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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Panoramic View of Conan Doyle

Michael Dirda, in his Edgar-winning 2012 book On Conan Doyle, says that the chapters in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Through the Magic Door “resemble good talk much more than they do explication de texte.” He could have said the same about On Conan Doyle itself.

This is an engaging, chatty romp through the life and literary output of ACD. I found in its pages almost nothing new to me, but much to admire.

Dirda, a Pulizer Prize winning literary journalists and long-time book columnist for The Washington Post – as well as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars! – has the good taste to recognize that ACD was not only a great story teller but a fine writer.

“Conan Doyle certainly stands unrivaled for crisp narrative economy,” he writes. “He achieves powerful and often highly poetic effects through a first-person prose that is plain, direct, frequently epigrammatic, and mysteriously ingratiating.” As an example, Dirda cites the wonderful opening paragraph of “A Scandal in Bohemia” as an example.

The greatness of Conan Doyle as a writer may seem as obvious to you as it does to me, but I was once on a Bouchercon panel where two American mystery writes advanced a contrary view as if it were a given.

Dirda calls Holmes “the Great Detective, the profession’s Platonic ideal” but lauds Watson as the perfect straight man. He cites Ronald Knox: “Any studies in Sherlock Holmes must be, first and foremost, studies in Dr. Watson.”

But this short book – about the size of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four – isn’t just about the great duo. It’s presents a panoramic view of Conan Doyle’s work. There is no part of that corpus that Dirda doesn’t admire (science fiction, historical fiction, adventure) and rightly so. On Conan Doyle seems quite a broad topic for so little a book, but it is quite an appropriate one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chaucer on Sherlock Holmes!

Geoffrey Chaucer, from 17th century portrait

April always reminds me of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" and Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." Both great poems mention this month in their opening lines, although they have very different views of it.

By happy coincidence, I just chanced across "Geoffrey Chaucer Describes Sherlock Holmes" by Robert N. Brodie in the December 1970 issue of The Baker Street Journal. It's character sketch of the great detective, put forward in a wonderful pastiche of Chaucer's style. With the permission of Steven Doyle, publisher of the BSJ, I share it with you in toto:
In London, so the tales by Watson tell,
There lived a wight named Holmes, to whom befell
Adventures all grotesque, bizarre and strange
From Mackleton in the North to Abbey Grange.
Little he knew about astronomy
Or Literature or e'en philosophy
And politics was never yet his forte
Though poisons knew he them of every sort.
His geologic lore was practical,
Profound his knowledge of the chemical.
At fisticuffs and single-stick, I hear,
As well as at the sword, he had no peer.
The British law he could full well construe
And of anatomy some facts he knew.
Keen was his mind, sharp as any blade,
And on a Stradivarius he played.
An energetic man in life's full prime
Was he; a walking calendar of crime
Who could from flaky ashes of cigar
Bring malefactor straight to Justice's bar.
Grey were his eyes and aquiline his nose,
Full early in the foggy dawn he rose
Because, as he remarked, "the game's afoot,"
So strove he to untangle questions moot.
He was much like a hound upon the scent
While on a case, yet took much merriment
In chaffing minister and duke and lord
Who sneered or doubted of his truthful word.
Little he cared if Earth went 'round the sun,
But only for the science of Deduction.
Treasure he rarely sought to get and hoard,
But rather his work its own reward.
Sixty times in tales each one immortal
He opened wide imagination's portal.
At last retiring to Sussex, hale and hearty,
Conqueror of that prince of crime, Moriarty.
All praise to this deductive gentleman.
We shall not ever see his like again.
Gems like this from long-past issues of the BSJ are a great reason to buy The e-Baker Street Journal. This is a single DVD that includes every issue of the publication from its inception in 1946 through 2001 in PDF format. That's 246 issues - an amazing 18,000 pages - fully searchable! For research, there's just nothing else like it.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Eliminate the Impossible

Eliminate the impossible. Then if nothing remains, some part of the "impossible" must be possible.
This epigram at the beginning of Rocket to the Morgue by H.H. Holmes is an early warning that the mystery novel has strong Sherlockian overtones. Other clues are the Holmes byline and the fact that the author was also known as Anthony Boucher, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Boucher is a character in his own book, and one who has a key role in the solution of a clever, engagingly written locked room mystery.

The Holmes-like epigram is attributed to Dr. Derringer, a science fiction character of Holmes-scale popularity. The son of Dr. Derringer's creator, whose life and living revolve around his father's literary estate, is a distinctly unpleasant man who gives no quarter when it comes to demanding royalty payments for use of the Dr. Derringer character.

His is Hilary Foulkes, but he strongly resembles Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's son Adrian.

When someone almost kills Foulkes in a room which no one else could have entered or exited, the only tears shed by the science fiction writers who populate the book are out of sadness at the killer's lack of success. But the body count is up to three by the final chapters. 

I've known about this 1942 novel for many years but never got around to reading it until recently. I'm grateful to my friend Jeff Marks for lending me a copy - a hardback first edition, no less, not the paperback shown above.

