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.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A New Scion Society is Born

I'm so pleased to be part of the Vatican Cameos, a group of Catholic Sherlockians mentioned here previously and now officially recognized as a scion (affiliate) society of the Baker Street Irregulars
Our leader, the author Ann Lewis, has the title of Tosca after Cardinal Tosca, whose sudden death Sherlock Holmes investigated "at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope," Leo XIII (BLAC). The other case he handled for the same pope was, of the case of the Vatican Cameos (HOUN).

The patron of our society is Monsignor Ronald A. Knox, without whom who knows where the Great Game would be, if anywhere.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ronald A. Knox: Pioneer Holmesian

One of the joys of being a Sherlockian (at least to me) is the deep well of history involved. People have been writing about the Writings since before the Canon was completed. Recently I immersed myself in the seminal work of Monsignor Ronald A. Knox.

Three years ago, Gasogene Books published a priceless volume called Ronald Knox and Sherlock Holmes: The Origin of Sherlockian Studies. It brings together in one book all five of the cleric's writings on Holmes, plus a valuable essay by the editor, Michael J. Crowe.

Most importantly, Knox wrote the cornerstone essay "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" when he was just 23 years old. Most Sherlockians (or Holmesians in England) agree that this was the first significant example of The Grand Game - reading the Holmes stories as fact rather than fiction, and explaining interior contradictions and conundrums without reference to a man named Arthur Conan Doyle. 

The great collector and scholar Richard Lancelyn Green called Knox's paper "the earliest, the best, and the wittiest of all the 'Higher Criticism.'" In reality, a writer named Frank Sidgwick had analyzed The Hound of the Baskervilles in the same spirit almost decade earlier. But, as T.S. Blakeney noted, "he did not found a movement, whereas Knox did."     

Nicholas Utechin marked 100th anniversary of "Studies" in 2011 by writing a monograph called From Piff-Pouff to Backnecke: The Full Story. It was published by The Baker Street Journal published for The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Until reading it, I had no idea how involved was the history of this little essay, both before and after its publication. Utechin's scholarship amazes. (The Green and Blakeney quotes above come from his monograph.)

The two volumes, published around the same time, are complimentary and best read together. Both include the full text of a wonderful letter from Arthur Conan Doyle to Knox in 1912. It begins: "I cannot help writing to you to tell you of the amusement - and also the amazement - with which I read your article on Sherlock Holmes. That anyone should spend such pains on such material was what surprised me."

And that was on the beginning, Sir Arthur!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Jerks in the Canon - No Shortage!

The King of Bohemia was a royal jerk 

Almost all villains are jerks, but not all jerks are villains.

At the inaugural meeting of the Vatican Cameos Scion Society of the Baker Street Irregulars last month, we had a lively discussion of jerks and Sherlock Holmes. Not all of the jerks in the Canon are true villains. Consider some who are, and some who aren't:

The Villains:

Curiously, Professor Moriarty isn't a jerk. The term is too petty to apply to the Napoleon of Crime. So let's move quickly on to:

Colonel Sebastian Moran - Professor Moriarty's right-hand man cheated at cards. 'Nuff said!

Charles Augustus Milverton - The Worst Man in London was a master blackmailer, which means that he not just a jerk but a master jerk.

Baron Gruner - The caddish way he used - ruined! - women made him a jerk of the first water.

The Clients (Not Villains But Still Jerks):

The King of Bohemia - This royal jerk sets the standard for client-jerks, of which there is no small number in the Canon. The boob doesn't even realize he is being insulted when Holmes says coldly: "From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty." Good one, Holmes!

Mr. Merryweather - As Steven Doyle pointed out to us at the aforementioned inaugural meeting, this banker in "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" is worried about missing his whist game while Holmes is saving his bank from being looted.  

The Duke of Holdernesse - "To humour the guilty elder son," Holmes says, "you have exposed your innocent younger son to imminent and unnecessary danger. It was a most unjustifiable action." That about says it all.
Lord St Simon - Holmes judges him mercifully at the end of the tale, but perhaps the rest of us are more inclined to think that calling him a noble bachelor was Watson at his most ironic. His treatment of two women in the story was abominable.

