Recently I got my hands on a Sherlock Holmes novel that I'd been wanting to read for a long time. A friend with great literary taste (she likes my work) loved it, so I expected to love it, too. But I didn't.
In fact, I so didn't love the book that I stopped reading it in the middle of a chapter, on page 136 out of 617, hating myself for wasting even that much time on it. Why didn't I like it? For one thing, the once-shocking trope that almost everything Watson wrote was untrue has become trite. But the breaking point for me was when Sherlock Holmes killed in cold blood. Sherlock did that, but Holmes never would.
Has this ever happened to you - a book you had reason to look forward to (especially a mystery or a Holmes adventure) so disappointed you that you couldn't even soldier on through to the end?
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.
Monday, April 25, 2016
Over the weekend I received this wonderful note in the comments section of “Baker Street Street Beat” from Marco Bertoli:
Hi Dan, I am just finished translating in Italian The Poisoned Penman, where miss Sayers features as a prominent character (I was also the translator of The Amateur Executioner, which came out in Italian for Mondadori some months ago).
It's always fun to work on your writing. One thing tickled my curiosity, though: what's with your (and you co-author McMullen's) obsession for your characters' height, down to the half-inch? :-)
Greetings from Milano, Italy
I wasn’t aware of this obsession! I also wasn’t aware that Italian translation of The Amateur Execution had been published. The Italian version of the title translates to Sherlock Holmes and the Hangman Murder. Kieran and I both love the cover.
It’s quite a thrill to be published by Mondadori, the largest publisher in Italy. I look forward to reading Marco's translations.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
When I began a year-long project of reading and re-reading my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey saga in chronological order in January, I resolved not to write about the Sherlock Holmes references. But with Strong Poison, the fifth novel, my resolution has crumbled.
Author Dorothy L. Sayers was, of course, a notable Holmes devotee and scholar who figured out that Dr. Watson’s middle name is Hamish. It’s not surprising that most of her books show the influence of the Baker Street. In Strong Poison, that's true to a glaring degree.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned before his most famous creation, however. Wimsey’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, is speaking in her roundabout way in Chapter III: “I don’t suppose detective writers detect much in real life, do they, except Edgar Wallace of course, who seems to be everywhere, and dear old Conan Doyle . . .”
She goes on to allude to the cases of Oscar Slater and George Edalji, whose innocence “dear old Canon Doyle” had worked to establish. She might also have mentioned ACD's speculations in the disappearance of her fellow mystery writer, Agatha Christie! Conan Doyle died in 1930, the year Strong Poison hit the shelves.
Later in the novel, one of the other characters describes her method of amateur sleuthing by saying: "I merely proceed on the old Sherlock Holmes basis, that when you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be true."
That's clearly Holmes's favorite axiom, uttered on at least four occasions. But Wimsey, rather pettishly, observes that, "Dupin said that before Sherlock." Later, though, he himself paraphrases another of Holmes's signature lines:
"I see nothing at all," said Freddy."That, as Sherlock Holmes would say, is what you may expect to see when there is nothing there," said Wimsey kindly.
Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey, whose literary careers overlapped although their sleuthing careers did not, are very different sorts of detectives. But Lord Peter walked in the footsteps of the Master - and his creator knew it.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Harry DeMaio, my friend and fellow Cincinnatian, writes perhaps the most original mystery series going. He calls the four-volume (so far) Casebooks of Octavius Bear “Alternative Universe Mysteries for Adult Animal Lovers.”
A retired business executive, consultant, information security specialist, former private pilot and graduate school adjunct professor, Harry says he whiles away his time traveling and writing preposterous poems, articles, and stories.
Since Octavius Bear has at least one paw in the world of Sherlock Holmes (and the other in that of Nero Wolfe, I asked Harry a few questions about the series:
Who is Octavius Bear?
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. He, his associates and nemeses are all figments of my warped imagination.
What is the story behind the alternate universe that Octavius and his cohorts inhabit? Do you believe in alternate universes?
Answer to your second question first -YES! Let’s hear it for Quantum Mechanics.
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. Some others (most fish and underground dwellers) were shielded from the radiation and remained only as sentient as they were before the blast. This event is referred to as The Big Shock. It remains under intensive study.
