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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.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Worst Man, But a Very Good Book

                          

I’ve always liked “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” (Don’t judge me.) I even wrote a rather boisterous toast to the villain for the Gaslight Gala in 2018, which you can read by clicking here. 

So, I’m grateful that the Baker Street Irregulars Manuscript Series made the original MS available in facsimile, along with a dozen essays and a short story, in a volume called The Worst Man in London. 

It’s always fascinating to see Arthur Conan Doyle’s precise handwriting on a Holmes manuscript, and so few changes. Plus, here are a few things I learned from the essays that I previously didn’t know or didn't think about, with the authors’ names in parenthesis: 

ACD, always interested in making money, had his later hand-written manuscripts bound in vellum to sell at auction. The manuscript of “Milverton” passed through the hands of William Randolph Hearst and Edgar W. Smith, among others, before incoming into the possession of Constantine Rossakis, one the editors of The Worst Man in London. (Randall Stock) 

The Milverton story has been adapted for the big and small screen eight times, sometimes very loosely. (Russell Merritt) 

Sherlock Holmes cares not so much about justice as about the social order. (Dana Cameron) 

Charles August Howell, the apparent inspiration for CAM, was a first-class rogue who moved comfortably among famous poets and artists, but he wasn’t much of a blackmailer. (Jonathan McCafferty) 

Sherlock Holmes as either sociopath or psychopath “has absolutely no basis in the Canon” (Monica Schmidt) 

“The Adventure of Charles August Milverton” didn’t really happen; it was “pure fiction” written by Watson’s literary agent, Arthur Conan Doyle. (Andrew G. Fusco) 

“[T]he crook is more important to the mystery than the detective” – because without a crime, there is nothing for the detective to do. (Otto Penzler) 

But wait a minute! That last one isn’t quite right. The Canon is loaded with stories in which there is no crime and therefore no crook. But Charles August Milverton is a crook of monumental proportions – the World Man in London. It was good to be creeped out by him again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Games Sherlockians Play - or Did

The game is afoot.

(Side note: Did you ever notice that in “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” there is no exclamation point after “afoot”?)

Puttering around in my library recently, I was surprised to see how many Sherlock Holmes computer games I own – all at least a decade old.  

I have CD-ROM games:

  • Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis. “Become Sherlock Holmes as you embark on a thrilling adventure filled with suspense and intrigue. The master thief, Arséne Lupin, is on the loose . . .”  (The Adventure Company, 2008.)
  • The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes. “. . . a lavish mystery adventure game, featuring 16 unique cases of forgery, espionage, theft, murder and more. (Legacy Interactive, 2008.)
  • The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2. “Dust off your magnifying glass and use your astute observational skills to gather evidence, unlock vital clues and track down suspects.” (Legacy Interactive, 2010.)
  • The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Serrated Scalpel. “A young actress has been brutally murdered in the alley behind the Regency Theatre. Jack the Ripper appears to have struck again.” (Electronic Arts.)

I have DVD-ROM games:

  • Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. “Inspired by the works of author H.P. Lovecraft, this globe-spanning saga of suspense and horror pits the master sleuth against his most dangerous foe yet – a fanatical cult seemingly devoted to ancient, evil god Cthulhu.” (Focus Home Interactive, 2007.)
  • Sherlock Holmes: The Secret of the Silver Earring. “A baffling murder, dozens of witnesses and a mysterious silver earring combine in this Sherlock Holmes mystery in which you play the famous detective in Victorian London . . .” (The Adventure Company.)

I even have a game on 5 ¼ inch floppy disks!

  • Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels. “Moriarty has set a deadly trap for Sherlock Holmes and only you can stop him. Travel back in time . . .” Infocom: Immortal Legends, 1988.

Some of these formerly state-of-the-art games look intriguing, but – not being a gamer – I’ve never played any of them. Not one! Have you?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Brain Games with Sherlock Holmes


 Sherlock Holmes is everywhere – even in the grocery store checkout lane. Not as a customer, but as a product.

I’ve picked up a few fairly readable magazine-style books in such places over the years. Most are heavy on photographs and light on scholarship. One that was well done, however, was LIFE magazine’s 96-page Sherlock Holmes: The Story Behind the World’s Greatest Detective. It covered both Holmes and Holmesiana.

Now comes the digest-sized Sherlock Holmes Puzzles: Investigate & Solve Challenging Mysteries from Publications International Ltd., which Ann spotted on her way out of the store a while back. It’s a collection of 49 anagrams, cryptograms, word searches, and “identify the source of this quote” packed into 80 pages.