In this second (and unfortunately final) mystery novel featuring Sister Ursula of the Order of Martha of Bethany, the amateur sleuth seems to be on stage a little more than in the first, Nine Times Nine. She's an intriguing character, and I wish Holmes/Boucher had given her many more cases.

For fans of twenty-century science fiction, there's a bonus here: A number of the characters in Rocket to the Morgue are obviously based on big names of the genre, including Robert A. Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Three-Ark Problem

Like most avid readers, I have a large "to read" pile. Often, when I finally get to a book that has been long on the stack, I think to myself, "Why did I wait so long?" Such was the case with Sherlock Holmes and Young Winston: The Giant Moles.

This is the third in a fine trilogy of books about an adolescent Winston Churchill under the care of Holmes and Watson at Baker Street. Like the first two, it's a fun and fine read. There are (spoiler) no giant moles, despite the holes that make it look like there are. But there are three intriguing storylines united in the end, and three kinds of ark. You might call this a three-ark problem.

Watson is more rebellious and the humor even pawkier than in the Canon, which makes for a lot of fun. For example:

              I sniffed. "You should be on the boards, Holmes. You have a flair for the dramatic."
              "My Hamlet was very well received at school."
              "I was thinking more of amateur conjuring at the music hall."

In addition to humor, there is a lot of good action, including a scene in a hot air balloon.

A number of familiar characters from the Canon make their appearance, including young Stamford, Col. Sebastian Moran, and the man Watson refers to as "the General Gordon of crime."    

Sherlock Holmes and Young Winston: The Giant Moles  is available from all good bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon and Barnes and Noble, in the UK Amazon, Waterstones . Fans outside the US and UK can get free delivery from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks(iPad/iPhone).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holmes Before Watson

Life is a labyrinthine web wherein one event taking place over here has repercussions over there, affecting relationships down the line. Relationships may be fragile, broken as easily as they were formed, but often they impact a life in so many ways unseen. You see, there is so much more to be learned about Sherlock Holmes than that which has been written . . . as even you, Mycroft, are about to discover.
Those lines from the prologue of When the Song of the Angels is Stilled make an implicit promise which is fulfilled in a most satisfactory fashion. 
This novel of the young Holmes before Watson is in part a retelling of "The 'Gloria Scott'," but only a small part. There's also a subplot about a gruesome criminal enterprise involving babies. But, most of all, there is romance. This is, in fact, essentially a fine romance novel about Sherlock Holmes.
"I like adaptations to be period-perfect and somewhat rigidly and canonically exact," A. S. Croyle writes in an "Author's Note." "Thus, in this novel, I do not attempt to narrate in John Watson’s voice and deliberately place the novel in a 'Before Watson' time period, so that replication of his voice is not an issue."

Instead, the narrator is Priscilla "Poppy" Stamford, sister to "young Stamford" of A Study in Scarlet, and fiance to Holmes's college friend Victor Trevor. It is her dog who bites Holmes on the ankle. An aspiring physician in Victorian England, Poppy is inevitably a strong-willed character. Thus watching her fall in love with the equally strong-willed - and emotion-shy - young Sherlock is fascinating.

We know the relationship is not going to end well because we know the detective's future doesn't include Poppy. That adds to the suspense rather than killing it, and prepares us for a very moving ending.  

The author writes out of a deep knowledge of the Canon. Sly references to familiar characters and other stories abound. Reginald Musgrave, John Watson, Shinwell Johnson, Stanley Hopkins (Sr.) and others we have met before make welcome appearances, along with the not-yet-notorious Oscar Wilde.

Happily,  the epilogue opens the door for more "Before Watson" adventures.  I look forward to them.

When the Song of the Angels is Stilled: A Before Watson Novel is available for pre-order from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers

Technology and scholarship have combined to produce a book that belongs on the shelves of every serious Sherlockian.

Mattias Boström and Matt Laffey used online newspaper archives to search papers from around the world and compile a large sampling of articles for Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers, Volume I 1881-1892 (Gasogene Books, $32.95.)

The articles include both news stories and reviews. It’s fascinating to see what reviewers had to say about Holmes and his author in their early years. A Study in Scarlet, which appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of December 1887, received more press than I had thought – although the reviewers then (and later) often got the author’s name wrong.

“He is a wonderful man is Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” The Glasgow Herald wrote on December 17, 1887, adding that “one cannot lay down the narrative until the end is reached.” Just three years and one more Holmes novel later, The Pittsburgh Dispatch hailed Holmes in 1890 as “the best detective we know of in any of the detective stories.”   

Over the next several years, newspapers commented – almost always favorably – on individual Holmes stories as they appeared in The Strand. One of the few negative voices was the Chicago Herald reviwer who wrote on Oct. 25, 1891 that “Sherlock Holmes will never compare with Monsieur Dupin.” 

In the Dec. 28, 1891 number of The Scotsman, a reviewer compared a detective named Mr. Calvin Sugg unfavorably to Sherlock Holmes. The editors note in an insightful footnote: “Appearing in just six short stories to date, the Great Detective was becoming the definitive yardstick by which all other detectives both literary and real) were to be measured.” 

