Welcome

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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Reichenbach Memories on May 4

                                   

 
            Today, May 4, is Riechenbach Day, the anniversary of that encounter that spelled the end of Moriarty and the beginning of the Great Hiatus.

            My friend Steve Winter and I visited the Falls with our spouses on Oct. 13, 2008. But on that fall morning, off in the distance from a point close to our hotel, the Falls looked more like the Reichenbach Trickle than the awesome force of nature described by Watson. No matter. Steve and I set off with determination on the fussweg, or footpath, well-marked (at least at first) with signs bearing the universally recognized image of Sherlock Holmes. Along the way our wives fell back and Steve and I hiked on past cows, goats, and Swiss chalets with satellite dishes. Without the funicular “Zum Reichenbachfall,” which marked “100 Jahre” in 1999, we had a delightful sense that we were walking more closely in the footsteps of Holmes and Watson than if we had taken the cable car much of the way up. 

            About two thirds toward the top of the mountain, within site of the Falls, we unexpectedly came across yet another plaque. In English, followed by German and then French, it said: 

AT THIS FEARFUL PLACE,

SHERLOCK HOLMES

VANQUISHED PROFESSOR

MORIARTY ON 4 MAY 1891. 

It was erected in the 1990s by the Bimetallic Question of Montreal and the Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland, and not arbitrarily. The spot certainly fit the description of where Holmes and Moriarty tussled, just above a ledge now protected with a metal railing. Heights not being my favorite thing, it was to me indeed a “fearful place.”  Even the intrepid Steve told me later that he could imagine the fear and awe that one would have felt looking down into the chasm when the Falls were cascading over the jutting rocks at full force – especially in the days before funiculars, safety rails and marked trails.

By this time, it was clear that the view from below had been deceiving. In October, virtually shut off, the mighty Reichenbach is still a lot more than a trickle. In another context, with lower expectations, it would be considered a respectable waterfall. “The Falls, even now, are quite loud,” I wrote in my travel diary as we stood on a bridge overlooking the great chasm and the cascading water. And their roar was the only sound to be heard in the stillness of nature that fall morning. Steve and I had seen no one else, except for a distant hiker that never came close to us. “This really was a pilgrimage for two,” Steve said as we began our descent about two and a half hours after we had started up.

A pilgrimage indeed, and one that I wrote about in my first Sherlockian Book, Baker Street Beat.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Young Sherlockians: Beacons of the Future

 

Ryan Roley and Carolyn Senter

Ira Matetsky, Sherlockian and Wolfean, made an interesting point about the difference between the world of Sherlock Holmes devotees and the counterpart fandom devoted to twentieth century American sleuth Nero Wolfe.

Interviewed by Steve Doyle on The Fortnightly Dispatch YouTube program from the Baker Street Irregulars, Ira pointed out that Wolfeans tend to skew older in age and their numbers are not being replenished, whereas admirers of Mr. Sherlock Holmes come in all generations and their numbers continue to grow.

Ann and I met an enthusiastic young Sherlockian on Tuesday, April 26, when we and Carolyn Senter presented Ryan Foley with a plaque commemorating his second-place finish in the 7th-9th grade category of the R. Joe Senter Sr. Memorial Essay Contest. Most of the plaques were mailed out, but Ryan’s school is just a few minutes from our home. So the presentation took place front of the entire eighth grade at St. Ignatius School, the large elementary school in the state of Ohio.

The essay contest, funded by Carolyn Senter in honor of her late husband and administered by the Beacon Society, offers cash prizes of $300, $200, and $100 in the 4th-6th, 7th-9th and 10th-12th grade categories. I chair the Beacon Society’s Awards Committee, although my four stellar committee members do all the work.

Ryan’s essay compared and contrasted Holmes and Watson, primarily in “The Red-Headed League.” You can read it and all the other winning essays at: https://www.beaconsociety.com/uploads/3/7/3/8/37380505/2022_senter_essay_award_winners_--_essays.pdf

The Senter Contest is just one way the Beacon Society strives to bring the magic of Sherlock Holmes alive for young people. Learn more about this lively scion society at: https://www.beaconsociety.com/

Deadline for next year’s contest is far way, but not too far to start thinking about young people you know who might be interested in the chance to win a cash prize. This could be their gateway to that wonderful world where it is always 1895.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Good Old Stuff


The early issues of the Baker Street Journal, published by Ben Abramson, have long been remembered for their striking appearance. Jon Lellenberg, in his Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ‘Forties, accurately called the Old Series BSJ “a lavishly eye-pleasing piece of Victoriana.”

But perhaps not enough attention has been paid to the equally high quality of the content. The very first issue in 1946 contained material from such Sherlockian luminaries as Bliss Austin, Belden Wigglesworth, Vincent Starrett, Jay Finley Christ, S.C. Robert, Christopher Morley, and Anthony Boucher.

