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, July 18, 2018

From Great Emancipator to Great Detective

Prairie Archives Bookstore, Springfield, IL
All roads lead to Holmes.

Ann and I were in Springfield, IL, last week to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. It must be one of the great museums of the world, by the way – a wonderful marriage of education and entertainment.

Ambling our way back to the car, we saw and bookstore and (believe it or not) walked in. Prairie Archives is a gem, everything you want it to be right down to the old-book smell. It even had a bookcase of a few dozen vintage Sherlock Holmes/ Arthur Conan Doyle books nicely grouped together.

I came away with a few of them: 
  • Murder Most Irregular by H. Paul Jeffers is a book I’ve known about for many years, since a reviewer compared my No Police Like Holmes to it. It’s a 1983 mystery novel in which members of the Baker Street Irregulars are murdered from New York to London to a modern Baskerville Hall. Part of the fun is that several of the characters are based on real Sherlockians. (Amusingly, some readers assumed thought that was also true of No Police, but it wasn’t!) I’ve never owned or read the novel until now.
  • The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by John Dickson Carr, still valuable after all these years. This is a first U.S. edition, with a beautifully illustrated dust jacket. I already had several copies of the biography, including the same edition – but without the jacket. And the price was more than reasonable, one-fourth what I paid another dealer about a generation ago. All the prices at Prairie Archives were reader-friendly, at least for the books I bought.  
  • The Sherlock Holmes Companion by Michael and Mollie Hardwick, which is just what it sounds like. This is the hardback edition, just like the one I borrowed from the public library when I was a kid. Holding it reminds me of those days. The copy I already had was a later paperback.
  • The Complete Brigadier Gerard by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Gerard, a Napoleonic era French soldier, was Conan Doyle’s third great creation after Holmes and Professor Challenger. This book collects both volumes of those humorous and enjoyable tales. Only after I got home did I realize that I own another book, with a different title, that does the same. 
Hmm. It turns out that three out of the four books I bought, I already had. But no regrets! Sometimes it’s good to have more than one copy, even if you have a library and not a collection.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Early Rex Stout: Prelude to Nero Wolfe

Sherlock Holmes changes over the course of the Canon; Nero Wolfe not so much. But though Wolfe arrived full blown, he didn’t come from nowhere.

At a recent meeting of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, we discussed how the Holmes we meet in A Study in Scarlet is not the Holmes we know best. In this first adventure, his youthful self-assurance is unleavened by defeat. The more mature Holmes, though not humble, is at least human. He can admit to John Openshaw the unpleasant truth that “I have been beaten four times—three times by men, and once by a woman.”

Or perhaps it is just that we get to understand Holmes better over the years along with Watson, who had never heard of Sherlock Holmes before the opening chapter of A Study in Scarlet.

By contrast, the Nero Wolfe of Fer-de-Lance in 1934 is little different from the Wolfe of A Family Affair in 1975. Archie has already been working for Wolfe some years as the book begins. In fact, the whole familiar establishment at W. 35th Street is already in place just as it would be for the next four decades.

Before he created Nero Wolfe, however, Rex Stout had a long apprenticeship writing fiction for at least 10 magazines between 1911 and 1918. And in these stories, we can find previews of Wolfe’s character and intimations of the mystery-spinning skill that Stout would later refine. Ira Brad Matetsky, leader of the Wolfe Pack, relates this backstory in his introduction to The Last Drive and Other Stories. “Some of Stout’s early stories show signs of the literary talents that would later give rise to the Nero Wolfe corpus,” he writes, “and some, frankly, do not.”

One that does is the title story in this Matetsky-edited volume, The Last Drive, the second mystery Stout ever wrote. While the amateur detective here bears no relationship to Nero Wolfe, the plot would be echoed years later in Fer-de-Lance. To say more would be a spoiler. “Stout was . . . demonstrably his own best inspiration,” Matetsky quotes Ross Davies as saying.

For that reason, the 11 stories in various genres brought together in The Last Drive and Other Stories provide a fascinating look at a great writer in the making.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Age

A giant in any age - golden or otherwise

A kind review of my Sherlock Holmes novel House of the Doomed took me aback recently by suggesting the book seemed more like a Golden Age mystery than a Holmes story.

