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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, June 29, 2016

Delightful Discourse on Sherlockian Subjects


“He (Sherlock Holmes) spoke on a quick succession of subjects . . .” The Sign of the Four

Christopher Redmond, who was invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (“Billy”) fully 50 years ago, continues to add to our insights on and enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, he seems especially prolific of late.

(Full disclosure: I have contributed a chapter to his upcoming book About Sixty, in which 60 authors explain why each Sherlock Holmes story is the best.)  

A Quick Succession of Subjects from Gasogene Books, one of Redmond's two books published this year (so far) is a delightful anthology of 27 of his lectures and speeches about the Great Detective, delivered from 1978 to 2015. As a side benefit, many approach their topic from a distinctly Canadian viewpoint.

Redmond not only sees, but he observes. And his shared observations have made me look in new ways at stories that I have been reading almost as long as he has.

From these talks I learned, for example, that “The Bascombe Valley Mystery” is a near perfect Holmes story in the sense that it contains nine of the eleven typical features identified by Ronald A. Knox; that The Sign of the Four is essentially a love story; and that the American half of A Study in Scarlet is a Western (the world’s first).

Redmond’s chapter on Sherlock Holmes and religion – a riff on G.K. Chesterton’s observation that Holmes was not a real person; “he was only a god” – treats the subject with the seriousness it deserves. (You can read a lot of nonsense on the topic, but not here.)

A Quick Succession of Subjects is not, however, a ponderous tome. Each of the 27 chapters was written, and written well, to be spoken aloud. They move quickly and smoothly. That brings me to one of my favorite of these talks, “Advice from Professor Moriarty on the Presentation of Sherlockian Papers.”

The Moriarty connection is a bit of a stretch, but the advice Redmond draws from what he perceives as the professor’s lecture technique is pure gold. It’s all common sense, but what is rarer – and therefore more valuable – these days than common sense? First of all, Redmond suggests mildly that the “Can you hear me at the back?” or “Is this thing on?” is not the best way to begin a talk. Who among doesn’t feel the pain behind that good counsel?


I’ve not had what I know would be the great pleasure of hearing Redmond talk, but this book is the next best thing.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

In the Indiana Footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle

The Arthur Conan Doyle monument at Union Station, Indianapolis
I recently walked in the footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle – and I did it without leaving the Midwestern United States.

Although I live in Cincinnati, one of the Baker Street Irregulars scion societies to which I belong is the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, about 115 miles away from my home. One of the club’s regular summer activities is a field trip to some site with a Sherlockian college.

Last Saturday, Steve Doyle, the Illustrious Client, led the club on a walking tour of places Conan Doyle visited on his 1894 visit to Indianapolis during a lecture tour. (His next stop on that tour was Cincinnati.)

We started at Union Station, the former railroad station where ACD arrived in town. The Clients placed a monument to the visit on its 100th anniversary in 1994. Featuring an image of Conan Doyle at the age he was during the visit, it’s the only monument to the creator of Sherlock Holmes in this country. The monument was paid for with the profits from a book of essays, The Illustrious Clients’ Third Case Book.

Over the next couple of hours, we saw the former site of the Denison Hotel, where the author stayed; the Plymouth Congregational Church, where he lectured; the still-existing Soldiers and Sailors Monument, where he (and some of the Clients) climbed to the top for a great view of the city; and the former site of the Claypool Courts Hotel, where he stayed during his 1923 visit.

After lunch, the field trip departed to the preserved home of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, who admired ACD and stuck to him like a shadow during his first brief visit to Indiana.

So if you’ve ever wondered what Sherlock Holmes societies do, sometimes – just like the great detective on a case – they go out and visit the scene. 

Intrepid Illustrious Clients begin their field trip
 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Speckled Band: Debunking the Scholars

Tim Greer for the defense! 
For nearly a century, surveys asking critics and readers – including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself – to rank the Sherlock Holmes stories have consistently put “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” at the top. 

And for just as long, scholars have pointed to what they scorned as a laundry list of flaws in the story. Tainted by their views, I didn’t give “the Band” serious consideration when asked recently to name my favorite Holmes story, the best Holmes story, and the strongest Holmes story. 

But the estimable Timothy Greer, BSI, speaking at A Scintillation of Scions in the Baltimore area on June 11, massively destroyed the objections to this fine story. Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version of Tim’s rejoinders to several of the familiar cavils: 

Snakes don’t have ears, are therefore deaf, and the Band could not have heard Dr. Roylott’s whistle. This just isn’t true. Snakes have internal ears and pick up sound vibrations.  

Baboons and cheetahs don’t exist in India. During Dr. Roylott’s tenure in the subcontinent, India was a much larger country which even included what is now Burma. Animals resembling (and referred to as) baboons were found within those borders. And the Indian cheetah, extinct in its homeland for seventy years now, was plentiful in the 1880’s. 