Edgar W. Smith’s first “Editor’s Gas Lamp,” is appropriately called “The Game Is Afoot” and begins:

It is altogether fitting that Sherlock Holmes should be honored by the publication of a journal devoted to a critical analysis of his life and times. No other man has ever been so honored before him but then no other life has ever lent itself so completely to affectionate dissection; no other times have offered quite so full a flavor of the stuff of which our dreams are made.

From our 2022 perspective, it rather amusing to the read that H.W. Starr’s “Some New Light on Watson” begins with the words: “There is noticeable, to a keen observer, a tendency in the more recent Baker Street scholarship to advance – one hesitates to use the word fanciful – theories in which the scholar presses his thesis perhaps beyond the point of complete plausibility and in which the evidence is possibly not as sound as one might desire.”

Best of all, for my taste, the inaugural BSJ contained this classic poem:

A Greeting in Arduis

By Helene Yuhasova

(To the Baker Street Irregulars, on the occasion of their Annual Dinner, 1945)

I hear your footsteps patter in the hall;

I see you standing eager in the room

Before great Sherlock; and I heed the call

To urge a budding poem into bloom:

In vain! My verse is spatulate and tegular –

Despite my prayers to Zeus and great Jehovah

I’m not, alas, a Baker Street Irregular –

I’m just

Sincerely yours,

H. Yuhasova

In their wonderful 2017 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual, “A Woman of Mystery,” Sonia Fetherston and Julie McKuras write: “Of all Yuhasova’s known works, this is the most heart-wrenching. It’s the voice of someone who feels excluded; being a woman was the surest reason for exclusion by the Irregulars in those days.”

Fortunately, however, women were never excluded from the pages of the BSJ. That same issue included an essay by Esther Longfellow on “The Distaff Side of Baker Street” and the beginning of a regular column by mystery editor Lee Wright called “Mrs. Hudson Speaks.” Ms. Wright was also one of five associate editors of the original BSJ.

You don’t have to be a collector to acquire those early numbers of the BSJ. All issues from 1946 through 2011 – 276 issues and more than 18,000 pages – are available in PDF form on a searchable DVD. Check it out www.bakerstreetirregulars.com/2013/01/06/ebsj-v2/

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Look What Popped Up! Holmes-in-the-Box


When you have a passion for something, kind people tend to give you things. A large percentage of my library and almost all of my keepsakes related to Sherlock Holmes were gifts.

Among the latest non-book items was what I call a Holmes-in-the-Box, a present from my wife, Ann.  A few weeks ago, a Sherlockian visitor from another state saw it and said, “I have one of those.” Doesn’t everybody?

The Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, our local scion, has made “Sherlockian Show & Tell” a part of every meeting. I really look forward to the amazing variety of tchotchkes our members bring in to display. Our March meeting included a Legos reconstruction of 221B, a doll portraying Sherlock Holmes as a badger, and a Holmes story in the form of one the world’s tiniest books.

What’s on your shelf or in your closet that’s Sherlockian, but not a book?

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Greatness of Conan Doyle, the Writer



Almost a decade ago I was on a panel at the Bouchercon mystery conference at which two popular mystery writers delivered a jaw-droppingly off-base literary assessment: They agreed that Arthur Conan Doyle was a great storyteller but not a great writer.

What ineffable twaddle!

The greatness of ACD’s writing came home to me again recently while I was editing the second volume of my Essential Sherlock Holmes biographical anthology. Reading The Sign of (the) Four more slowly than usual, I was struck by the lyricism of certain passages. Such as this paragraph from the third chapter:

It was a September evening, and not yet seven o’clock, but the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city. Mud-coloured clouds drooped sadly over the muddy streets. Down the Strand the lamps were but misty splotches of diffused light which threw a feeble circular glimmer upon the slimy pavement. The yellow glare from the shop-windows streamed out into the steamy, vaporous air, and threw a murky, shifting radiance across the crowded thoroughfare. There was, to my mind, something eerie and ghost-like in the endless procession of faces which flitted across these narrow bars of light,—sad faces and glad, haggard and merry. Like all human kind, they flitted from the gloom into the light, and so back into the gloom once more. I am not subject to impressions, but the dull, heavy evening, with the strange business upon which we were engaged, combined to make me nervous and depressed. I could see from Miss Morstan’s manner that she was suffering from the same feeling. Holmes alone could rise superior to petty influences. He held his open note-book upon his knee, and from time to time he jotted down figures and memoranda in the light of his pocket-lantern.

That’s real writing! And it’s not even the best in the Canon, to my taste. I think the first and last paragraphs of “His Last Bow” are among the finest matched sets in literature, on a par with A Tale of Two Cities and The Great Gatsby. You just can’t beat the opening for mood-setting—a mood that is carried through to the end.   