Certainly, the Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries are thoroughly Golden Age in spirit, but I hadn’t thought of my Holmes efforts in that vein. Then my friend Ann Margaret Lewis, herself a talented pasticheur, reminded me that Holmes and what devotees call GA are not antithetical.

In its strictest meaning, the Golden Age is a time-period – basically the years between the two world wars. Arthur Conan Doyle’s final 12 Sherlock Holmes stories collected in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927) were published during this period. So, as a factual matter, the later-written Holmes adventures are Golden Age. And a few of them are excellent.  

But GA is also an attitude, as well as an era. In an introduction to the two “Golden Age” volumes of the Masterpieces of Mystery anthology series (Davis Publications, 1977), Ellery Queen summed up the characteristics of Golden Age novels as:
·                     ingenuity of plot,
·                     originality of concept, including the locked room, the miracle problem, and the impossible crime,
·                     subtle and legitimate misdirection of clues – poetic license – but always with complete fairness to the reader,
·                     and often a stunning surprise solution,
·                     in a phrase (R. Austin Freeman’s), “an exhibition of mental gymnastics.”

In other words, Golden Age stories often turn on logic, brilliant deductions, and clever plots. So do most of the Holmes tales, several of which are locked room stories. (This is admittedly not true of some of the weaker tales, which are scarcely mysteries at all.) In a nice play on words, an early Ellery Queen novel even called Queen “the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes.”

Like Queen, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Dorothy Sayers, and Rex Stout – some of the brightest lights in the Golden Age firmament – all adored Sherlock Holmes and mentioned him and some the more famous Holmesian plot tropes frequently in their own stories. Even Carr’s ornery old Sir Henry Merrivale owes a lot to the Master.

Golden Age or Sherlock Holmes? They are different – but not different as it seems at first thought.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Gnomes Sweet Gnomes for the Collector

My Sherlock Gnomes

My wife Ann and I just had the great pleasure of spending a long Sherlockian weekend, bracketed my talk to the Red Circle of Washington, D.C., on Friday and attending a delightful meeting of Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD, on Monday. It was great to see the faces of so many friends, and so many friendly faces.  

The Red Circle is presided over by Peter Blau, a wise and witty force of (benign) nature who has been a member of the Baker Street Irregulars since 1959. He explained that he doesn’t hold an office in the scion, however, so that he can’t be impeached! Although "DC" is part of its name, the group actually meets in Bethesda, MD, where Peter also lives. 

Peter’s collection of Sherlockiana is beyond description – at least, it’s beyond my description. Every shelf of his large and beautiful library contains gems I never even imagined. I’m not a collector, but I love to look at the collections of others.  

Perhaps my favorite item from our tour of the Blau shelves was the volume of Holmes stories containing the signature of its original owner – T.S. Eliot. Peter believes that when Eliot wrote the famous scene in Murder in the Cathedral based on the Musgrave Ritual, it was to this very book that the great poet went to refresh his memory of the ritual’s wording.

In addition to thousands of books, Peter also has memorabilia – lots and lots of memorabilia, from the tacky to the sublime. When Ann mentioned that she had bought me a Sherlock Gnomes statue for Father’s Day, and where to get it online, a new edition to the Blau collection was in the mail as soon as Peter could get to his computer.

As one of the worst villains in the entire Canon remarked to Dr. Watson, “If a man has a hobby he follows it up, whatever his other pursuits may be.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Toasting Watson's Bull Pup

Ed Lear, long-time member of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, should be its poet laureate – and not just because he shares the name of the famous limerickwriter and author of The Owl and the Pussycat.

At the quarterly Tankerville Club meeting last Friday (June 15), Ed produced a toast to Watson’s bull pup that confronted the question of just what the heck that pup was.

You will recall that upon first meeting Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, Watson lists one of his shortcomings as “I keep a bull pup.” That’s the last we hear of it. Or is it the terrier that is poisoned in chapter 7? Actually, it may not be a dog at all. A “bull pup” is both a kind of gun and an old British expression for having a quick temper.     

Ultimately, Ed isn’t sure what Watson meant. Here’s the toast: 
It started out as, “yes, I know this one,”But there was more by the time I was done.If truth be toldWe were all probably fooledBy what really is meant by this son-of-a-gun. It was in the story you just readAnd for his part winds up dead,Killed by strychnine pill,But some say he was illAnd in the end his name was never said. Or it could have been what Watson usedTo keep them from being battered and bruised.Easy to carry, easy to hide –
Just the thing when by Sherlock’s side,Or maybe what Sherlock used to keep himself amused. Or it could be his quick temper to some of you,And to others it may mean something I never knew.But now that you’ve read the story,You be the judge and jury –
’Cause it may be something else totally out of the blue! But regardless, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us raise our glasses to Watson’s bull pup!

It’s not exactly T.S. Eliot, or even Edward Lear, but it was terrific toast!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can You 221 Believe It?

I’ve always been intrigued by the number of major figures in the Sherlock Holmes universe who aren’t major figures in the Canon – at least not in terms of their number of appearances.

Think about it: 
  • Irene Adler, the woman, shows up in “A Scandal in Bohemia” and is mentioned by name in three other stories (IDEN, BLUE, LAST). 
  • Mycroft Holmes has speaking roles only in “The Greek Interpreter” and “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” while being alluded to FINA and EMPT. 
  • Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, is a major presence in “The Final Problem” and The Valley of Fear, although Holmes speaks wistfully of him in ILLU, LAST, MISS, and NORW. 
  • The Baker Street Irregulars, while presumably assisting Holmes in unrecorded cases, are on stage only in A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, and “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.”   

With that as background, how often do you think 221B Baker Street – the specific address, that is – is mentioned in the Canon?

Surprisingly, a search turned up just six times in four stories – and three of those are in A Study in Scarlet.

“We met next day as he [Holmes] had arranged,” Dr. Watson tells us at the beginning of the second chapter, “and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting.” The 221B address shows up again in the newspaper advertisement by which Holmes hopes to trap the killer, and the third time in Jefferson Hope’s testimony.

The only other uses of the complete address in the Canon are also in adverts – in The Sign of the Four, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” and “The Naval Treaty.”

At least the good Watson was consistent. Archie Goodwin gives nine different addresses for the old brownstone on West 35th Street in the Nero Wolfe Corpus!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Farewell from an Old Friend

If you felt a disturbance in the Sherlockian Force last evening, it was the announcement from R. Joel Senter that he has discontinued his monthly Sherlockian E-Times and Baker Street Bulletin.

Joel and his wife, Carolyn, for many years operated Classic Specialties, purveying all things Sherlockian. It was a business, but also a labor of love. They transitioned out of that into the non-profit E-Times, a monthly cornucopia of news, scholarship, and quizzes.   

The Senters are good friends of ours, with whom we vacationed many times. We were sorry to get this news by e-mail:  

Well, Loyal Readers, it is time for me to be composing the May issue of the Sherlockian E-Times, however circumstances have conspired such that I find that I can no longer rise to the occasion. Hence, the April 2018 edition will be our final issue. I thank you for your readership and I also thank those of you who helped fill our pages by sharing your Sherlockian scholarship with us. It has been a pleasure serving you first through Classic Specialties and the Sherlockian Times and then through the Sherlockian E-Times during these past three decades. Farewell and so-long.

Very sincerely yours,
R. Joel Senter
(Carolyn joins me, of course, in this "Farewell.")

I will this monthly e-publication. If you’ve never seen it, go to the last issue, Vol. 18, No. 4, and see what you’ve been missing.   

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sherlock Holmes, Italian-Style

Sherlock Holmes turns up in the most unexpected places.

Recently I was re-reading an Italian comic book to brush up on my Italian language skills in preparation for a trip to Rome. Martin Mystère: Detective Dell’Impossible is an American adventurer whose travels often bringing him to Italy, where he studied in his youth.

The comic has been around since 1982. In episode 293, from 2007, Martin is involved with a group of international Robin Hood types called the Aristocrats, who steal for charitable purposes.

The story is set in modern day, but a flashback scene from a diary has Oscar Wilde describing the famous Langham Hotel dinner at which he and Arthur Conan Doyle were each commissioned to write a novel. “Imagine my disappointment,” Wilde says (my translation), “when I realized that Sherlock Holmes really exists. I thought that he (Conan Doyle) had invented him.”

Forty-two pages later, Wilde encounters ACD again years later and congratulates him on Il Segno dei Quattro – “great title, my dear doctor . . . but, above all, a grand adventure, in which the investigative genius of Sherlock Holmes shines again.”

