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 14, 2019

The World is NOT Big Enough

“The world is big enough for us,” Sherlock Holmes said in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.” Fortunately, pastiche writers don’t always agree.

I just acquired and read The Science-Fictional Holmes, edited by Robert C. Peterson, although I’d read some of the stories in it previously. It’s a great collection – although a short one – published in 1960 by The Council of Four, a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars. The seven stories give us alien Holmes wannabes, out-of-this world solutions to crimes, and a post-apocalyptic world in which the Canon has become Sacred Writ.  

The authors are Anthony Boucher, Poul Anderson (with and without Gordon R. Dickson), Mack Reynolds and August Derleth, and H. Beam Pipe and John J. McGuire. Most of these tall tales originally appeared in science fiction magazines, and rightly so.

Anderson’s “The Marian Crown Jewels” may be the most well-known story in the book. Boucher wrote the introduction and two of the stories.  The Reynolds-Derleth contributions include two of their four Solar Pons science fiction stories.

This is by no means the only collection of Holmes pastiches that venture into science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror, but it is the first. For good reason, this volume is included in John Bennet Shaw’s legendary “Basic Holmesian Library.”

I bought my copy from the BSI Trust, via Denny Dobry. Denny has a vast storehouse of donated goodies for sale at great prices to benefit the Trust – editions of the Canon, scholarship, pastiches, Sherlockian journals, posters, comics, and reference materials. Send a want list and e-mail address to dendobry@ptd.net and Denny will periodically send you an updated inventory.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Film I Shouldn't Have Waited For

It’s hard to believe that Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which ignited the Sherlock Holmes boom of the 1970s, is 45 years old. And for me, it’s even more astonishing that I waited until this past weekend to see the film version that followed just two years later.

What a great movie! The script is tightly-plotted, action-packed, suspenseful, occasionally funny, and always fun. The acting is superb.    

I’ve always had a problem enjoying Holmes pastiches that stray too far from Canonical orthodoxy. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is the apex of that. It tells us that Moriarty wasn’t the Napoleon of Crime except in Holmes’s drug addled mind – and for reasons that it very appropriately took Sigmund Freud to unearth from the depths of the sleuth’s unconscious.

So maybe that’s why I didn’t see the film in 1976. Or maybe Ann and I were just too busy with our first-born child, who arrived that year. But on Saturday, Seven-Per-Cent was the centerpiece of the annual film festival put on by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. It was a great day.

Nicole Williamson is brilliant as the suffering Holmes, despite not looking the part. Alan is a convincing Sigmund Freud. Robert Duvall, fresh off his role in the first two Godfather movies, is surprisingly adequate as the controversial choice to play Watson. Baker Street Miscellanea originally reported that Orson Welles was cast as Myrcroft, but Charles Gray plays the role so well in this film that he later reprised it opposite Jeremy Brett in the Granada series.

But my favorite performance in Seven-Per-Cent is the legendary Laurence Olivier as Professor Moriarty. He looks the part as if he has just stepped off the pages of a Paget illustration. Of course, his Moriarty isn’t the crime lord but the (relatively) innocent former tutor of the Holmes brothers, which he portrays to perfection.

There is much more to be said about this landmark book and movie, and Steven T. Doyle says it all in his wonderful monograph “Together Again for the First Time: Forty Years of The Seven Percent Solution.” It was the Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual of 2015. If you don’t have a copy, try to get one.

Nicholas Meyer, a long-distance member of the Clients, will be visiting the club in October as part of the tour for his new Holmes novel.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Fascinating Book About Books

The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may be one of the more unusual books in my library, and one that is well worth reading.

This 1987 volume, edited by Jon L. Lellenberg, consists entirely of a Baker Street dozen essays examining at length biographies of ACD – hence the subtitle, Thirteen Biographers in Search of a Life.

In a brilliant move, three of the 13 essays examine autobiographical works by Sir Arthur himself, including those that were thinly disguised as fiction.

All the major biographies published up to 1987 are covered, though time has moved on. It’s regrettable that Daniel Stashower’s wonderful Teller of Tales and Andrew Lycett’s Conan Doyle couldn’t be included, but other major authors (Pearson, Nordon, Higham, Edwards) and some lesser lights get their due.

This book about books is not only fascinating, but also helpful. Reading these essays made me want to read Nordon and convinced me that I can skip Higham – both of which sit happily on my shelves.

The authors of the essays in some cases may be more familiar to Sherlockians than the biographers they review. Of particular note, I think, are the contributions of Richard Lancelyn Green, Howard Lachtman, and Donald and Christopher Redmond. But all contain much of value.

This volume was included in the final edition (in his lifetime) of John Bennet Shaw’s Basic Holmesian Library – often called simply the “Shaw 100.” I’m glad it made the cut. I’m also glad a copy made its way to me a few weeks ago in one of three large boxes of Holmesiana gifted to me by my good friend and faithful reader Deacon Ken Ramsey, Sr. Thanks again, Deacon! 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Miss Holmes is a Great Holmes!