Neil Gibson - "I have broken stronger men than you," he warns Holmes. Apparently this was his idea of being persuasive. No wonder Watson memorably described him physically as looking like "Abraham Lincoln turned to base uses instead of high ones."

A number of other characters are neither villains nor clients, just jerks. Who is your favorite jerk in the Canon?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This Play Wasn't the Thing

Basil Rathbone in The Hound of the Baskervilles

Even a great actor and a great character can't save a bad play. That's my takeaway from the sad story of Sherlock Holmes: A New Play in Three Acts.

You may be familiar with the history: In 1953, nine years after his last previous performance as Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone went to Broadway with a play written by his wife, Ouida. It closed after just two evening performances and one matinee.

What happened?

It wasn't a very good play. That may be one reason it wasn't published until the 2013 Christmas annual of The Baker Street Journal, although several copies of different versions of the ever-changing script exist.

Ouida Rathbone's script includes authentic quotes from throughout the Canon, like many Sherlock Holmes plays. And it borrows elements and characters from so many different stories that it demonstrates a real knowledge of the source material - "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Naval Treaty," "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," "The Adventure of the Second Stain," and "His Last Bow."

But the result is less than the sum of its parts. The pieces don't fit together as a dramatic whole. It's a Frankenstein monster of a play, with all of the stitches showing. You keep expecting for the kitchen sink to be thrown in. I've seen worse, but it's easy to understand why Jean Upton and Roger Johnson wrote: "Poor Basil. Poor Ouida. Poor audience!" 

When I read the script, it was impossible for me not to hear the wonderful voice of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, I also heard Nigel Bruce in the Watson part. Not that he was in the play, but the lines could have been written for the bumbling Watson of the Rathbone-Bruce films.

I wonder if the Rathbones took any solace from knowing that Arthur Conan Doyle himself gave the stage not one but two resounding flops - the comic operetta Jane Annie or The Good Conduct Prize, written with James M. Barrie, and the boxing drama The House of Temperley.

Probably not. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Among the Americans

Holmes, Watson, two Americans, and a not-so-noble bachelor
“It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being someday citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

As we celebrate Independence Day in the American colonies, Holmes’s prediction in "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"has not yet come true. But interest in Holmes has always been strong in America, and rightly so.

The first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, and the last, The Valley of Fear, each have big flashbacks that take place in America. Perhaps that feature of A Study in Scarlet helped to attract the American publisher who commissioned The Sign of Four for Lippincott’s magazine.

Six of the short stories also have American roots – “The Five Orange Pips,” “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,” “The Yellow Face,” “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” and “The Problem of Thor Bridge.”

Nobly sacrificing two years of his retirement, Holmes worked as a spy in America before the Great War. In the story that tells that tale, “His Last Bow,” he is described as looking like Uncle Sam. No wonder the question has long been asked, “Was Sherlock Holmes an American?”

Whether you are an American or not, happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A 21st Century Writer With a Touch of Holmes


As a writer of modern mysteries with a Sherlockian twist, I’m always interested in . . . modern mysteries with a Sherlockian twist. Such a book is The Mystery Surrounding Watson’s Lost Dispatch Box by Gary Livosi (MX Publishing), about the murder of a young man who appears to be the descent of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. I recently asked Gary Livosi about his writing and his interest in Holmes. 

Q - There’s a lot of internal evidence in The Mystery Surrounding Watson’s Lost Dispatch Box, beyond the storyline, that you have more than a passing familiarity with Sherlock Holmes. When did you first become acquainted with the gentleman?
             Yes, I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes reader, fan and book collector for decades. Along with my other writing, I have written non-fiction books and articles on Holmes, also collecting the pastiches, and quite a few stories and one novel. I’m a lot like Juan and the “old man” Viejo, in my novel. I am filled with the joy and wonderment of the Doyle stories and characters, and even the pastiches, which I feel offer so much more to fill in the missing spots in Doyle’s (and Watson’s) narratives.

