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.

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

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Toast to a 'Wild, Profane' Villain

Sidney Paget's Sir Hugo Baskerville 

For me, being asked to offer a toast at a Sherlockian gathering is equal parts honor and pleasure. I had both last month when my friend Al Shaw, “Sir Hugo” of Hugo’s Companions in Chicago, asked me to propose one of the toasts at the group’s annual Birthday Dinner and Awards Celebration.

The Companions have odd notion that Sherlock Holmes was born in May. This year they celebrated on May 25. Having the choice of subject for my toast, I picked Sir Hugo Baskerville himself. A fine Sherlockian once asked, “Why would you ever want to toast a villain?” I say, “Because it’s fun!”

Here was my toast to the evil Sir Hugo:

Companions and Fellow Guests:

Every great novel demands a great villain, and The Hound of the Baskervilles has one. But it’s not the man responsible for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the persecution of his nephew, Sir Henry. That feckless butterfly collector inspires only our derision. No, the real villain of the story is the “most wild, profane, and godless man” who met his much-deserved fate at the time of the Great Rebellion.

Let us lift our glasses in dishonor of one – 

Who himself drained many glasses during the long carouses that were his nightly custom;

Who surrounded himself with idle and wicked companions (a tradition maintained by our own Sir Hugo to this very day);

Who when in his cups uttered such terrible oaths which as might blast the man which said them;


Whose “certain wanton and cruel humor . . . made his name a byword throughout the West;”

Who, in the end, rendered his body and soul to the Powers of Evil;

And without whom there would be Baskerville curse, no Baskerville hound, and no adventure of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

To Sir Hugo Baskerville – may his eternally damned spirit stay right where it is!  

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

One Opinion: Why I Think Basil is Best




Over the weekend, I took part in the Great Sherlock Holmes Debate, a fund-raiser for Stepping Stones School (located at Undershaw, former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and Happy Life Children’s Home in Kenya. You can watch it all on You Tube.

Each of us was to defend our favorite interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in 90 seconds. Here’s my pitch for Basil Rathbone:

If you ask Sherlockians of a certain age how they first encountered Sherlock Holmes, a large number will say it was through watching Basil Rathbone movies on TV.

For me, it’s a different story. I read much of the Canon before I ever saw a Rathbone movie. And when I did, I was shocked at the imbecilic Watson and the non-Canonical plots. So, my love of Rathbone’s Holmes has nothing to do with nostalgia. I think his interpretation is the best for the following reasons:

·      First, he looks like Sherlock Holmes. That is, he looks like those iconic Sidney Paget illustrations.

·      Second, he sounds like Sherlock Holmes. That’s why other actors who took over the part on radio tried to sound like him. And that’s why his voice is the voice of Sherlock Holmes in The Great Mouse Detective.

·      Third, he acts like Sherlock Holmes. He is – by turns – hyperactive, superior, sardonic, didactic, supremely confident, and sometimes even self-critical. These all are characteristics of the Holmes that we know from the Sacred Writings. And, unlike some actors who assumed the role after him, Rathbone never overplays the part. Not for him the strange facial twitches or the manic leaps.    

I’ll give the final word to Vincent Starrett. He wrote in the 1960 edition of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that Rathbone “has given us a believable, an unforgettable Holmes.” More than half a century later, Basil Rathbone’s Holmes is still unforgettable.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Birthday Toast to Sir Arthur



On this 160th birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I share the toast I delivered at this year’s Gaslight Gala during Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. The theme of the gala, held Jan. 11, was “Sherlock Holmes: A Spirited Celebration.” The toast is in that, uh, spirit:

In a wonderful passage from a story not generally regarded as one of the best, Sherlock Holmes remarks: “This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”

How is it possible that the Literary Agent, sometimes known as “the St. Paul of Spiritualism,” allowed these seemingly skeptical words to be recorded? Perhaps the answer lies in a couplet from a verse composed by the Agent himself: 
               So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle:
               The doll and its maker are never identical. 
At any rate, the Agent and the Master seemed to be on very different spiritual pages. And for that, devotees of detective stories with earthly solutions should be profoundly grateful. So, raise a glass – preferably of spirits – in honor of a man: 
  • Who believed in spirits, although he didn’t drink them;
  • Who believed in fairies, even though he knew it made him look foolish;
  • Who believed in mediums and their messages, but was himself an extra-large;
  • Who allowed Professor Challenger to be converted to spiritualism, but not Sherlock Holmes; and (best of all)
  • Who gave us a very material hell-hound of the Baskervilles in a story he accurately called “a real creeper.” 

To Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Steel True – Blade Straight – Knight – Patriot – Physician – and Man of Letters”:

Cheers!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Classical Education in Sherlock Holmes

Photo courtesy of Ray Betzner

One of my favorite scenes in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the discussion of such 20th century writers as (if I remember correctly) Harold Robbins and Jaqueline Suzanne. “Ah,” Spock says sagely, “the Classics.”

Recently I’ve been reading real classics of the Sherlockian world in the form of the Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a paperback reprint series published in the 1990s. Seven of the nine books have sat on my shelves years – nay, decades – and I’m embarrassed to say that I’d neglected to read some of them. Because, like all classics in any field, they are still relevant.  

How had I never opened T.S. Blakeney’s Sherlock Holmes: Fact or Fiction? It was published in England in 1932, the year before Vincent Starrett’s indispensable The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (also part of Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library series) was published in the United States. It’s a wonderful little volume, scholarly and yet somehow like listening to an old friend.

The equally delightful Gavin Brend’s My Dear Holmes: Studies in Sherlock and James Edward Holroyd’s Baker Street By-Ways came much later (1951 and 1959), but still relatively early in the history of the Great Game. They had less to build on than those that followed, and those that followed built on them.

Other books in the Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library series are Vincent Starrett (ed.)’s   221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes; H.W. Bell (ed.)’s Baker Street Studies, S.C. Roberts’s Holmes & Watson: A Miscellany; John Kendrick Bangs’s R. Holmes & Co.; and James Edward Holroyd (ed.)’s Seventeen Steps to 221B.

With the single exception of the Bangs novel, all these books have influenced other writers for decades. In fact, many of the individual articles in the collections are frequently quoted and anthologized.      

Whether you read them in the Penzler editions or not, read them all. Because you can’t fully appreciate where you are until you understand how you got there.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Best Holmes? That's Debatable



One of the great things about being a Sherlockian is that you are in good company.

That holds true in many senses of the phrase. Right now, I’m thinking of how cool it is to be part of the “Great Sherlock Holmes Debate” with so many friends at Undershaw, former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and now a special school called Stepping Stones on Saturday, May 25.

But I won’t be in Sussex that day, or in West Palm Beach, where the 15 artists of The Art of Sherlock Holmes will be unveiling their creations as part of the event. I’ll debating virtually the topic: “Have we Gone Too Far?”

Some of the many incarnations of Holmes (and Watson) are relatively faithful to the Canon. Others have barely a nodding acquaintance. In one slide and 90 seconds, I will assert that – despite some underwhelming scripts – Basil Rathbone’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in 14 films did not go too far. Quite the contrary.

The lineup of debaters is amazing. In no particular order, the adaptations and their defenders include (besides me): Jeremy Brett – Bonnie MacBird; Douglas Wilmer (TV) – Catherine Cooke; BBC Sherlock – Jayantika Ganguly; Robert Downey Jr. – Mary Platt; Elementary – Richard T. Ryanj; The Hound of the Baskervilles (Hammer film) – Steven Philip Jones; Young Sherlock Holmes (film) – Amy Thomas; The Great Mouse Detective – Paul Hiscock; Miss Sherlock (Japanese TV) – Derrick Belanger; The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes – Janina Woods; Asylum (film) – Lyndsay Faye; Denis Smith (pastiches) – David Marcum; Holmes and Watson (film – yes, that film) – Mattias Boström; Kareem Abdul Jabar (pastiches) – Lenny Picker.

One hundred guests will take part in person, with another 400 tickets for Sherlockians to join online from anywhere around the world. Online fans will be able to join in the debate by live chat.

Get more details at Eventbrite.  


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Freddy and Me and the Baker Street Journal



When I suggested on Facebook that the new Spring 2019 edition The Baker Street Journal was one of the best, I was thinking of the interesting and insightful articles by Dana Cameron, Carla Coupe, Monica Schmidt, Dino Argyropoulos, Ken Ludwig, and others.

But I must admit to a certain bias in the matter because this issue also contains my third contribution to the BSJ, “Freddy the Porcine Holmes.” It explores the connections between two of my childhood heroes, Freddy and the Pig and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve written about Freddy before on this blog, especially here and here and here.

Re-reading the 25 Freddy novels and his collected poems was my first retirement project in October 2017. I did so with pen and file cards in hand with the intention of finding all the Holmes references and writing an article for the BSJ. Mission accomplished!