Alternate universes play an increasing level of importance in each succeeding book.
Tell us about the Casebooks.
Volume One - The Open and Shut Case – a jewel theft from a Chicago museum and an attempted mass assassination in Las Vegas. The villainous Imperius Drake front and center.
Volume Two – The Case of the Spotted Band – Not the famous snake, but a rock group in Brazil (a cheetah, ocelot, jaguar and Himalayan snow leopard). Carnival in Rio and mayhem in Cincinnati.
Volume Three- The Case of Scotch – Murder in the Shetlands and strange problems in the Scottish North Sea oil fields.
Volume Four – The Lower Case – a vicious murder in Winnipeg of a very annoying voice coach cow is blamed on two of Octavius’s protégés. The Great Bear to the rescue.
Volume Five – The Curse of the Mummy’s Case – (In development) Imperius Drake returns trying to revivify an evil Pharaoh and his armies.
Who are some of Octavius’ associates?
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.
Otto the Magnificent – AKA Hairy Otter - An absolutely terrible illusionist magician, Otto the Magnificent escaped the claws of super villain Imperius Drake but not before he developed some amazing powers courtesy of Imperius genetic alterations.
Frau Ilse Schuylkill – Swiss she-wolf; housekeeper-cook; jet pilot and sharpshooter with other very strange and arcane abilities.
Tell me about the bad guys.
There are many but a 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.” Arch-villain, leader of the Black Quack gang, 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 of his serum in a vain attempt to stop his madness. He is aided(?) and abetted (?) by Bigg Baboon, an archetypical dumb heavy. They appear in Books One and Two and will reappear in Book Five. Other nasties include Pontius Puma, a Brazilian gangster; mysterious killers in the Shetlands (Book Three) and vicious murderers in Winnipeg. (Book Four.)
Book Four, The Lower Case, just came out. Does it differ from its predecessors?
Aside from being based entirely in one location, Winnipeg, and dealing with music and theatre, Book Four follows most of the same patterns established in its predecessors with two major exceptions. 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. As I mentioned earlier, alternate universes play an increasing part in the overall structure of these books. Book Four is a major example.
The Lower Case: Octavius Bear Book 4 is available from all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.
Harry’s website is www.octaviusbearslair.com.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
|Welcome to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry!|
Have you ever noticed how many creepy houses there are in the Sherlock Holmes canon?
I didn’t – until I set out to prepare a talk on “Gothic Holmes” for the “Holmes, Doyle & Friends” conference later this month in Dayton.
Creepy houses, manors, castles, abbeys, convents, and monasteries have been staples of Gothic literature since The Castle of Otranto. In fact, the genre takes its name from the Gothic Revival style of architecture. The dreary domiciles in these stories contribute to the atmospheric shivers, just as the landscape and the weather do.
Dr. Watson evocatively describes the oldest part of Baskerville Hall, for example, as “a place of shadow and gloom.” No wonder Sir Henry is moved to say, “My word, it isn’t a very cheerful place.”
The Canon is full of not-very-cheerful places, adding to the Gothic air in a number of the Master’s adventures. Violet Hunter describes the Copper Beeches as “beautifully situated, but it is not beautiful in itself, for it is a large square block of a house, whitewashed, but all stained and streaked with damp and bad weather.” Holmes later refers to this case as “the mystery of the sinister house with the copper beaches in front of the door.”
Equally sinister are:
Charlington Hall in “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist” – invisible from the road, “but the surroundings all spoke of gloom and decay;”
Tuxbury Hall, residence of the blanched soldier – “a house of shadows and mystery;”
Hurlstone Manor, ancestral home of the Musgraves – “a labyrinth of an old house” (and in Greek mythology, a labyrinth is not such a good thing);
Wisteria Lodge – “an old tumble-down building in a crazy state of disrepair;”
Birlstone Manor – a “long, low Jacobean house of dingy, liver-covered brick;” and –
The Haven, the bleak home of the retired colourman, Josiah Amberley – “like some penurious patrician who has sunk into the company of his inferiors.”