This passage is illustrated by a drawing of a deerstalkered Holmes with Watson and the body of the late Bartholomew Sholto.

Conan Doyle responds to Wilde, in part: “I owe it all to my friend John Watson, who gave me permission to draw on his diaries.”

I own a nice paperback copies of Il Segno dei Quattro, Il Mastino dei Baskerville and Tutto Holmes (the Complete). I hope I can add to my Sherlock Holmes library on our Roman holiday . . . and I wouldn’t mind picking up another adventure of Martin Mystère: Detective Dell’Impossible as well.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Victorian England, a Little at a Time

Data! Data! Data!

Dr. Liese Sherwood-Fabre’s writing is full of that. She specializes in brief but fact-pact essays. My friend Joel Senter, proprietor of The Sherlockian E-Times, calls them “both entertaining and informative, as well as very well researched.”

You may have heard Dr. Sherwood-Fabre’s wonderful presentation on the criminal justice system in Victorian England at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five symposium in Dayton this past March.

Her short essays have appeared in Sherlockian newsletters in five countries. Fortunately, Dr. Sherwood-Fabre has also shared these gems more widely in The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Victorian England, Volume One and now in Volume Two. They would be great reference books for anyone wanting to writing Sherlock Holmes stories.   

Dr. Sherwood-Fabre answers questions about Victorian England you didn’t even know you had!

The 23 essays in her latest book, for example, open a window on inns, pubs, and ale houses; parsons, vicars, and rectors; “new women” and governesses in the Age of Victoria; circuses; vampires; the temperance movement; weddings (of a nature far removed from the recent doings at Windsor); boxing; and magnifying glasses.

And it all goes back to Sherlock Holmes. Every essay has its inspiration in at least one Canonical tale, and most cite several of them. “The Canon has thirty-five references to tea and thirty-one for coffee,” our author tells us. Who knew? Liese Sherwood-Fabre did!

Writing these educational little pieces seems to be a habit with her. I hope it’s one she doesn’t break.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Companionable Time in Chicago

Hugo's Companions Annual Birthday Celebration and Awards Dinner
If there’s anything Sherlockians love, it’s history. The Chicagoland group called Hugo’s Companions, which we visited over the weekend, has plenty of that.

The Companions were founded in 1949 by the iconic Vincent Starrett, Matthew Fairlie, and other members of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), the senior Sherlock Holmes society in Chicago. “The name refers to the drunken and wicked companions of Sir Hugo Baskerville in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles,” according to the program for Saturday’s event.

In fact, the original name of the society was Hugo’s Drunken Companions, according to Irregular Records of the ’Early Forties, edited by Jon L. Lellenberg. Then as now, the titles of the officers were Sir Hugo, Most Idle Companion, Most Drunken Companion, Most Wicked Companion, and (since 1955) Most Bold Companion.

The current Sir Hugo, the leader of the pack, is the affable Alan Shaw, who just this year was invested by the Baker Street Irregulars as “Sir Hugo Bakersville.” On Saturday he emceed the group’s annual celebration of Sherlock Holmes’s birthday, which the group uniquely chooses to believe takes place on May 17. The co-ed assembly included specially invited Sherlockians from around the Midwest, as well as Hugo’s Companions. Like all Sherlockians, they were a fun crowd.

As the guest speaker, I hope that I was well prepared for my talk on familiar plot tropes in the Canon. I was not prepared, however, to receive the society’s Horace Hawker Award, “given to one who keep the memory of Sherlock Holmes green through publication.”

As a recovering journalist, I was certainly honored to receive an award named for one of only three journalists named in the Canon. (The others are Neville St. Clair, “the Man with the Twisted Lip,” and a newspaper editor named James Stanger in the American section of The Valley of Fear.) In addition to a scroll, the award included a handsome tile bearing the Baskerville coat of arms.  

There is one glitch, however: Harker gets the story wrong in “The Six Napoleons” because Holmes manipulates him to fool the criminal. The late Paul Herbert, founder of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, occasionally bestowed his own informal Horace Harker Award to newspaper stories about Sherlock Holmes or Sherlockians that were rife with error.

Al Shaw assured me that the award I received was given for more positive reasons!

Like many other Sherlockian societies, Hugo’s Companions has waxed and waned over the decades. It is good to see the group waxing into the 21st century.