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, May 5, 2021

When Close is Good Enough

I love facsimile editions.

Even though I don’t have a collector gene that causes me to acquire a lot of first editions of rare or significant books (although I own a few), I enjoy the experience of reading a treasured book in an edition that looks just the one the first readers would have read.

I’m happy to have in my library facsimiles of the Beeton’s Christmas Annual  appearance of A Study in Scarlet and the first book edition of The Sign of Four. And, like many Sherlockians, I have multiple books reprinting the old Strand magazines with Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve found these facsimile editions not only fun to read, but useful for research on variant wordings.

For example, did you ever notice that it’s Baker-street not Baker Street in the Holmes stories as published in  The Strand? It is, and that usage was picked up in the first book publication The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by George Newnes in 1982.

I know that because I recently picked up a boxed set of Adventures and Memoirs in facsimile editions. These paperback volumes were published by A&W Visual Library in 1975. I often re-read the Canon in my facsimiles of the Strand, but next time around I plan to encounter the first stories just as the first readers of these books did.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The "Real" Sherlock Holmes? Enough already!


The late Trevor H. Hall devoted 21 pages of his book Sherlock Holmes and His Creator to well-trod path of trying to figure out who was the “real” Holmes. That is, and always was, a fool’s errand.

Hall begins the chapter by poking holes in Michael Harrison’s bizarre theory, unveiled in 1971, that Conan Doyle was inspired to create the world’s first consulting detective by reading about a German private inquiry agent working in London. The agent, Wendel Scherer, called himself a “professional consulting detective.”

Scherer’s name made its way into the London newspaper in 1882 in connection with his unsuccessful efforts a missing person’s case, a matter which Harrison professed to have some similarities to the Enoch Drebber murder in A Study in Scarlet.

After demolishing the notion that the character of Sherlock Holmes owed anything to the hapless Scherer, Hall goes on to consider whether Holmes was in some sense “really” Dr. Joseph Bell or Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

Adrian Conan Doyle, one of the author’s playboy sons, was much invested in proving the latter. He claimed in an interview that Bell once wrote to his father, “you are yourself Sherlock Holmes, and well you know it.” Notably, Adrian apparently first made this often-quoted claim decades after his father’s death, and he never published the letter itself.

But it doesn’t really matter. As I wrote in my essay on “The Royal Mallows: Irish Regiments in the British Army” in Corporals, Colonels, and Commissionaires: “The truth is that Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Joseph Bell and given life by Arthur Conan Doyle. He has traits of both men, and but he is neither. As a fully realized character, he transcends his models.”

My own experience as a writer of mystery fiction tells me that the notion of characters being “based on” real people is overly simplistic and highly misleading. Once they hit the printed page, fictional creations take on a life of their own.

Only one chapter of Sherlock Holmes and His Creator really resonated with me. Michele  Lopez, my Italian friend who appears on Facebook as John Sebastian Moran, drew my attention to the one on “Thomas Stearns Eliot and Sherlock Holmes.” In it, Hall fully details the many connections between the world first consulting detective and the man I regard as the greatest poet of the 20th century. For me, that was worth the price of admission.  

But the “real” Sherlock Holmes is . . . Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Complete Paget Holmes

I spent a wonderful weekend with Sidney Paget, my favorite illustrators of Sherlock Holmes.

The Complete Paget Portfolio, by Nicholas Utechin, brings together for the first time all 356 illustrations Paget produced for the 38 Holmes stories published before his untimely death in 1908 at the age of 47. But it has much more than that.

In addition to the reproductions from The Strand magazine, this plus-size volume also includes photographs of 23 story illustrations and three portraits of Holmes that Paget drew for other purposes. To see the amazing quality of the originals is to wish for 356 of them, but Utechin rounded up images of all but four originals whose whereabouts are unknown. The search took him to eleven individuals and a number of institutions. 