The snake could not have lived in an air-tight safe. Nowhere does the text say the safe was air-tight. As Tim pointed out, the safes in which Houdini was immersed in water poured H2O when they were lifted into the air. 

Milk is fatal to snakes. Yes, but Holmes doesn’t say the snake drank milk. He says that Roylott trained the snake “probably by the use of the milk which we saw” – a very different thing. 

There is no such thing as a swamp adder. No, but the Russell’s viper is the very image of the Speckled Band and merits the title of “the deadliest snake in India.” 

This masterful debunking of smirking critics hasn’t pushed “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” to the top of my own list of favorite Holmes stories, but it has increased my respect for the tale and will heighten my enjoyment next time I read it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In the Island of "Uffa"

Fingal's Cave. Photo by Steve Winter
One of the more famous "untold tales" of Sherlock Holmes (or Dr. Watson) is that of "the singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa" (FIVE), which took place in 1887.

Since Uffa appears on no map, its real identity has long been a matter of speculation since the dawn of Sherlockian scholarship. Upon recently visiting the island of Staffa in Scotland's Inner Hebrides, I became convinced that the Grice Paterson's had preceded us.

Staffa is probably best known as the site of Fingal's Cave, which inspired Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. The cave is undoubtedly where the singular adventures took place. Why else would they have taken place in the island, rather than on it?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Statue of Great Stature


The tie is not my clan tartan, but it looked Scottish enough! 
Great men and women inspire great statutes. I’ve had the good fortune to see three great statues of Sherlock Holmes in person.

 

Earlier on this blog I’ve written about visiting the statues of Holmes in Meiringen,Switzerland, in 2008 and London in 2012 with my wife and another couple. Maintaining the four-year pattern, this year at the end of May we made a courtesy call on the statue in Edinburgh, just across the street from where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born.

 

I found the monument quite satisfactory. To me it’s a good Holmes. It doesn’t look exactly like any other representation of Holmes on state, screen, or printed page, and to me that’s a good thing.

 

Curiously, the plaque at the base of the statue - donated to the city of Edinburgh in 1991 by the Federation of Master Builders - memorializes not Holmes but Conan Doyle.  So does a nearby pub, The Conan Doyle. We’ve also dined at the Sherlock Holmes Pub in London and Sherlock in Meiringen. I’m happy to report that all three are well worth the visit, with both food and Sherlockian artifacts that are worth attention.

 

A curious side note: Our waiter a few days later in Oban, Scotland, told us that he was from Edinburgh and the Conan Doyle had been his local pub as a young man. He then informed us that Conan Doyle was a murderer who killed a rival and stole his plot! And I don’t think he believed me when I told him that this was a crackpot theory that no serious scholar credits.   



 

 

 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Compleat Pastiche Writer



“Try it yourself,” Dr. Watson told Sherlock Holmes when the latter complained about the good doctor’s accounts of their adventures. Holmes did so twice with, it is generally agreed, rather lamentable results.

Literally thousands of other writers also have produced their own Sherlock Holmes stories, usually with even more lamentable results. But now comes Leah Guinn with Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure ofthe Blank Page, an invaluable guide for budding pastiche writers.

As one who has written both Sherlock Holmes stories and an essay on how to write pastiches (you can find both in “The Peculiar Persecution of John VincentHarden”), I found this 62-page entry in the John H. Watson Society’s MonographSeries to be an excellent guide to the craft.

Ms. Guinn manages to be both academically rigorous (28 footnotes) and intensely practical. She begins with a survey of the field, neatly categorizing various kinds of Holmes stories in “A Field Guide to Common Pastiches.” Full disclosure: She very kindly mentions my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries in the “Guest Starring Sherlock Holmes” category.

The sections on “Getting Started,” “Using the Canon in Your Pastiche” (even highly uncanonical ones), “Research in Your Pastiche,” and “Plot in Your Pastiche” (i.e., The Watson Formula, as fist outlined by Msgr. Ronald Knox), are all excellent.

My favorite section, however, is “Characterization in Your Pastiche.” In just two pages, Ms. Guinn nicely sets out some essential elements of our dynamic duo’s characters that no pasticheur should distort – but many do. For example: “Watson is a ladies’ man, but he is always a gentleman.” And I love this sage advice: “Whatever you do, don’t alter character solely to further the plot or dialogue.” Are you getting that, people?

Ms. Guinn’s last writing section, before she deals with the practicalities of publication, is called “Editing: More Fun Than You Might Think.” That is actually true. I wish that more pastiche writers would do it!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Through the Year With Sherlock Holmes


One of the most delightfully frustrating problems for reviewer is to run of superlatives. That’s the obstacle facing me in trying to discuss A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmesby Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney.