Full disclosure, only 21 of the puzzles relate to Holmes, but Holmes puzzles fit into each of the categories. Both anagrams and cryptograms involve passages from the Canon, for example. “Women of Sherlock Holmes” and “For Stage and Screen” (actors who played Holmes) are the subject of word searches.

The “Famous First Lines” and “Famous Last Lines,” of which there are two pages each, should be relatively easy for veteran Sherlockians. But that is largely because Arthur Conan Doyle wrote such terrific first and last lines! I have a talk on “What Writers Can Learn from Sherlock Holmes” in which I discuss the Agent as a master of great beginnings and memorable endings.

The editor of Sherlock Holmes Puzzles is listed as Ian Feigle. I don’t know if he actually wrote it, but whoever did is familiar with both the source material and Sherlockian cinema. The results is a rather odd little book, but one I don’t mind having in my library.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

There Were Giants in Those Days


File this post under “better late than never.”

For some reason, the name of Bliss Austin didn’t stick with me in my reading of early Sherlockian scholarship and history, although I know I read some of his work.  

He really came to my attention five years ago when Sonia Fetherston, BSI, talked about him on Episode 75 of the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast. You can listen by clicking here.

Only recently did I finally acquire and read Fetherston’s book, Prince of the Realm: The Most Irregular James Bliss Austin. Why did I wait so long?

Bliss Austin was part of the pantheon of the Golden Age of Sherlockian scholarship, when The Game was fresh and new. There were giants in those days, and he was one of them. He was one of the original 15 invested members of the Baker Street Irregulars, along with such icons as the three Morley brothers, Vincent Starrett, Edgar W. Smith, and Julian Wolff (subject of another Fetherston book).

In terms of scholarship, he ferreted out that there were actually two Watsons, brothers, which explained why Mrs. Watson called him James instead of John. Who could beat that?

And Austin was one of the great collectors, famed not for the size of his collection but for its quality. Among its gems were the original manuscripts of The Valley of Fear and Arthur Conan Doyle’s autobiography, Adventures and Memories – both written in the author’s hand!

Austin was unfailingly kind to younger Sherlockians, whom he took under his wing. One of them was my late friend Paul Herbert. Prince of the Realm is full of quotes from Paul, and I could hear his voice in my head as I read them.

The great Sherlockian was also an avid collector of Japanese art. Even if that doesn’t interest you, be sure not to skip the chapter titled “Japanese Art.” Much of it is about Sherlockian matters – including my favorite anecdote of the book, which is this:

Bliss Austin happened to be on a train from Pittsburgh to New York when he was reading Naked is the Best Disguise, Samuel Rosenberg’s Freudian reading of the Canon. Austin grew increasingly disgusted by the tome until he “closed the book with a loud snap!, stood up, jiggled open a window on the moving train, and tossed the book onto the tracks!”

Prince of the Realm is part of the Baker Street Irregulars biographical series. These are not intended to be in-depth biographies, but they are interesting and entertaining. I’ve enjoyed every  one that I’ve read. Click here to learn more.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A T-Shirt That Says It All

 


I was going to write about this T-shirt that I received recently as a birthday present, but I think the awesomeness of the words and images speak for themselves.

What's in your closet? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Delightful Literary Companion

                                 

The Baker Street Irregulars has always been a literary society. The same can be said for its scion societies. For most of them, that means reading and discussing the Canon. But some scions, like the BSI itself, have contributed to the literature by issuing publications.

In fact, numerous scions have done so, in many and varied forms – journals, pamphlets, books, comics. To attempt a list of publishing scions would be a fool’s errand, for I would inevitably miss some important examples. I won’t even mention that the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, of which I am one of the least illustrious members, published six case books in its first 70 years.

But Sir Hugo’s Literary Companion, edited by David C. Humphrey and published in 2007 by Hugo’s Companions of Chicago, is a fine example of how to do it. The book includes two dozen entries by club members, going all the way back to early legends Vincent Starrett and Jay Finley Christ.

Starrett’s entries include the sonnet “221B,” his familiar essay on “No. 221 B Baker Street,” and “A Note on Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” Robert J. Mangler complimented that trio with a charming essay on his personal memories of Starrett.

You can also learn in this volume about Britis coins of the Victorian era, the Pink ‘Un racing sheet, Sherlockian connections to Chicago, the founding of Hugo’s Companions, antecedents of the hell hound of the Baskervilles, and knots in the Canon.