The image on the wall welcomed us to "Miss Holmes"
Christopher M. Walsh’s play “Miss Holmes” features:
  • A female Sherlock Holmes
  • An ironically named “knitting circle” of women who can go everywhere and see everything, much like the Baker Street Irregular
  • A Mycroft who keeps sending his sister to Bedlam
  • A Dr. Dorothy Watson
  • A young Stamford who would like to marry Dr. Watson
  • The traditional Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and a hint of Moriarty

None of this adds up to a great play. But it is a great play, a sweet treat for Sherlockians that anyone can enjoy. Ann and I were part of a Bagel Street dozen of Tankerville Club members who saw the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production on Saturday.

This is not a one-trick pony that relies on the gender-bending to carry the play. It has some great humor, suspense, wry allusions to the Canon, great characters, and a stunning, unexpected (at least by me) twist at the end. The backstories of our heroes are much different, and they work.  

Like many of the Canonical Holmes stories, this one begins with a female client – a woman who has been warned that her husband, a Scotland Yard inspector, is out to kill her. But in this alternative universe Holmes and Watson, who have just met, are also female. The place of women in Victorian society is a plot engine, but not heavy-handed.

The few modern clich├ęs in the dialogue (notably “no worries” and “nothing to see here”) are not enough to detract from enjoyment of the play.

The ending of “Miss Holmes” points to a sequel, and the author’s website lists “Miss Holmes Returns” as a work in progress. I look forward to seeing it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Return of Nicholas Meyer

Nicholas Meyer, whose The Seven-Per-Cent Solution touched off the Sherlock Holmes tsunami of the 1970s, is back with his fourth Holmes pastiche. The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is an adventure indeed, with Holmes and Watson tapped to debunk the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic hoax that persist to this day.  

It’s a wonderful ride, with the Orient Express taking our heroes to Tsarist Russia and from there into the darkness of the human soul. It’s a well-written and expertly plotted novel. I read it quickly, and with great enjoyment. It belongs on your bookshelf, although with Meyers’s other three novel-length pastiches. (My favorite remains The West End Horror.)

And yet, in reading it, I never felt that I was experiencing The Real Thing, i.e., the Sacred Writings of Dr. Watson via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The reasons are numerous, but the easiest to convey without spoilers (the book won’t be published until October) is the storyline. All four Canonical novels begin with a mystery to be solved. By contrast, although there is murder in Protocols, there is no real mystery.  

As a matter of personal preference, I enjoy (and have tried to write) pastiches that would fit comfortably into the Canon. Such stories are rare, partly because authors understandably like to make their own unique contribution to the Baker Street saga. Thus, we often have stories that not only add to what we know about Holmes and Watson, but even change it.

One of the greatest temptations is to introduce historical personages or other fictional characters into the world of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle never did that. References to real people are frequent in the Canon, but they do not appear as characters. To me, this divergence in a pastiche – an attempt to write in the style of the original author – is always jarring. But it can still be fun!

Not all Sherlock Holmes stories are pastiches, however. Some are parodies, in which character traits are exaggerated for laughs. Some are Sherlock Holmes stories written at least partially in the third person or a voice other than that of Watson. Some are stories co-starring Sherlock Holmes, with another figure the main interest. And some – a growing number – present us with and alternative Holmes and/or Watson who is female, African American, a robot, or whatever.

And which is best? Whatever you like best!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Persistence of Sherlockian Scholarship

The new (Summer 2019) issue of Canadian Holmes, the journal of the Bootmakers of Toronto, includes my article on “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Sherlock Holmes: Life Lessons from the Great Detective.”

It was a thrill to get my copy in hand and find out that I’m in such excellent company, as usual when traveling with Sherlockians. Other articles in the issue are by Barbara Rusch, Jayantika Ganguly, Cliff Goldfarb, Paul Thomas Miller, Suzanne Durkacz MacNeil, and Charles Prepolec.

With some surprise, I realized that this is the 10th periodical in which my Sherlockian articles or fiction have appeared. Number 11 is on the horizon later this year when The Bean Home Newsletter, the publication of Friends of Freddy, reprints my Baker Street Journal article on “Freddy the Porcine Holmes.” (Freddy the talking pig is a barnyard detective who idolizes Holmes. But you probably know that.)

Many of the publications for which I have written are no longer with us, sadly. The includes The Sherlock Holmes Review, edited by Steven Doyle, in which my first fiction was published. “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden,” a Holmes pastiche, appeared in two installments in 1990. I’ve had 16 books of mystery fiction and Sherlockiana published, and two more ready to go, but that was my first success in fiction-writing.

So I was excited and pleased at the word that the SHR, like Holmes himself, will soon make a return from the dead. But is there really room for another Sherlockian journal? Or is Sherlockian scholarship a mine that is close to being played out?

Yes to the first question, and no to the second! As a look at the high quality of material in the Baker Street Journal, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, and Canadian Holmes will attest, “the game” is not nearly over. Like Holmes himself, it will never die.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Remembering Elmer Davis, an original BSI

The early Sherlockians, those men and women who read the stories of the Canon before there was a completed Canon, fascinate me. So I loved the talk Mary Ann Bradley, BSI, gave at the annual field trip of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis this past Saturday.