And being published in the BSJ is an accomplishment indeed. The blurb on its website tells the simple truth: “The Baker Street Journal continues to be the leading Sherlockian publication since its founding in 1946 by Edgar W. Smith. With both serious scholarship and articles that ‘play the game,’ the Journal is essential reading for anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a world where it is always 1895.”

I began subscribing in the early 1970s while I was in college. Life intervened and my subscription went on a Great Hiatus for about four decades. I made up for that, though, by buying the e-BSJ, which makes all the issues up to 2011 available in on a searchable CD-ROM. It’s an invaluable research tool.

If you are a Sherlockian and you don’t subscribe to the BSJ, do it right now. Not only is it everything noted above, it’s what other Sherlockians are reading!  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Missing Sherlock Holmes in Cairo

The Sherlock Holmes Pub, Cairo
Baker Street Beat was on a Great Hiatus last week because its author was out of town - in Egypt.

Nowhere does the Canon record that Sherlock Holmes ever visited that country, although he did stop by nearby Khartoum, Sudan, during his own Great Hiatus. Holmes also handled the case of the two Coptic Patriarchs (mentioned in "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"), and Copts are Egyptian.

More to the point, there is a Sherlock Holmes Pub at the Ramses Hilton in downtown Cairo. So where do you think we went almost immediately after reaching Cairo on Sunday, April 7?

No, guess again. We visited the Hanging Church, once seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope, and the nearby Church of the Holy Virgin.

No one has the time to do everything. The Sherlock Holmes Pub, with few Sherlockian connections beyond the name and a stained glass window, didn't seem as worthy of our time as two deeply historic churches in an ancient country. Looking back, I think we chose wisely (to echo a line in an Indiana Jones movie).

Speaking of Holmes and Egypt, I noticed recently that books in the long-running series of Amelia Peabody historical mysteries by the late Egyptologist  Barbara Mertz (AKA Elizabeth Peters) contain numerous references drawn from the world of Holmes.

In The Curse of the Pharaohs, for example, names of characters include Sir Henry Baskerville (but not the one in The Hound), Karl von Bork, and Charles Milverton.

Later, in The Lion in the Valley, a man identifies himself as Tobias Gregson, "well-known private investigator," and says he was involved in the matter of the Amateur Mendicant Society and the Camberwell poisoning case.

Perhaps there is a stronger connection yet to be uncovered. After all, Arthur Conan Doyle visited Egypt. Why not Sherlock Holmes?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Gathering of Sherlockian Friends



I’m still basking in the afterglow of last weekend’s Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Six conference in Dayton, sponsored by the Agra Treasurers. Maybe the emphasis should be on the Friends.

“Great speakers; great fellowship; great time,” said one evaluation by a participant.

The fellowship is a big part of any Sherlockian gathering as friends from various places, who in some cases have little else in common, come from around the country to reconnect in Baker Street.

Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Six attracted 62 attendees (a recent high) from the East Coast, the Midwest, the South, and Canada to hear eight A-list speakers Saturday on a wide variety of topics. Evaluations described the talks as phenomenal, excellent, high-quality, and fantastic.

Steve Doyle accurately described me as the ringmaster. It was my fun job to introduce:

Bob Katz, who offered a thoroughly plausible theory – supported by the Canonical text – that the young John H. (“Jack”) Watson was a drummer boy wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg;

Susan Bailey, who shared her research into the origins of the character Tonga from The Sign of the Four;

Ann Margaret Lewis, who not only discussed the motets of Lassus – upon which Sherlock Holmes wrote a monograph – but let us listen to beautiful examples;

Scott Monty, who (in bow tie) explored brand names in the Canon and humorously drew connections to some modern brands as well;

Shannon Neihart Castle, who described the workings of her Sherlockian-themed classroom (“it’s a bonny thing”);

Jeffrey Marks, who enlightened us about the work of Anthony Boucher on the Sherlock Holmes radio show with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce;

Vincent Wright, who took us around the world in 63,540 days by drawing hilarious connections among people, places, and dates that one wouldn’t ordinarily think of together;

Regina Stinson, who wrapped up the day with wonderful guided tour of “The Film Life of Sherlock Holmes,” from the first silent movie last less than a minute to the cringe-worthy Holmes & Watson.

What’s next for the Dayton conference, which started under another name in 1981? Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven! Planning is underway now for March 2020. You can expect another great lineup of speakers, and some reorganization of the room to accommodate more guests.