In the classic Gothic romance, the state of the house is often a metaphor for the family that owns it. No one can miss the double meaning of “The Fall of the House of Usher” as referring to both the physical and the metaphorical house. The strongest Canonical application of this trope is in “The Adventure of Speckled Band.”
Whereas the Baskerville clan seems to have improved from Sir Hugo to Sir Charles and Sir Henry (though Stapleton is a throw-back), Stoke Moran clearly reflects the decay of the Roylott bloodline. Four successive heirs to one of the richest fortunes in England were dissolute and wasteful, and “the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage.” So reported Helen Stoner. Dr. Watson describes Stoke Moran this way:
“The building was of gray, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin.”
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
My friend and sometime co-author, Kieran McMullen, has been in Dublin for the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Seeing a photo of Kieran raising a glass of Jameson's at the Arlington Hotel, O'Connell Bridge, reminded me of Sherlock Holmes's involvement in those fateful events of 1916.
Kieran tells the story in his novel-length pastiche from 2011, Sherlock Holmes and the Irish Rebels. He calls it a "boys' adventure story." But it's more than an adventure story, and not just for boys.
As Kieran tells the tale, Mycroft Holmes has enlisted his younger and more energetic brother, still in the guise of the Irish-American Altamont, to infiltrate the Irish Volunteers, find out their plans, and -- if possible -- stop the looming rebellion.
The great detective calls in Watson, who is back in military harness at Lt. Col. John Watson, RAMC, but going by the name of Dr. Thomas Ryan. They reconstruct the Baker Street menage as they board in Dublin with a certain Mrs. McGuffey, who turns to be Mrs. Hudson using her maiden name.
Although this is primarily an adventure and war story, there is also an appropriately criminous subplot that Holmes manages to uncover even amid the fog of approaching war.
The fact that we know what is going to happen on Easter 1916, while the characters do not, makes the story more suspenseful rather than less so. And it gets increasingly exciting as our heroes approach their rendezvous with history.
A serious student of Irish history and a retired military officer, Kieran has loaded this tale with real people and historically accurate incidents. It's as if Holmes and his troupe had stepped into history, much like Zelig in the Woody Allen film of that title. And we all know that anything can be made just a little better with Holmes & Co. as part of it!
Kieran did something similar with the earlier Watson's Afghan Adventure and the later Sherlock Holmes and the Boer Wagon. All three war books are collected in a volume called Holmes and Watson: The War Years.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
|Jephro Rucastle and Violet Hunter|
A super sleuth cries out for a super villain to test his talents.
That’s why it took the first Master Criminal in crime fiction to (apparently) vanquish Sherlock Holmes. And small wonder that in “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” Holmes lamented that “London has become a singularly uninteresting city since the death of the late lamented Professor Moriarty.”
Despite the unending fascination evoked by the very name of Moriarty, however, the Canon is chock full of other great villains, both before and after Reichenbach. Several showed up in the dozen or so Holmes stories I reread recently in writing my talk on “Gothic Holmes” for the “Holmes, Doyle,& Friends Three” conference in Dayton next month.
Unlike the criminal in a whodunit, especially of the least-likely-person variety that dominated the Golden Age of mystery writing, the villain in a Gothic romance is often a menacing figure from the get-go. The mystery then revolves around not who but why or how or sometimes, as in “Shoscombe Old Place,” even what.
Who can ever forget the snarling Dr. Grimesby Roylott bending a poker and throwing it into the fireplace after exchanging a few pleasantries? “You are Holmes the meddler! Holmes the busybody! Holmes the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!” Holmes bending it back after Roylott has left is a priceless bit of theater.
But for sheer creepiness, my favorite villain is not Roylott, or that “most odious person” Jack Woodley in “The Solitary Cyclist,” or the “devil of a fellow” called Sir Robert Norberton in “Shoscombe.” No, the one who would keep me up at night is the smiling Jephro Rucastle in the highly Gothic “Adventure of the Copper Beaches.” Listen to him talk about his son:
“‘One child – one dear little romper just six years old. Oh, if you could see him killing cockroaches with a slipper! Smack! smack! smack! Three gone before you could wink!’ He leaned back his chair and laughed his eyes into his head again.”