Q - What have you written about Holmes?
            Quite a few things – various non-fiction articles and books that concern collecting Sherlockian books and material about the stories, and in 2013 I edited an anthology of new Holmes stories here in the US for Wildside Press, The Great Detective: His Further Adventures. I have had various Holmes pastiches appear in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine (the new version), and some anthologies, one of which “The Adventure of the Missing Detective,” was nominated here by the Mystery Writers of America for the Best Short Story in 2005. It and others are collected in two books published by Ramble House: The Secret Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and More Secret Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
            My story “Professor Challenger’s Challenge,” teaming up Holmes, Watson and Doyle’s other hero, Professor Challenger, is out now in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine (#12). I have also written one Holmes pastiche novel, Sherlock Holmes: The Baron’s Revenge (Airship27 Publications, aka The Plot Against Sherlock Holmes, in the U.K.). And now I’ve broadened my vision with this new contemporary crime novel very much in the Holmes style and tradition. The Mystery Surrounding Watson’s Lost Dispatch Box is my first Juan & Viejo mystery  -- two fun characters in a rousing adventure murder mystery.
            So I have been rather busy but totally enjoy all my writings about the Great Detective in whatever guise it appears. More information about these books, and my other works, can be found on my website: www.gryphonbooks.com.
Q - What are your interests and limits as a collector?
            I have been a Holmes collector for decades and have amassed quite a nice and large group of items. I basically collect books about Holmes, all types, fiction, non-fiction, by Doyle and pastiches -- but some other items as well. I even wrote a large book about the pastiches in paperback a few years back that is sold out now.
Q - The relationship of the older Anglo (62) and the young Hispanic (18) is certainly much different than Holmes and Watson. How did that come about?
            Juan and Viejo are a very different team, even an unlikely team, but the stories of Sherlock Holmes tie them together and both use Holmes’ methods and ideas from the Doyle stories to help them live their lives -- and solve a murder. They each have Holmes and Watson living in their hearts and that is what makes even a contemporary crime novel work in the Sherlockian realm.
            I love the relationship between these two men, their great decency, their friendship for each other, their gentle chiding of each other, and their dogged determination to solve Adler’s murder and see justice done. I think there is a nice match between these two men of vast differences in age and experience, and yet they are in many ways so similar. In some ways they are the young cocky version of myself and my present older and more careful self. It’s great fun to do a book like this.

Q - Which came first -- the characters or the plot?
            Hard to say; it all pretty much came together all at once. I write like that. I know what I want to do, where I want to go with the story and who I want to ride along with (the characters). The characters are real to me, they live and breathe right next to me as I write about them. They’re here right now!
Q - Can you remember what triggered the plot?
            It wasn’t that complicated. I began with an older man who owns a small bookstore. Simple enough. He has a customer come in one day and sell him something very rare and extremely unique. The story just took off from there and the characters took over. The old man (Viejo) wanted to find out some information about the item and so needed to track down the mysterious seller, and to do that he needed help. So when he met a young man named Juan, the two teamed up in the best Holmes and Watson tradition.
Q - The ending of the book is a set-up for a sequel. Is that in the works?
            At the end of the book it does seem like another adventure of Juan and Viejo is in the cards. It’s not in the works yet, but I do hope to bring back Juan and Viejo again in another book. I think they’re great fun characters.
Q - What question that I not asked would you like to answer?
            Now that’s a good question! I think what I’d like to say is that anything I write, but especially anything related to Sherlock Holmes, is written from the heart, with respect, and in the Doyle tradition. I think of these stories as kind of love letters to an author and his creations that have given us all so much joy and wonder.

The Mystery Surrounding Watson's Lost Dispatch Box: A Juan and Viejo Mystery is available from all good bookstores including  Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository .

Friday, June 27, 2014

Returning to Solar Pons

The increased attention and interest given to Sherlock Holmes in recent years has resulted in an avalanche of new books, many of them by London-based MX Publishing (my own publisher).

And yet, I am reading (or re-reading in some cases) the decades-old adventures of Solar Pons, who is - but also is not - Holmes under another name.

There's a reason for that.