Stay tuned for details later! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

On the Case Again with Octavius Bear



My friend and fellow Cincinnatian, Harry DeMaio, is one of the most prolific writers I know, considering that nine books in his Casebooks of Octavius Bear series have been published since 2015, the tenth is coming in September, and the eleventh is in the works.

Book Nine is The Basket Case, in which a star ostrich basketball player is found dead in a New York City alley. A giraffe is suspected. The giraffe’s team coach calls on Octavius to investigate. No wonder Harry describes this as “Alternative Universe Mysteries for Adult Animal Lovers.”

And the hero is a bear with one paw in the world of Sherlock Holmes. I’ll let Harry explain:

“Octavius is a nine-foot-tall, 1400-pound Kodiak Bear/consulting detective/scientist/inventor/seeker of justice/mega-billionaire owner of Universal Ursine Industries/narcoleptic war hero/gourmet-gourmand/somewhat sedentary and grouchy just on general principles. He is a hybrid character somewhat loosely based on Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe with some characteristics of each but definitely his own bear.

“Octavius, among his many talents and accomplishments, is a brilliant, self-taught practitioner in the wide-ranging fields of biology, physics, ursinology, voodoo, teleology, chemistry, apiculture and oenology as well as a first rate electrical, electronic, structural, marine, aeronautical, mechanical and chemical engineer.  He has a few other interesting characteristics such as falling into brief, deep narcoleptic comas – side effects of his successful genetic experiments to eliminate the need for him to hibernate.”

Clearly, Octavius lives in a different universe than we do.

“Here’s the story: About 100,000 years ago, according to scientific experts, a colossal solar flare blasted out from our sun, creating gigantic magnetic storms here on Earth. These highly charged electrical tempests caused startling physical and psychological imbalances in the then-population of our world. The complete nervous systems of some species were totally destroyed.  For example, homo sapiens lost all mental and motor capabilities and rapidly became extinct. Less developed species exposed to the radiation were affected differently. 

“Four-footed and finned mammals, birds and reptiles suddenly found themselves capable of complex thought, enhanced emotions, self-awareness, social consciousness and the ability to communicate, sometimes orally, sometimes telepathically, often both. Both speech production and speech perception slowly progressed with the evolution of tongues, lips, vocal cords and enhanced ear to brain connections. Many species developed opposable digits, fingers or claws, further accelerating civilized progress.

“Alternate universes play an increasing level of importance in each succeeding book.”

That brings us back to The Basket Case.  

“Aside from being based entirely in one location, New York City, and dealing with basketball, Book Nine follows most of the same patterns established in its predecessors with four major exceptions,” Harry says. “Octavius, who was somewhat sedentary in the earlier books, is much more active and directly involved in managing the progress and outcome of the case. The cubs fall in love with Noo Yuck. As I mentioned earlier, alternate universes play an increasing part in the overall structure of these books. Ursula has now become a dominant character.”

Ursula would be the Artificial General Intelligence Unit that has been an integral player in all volumes after Book Six, The Attaché Case.

Other series regulars include:

Maury (Mauritius) Meerkat – sidekick, narrator, detective, and theatrical agent.

Inspector Bruce Wallaroo – Irrepressible but brilliant marsupial; an international law and order genius from Australia; often calls on Octavius and Maury for support.

Bearoness Belinda Béarnaise Bruin Bear (nee Black) – Now wife of Octavius; very rich widow of Bearon Byron Bruin living in Bearmoral Castle in the Shetlands; owner-pilot of the last flying Concorde SST; Gorgeous polar superstar, with the Aquashow, Some Like It Cold.

Arabella and McTavish – Belinda and Octavius’ cubs – mischievous, energetic furballs.

Frau Ilse Schuylkill – Swiss she-wolf; housekeeper-cook; jet pilot and sharpshooter with other very strange and arcane abilities.

The major villain is Imperius Drake, a mad duck with dreams of world (nay!  cosmic) conquest. Once a mild-mannered Mandarin Duck, he is now Moriarty with Wings.” A brilliant but loony anitidae who has developed a serum to make the animal kingdom his slaves, he seeks vengeance for ridicule by the scientific community and the death of his beloved Lee-Li-Li who swallowed all his serum in a vain attempt to stop his madness.

Next up in the series is The Camera Case, in which a movie is being shot at Polar Paradise. An ingenue falls from her suite to her death. Murder? Whodunnit?

Book Eleven, The Würst Case Scenario, will feature artificial food and murder. This series has leghs!  
The Basket Case  is available from all good bookstores including Amazon USAAmazon UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.

Harry’s website is www.octaviusbearslair.com.