 

How good it is that with the formation of the ACD Society and the Conan Doyle Review the man behind the Master is getting his due!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

"Never to be Trusted?" He Didn't Mean It!

Violet Hunter -- just one of many women Holmes trusted
“I would not tell them too much,” said Holmes. “Women are never to be entirely trusted—not the best of them.

Did you ever say something you didn’t mean, either as an offhand remark, a bit of sarcasm, or a lame joke? I think that’s what’s going on in the famous passage above from The Sign of Four. Because, contrary to what he said, Holmes clearly did trust women over and over agai

Large sections of many adventures are made up of testimonies from the client – testimonies which Holmes trusts, and upon which he makes decisions. And often that client is a woman. He even praises Mary Morstan by saying, “You are certainly a model client. You have the correct intuition.” He later says she would have been a good detective: “She had a decided genius that way: witness the way in which she preserved that Agra plan from all the other papers of her father.”

In just The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes alone other female clients appear in “A Case of Identity” (the second short story to be published), “The Speckled Band,” “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” and “The Copper Beeches.”

The latter is especially instructive as to Holmes’s real attitudes towards women. As the situation approaches the crisis point, he gives Violet Hunter her instructions. “I will do it,” she says without hesitation. “Excellent!” he replies. No skepticism on his part! And his confidence is not misplaced. “You have done very well indeed!” Holmes praises Miss Hunter after she accomplishes the mission.

Whether these stories happened before or after the great detective;s encounter with Irene Adler, and how that may have affected his attitude toward “the cleverness of women,” I will leave to the chronologists. But Watson’s assertion in “The Dying Detective” that Holmes “disliked and distrusted the sex” just won’t wash.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Modern Mystery Series and Sherlock Holmes


I’ve thought of myself as a mystery writer for decades. It was a long time before anybody else did – long after my inaugural mystery appeared in print.

That occurred to me recently when I stumbled across copies of The Sherlock Holmes review from 1990 containing my first published fiction. “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden,” a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, was serialized in numbers 3 and 4 of Volume 2. The quarterly SHR, like the new annual version, was edited by Steven T. Doyle with Mark Gagen as art director.

Thirty-two years later, my latest fiction is also a Holmes pastiche, a short novel called The Sword of Death, and the publisher is Gasogene Books, an imprint of Wessex Press, which is . . . Steve Doyle and Mark Gagen. A lot happened in between – a total of 22 mysterious books with my name on the spines.  

Most of those works are part of my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mystery series, which is where my fiction-writing heart is. Although the series is set in the present day in a small town in Ohio, it owes a lot to Sherlock Holmes:

  • Sebastian McCabe, the protagonist, is a Sherlockian.
  • He frequently quotes or alludes to Holmes.
  • Several of the titles in the series do likewise, most recently No Ghosts Need Apply
  • Like Holmes, Mac knows approximately everything.
  • He has a friend (and brother-in-law), Jeff Cody, who chronicles his adventures.
  • A number of other characters reappear across the cases as well, just as in the Canon. In the case of McCabe & Cody, the continuing cast is a larger one.
  • The great man sometimes makes mistakes, but right always triumphs in the end.
  • His relations with the police range from cordial to prickly.
  • He uses tobacco (cigars) and plays music (bagpipes).

Readers have noticed that McCabe also bears some resemblance to Nero Wolfe, in that he is rotund, has
no shortage of ego, and never uses a small word when a large one suffices.  Jeff’s writing style is somewhat breezy, although I wouldn’t presume to say it is Archie-esque.

The series also has parallels to Ellery Queen in the frequent use of the dying clue and the false solution tropes, with the occasional locked room murder. The Golden Age of Detective fiction is a major influence on my work.

But Sherlock Holmes is the greatest influence. T.S. Eliot may have gone too far when he said that every writer owes something to Holmes, but I certainly do.  





Monday, March 14, 2022

Holmes, Doyle, & Many Friends


After a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, a well-known Sherlockian symposium took place in Dayton, OH, over the weekend under title of “Holmes, Doyle, & Friends 2021-B.”

What I kept hearing on Saturday was how much fun it was. Yes, some of the speakers offered serious scholarship, but there were also a lot of laughs and much mingling among the 60 participants from more than a dozen states. As a vendor selling my books and buying a few others, I can tell you that many such transactions took place to the joy of both parties.  

Did every speaker appeal to every participant’s taste and interest? Probably not. But there was something for everyone as a stellar cast of presenters discussed the crimes of Sherlock Holmes (and whether they could be prosecuted), illustrators of the Master, Solar Pons, Rex Stout, women in the Canon, and the truth about opium dens. Bill Mason put Arthur Conan Doyle on trial for killing Holmes and we were the jury.