But this is not just a book of illustrations. Utechin's commentaries add immeasurably to the appreciation and enjoyment of the original drawings. Of the drawing above, from "Silver Blaze," he writes:

In this, perhaps the most iconic of the Sidney Paget Sherlock Holmes illustrations, he has made the pair less cramped than in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" railway carriage picture, and has helped Watson's image rather more this time around. His use of white to highlight Watson's trousers and the left side of his coat, as well as providing gloss to the arm rests is most successful. Holmes is leaving, breathing, intense, with long fingers. The Naumann engraving takes nothing away from the original -- very sharp and accurate.

As an added bonus, Utechin provides photos of Paget's magnifying glass and hunting crop (both of which he owns), as well as a wicker chair said to be his. All of these items were models for his Holmes illustrations. 

"A good knowledge of Paget's work, it seems to me, is an integral part of being a Sherlockian," Utechin writes in the introduction. I heartily agree. I don't say this often, but The Complete Paget Portfolio belongs be in every Sherlockian's library. It's available here from Wessex Press.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Books on the Square is Worth a Visit

A tiny portion of the Sherlockian fare at Books on the Square

If you ever chance to find yourself near (i.e., two hours or less away from) the west-central Illinois town of Virden, population 3,354, be sure to stop at  Books on the Square. 

The store's flyer tells you that it:

  • Is the largest bookstore in the state, at least south of Springfield;
  • Occupies three contiguous buildings full of books at 153, 157, and 167 E. Jackson Street; 
  • Has more than 50,000 books "reasonably well organized by subjects of all types.

What it doesn't tell you is that hundreds of those books are about Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Many of them belonged to a deceased collector. 

Even a Sherlockian who is not a collector needs to add books to his research library. I did so last Thursday at Books on the Square, spending a delightful hour or so with owners John and Jeannie Alexander. I made a few purchases, which no doubt will find their way onto this blog in coming weeks.

And I will find my way back to Books on the Square sooner rather than later. I think I left behind a few books that want me to buy them.   

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Hints of Holmes in The White Company

When I mentioned to Nick Meyer that I had never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company, his response was a blank stare and, “Excuse me?”

Now that I’m into the novel, considered by ACD himself to be one of his best, I understand Nick’s dismay. This book is a rollicking adventure of knightly derring-do during the Hundred Years War, yet not as far removed from the world of Sherlock Holmes as you might think.    

In Chapter X, we find Sir Nigel Loring saying, “You see, dear heart, that they will not leave the old dog in his kennel when the game is afoot.” And two chapters later we read, “Fast spread the tidings, from Thorpe to Thorpe and from castle to castle, that the old game was afoot once more . . .”

Sherlock Holmes, of course, famously cries at the beginning of “The Abbey Grange”: “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.” That is the only time he quotes (or, rather, misquotes by not using a contraction) Shakespeare’s Henry IV: Part One, Act I, Scene 3, although Watson speaks of the game being afoot in “Wisteria Lodge.” The phrase is used in approximately 95 percent of all pastiches, however, to the point where it is become a cliché.  

Encounter “the game is afoot” in the great novel of knighthood struck a familiar note for me. So, I immediately went to my Sherlockian library and found a monograph on “Hints of Holmes in The White Company” by Bill Mason, printed as an 8-page pamphlet. I think I inherited it from Joel Senter.

Beyond the game being afoot, Bill’s monograph deals with bitterns on the moor in Chapter IV (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles), a reference to “Holmesley glades” in Chapter XII (leading to a discussion of Sherlock and Mycroft’s country ancestors), the annulets of the Musgraves in Chapter XXXIII, and parallels between Sherlock Holmes and the heroic Sir John Chandos, he of the hawk-like face and high aquiline nose.

And one more hint of Holmes hit me in reading the book – the brief appearance in Chapter XV “a crooked man”!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Finding Holmes Away from Home

Sherlock Holmes isn’t everywhere; it’s just us.