My two favorite essays in the book, because of their originality and cleverness, are both by C. Arnold Johnson. In “Belshazaar Theory,” he argues (with some ingenious if not convincing evidence) that Sherlock Holmes’s birthday was May 17. Hugo’s Companions still celebrate this date with an annual birthday dinner. In “An East Wind,” Johnson builds a case that Moriarty survived Reichenbach and resumed his criminal career in the guise of Dr. Fu Manchu.

This is a twenty-first century book with deep roots in The Game’s earlier days, and I’m happy to add it to my shelves. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Inside the sitting room at 221B Baker Street

 


We all know what the famous sitting room at 221B Baker Street looks like. The only problem – if it is a problem – is that we all see it differently.

It’s not that we don’t know what’s there. We are as familiar with the cigars in the coal scuttle, the patriotic VR in bullet marks on the wall, the Persian slipper with tobacco in the toe, the bear-skin hearth rug, and the acid-stained deal table as we are our own rooms.

But exactly where in the room do they fit?

“Precisely where to place the chairs and tables, for example, the sofas and the shelves of books, and all the other impedimenta of the sitting-room, is somewhat of a problem,” Vincent Starrett writes in the “No. 221B  Baker Street” chapter of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

This is a problem with multiple solutions. My wife, Ann, and I have had the good fortune to visit reconstructions at the Sherlock Holmes Pub and the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London, the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Meiringen, Switzerland, and Denny Dobry’s home in Reading, PA. I’ve written about all of them on this blog. (Find those posts with the search engine at the far upper left.)

All the reconstructions are wonderful in their own way (although Denny’s impressed us the most), and all seem right even though they are different. Different still are the various floor plans enthusiasts have drawn, including a famous one by the legendary Julian Wolff for a 1946 Baker Street Journal.

Ann didn’t depend on any of these when she built her own miniature 221B sitting room for me last year as a Christmas present. Instead, she and our friend Carolyn Senter went to the Canon and figured out an arrangement that was consistent with the descriptions there.

The sitting room they constructed is in one-twelfth scale in amazing detail, down to the miniature Persian slipper. In fact, it began with the slipper. Ann saw that, bought it, and built the model-size sitting room around it over the course of many months. Pieces came from all over, on all at the same scale – even the properly dated London newspapers.

The result now sits proudly on the library table behind our Victorian love seat, separating the from library from the living room. It is flanked by the 221B floor plans of Julian Wolff and Kiyoshi Tanaka, plus a framed postcard of the 221B reconstruction formerly housed at the Holiday Inn on Union Square in San Francisco.

Which one of these many visions is the true 221B? Whichever one you believe. For, as Vincent Starrett reminds us, “Only those things the heart believes are true.”



Thursday, October 1, 2020

Memorable Writing From Our Friend Susan Rice


Yesterday I spent some quality time with Susan Rice, who died Monday. Here’s what happened:

I was sorting out some of the voluminous Sherlockian material that Carolyn Senter generously gave me recently. I’ve called it my inheritance from her late husband, Joel. One of the items that popped out at me was Susan Rice’s book called A Compound of Excelsior.

It’s an attractive little volume, published by Gasogene Press in 1991, with a line drawing of a bee on every page. Reading it is to engage with the brilliant mind of Susan Rice. Within a few pages, I was enthralled – even though I have no special interest in the topic of bees, beekeeping, or the literature thereof.

Susan was a wonderful writer – elegant, intelligent, and humorous. An excerpt will not do her justice, but I was particularly struck by these lines:

Only in the past decade or two have scientists become convinced she [the queen bee] mates many times, perhaps between ten and twenty. The queen bee may seem to us more mechanical than admirable, but it is impossible not to appreciate her achievement. For thousands of years she has kept what’s private, private.

But, of course, the book is as much about Sherlock Holmes as it is about bees. The central mystery of the book is why he retired so early. Susan found the solution in the preface to His Last Bow, where Watson mentions Holmes as “somewhat crippled by occasional attacks of rheumatism.” There it is – bee stings are well known to cure rheumatism! That’s why Holmes retired at a little shy of 50 years old, and why became a beekeeper.