Interestingly, Conan Doyle’s historical romances, which he thought overshadowed by Sherlock Holmes, were widely and often favorably reviewed before Holmes took off. “No abler historical novel has been published for many a day than Micah Clarke by A.Conan Doyle,” opined The Sunday Chronicle of San Francisco on June 30, 1889.  That sentiment was widely shared. The reaction to The White Company was more mixed.

Later volumes in this series should prove to be at least as interesting, if not more so. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how the newspapers treated “The Final Problem.” Meanwhile, you can order the first volume from Wessex Press.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sherlock Holmes & Mr. Spock

The death of Leonard Nimoy, best known as Star Trek's Mr. Spock, resonated with Sherlockians for obvious reasons: Spock was Holmes-like in his emotionless logic, and Nimoy famously played the title role in a 1976 national tour of William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes.

But I find it surprising that the Spock-Holmes/Nimoy-Holmes axis was seen and foreseen by the late science fiction great Poul Anderson, a Baker Street Irregular, while the original Star Trek series will still in its first run on the small screen.

In an article called "The Archetypical Holmes" in the September 1968 edition of The Baker Street Journal, Anderson argued persuasively that Holmes was an archetype in a strict sense - an original pattern from which many near-copies sprang. Near the end of the article, he wrote:

"I wish to point out that one science fiction personality, who has seized the mass imagination as no other has done, is pure Holmes. I refer to Mr. Spock on the television show Star Trek."

Anderson cites several reasons why he thinks this is true, and then says: "Spock exasperates his less intellectual companions, but usually meets their sarcasms with a ready and biting wit. At the same time, he is athletic, cool and capable in danger. He is withdrawn, austere, philosophical and, as played by Leonard Nimoy, allowing for the uniform and the pointed ears, presents an excellent physical image for Holmes . . .

"When Star Trek finally goes off the air, which I hope will not be for a long while, Leonard Nimoy will be looking for a new role. I suggest that he is the perfect successor to Basic Rathbone, and that you write to the networks and movie companies saying so. I further suggest that his popularity is another hopeful sign. The girls of today who adore this near 200-proof Holmes archetype will be the mothers of tomorrow. They, their husbands, and their children may well create a new age of Victoria."

Well, that didn't happen, nor did the original Star Trek stay on the air a long time. But Nimoy did play Holmes. And yet he never stopped being Spock.
For more on Sherlock Holmes - Star Trek crossovers, check out "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Another Winner in Dayton

Jacquelynn Bost Morris on poisons; the crowd was bigger than it looks

Holmes, Doyle & Friends: Two, held last weekend (March 20-21) in Dayton, Ohio, proved that the high quality of last year's seminar was no fluke.

Sponsored by the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, this year's program - successor to the long-running Holmes/Doyle Symposium in Dayton hat was not sponsored by the Treasurers, offered a parade of engaging and erudite speakers whose primary purpose seemed to be having fun with the Canon.

Philip K. Jones analyzed why the Sherlock Holmes stories are uniquely popular. Jacquelynn Bost Morris, ASH, BSI, looked at the clues and symptoms which indicate that Anna Coram didn't really die as assumed in "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez." Bill Cochran, BSI, theorized that the real groom at the wedding of Irene Adler was Holmes himself!

David Miller discussed snakes in the Canon in a way designed to evoked titters. Vincent Wright energetically surveyed the hangmen of the Victorian period, lingering over several ghoulishly humorous incidents of botched executions. Lorraine Reibert offered her opinion that the blue carbuncle was actually a Kashmir sapphire. Bill Mason, BSI, closed out the seminar with a fascinating look at Latin Americans in the Canon, and how Arthur Conan Doyle's later work was likely influenced by a Frenchman's book about Central America.

Two social events, an opening-night reception and a banquet on Saturday, served as bookends for the more formal program.

Mark your calendar for Holmes, Doyle & Friends: Three in 2016. Meanwhile, it's not too late to sign up for perhaps the premier annual Holmes symposium - A Scintillation of Scions VIII, coming in June in Maryland. Check it out!  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Look for it - Coming in May!

London, 1924: When Alfie Barrington is stabbed to death outside his club, suspicion quickly falls on his widow, the lovely Sarah – and on her former beau, Enoch Hale. The American journalist has an alibi, but he doesn’t know her name and Scotland Yard can’t find her.

Determined to solve this case without the help of his friend Sherlock Holmes, Hale launches and investigation that brings him into contact with Leonard and Virginia Woolf, bohemian writers and publishers; P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster; Howard Carter, discoverer of King Tut’s tomb; and one of the greatest mystery writers of all time.

A second murder sparks journalistic speculation of a curse related to Alfie’s time in Egypt as a competitor of Carter and his patron, Lord Carnarvon. Hale doesn’t buy that, but he doesn’t come up with a better solution until it is almost too late. And in the end, it is once again Sherlock Holmes who puts it all together.

This exciting historical mystery concludes the Enoch Hale – Sherlock Holmes trilogy that began with The Amateur Executioner and continued with The Poisoned Penman