I’m kidding, of course. He really is everywhere. Recently we saw him at an eclectic gift shop in wonderful Beaufort, S.C., called Finder’s Keepers. The iconic image of the Master appears on a sign outside the building, on the manager’s business cards, and on this front door:

We were visiting South Carolina on vacation, staying on Fripp Island. While there, we picked up a paper called Low Country Weekly. In that particular mid-March edition was a story about Gracyn Kenyon, an 18-year-old senior at John Paul II Catholic School near Beaufort. She’s the school’s first National Merit Senior Finalist. And the story notes:

At the Kenyon’s home, Gracyn had access to a collection of Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“It was there, something I could grab off the shelf,” she said. “It would draw me to it, the fact that it was prevalent in popular culture.”

The Sherlock Holmes books struck a chord with Gracyn Kenyon, beginning her love for legal history.

We couldn’t even avoid Holmes on the beach. Something I saw there reminded me of “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.”

Where have you found Holmes away from home? 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Essential Young Stamford

Holmes meets Watson by George Hutchinson

The focus on A Study in Scarlet at Saturday’s meeting of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis had me thinking about the most important person in the Canon, even though he only appears once and briefly.

I refer, of course, to young Stamford.

“Without him, we wouldn’t be here today,” Illustrious Client Louise Haskett observed in her toast to the dresser under Watson at St. Barts. “We may not know his first name, but we owe him so, so much.”

Stamford – most likely not Archie Stamford, the forger in “The Solitary Cyclist” – appears in just six pages of the original Beeton’s Christmas Annual appearance of the novel. Although he has quite a few lines of dialogue, the most import of them are: “Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” If he hadn’t made this introduction, we wouldn’t have the Canon.

(The same could be said for Watson’s orderly, Murray, throwing him across a pack horse and taking him safely to the British lines. But Murray is just a name; not a character in the story as Stamford is.)

Watson isn’t just a foil. Holmes calls the good doctor his partner in “The Red-Headed League” and “Charles Augustus Milverton,” so we know Watson isn’t stretching it when he refers to their partnership in “The Norwood Builder” and “The Three Garridebs.” While the great detective was the senior partner, Watson is as essential to Holmes as Archie Goodwin is to Nero Wolfe.  

Let’s engage in a thought experiment: What would have happened if Holmes and Watson had never met?

Pat Ward, in her toast to Dr. Watson at the Illustrious Clients gathering, speculated that Holmes would have been lost to cocaine addiction and Watson would have killed himself out of depression. That’s possible. And this is for sure:

  •  Holmes is lost without his Boswell, as he says in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
  • Watson is lost without his Holmes, as we see in the opening scenes of “The Empty House.”   
  • We are all lost without Watson telling the story, especially in “The Mazarine Stone,” “The Blanched Soldier,” and “The Lion’s Mane.”

No wonder Young Stamford has given his name to a BSI investiture and a scion society, the Younger Stamfords!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

A.J. Raffles and Sherlock Holmes

“Though he might be more humble, there is no police like Holmes.”

E. W. Hornung, Arthur Conan Doyle’s friend and brother-in-law, is almost as famous for this witticism as for his creation of A.J. Raffles, the archetypical gentleman thief. But only almost. The Raffles stories are still widely read today.

As Conan Doyle observed, “Raffles was a kind of inversion of Sherlock Holmes, Bunny” – Raffles’s narrator and partner-in-crime – “playing Watson.” Horning dedicated the first Raffles  book, The Amateur Cracksman, “To ACD This Form of Flattery.”

I recently read all 25 Raffles short stories. I observed similarities, differences, and cross-connections with the Holmes Canon.

Most obviously, both series are about two men in late Victorian England whose adventures are narrated by the junior partner of the team. Added to that, Raffles is an expert at disguise, apparently dies but comes back, and faces a villain he calls “the professor” (although he isn’t one). Less importantly, Raffles and Bunny enjoy the Turkish bath on Northumberland Street as much as Holmes and Watson and have an adventure that involves the City and Suburban Bank, which is featured in “The Red-headed League.”

The stories in the first two Raffles books, The Amateur Cracksman and The Black Mask, are in strict chronological order. No chronologists needed here! The third volume, A Thief in the Night, is backfill that takes place at various times earlier, but usually placed in reference to an earlier story. Obviously, this is much different from the Canon, which is a chronological nightmare.