Speaking at an old railroad depot in Aurora, IN, now a history library, she talked about Aurora native Elmer Davis. Davis was one of the journalistic giants of his day, for whom there is no parallel in our own time. Importantly for Sherlockians, he also wrote the Constitution and Buy-Laws of the Baker Street Irregulars around the time Christopher Morley formed the BSI in 1934. He was an original member, present at that first dinner. 

Two of the most famous lines of the “Buy-Laws” reflect the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the document: 
4. All other business shall be left for the monthly meetings.
5. There shall be no monthly meetings. 
Davis was a highly paid commentator for CBS during World War II ($53,000 a year) but took a hefty pay cut to head the Office of War Information at the request of a fellow Baker Street Irregular, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In that role, Davis set the gold standard for maximum openness in wartime.

Until Mary Ann’s talk, however, my greatest exposure to Elmer Davis was fictional. He appears as a character in The War of the World Mystery and Baker Street Irregular, two thoroughly enjoyable novels. Perhaps that’s fitting. Davis appeared as himself in the classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Shedding Light on Dark Lanterns

I've always been intrigued by all the dark lanterns that appear in the Canon. Maybe that's because the term sounds contradictory -- aren't lanterns supposed to shed light?

The contradiction is easily resolved. Jack Tracy's classic and invaluable The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana explains the device as "a lantern so constructed as to permit the light to be shut off without extinguishing the flame, and possessing a lens which allows the focusing of the beam. A single movable shutter acts as the reflector when moved behind the flame, and as a shade which shuts off the light when moved between the lens and the flame."

A pocket lantern and a bull's eye lantern are much the same. And I HAVE ONE! Shown above is one of my Father's Day presents from the wonderful Ann Brauer Andriacco, with whom I co-authored the three children who qualified me for a gift on that particular holiday.

Tracy cites references to dark lanterns in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," "The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans," "The Adventure of Charles August Milverton," and "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" -- during the commission of skullduggery, more often than not.

Holmes borrows a police sergeant's bull's eye lantern and also uses a pocket lantern in The Sign of Four. He employs a pocket lantern again to examine footprints in "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge." Whatever it's called, it's cool to have one.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My Film Festival Dilemma

Peter Cushing in "The Hound of the Baskervilles"

Since I am a fan of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, it’s no surprise that the first film festival I’m putting together for the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati will feature a Rathbone film. But it won’t be The Hound of the Baskervilles. Although I think that was his best outing in the role, it’s too familiar.

The Hound will be well represented instead by the one starring Peter Cushing, the first Holmes movie in color. And colorful it is – a Hammer horror flick, and a good one. But for Rathbone, I picked The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It’s not very Canonical, but the plot is great, Watson is not an imbecile, and the film’s Moriarty shines.

So, the lineup of the five-hour festival, slated for Aug. 24 at Gateway Community & Technical College’s urban campus in Covington, Ky., goes: 
  • Regina Stinson, Sherlockian extraordinaire, speaking on “The Films of Sherlock Holmes”
  • A classic cartoon 
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • A Granada episode with Jeremy Brett 
  • The Hound of Baskervilles
  • An episode of Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (animated) 

The great dilemma for me is – which Granada episode? I’m torn between “The Red-Headed League,” with that marvelous Moriarty coda at the end, and “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” with that great scene of Holmes smoking all night. Which one would you choose?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

221B Baker Street in Pennsylvania

Holmes has just left the chair at Denny Dobry's 221B
My work as a mystery writer has been hugely influenced by Mel Brooks’s comment to Ed McBain that every successful TV show is about a family and a house. Neither of those elements has to be literal. In the various permutations of Star Trek, for example, the house is a spaceship ad the family is the crew.

But in the Canon, the family of Holmes, Watson, and Mrs. Hudson (with occasional evening visits from Inspector Lestrade) hold forth in a real house at one of the most famous addresses in the world – 221B Baker Street.

Last weekend, Ann and I had the joy of visiting two recreations of the famous sitting room at that address. My friends Denny Dobry and Gary Miller, both residents of Pennsylvania, are among a small group of passionate Sherlockians who have recreated 221B in their own homes. To be precise, they are two of 28 reconstructionists in the Baker Street Builders scion society.

I’ve known about Denny’s 221B in Reading for years, and I learned a lot about it last year from the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast. But in the room, with all its authenticity and detail, was something else again. I had the feeling that I was only moments too late, that Holmes and Watson had just run out the door on another adventure.

Gary’s reconstruction at his home in York is perhaps less well known to the general public, but no less impressive.

Whatever most says “221” to you – the Persian slipper, the tantalus and gasogene, the photograph of “Chinese” Gordon, the violin case, the chemical table, Dr. Watsons’s bookshelf, the bust of Napoleon, or whatever – you will find it in these rooms. I stand in awe at the creators’ passion, persistence, and attention to detail.

Well done, gentlemen!

Tantalus, gasogene, and violin case at Gary Miller's 221B