebars on a number of interesting topics. My favorites were the creatures of the Canon (which proclaims the Hound of the Baskerville to be the least deadly!), the crimes of Sherlock Holmes, curious maladies and quack medicines of the Victorian Era, Victorian Fashion, secret societies and the criminal underworld, and opium dens and narcotics in the Victorian Era.

All in all, this rather misnamed book is a quick but delightful read.

Do not confuse it, however, with Christopher Redmond's Sherlock Holmes Handbook, a fine volume more suited the title. We will visit that one some other day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Nicholas Meyer's Real Masterpiece

Best laid plans.
I had intended to re-read Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution over Christmas in anticipation of the Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual by Steven T. Doyle devoted to the book and movie that launched tidal wave of Sherlockian interest in the early 1970s. (It also set off a huge market in previously undiscovered Watson manuscripts.)
But I couldn’t make it past the "Introductory." That’s where Dr. Watson reveals that "two of the cases I penned concerning Holmes were total fabrications." This is exactly what curbed my enthusiasm for the book 41 years ago: I just couldn’t swallow the idea that "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House" didn’t happen.
You mean Professor Moriarty wasn’t the Napoleon of Crime but an innocent college professor? And yet Watson blackened his reputation to enhance Holmes’s?
No, thanks. That doesn’t work for me. I put the book down – and immediately picked up its sequel, The West End Horror. A few pages into it, I remembered why I have long thought of it as not only Meyer’s real masterpiece, but one of my favorite of all Sherlock Holmes pastiches.
Unlike The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The West End Horror doesn’t tamper significantly with the biographies of our two heroes as we have received them in the Canonical texts. Moreover, the novel has verisimilitude to the original in several subtler ways:
  • One of the victims leaves a dying clue – a popular plot device in Sherlock Holmes as well as in later Golden Age detective fiction.

  • Holmes fools Watson with a disguise. (Okay, I admit that’s an easy one.)

  • The agent of death, when run to ground, tells a long back-story set in a British colony (India in this case, as it was in many Canonical cases).

  • The real West End Horror of the title isn’t a person, which reminds me of all those Holmes stories were there isn’t a villain – or at least not a crime.

Another source of my enjoyment was all the real-life historical personages who had roles in the novel. Admittedly, that does tear the fabric of the Holmes universe a little bit because Watson always disguised the real people in his accounts. Still, it was fun to see George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Gilbert & Sullivan, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, and Bram Stoker as true-to-life actors in this little drama.
Whether you agree with me on this or are in the majority who loved The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, I’m sure you’ll love Scott Monty and Burt Wolder’s interview with Meyer on the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast. Check it out here. And, of course, the BSJ Christmas Annual was equally delightful.