But the biggest difference between the two protagonists, of course, is that Raffles is a thief. Holmes is a burglar five times over by my count, but never to line his own pockets. The moralistic ACD objected to Raffles in his autobiography. “You must not make the criminal a hero,” he wrote.

Ultimately, however, the life of crime is far from glamorized in Hornung’s tales. Consider: Raffles, who is often without money, is caught and disgraced, exiled, tortured to the degree that his hair turns white, and ultimately dies in the Boer War. Bunny, meanwhile, goes to prison, loses the love of his life, and is constantly wracked by pangs of conscience.

Raffles may be an inversion of Holmes, but in the end his saga teaches the same lesson as the Canon: Crime Does Not Pay.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Military in the World of Sherlock Holmes

Although we are the proud parents of an Air Force master sergeant, I know next to nothing about the military. So I have no idea why I was asked to write an essay for Corporals, Colonels, and Commissionaires: The Military and the Sherlockian Canon, but I’m glad that I was.

My assignment for the book, part of the Baker Street Irregulars Professions Series, was to write about “The Royal Mallows: Irish Regiments in the British Army.” With a lot of help from Bill Mason, the original co-editor of the book, I dove into the topic and became fascinated.

Irish regiments have been part of the British Army since the late 17th century. To research them is to learn a lot about the Anglo-Irish, which I did. But the particular focus of my essay is the regiment called “The Royal Mallows” in the British editions of “The Crooked Man.”

In the American editions, including the Doubleday Complete, the regiment is called the Royal Munsters, which is a real regiment. But there is no Royal Mallows, and much ink has been spilled trying to identify it with the Munsters or one of the other four southern Irish regiments. I go in a different direction in my essay, which I won’t spoil for you.

The range of other topics in the book is impressive, and the essays interesting: Monica Schmidt on military wives in 19th Century colonial India, Jayantika Ganguly on the British military in India, Daniel Stashower on Conan Doyle and the military, Bill Mason on Watson’s military service, Regina Stinson on “The Blanched Soldier,” Catherine Cooke on those mysterious individuals in the Canon called “commissionaires,” and much more.

Corporals, Colonels and Commissionaires, edited by Michael J. Quigley, BSI, and Marsha Pollak, BSI, is available from the Baker Street Irregulars. Click here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A SIGN of Controversy

Even Sherlockians disagree at times, and always have.

Did Sherlock Holmes have a romantic relationship with Irene Adler? (No way.) Is “Martha” in “His Last Bow” Mrs. Hudson? (See previous.)

And is the second Holmes novel The Sign of the Four or The Sign of Four? Let’s look at the facts.

The novel first appeared as The Sign of the Four in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in February 1890. And that is the way the phrase appears within the text itself. According to Randall Stock's manuscript inventory at www.bestofsherlock.com, "Conan Doyle later shortened the title to simply The Sign of Four." The British and American first book editions used the shorter version, but even a modest-size Sherlockian library inevitably has multiple examples of both titles.

Christopher Morley, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, preferred The Sign of the Four and used that version of the title in his annotated anthology, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship. Edgar W. Smith, his successor, did likewise in what is often considered the BSI edition of the Canon from Heritage Press.

William S. Baring-Gould’s groundbreaking Annotated Sherlock Holmes followed their example, although the estimable Leslie I. Klinger’s New Annotated doesn’t.

Morley, Smith, and Baring-Gould constitute a formidable trio on one side of the controversy, but their street cred is more than balanced out by three gentlemen on the other side: Watson, Holmes, and Conan Doyle.

In the original Strand magazine publication of the stories, Dr. Watson calls his second book The Sign of Four in “A Case of Identity” and “The Five Orange Pips;” Sherlock Holmes does so “The Cardboard Box” and “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk.” Arthur Conan Doyle used the shorter version of the title in Chapter VIII of his Memories and Adventures.

Case closed! It’s The Sign of Four.

But if you disagree, I respect your opinion.