Just seven months ago, Susan sent me a superb essay on Vincent Starrett’s “The Unique Hamlet” for a book I edited, which I hope will be published by the end of the year. Along with it, she supplied a short biography which is perhaps indicative of what she thought important about her life – especially its final sentence:

Susan Rice, ASH (“A Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen”), BSI (“Beeswing”), first met Holmes and Watson 65 years ago, and eight years later attended her first scion meeting. Since then she’s been very active in the Sherlockian cosmos, writing roughly 70 papers for at least two dozen publications. She has spoken at various ASH and BSI Dinners and perhaps 30 conferences, including John Bennett Shaw symposia, Bob Thomalen’s Autumn in Baker Street, and Back to Baker Street, where she spoke at New Scotland Yard. Susan is the recipient of the Gaslight Award, the Morley-Montgomery Award, and the Musgrave Crown. She is the author of The Somnambulist and the Detective, about Vincent Starrett, and two other books.   She was among the first six women invested in the BSI in 1991, and 12 years later received her second shilling. Her greatest reward, however, is a life of lasting friendships.

For more of Susan Rice in her own words, click here for a link to an interview with Rob Nunn.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Importance of Bruce's Watson and More

My recent post on Nigel Bruce drew more positive reaction than anything else in the nine years of this blog. People love “Willie,” especially at The Rathbone Bruce Years Facebook Page.  

So, I was in a Rathbone-Bruce mood when I picked up Sherlock Holmes: Behind the Canonical Screen, a collection of papers from the Baker Street Irregulars conference held at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 2012. The volume was edited by Lyndsay Faye and Ashley D. Polasek.

Some purists understandably object to Bruce’s uncanonical portrayal of Watson as bumbler. But Jerry Kegley, in a paper called “Holmes Superbus, Watson Absurdus,” joins the ranks of those who note that “he brought Watson out of the shadows and ceased the notion of marginalizing the good doctor. For the first time on film, Watson was able to stand side by side with the great detective, a trend that has continued to this day.”

Jeffory Hart, in an insightful and witty survey of Holmesian cinema, makes a similar point: “Watson will never again be neglected, and we owe that to the popularity of Nigel Bruce.”  And so does Russell Merritt in his paper on Sherlock in the silents: “After Nigel Bruce, Holmes without Watson is unimaginable. Before Bruce, he was entirely optional.”  

Nevertheless, Timothy Greer, in an authoritative and beautifully written retrospective on the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes, concurs with Bert Coules that, “Nigel Bruce as many outstanding qualities; being Dr. Watson is not among them.” Greer has high praise for Brett’s two Watsons, a judgment unlikely to find much dissent anywhere.

With reference to the Rathbone films in general, Greer says, “a great Holmes does not automatically a great Holmesian adaptation make.” I would go even further: In my opinion, there have been many great interpretations of Holmes but no perfect Holmesian adaptation.

There are many other delights in this book – 18 chapters in all. I particularly enjoyed the four transcripts of dialogues that took place at the conference. (The always engaging Nicholas Meyer memorably tells John Landis that Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes is “a sort of superhero beatnik.”)

For all the wide range of film- and TV-related topics covered in this book, most of the papers have one thing in common: at least a passing mention of the Rathbone-Bruce movies. The series constituted a milestone that is hard to ignore.

The Whole Canon as BBC Radio Drama

Almost from his very beginning, Sherlock Holmes has been as much at home in drama as on the printed page. And one of the landmark achievements in that long history of Holmes being brought to life was the first dramatization of the entire Canon.

With Clive Merrison as Holmes, Michael Williams as Dr. Watson, and Bert Coules as head writer, BBC radio completed the task in eight years, seven months, and seventeen days, and just under nine hours, starting Oct. 9, 1989 and ending on May 26, 1998. So Coules reports in his excellent 221 BBC, part of the Musgrave Monograph series from the Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society.

The 1998 monograph, later expanded into a book available from Wessex Press, is fascinating to me as an author. Coules writes in it about the challenges and decisions involved in adapting specific episodes. For example, he added a touching scene at the end of the “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” in which Watson invites himself to Baker Street for a late Christmas Eve meal so that famously unemotional Holmes won’t have to say the words.  

The series has long been regarded as a high-water mark in Sherlockian drama, not only because of its ground-breaking nature but also because of the high quality of the scripts and the acting. So I’m pleased to say I recently inherited from the late R. Joel Senter, Sr. (via his wife Carolyn) the entire series on cassette tape, as well as a copy of the monograph.

But who has a cassette player anymore? Well, the Senters covered that, too. Long ago they gave me this art deco radio that also plays cassettes.

 

                                                
Fortunately, that’s not the only way to enjoy this BBC Sherlock. The shows are available from Amazon and Audible. Click here for a link to Bert Coules website, where you can learn much more about the historic series and order the episodes as well as 221 BBC.