Later, with his smile hardening into a grin of rage, Rucastle threatens to throw Violet Hunter to the mastiff. Miss Hunter describes her evil employer at that point as glaring down at her “with the face of a demon.”
He is no match for Moriarty in the scope of his crimes, but Alice Rucastle’s father is in his own twisted way every bit as evil.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
In the latest issue of The Baker Street Journal (Winter 2015), Jenn Eaker writes about why she loves The Hound of the Baskervilles and has read it again and again:
One reason is the Gothic horror of the novel. It's a ghost story set in a place where mists hide deadly traps on the moor, with a spectral dog who terrorizes a family over generations, with an escaped convict no one knows where to find and with scary sounds that scream through the night. "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" is unforgettable. Even Sir Henry points out, "I seem to have walked into the thick of a dime novel." And it makes sense that Arthur Conan Doyle would have written this particular story at this time. Victorians loved their penny dreadfuls and Gothic horror stories.The Gothic atmosphere and plotline of this beloved adventure on the moor are inescapable. But I'd never noticed, until my friend Amy Thomas of the Baker Street Babes called it to my attention, that "The Adventure of the Copper Beaches" is also Gothic - the woman in distress, the creepy house, the smiling villain, the deadly mastiff, the second woman in distress.
So then I looked closer and discovered that more than a dozen stories in the Canon have at least some Gothic elements. That will be the subject of my talk, "Gothic Holmes: Dark Shadows in the Canon" at Holmes, Doyle & Friends Three conference, April 15 and 16 in Dayton. Other speakers will include Davv Milner, Tracy Revels, Karen Murdoch, Vincent Wright, and Ann Siefker.
In this past this has been a great conference, so plan to be there. In fact, register now, either online or by mail.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
The last 23 years of Arthur Conan Doyle's life were among his most active. They included the Oscar Slater Case, The Lost World, the Great War, the embrace of spiritualism, campaigns for divorce reform and against women's suffrage, friendship and feud with Houdini, Sherlock Holmes on stage and screen, and the closing of the Canon.
Alistair Duncan misses none of that in No Better Place. Having covered ACD's Norwood years and his Undershaw years in earlier books, he details the great author's later adventures in this new one. The subtitle makes the scope of the 434-page volume clear: "Arthur Conan Doyle, Windlesham and Communication with the Other Side (1907-1930)."
The story begins with ACD coming back from his November 1907 honeymoon in France to a new home. He writes to his mother: "Saturday will bring us to Windlesham, where I shall live and die, I expect. No better place." He was right, for his home in the East Sussex village is where he died of a heart attack on the morning of July 7, 1930.
Duncan's well-research account of what happened in between those two events contains an impressive 422 footnotes, and yet reads very quickly. It's illustrated with dozens of photos, and bolstered at the back by a handy 20-page index. For a close look at the last two decades of an amzing life, there is no better book.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Since I have a library, not a collection, I find reference books about Sherlock Holmes and his world irresistible. Consequently, I have a lot of them. But none is quite like Christopher Redmond's new Lives Beyond Baker Street.
As the subtitle says, this is "A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes's Contemporaries." The indispensable Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana by the late Jack Tracy and other books offer brief entries on some of the people mentioned in the Canon. (Sarasate springs to mind.) But Redmond serves up mini-bios of 800 real-life Victorians and Edwardians.
As Redmond explains in his introduction: "These are the people about whom Watson read in the newspapers, the people Holmes might have encountered in the Marylebone Road, and people who made 1895 (and the surrounding years) what it was."
The organization of this 300-page book is a bit unusual for a biographical dictionary in that it proceeds in chronological order. Thus, the first entry is George Wombwell (born in 1777, mentioned in "The Veiled Lodger") and the last is Marjorie Kay (born in 1898 and acted in William Gillette's 1916 film "Sherlock Holmes."
"The time period I have tried to keep in mind is the years Sherlock Holmes is said to have been in professional practice, that is, from about 1880 to 1902," Redmond writes.
However, the exhaustive index - which includes not only those who are the subject of biographies but those mentioned in the bios of other people - is in alphabetical order.
I expect to refer to this book constantly in the coming years. But more than that, it's also tremendous fun to just browse through it.