Accurately described on the back as an almanac, an encyclopedia, and more, it might also be called a daybook. For every day of the year there is at least one entertaining, enlightening, and thoroughly enjoyable entry related in some way to Sherlock Holmes.

Naturally, many of the entries are pinned to dates of events – events in the Canon, historical events referenced in the Canon, events in the life Arthur Conan Doyle and people associated with him, and events in the history of the Baker Street Irregulars or Sherlockiana in general.

Other entries, perhaps just as many, are birthdays of historical figures mentioned in the Canon; actors, writers, and illustrators associated with Sherlock Holmes; relatives, friends, and associates of ACD; and perhaps some others I have missed.

On May 22, for example, we find not only the expected entry for ACD, but one for Richard Wagner, who was also born on that date. The Sherlockian link to the German composer? Holmes was eager to hear one of his operas at Covent Garden in “The Adventure of the Red Circle.”

Because the book is full of episodes from ACD’s life at various dates, the authors hit upon the happy idea of offering in his birthday entry 10 little-known facts about Arthur Conan Doyle. My favorite is #4: “He did not like corn on the cob.” I love the uselessness of this tidbit. And it was revealed by The Cincinnati Enquirer during ACD’s 1894 visit to my home town!

Other highlights:

·         The admirable entry on John H. Watson, M.D., appropriately noting that he is “more than Holmes’s loyal Boswell,” begins on page 221. There are no coincidences.

·         Speaking of coincidences, and biographies of two great American mystery writers and Sherlockians – John Dickson Carr and Rex Stout – appear on facing pages under their respective birthdates of Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Stout also gets attention on March 1, the date of his infamous “Watson Was a Woman” speech at the 1941 Baker Street Irregulars dinner.

·         As a member of the Vatican Cameos, a scion society of the BSI for Catholic Sherlockians, I was gratified by the March 2 entry on Pope Leo XIII, the only person other than the official police known to have been a client of Sherlock Holmes more than once.

Usually when I find a reference book invaluable, I say that it belongs on your shelves. This one, however, begins on your nightstand so that you can begin or end your day with the appropriate entry or entries.


For a charming interview with both authors, check out Episode #95 of the I Hear ofSherlock Everywhere podcast. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Favorite, Best, Strongest - and Their Opposites



Last week’s meeting of the Illustrious Clients, the Indianapolis scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, featured a new activity: Member Meredith Granger asked several other of us members of name their favorite and least favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as their opinion as to the best, worst, strongest, and weakest.

 

Here are my selections, with the reasons:

 

FAVORITE STORY

“His Last Bow”

  • Strong beginning and ending paragraphs
  • Beautifully written throughout
  • Touching relationship between Holmes and Watson
  • A view of Holmes and Watson post-retirement, far from 1895  

LEAST FAVORITE STORY

“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone”

  • Count Sylvius and Sam Merton are the weakest villains in the Canon
  • The plot gimmick just doesn’t work
  • One of the few stories without even a few memorable lines
  • Only positives: the presence of Billy the page, and the thumb in the nose of Lord Cantlemere at the end 

BEST STORY

The Hound of the Baskervilles

  • “A real creeper,” in the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Also a strong detective story, with clues, red herrings, and surprise killer
  • We never tire of re-reading it 

WORST STORY

“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” – see above

 

STRONGEST STORY

“The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”

  • Strong opening and closing lines
  • Mycroft and Lestrade
    • – because it’s both a spy story and a detective story
  • Great dialogue
  • Highest possible stakes
  • Holmes commits burglary, as usual 

WEAKEST STORY

“The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” – in which Holmes does nothing

 

 Now, what do you think?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dr. Johnson and His Watson



“I am lost without my Boswell.”

 

It’s a good guess that Sherlock Holmes’s famous comment to Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia” inspired Lillian de la Torre to write her long-running series of mystery short stories featuring Dr. Samuel Johnson as an amateur sleuth whose exploits are narrated by his friend James Boswell.

 

The first collection of these stories, Dr. Sam:Johnson, Detector, was published in 1946. This month I inherited a copy from a dear friend, along with numerous other books including a two-volume edition of the real Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

 

De la Torre, it seems to me, did an excellent job of mimicking Boswell’s writing style (and spelling) and well as Johnson’s manner of speaking. I found the book to be a fast and engaging read. The stories are fair-play mysteries, with all the clues that could enable a reader to reach the same conclusion as Dr. Johnson. Sometimes, in fact, readers likely will find that rather easy to do.

 

Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector is listed on the Haycraft-Queen Definitive Library ofDetective, Crime, and Mystery Fiction as a landmark book in the genre, perhaps because it pioneered historical mystery fiction. Most of the characters and many of the incidents in the stories are real. I much appreciated the section called “Historical Background” at the end of the book, separating fact from fiction in each story.