One of my joys in going to Sherlock Holmes conferences is the opportunity to add to my librarian of Sherlockiana. Among the purchases I made from Kathy Harig of Mystery Loves Company at A Scintillation of Scions earlier this month was a set of the Pinnacle paperback editions of the Solar Pons books.

The set included eight books - all seven of the original books by August Derleth and a collection of Pons pastiches by Basil Copper. I knew that I already had four of the books, but I liked the idea of buying the entire set so that I could look at them on my shelves and remember the day I bought them.

Turns out, that was a very good decision. The books are in better shape than the ones I already had, even though some of them area earlier editions.

I wrote about Pons on this blog about three years ago. (Check it out.)  As I read my way through the stories, I have just a few additional observations.

More proof that Pons is not exactly Holmes (even though Derleth said he was) is that he's referred to as the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street within the stories themselves. The stories are also set in a later time period - just after Holmes fades from the scene.

But echoes of Holmes redound throughout the Pons canon in lines like "You know my methods; apply them" and "elementary." Many of the plots even echo Sherlock Holmes stories - but then, so do the plots of several later Holmes stories repeat plots of earlier ones! They are great stories nonetheless.

Baron Kroll is a Moriarty-like figure. Could he actually be Von Bork under another name?

Most intriguing to me is Pons's habit of pushing his lips in and out as he thinks. This is reminiscent not of Sherlock Holmes but of his rumored son Nero Wolfe. And, as Bob Byrne pointed out to me, Pons also pulls his ear like Humphrey Bogart!

Reading Solar Pons is great fun. It's even more fun to know that I own them all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Among the Russians

The Romanovs, Reilly "Ace of Spies," Al Capone, Winston Churchill, Stalin, Babe Ruth, King George V, and other familiar figures from the pages of history - that's what Phil Growick's Sherlock Holmes novels are made of. I called the gregarious author recently to ask him a few questions about his work. He e-mailed me the answers:

Q: How did you first become acquainted with Sherlock Holmes.
            In front of a B&W TV set in my grandparents’ living room.  It was Basil. You can’t beat Basil. To me, Holmes, through Rathbone, embodied everything that everyone around me was not:  brilliant, courteous, gentlemanly. No one I knew in New York City had such a stiff upper-lip or spoke so beautifully.

Q:  Why did you write your first Holmes novel, The Secret Journal of Dr. Watson?
            I’ve always been a history nut. I’d been reading a history of the Romanov dynasty and of Nicholas II and his family being executed by the Bolsheviks and wondered what if they hadn’t been executed?  And if they hadn’t been executed, who would’ve been able to have saved them?  
            Putting the historic pieces together of who was where and when, it made total sense to insert Holmes and Watson into the mix and stir till brought to a verbal boil.  

Q: Did you have to do any further research?
            Please don’t hit me over the head with a club, but not really; but that’s only because I had read so much about the period, the British royal family, WWI, the Russian Revolution and the rest that it was simply a matter of just getting on with it.
            The fun for me was putting people like George V, Lenin, David Lloyd George, Sidney Reilly (Ace of Spies), and other historical personages into close proximity of Holmes and Watson to see what could happen.
            Then, being sadistic, I gave it a surprise ending which left everyone asking what happened to the people in the book; most especially, of course, Holmes?
            By the way, to my knowledge, no one has, as yet, seen that surprise ending coming.  

Q: So that’s why you wrote the sequel, The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes?
            Absolutely. Being an obliging bloke, I decided to answer the questions.  But since I’m sadistic, this book has three surprise endings.

Q: Do you have more historic personages in this book or the same ones?
            Very good question.  Let’s say that Revenge has some of the same people, but new ones, as well. In fact, the mix is quite startling. People as disparate as Winston Churchill and Al Capone, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Bugsy Siegel.

Q: Are you planning a third Holmes novel?
            Well, since Revenge has three surprise endings, I’ll continue my sadism my saying, “Perhaps.”

The Secret Journal of Dr Watson is available from all good bookstores including in the USA Amazon, Barnes and Noble, in the UK Amazon, Waterstones,  and for everywhere else Book Depository who offer free worldwide delivery. In ebook format there is Kindle,  iPad, Nook and Kobo.  So is its sequel, The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes.