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, March 14, 2018

The Accent is on the Friends

Monica Schmidt at the podium for Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five. Photo by Marcy Mahle. 

Nothing energizes those strange people known as Sherlockians more than a good symposium. And such an event happened last weekend in Dayton.

Don’t take my word for it. As program chairman, I am somewhat biased.

Rob Nunn wrote a thorough and admittedly more objective account of Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five on his blog, “Interesting Though Elementary.” This was the first conference for Rob, author of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street. His enthusiasm for the event shines through every paragraph of his post.

Rob concludes the post by saying “the more and more I go to events, the more I know that Sherlockiana isn’t just about the stories, it’s about the people you engage with. And these are some good people.”

So true! (Hence the title of this post.) And yet, Sherlockiana is also about our shared passion and the endless ways of approaching it. Despite all the books I’ve read and conferences I’ve attended over the past 50 years, each of the eight talks at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five offered me something new.

Veteran Sherlockian Brad Kefauver also offered a positive and insightful overview of his day in Dayton on his "Sherlock Peoria" blog. 

The conference has its roots in the nationally known Holmes/Doyle Symposium that began in 1981 under the leadership of the late Dr. Al Rodin. The Agra Treasurers, the Dayton-based scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, has been putting on the symposium under the new name since 2014. This year’s attendance was the highest in that time, with 52 registrants. Our goal is to become a “must go” annual event for veteran Sherlockians and newcomers alike.

Planning for next year is underway. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Canon in Kentucky

Downtown Winchester, Ky.
"I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler," Mycroft Holmes told his younger and more energetic brother.

The world's first consulting detective is known, read, and loved everywhere. And so on tomorrow (March 8) I will be giving two talks on Sherlock Holmes in Winchester, Ky. - one at an assisted living center and one at a public library. That's about a hundred miles from our home in Cincinnati.

The topic of the first is "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Sherlock Holmes: Life Lessons from the Great Detective." Seven residents of the Rose Mary C. Brooks Place have a Sherlock Holmes reading club that meets once a month. This month they have been reading my Holmes story "The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden" from my book Baker Street Beat. I'm pleased to be able to share with them life lessons from the Canon - although I'm pretty sure they could give me life lessons!

In re-reading the "John Vincent Harden" story, written long ago, I was amused to see the references to Lexington, Ky., which is only about a twenty minute drive from where I will be speaking.

The second talk, in the evening, will explain to patrons of the Clark County Library "What Every Writer Can Learn from Sherlock Holmes." And that's a lot.

It will be a fun day of talking about writing, wisdom, and Sherlock Holmes. And I suspect that Winchester, which I have never visited, will be very much like Erin, Ohio, the setting for my Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody mystery novels. I was flattered that the local paper, The Winchester Sun, took notice of my talks in this story. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Deck of Cards to Read, Not Play With

A visit to The Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren Street in Tribeca, New York City, is a gift that keeps on giving.

When we were there for Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in January, Ann saw and later bought a box of Mysterious Classics Cards created for the store. The 62 cards highlight books published between 1828 and 1950. They are cards to look at, not play games with. One of the cards describes the theme of the deck this way: 

“A collection of illustrations of the most colorful, important, or interesting original dust jackets or covers of classic mystery, crime, suspense, and espionage fiction. Each full-color card also contains a description placing it in historical context.”

Most of the significant mystery writers in that 122-year period are represented in the cards, making for a fascinating variety of subgenres.

Because the cards are in chronological order, The Hound of the Baskervilles comes in at No. 6. The first five, books published before the Hound, are:

1.      Mémoires de Vidocq.
2.      Revelations of a Lady Detective.
3.      The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens.
4.      The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
5.      The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume.

Edgar Allen Poe, who invented the detective story, and Emile Gaboriau, whose hero Holmes called “a miserable bungler,” don’t get cards. Presumably that is for artistic reasons.

I’ve greatly enjoyed looking at the cards, which you can purchase here. For me they are a reminder that Sherlock Holmes is part of a detective story tradition that includes both predecessors and successors. I have read many of their adventures with great enjoyment over the years.

But only one name comes to my mind when someone refers to “The Great Detective.”

Friday, February 16, 2018

Goodbye, Good Friend!

I find it hard to believe that Paul Herbert, BSI ("Mr. Leverton") died this morning (Feb. 16). He had survived so many health challenges over the last 20-plus years that I had begun to believe he was as indestructible as Sherlock Holmes himself.

Paul was the founder and Official Secretary of the Tankerville Club, our Sherlockian scion society in Cincinnati.How grateful Ann and I are that he was around for the club's 40th anniversary celebration at our home last year! We all had a wonderful time reminiscing, including a very suitable toast to Paul. (His response to the applause at the end was "just throw money.")

Beyond Cincinnati, Paul was well known to other members of the Baker Street Irregulars and contributed two books to Sherlockian scholarship. The first, The Sincerest Form of Flattery, was on John Bennett Shaw's famous list of 100 most important Sherlock Holmes books. Despite suffering a second stroke in December, Paul attended the annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner in New York last month. While there, he and his wife, Barbara, both contracted the flu.

I've written about Paul many times on this blog, which you can check out by using the search engine at the upper left. The Tankerville Club, if it continues, won't be the same without him. 

Barbara Herbert has been a rock for Paul. Please send her your prayers and thoughts.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Valentine to Solar Pons

One of the used books I picked up in New York during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend last month is A Praed Street Dossier. It’s August Derleth’s fascinating little coda to his Solar Pons saga, revealing information about “the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street” not covered in the stories.

“Without exception, the Solar Pons stories have been written around titles,” Derleth writes in a chapter called “The Sources of the Tales.” I’ve done that myself, notably a short story called “Dogs Don’t Make Mistakes.”  In another chapter, Derleth lists his favorite stories and those of his readers.

All of this had me thinking anew about Pons, who is almost but not quite Sherlock Holmes, as I have written before. I turned two friends and dedicated Ponsians for their take on the character. First, Bob Byrne:

Why Solar Pons? I wrote an essay with that very title. You can read that one here.

Derleth created Pons because he enjoyed the Holmes stories and Doyle informed him there would be no more. Which proved to be the case. We all know of Doyle’s rather harsh feelings towards his greatest creation. Derleth was a successful author in several fields who enjoyed writing about Pons and Dr. Parker. His non-fiction writings about Wisconsin and his efforts in the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos were much more important to him. 

But whereas one can see Doyle’s lack of interest in stories like “The Mazarin Stone,” Derleth's professionalism and fondness for Pons shine through from the first story to the last. And Derleth was a very good writer – so he produced very good stories.

But Pons is more than just a shadow of Holmes. He’s less obnoxious and he’s willing to consider the supernatural, though he’s inclined to the rational solution. His humor is less acerbic. I find Pons much more likeable than Holmes while still being a genius in his profession.

Derleth was a solid plotter. I am almost never disappointed with his story structure. And his ability to draw from real life was impressive. “The Adventure of the Golden Bracelet” was based on an actual archaeological scandal, as I wrote about here. It’s one of my favorites. “The Adventure of the Stone of Scone” is another example.

I've read all sixty of the original Holmes stories more times than I can count. And I like them. But I find Solar Pons to be a refreshing alternative to just poring over the Canon time after time. And while there are definitely some talented Holmes writers out there, I’m not sure any of them does it better than Derleth did.

I created SolarPons.com and my free, online newsletter, The Solar Pons Gazette, because I think every Holmes fan would do well to read the Pons stories. 

One Sherlockian who would agree is David Macum, who continued Derleth’s tradition in The Papers of Solar Pons, a short story collection published last fall. Says David:

What captivates me about Solar Pons is that his adventures embrace everything that’s great about the Sherlock Holmes stories so perfectly – the characters, the interactions, the settings, the types of mysteries – but they are presented in such a way that they go beyond the World of Holmes to reveal that such a world continued long after The Master had retired to his bees in Sussex. Pons very capably carried on Holmes’s work in 1920’s and 1930’s London, even as a number of other detectives, such as Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey, also moved to fill the void.

I believe that Pons continued to have an existence beyond his initial connection to Sherlock Holmes because, like Holmes, his adventures – at least when they were initially being published – were occurring in a time that was contemporary to the readers, and thus had a great deal of authenticity.

Pons sprang onto the scene fully formed, with many of the same characteristics as Holmes in terms of appearance, method, and types of cases, and this immediately gave him validity. His chronicler, Dr. Parker, evinced the same narrative style as Dr. Watson. There were other similarities, such as setting – London for both of them, with similar lodgings, Pons’s at 7B Praed Street instead of Holmes’s 221b Baker Street rooms – and associates, such as landlady Mrs. Johnson instead of Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Jamison instead of Lestrade, and brother Bancroft instead of Mycroft.

By the time the first Pons adventure was published, Holmes’s cases had taken place decades in the past. The Pons stories – at least initially – were being recorded contemporary to when they were occurring, in that unsettled era between the World Wars. When first published, Holmes’s cases also had that same here-and-now feeling, with settings in places where people lived or could visit or walk by every day.

Although Derleth continued to Literary-Agent the Pons stories until his death in 1971, he always firmly recorded cases set between 1919 and 1939. However, the 1970’s weren’t that far away from the 1930’s, and the stories didn’t seem too far in the distant past. Now, with every passing year and decade, the era of the Holmes stories – and the Pons stories too – gets further and further away.

Doyle and Derleth had the advantage of being Literary Agents that dealt with matters set in times that they actually knew and had lived through, and that gave their efforts credibility. This is very apparent when reading about Holmes, and one has that same sense when enjoying the adventures of Solar Pons.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What Do Holmes and Watson Look Like?

What do Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson look like? Everybody knows that!

They look just like Rathbone and Bruce. Or Cushing and Stock. Or Brett and Hardwicke. Or William Gillette and Whoever. (Or is it that Sherlock Holmes, as Orson Welles famously said, “looks just like William Gillette.”)

We each have our own idea of Holmes and Watson. I thought of this recently when I received a wonderful retirement gift of two plates representing the Great Detective and his equally great partner in crime-solving in their (or at least Watson’s) later years. Part of the Signature Collection, they were painted by the late Mitchell Hooks, best known for illustrating paperback novels and movie posters.

My own images of Holmes and Watson come largely from the Canonical text. I had read the stories before I saw any of the dramatic representations or even – to the best of my memory – the great Sidney Paget illustrations.

There are two set pieces in the Canon that describe the immortal duo. Watson portrays Holmes like this in the second chapter of A Study in Scarlet: 
His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. 

And Lestrade describes Watson in  a marvelous passage near the end of “The Adventure of Charles August Milverton”: 
“The first fellow was a bit too active, but the second was caught by the under-gardener and only got away after a struggle. He was a middle-sized, strongly-built man—square jaw, thick neck, moustache, a mask over his eyes.”  “That’s rather vague,” said Sherlock Holmes. “Why, it might be a description of Watson!”
 “It’s true,” said the inspector, with much amusement. “It might be a description of Watson.”

That’s what we know for sure about the appearance of Holmes and Watson. All else is a matter of interpretation.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My Take on Taking on Sherlock Holmes

How should one write a Sherlock Holmes story?

The answers to that are as varied as the hundreds of writers who have taken up the task over the past century and a quarter. My own approach in my new novel was to write a story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have written.

For me, that meant no shocking departures from what we know about Holmes and Watson, no revisionist history of earlier adventures. It also meant imitating the original stories in small ways and big ways. For example:

The title House of the Doomed follows the title pattern of the four Canonical Holmes novels in that it is four words long (The Sign of the Four is five, but the book is also known as The Sign of Four). Short nouns appear at the beginning and the end of the title.

Its length is 41,000 words, very close to the word-count of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. It is divided into 15 chapters, the same as The Hound and just one more than Study and The Valley of Fear.

Some of Holmes’s dialogue echoes familiar passages of the Canon without directly quoting, except in instances where the original text repeated the quote. (“How many times must I tell you, Watson . . .”)

A number of plot tropes that Conan Doyle used repeatedly show up this adventure as well. Without saying too much, the story features Holmes in disguise, Watson dispatched to gather information in Holmes’s place, secret writing, Gothic atmospherics (including a woman in peril), an American, a secret past, and burglary in a good cause.

I'm happy to say that my publisher also strove for authenticity in the design of the book. The fonts are wonderfully evocative of the late Victorian era!  

Did it all work? As Dr. Watson once said (GAR), “Well, you shall judge for yourself.”
House of the Doomed is available from Gasogene Books/ Wessex Press. You can order here.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Great Detective's Last Case

I’ve often expressed on this blog my special fondness for the Sherlock Holmes short story called “His Last Bow,” relating how Holmes became a spy on on the eve of World War I. It’s only natural, then, that during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York earlier this month I snapped up a chance to buy a copy of Trenches: The War Service of Sherlock Holmes.

This latest in the wonderful Baker Street Irregulars Manuscript Service, edited by Robert Katz and Andrew Solberg like four of the previous volumes, makes available a facsimile of the existing pages of the hand-written manuscript of the story, which are in the hands of a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous.

As a writer and as a reader, it’s very special to me to see my favorite passage in the entire Canon in Arthur Conan Doyle’s own handwriting, the closing paragraph of the story. It begins: “Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age.” I memorized that paragraph in 1964 or 1965 and have never forgotten them.

The handwriting is neat, readable, and contains only one correction. This may be a revised version of that MS page, not his first attempt, but we know that ACD often wrote stories straight off with very few changes. Either way, it’s very special for me to see that beloved paragraph in the author’s own hand.

But this book is more than the facsimile (and the annotated transcription). Like all the volumes in the Manuscript Series, it is packed with fascinating essays – in this case, about Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and World War I. There is even an essay about the war service of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, still one of the most beloved Holmes-Watson screen duos.

I particularly enjoyed reading Catherine Cooke on ACD as a prophet of the First World War, Glen Miranker on Holmes parodies in trench magazines during that war, Burt Wolder on “Altamont” and Irish secret socities, Maria Fleischhack on Germans and Germany in the Canon, and Clifford S. Goldfarb on ACD’s war service as a propagandist.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Now Available!

My new Sherlock Holmes novel, House of the Doomed, is now available from Wessex Press. Order here!

A Toast to a First-Rate Villain

Holmes and Watson confront Charles Augustus Milverton    
One of the great traditions of Sherlock Holmes gatherings is to toast characters from the stories. I was honored to toast the title character in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” at the Gaslight Gala on Jan. 13 as part of the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. Here is my toast, with the hissing supplied by the audience.

“My collection of M’s is a fine one,” Sherlock Holmes told Dr. Watson in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” He went on to say: “Moriarty himself is enough to make any letter illustrious, and here is Morgan the poisoner, and Merridew of abominable memory, and Mathews, who knocked out my left canine in the waiting-room at Charing Cross, and, finally, here is our friend of to-night.” That “friend” was the infamous Colonel Sebastian Moran, the second most dangerous man in London.
But what of the worst man in London? Holmes unjustly neglected that first-rate villain, who was also an M. We, however, shall give him his due. I refer, of course, to Charles August Milverton, the “king of all the blackmailers” [HISS!]
·        A man who gave Sherlock Holmes “a creeping, shrinking sensation” akin to that he felt when looking at the “slithery, gliding, venomous” serpents in the Zoo with their “deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces;” [HISS!]
·        A man with “a smiling face and a heart of marble,” like a Mr. Pickwick gone wrong; [HISS!]
·        A man who methodically and at his leisure tortured the soul and wrung the nerves of his victims “in order to add to his already swollen money bags;” [HISS!]
·        A man who was “a genius in his own way” and as cunning at the Evil One,” [HISS!]
·        A man who wore astrakhan outerwear, a sartorial affectation shared by Thaddeus Sholto and the ignoble King of Bohemia; [HISS!]
·        A man whose maid, Agnes, is the only woman actually known by Canonical account to have engaged in long walks and intimate talks with Mr. Sherlock Holmes; [HISS!]  
·        And, finally, a man who suffered five bullets (“Take that, you hound – and that! – and that! – and that! – and that!”) before the sixth one caused him to utter the stupendously unsurprising cry, “You’ve done me;” [YAY!] 
          Fellow Sherlockians, let us lift our glasses to toast The Worst Man in London, Charles Augustus Milverton!