 

Some of the tales reminded me of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown adventures because of the way in which initial appearances deceived and everything changed when they were looked at in a different way. But the inescapable comparison is to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. De la Torre’s Johnson relies in each case on solid reasoning to solve the crime, as does Holmes.

 

And if Watson is Holmes’s Boswell, it is equally true that Boswell is Johnson’s Watson in the able hands of Lillian de la Torre.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Deep Dive into Holmes & Wimsey



My recent blog post on Sherlockian references in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Strong Poison elicited an amazing communication from my friend Sandy Dreier Kozinn. She sent me an incredible 16 Word documents analyzing the Holmes-Wimsey connections book by book. She plumbed the depths more deeply than I ever could have.

 

With her permission, I offer now as an example of this fine work her perceptive analysis of Whose Body?, the first Wimsey adventure. She occasionally refers to Lord Peter as LP. The page numbers refer to an omnibus edition, Triple Wimsey, from Harper & Row. (The volume also includes Murder Must Advertise and Strong Poison.)  

 

Subtitle – “The Singular Adventure of the Man with the Golden Pince Nez” is a clear reference to “The Adventure of the Golden Pince Nez” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

 

General:  Bunter sounds a lot like Brunton, the butler in “The Musgrave Ritual.”

 

Ch. I, p. 13 – “enter Sherlock Holmes, disguised as a walking gentleman”

 

Ch. II, pp. 24 & 25 –  the references to coffee and brandy are reminiscent of the two favorite beverages in the Canon. 

            p. 33 – “unless he [Levy] was a most consummate actor” –  which Holmes, of course, was, as is stated variously in the Canon.

            p. 38 – “Did you realize the importance of that?”  LP asks Parker.  The whole conversation, including LP's put-down of Parker, reads like a bit out of the Canon with Holmes chiding Watson for his lack of deduction from observation.

 

Ch. III, p. 49 –  LP tells Sugg it would take a whole rose-garden to cure him of being an ass.  Why roses, not particularly known for their medicinal properties?  As an homage to Holmes' famous “consider the rose” speech in “The Naval Treaty,” of course.

 

Ch. IV, p. 61 – “my name is Watson,” Peter informs us upon realizing he's overlooked a clue.

            p. 66 –  Bunter, to get information, disparages Peter with “up again to call him early to go off Sherlocking at the other end of the country.  And the mud he gets on his clothes and his boots!”   Holmes, of course, can tell where mud comes from by simply looking.

 

Ch. V, p. 90 – “Good parchment paper written with a fine nib by an elderly business man of old-fashioned habits.”   Holmes is always making deductions from letters; the paper is especially relevant in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” whereas the handwriting deduction stems from “Reigate Squires.”

            p. 91 –  the response to Peter's ad is reminiscent of the many cases in which Holmes, too, knows how to use ads to gain information.

            p. 92 & 93 –  Holmes also knows how to make deductions from mud on boots, LP here does it with typical Sherlockian thoroughness.

            p. 96 – “What a dull Agony Column!”   This was Holmes’s daily reading, too.

p. 106 – “the aged spider sitting invisible in the centre of the vibrating web” – “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson... He has a brain of the first order.  He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.”  – “The Final Problem”  

 

Ch. VI, p. 124 –  Gladys Horrocks goes out to the Plumbers’ and Glaziers’ Ball; was this a reference to the gasfitter's ball attended by Miss Mary Sutherland, whose father was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road, in “A Case of Identity?”

 

Ch. VII, p. 151 – “...it's only in Sherlock Holmes and stories like that, that people think things out logically.”

 

Ch. VIII, p. 164 –  Peter’s brain “felt like a hive of bees....”  and, p. 166, Freke writes “Conscience in man may, in fact, be compared to the string of a hive-bee...”   When WHOS was written, of course, Holmes was busy tending his bees in Sussex, as DLS knew.

 

Ch. IX, p. 186 –  LP is glad he's puzzled Parker because it makes him “feel like Sherlock Holmes.”   Later on, on the same page, Peter remarks that he is “Ready to tackle Professor Moriarty or Leon Kestrel or any of ’em.”

 

Ch. X –  LP's deductions while querying Piggoty and the way he uses details to build up his inferences are reminiscent of Holmes.

 

Ch. XI, p. 211 –  LP’s “mind had been warped in its young growth by “Raffles” and “Sherlock Holmes...”

 

Ch. XII, p. 228 – “when a great brain turns to crime...”  is very like “When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge” from “Speckled Band” in phrasing and meaning.

 

Ch. XIII, p. 251 – “mixed with an almost unknown poison.”   Holmes, too, dabbled in poisons.