This conference, which Sherlockians often refer to as simply “Dayton,” has its origins in the “Homing in on Holmes” conference organized by the late Dr. Al Rodin in November 1981. It was sponsored jointly by Wright State and nearby Central State Universities and open to the public.  

Following many changes in names and sponsors over the years, Dayton’s Agra Treasurers scion society took over the conference and rebranded it in 2014. Holmes, Doyle, & Friends has been going strong ever since.

Many hands have made that happen, but we should especially note Ann Siefker’s work handling all the business aspects. She negotiated with the hotels, handled registration, balanced the books, and much else. Ann has decided to retire from that, and she will be difficult to replace.

We were fortunate to have Zoom to keep the Sherlockian community together over past two years, but for me such meetings will never replace live interaction – and the more the merrier. If there’s a Sherlockian conference within your travel limits over the next year, be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

From My Shelves: The BSJ Fifty Years Ago

                                     

I first subscribed to The Baker Street Journal as a 19-year-old college student. I still have that issue from exactly 50 years ago – March 1972. I pulled it out recently to look at it. Compared to today’s BSJ it’s the same and different, and both of those are good things.

The stylized typeface on the cover is the same, but the Frederic Dorr Steele sketch of Holmes has moved to the inside front page. The cover is now lively, colorful, and engaging.

Fifty years ago, the inside pages were typed by Dr. Julian Wolff, editor of the BSJ and Commissionaire of the Baker Street Irregulars, on different typewriters with different typefaces. There is a certain homey-ness to that, but today’s BSJ has one easy-reading font and lots of appropriate illustrations.

So much for externals. What about content? Good today and good then! Articles in that issue included “The Archeological Holmes,” “Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle: Was he Dr. John H. Watson?” “Sherlock Holmes, Psychology, and Phrenology,” “The Beryl Coronet – Genuine or Counterfeit?” and “Tune in Again for Sherlock Holmes.” The latter is about the Rathbone-Bruce radio series, which at the time was hard to find.

Happily, many of the standing features have not changed in five decades. The 1972 BSJ had “From the Editor’s Commonplace Book,” “Stand with me here upon the terrace,” “Letters to Baker Street,” “Baker Street Inventory,” and “Whodunit.”

Surprisingly, “The Editor’s Gas-Lamp” – part of the BSJ from the beginning and now again – was not one of the features in March 1972. But the issue does begin with a reprint of a classic 1948 “Gas-Lamp” piece by Edgar W. Smith, the BSJ’s first editor, called “Who is a Baker Street Irregular?” Perhaps with an eye on circulation figures for what was then a lavish and expensively produced publication, Smith concludes: “He is the kind of person, in a word, who reads The Baker Street Journal and gives it his full support.”

Even then the statement wasn’t broad enough, for the male pronoun was too limiting. The BSJ has had female readers and contributors from its first issue in 1947. In fact, one of the five associate editors of that inaugural issue was a woman – legendary mystery editor Lee Wright.   

All these years later the BSJ is still the official publication of the Baker Street Irregulars, but not just for members of the BSI. It’s for all Sherlockians everywhere. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Love Song of Sherlock Holmes


Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Okay, I admit that those opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” include possibly the strangest simile in all of literature. Still, I’ve been madly in love with that poem since I first read it in 1969 or 1970. And I didn’t even know then that Eliot was a Sherlockian.

I’ve written often on this blog about Eliot’s passion for the great detective. Put “Eliot” into the search engine on the upper left of this page and you’ll get 17 blog post hits. But just recently I stumbled onto a connection between Holmes and the Prufrock poem that was new to me, although not new at all.   

Jill Vig wrote a delightful essay on “The Love Song of Sherlock Holmes” in the March 1975 issue of The Baker Street Journal. Seldom has anyone played The Game with such equal amounts of wit and scholarship (22 footnotes in four pages).

“I think it is time that we re-examine ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ . . . discarding the long-held notion of Prufrock as an impotent and senile old man and substituting instead the character of the ageing Sherlock Holmes,” Vig writes. She re-envisions the poem not as interior monologue but as a dialog between Holmes and Watson, referring at each point back to the Canon. And it works!

She ends with:

“A love song? In a way, for although Holmes does not know the passion of love, he despises crime, which hurts mankind, and he is willing to give his live to end evil. We should realize that this is love in the fullest sense of the word.”

I ran into this marvelous monograph while searching for something else in the eBSJv2, which contains all issues of the journal from 1946 through 2011 in PDF on DVD. If you don’t have a copy, you should. It’s an invaluable research tool. You can order one from the BSJ at: https://bakerstreetirregulars.com/2013/01/06/ebsj-v2/