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, November 14, 2018

What I Learned from Teaching A Holmes Class

Students loved "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"

A week ago today, I moderated the last of eight non-credit classes for senior citizens (age 50 and older) on Sherlock Holmes. I learned a lot from the experience. For instance: 

  • Sherlock Holmes is really popular. The class reached the maximum size of 20 the day registration opened. Some had never read a Holmes story before, and some could have led the course. 

  • All the TV shows, movies, and various cultural appropriations of Sherlock Holmes didn’t stop newcomers to the Canon from loving the real thing. 

  • Despite the greatness of the 1939 Rathbone-Bruce Hound of the Baskerville (which we watched in class), everybody seemed to agree the book is better. 

  • One reason for that is that Arthur Conan Doyle is a great writer, not just a great storyteller. The students loved the way he describes people and weather, as well as the sparkling dialog. 

  • My own personal tastes aren’t unusual. The students joined in me in loving “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” “His Last Bow,” and The Valley of Fear. 

The class was built around stories significant to the biography of Sherlock Holmes, not necessarily the best stories. In addition to those already mentioned, we read A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Gloria Scott,” “The Musgrave Ritual,”
“The Greet Interpreter,” “The Final Problem,” “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier,” and “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.”

Several class members approved the story selections in their evaluations. What next? I don’t know! But I would like to do another class. The students were engaged and fun to be with.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Long Time Coming: School for Sleuths

The recent publication of my mystery School for Sleuths is the realization of a long-delayed dream for me.

I wrote the original version in 1991, which is the year in which the story is still set. Although I couldn’t find a publisher then, I never forgot the book. When I read it again a couple of years ago for the first time in decades, I laughed out loud. School for Sleuths is a fully plotted mystery with clues, suspects, and I hope a surprising solution. But it’s also a strongly comic novel.

The A-Plus Detective Agency & Famous Detectives School is rather like a barber college: Its fees are low because the agents are all students still learning the detective trade. As you might expect, these student sleuths vary in age, intelligence, and ability. But Francis Aloysius Finn, owner of A-Plus, pulls their work together to solve the mystery with the help of his super-competent secretary, Mrs. Hilary Kendrake.

The late Ralph McInerny, author of the Father Dowling mysteries that became a TV show, read the manuscript and wrote me a letter on June 22, 1991. It reads in part:

I really enjoyed SCHOOL FOR SLEUTHS! I found it funny, fast paced, extremely well constructed and convincing. The plot is very adroitly handled and you use multiple viewpoint to great advantage. The cast of students is superb, but I mainly like your main character and of course the secretary is an essential role. If there is any justice in the world, you should have a great success with this novel.

Publication eluded it, however. And although I’ve been blessed by having fourteen books see print in recent years, I knew that School for Sleuths wasn’t a good fit for either of my two publishers.

Then last year I had a great experience with Carla Coupe of Wildside Press editing a short story of mine that appeared in the inaugural edition of Wildside’s Black Cat mystery magazine. Thinking that she would also be a great editor for School for Sleuths, I sent her the manuscript. She like it, improved it with some suggestions, and now my old friend is going to see publication at last.

But I hope that is not the end of the story. I expect to send a second School for Sleuth novel, The Medium is the Murder, to Wildside by the end of this year.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Suspense in a Sherlockian Short-Short

Ann and Dan Andriacco - as seen on the big screen by Shannon's students  

Did you ever look at a map at the end of a journey and marvel at where you were on the way to where you are? I had that experience recently with a short story.

The students in Shannon Carlisle, BSI’s fourth grade classroom at Moore Elementary School in Franklin, TN, where it is always 1895, last week read and discussed my 780-word short story “The Adventure of the Amateur Players” from my book, BakerStreet Beat. The story features a group of crime-solving kids called the Deerstalker Club, led by the pompous Toby Motherwell.

Meeting in small groups, the students identified the different elements of the short story's plot. Shannon then wrote those elements on one document as a story map. The map follows the Freitag Pyramid of dramatic structure, which I learned about in freshman English at Elder High School, 1966-67. And yet I never think of dear old Freitag while I plot -- it just happens!

Two of Shannon's students wrote to me, “We liked how even a short story could be suspenseful. And once Toby asked two questions and observed the ‘suspects’ in the room, he quickly knew who stole the money.  Clever character!

He certainly is!

My first attempts to write novel-length detective fiction in the early 1980s were a series of Deerstalker Club novels for young people. The narrator, Billy Piccolo, is the son of a newspaper journalist, which happened to be my profession at the time. Ralph “Ski” Wysnewski is a budding actor. But perhaps my favorite character is Sara Moon, who is every bit as smart as Toby and has a knack for pricking his pomposity with a few well-chosen words of her own.

The three Sherlockian-infused Deerstalker Club books – The Riddle of the Silent Dummy, The Secret of the Seven Sherlocks, and The Enigma of the Elusive Unicorn – were never published. But I’ve always loved the characters. And the adult Toby Motherwell makes a cameo appearance in  my  2015 McCabe-Cody mystery novel Bookmarked for Murder.

I’m happy that the students at Moore Elementary School like these old friends of mine from long ago. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Yes, McCabe-Cody for Free!

If you haven't gotten around to reading my Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody mysteries, here's a chance to start at the beginning for free.

The series opening,  No Police Like Holmes, is now available free on Kindle. Just click here. 

The book has been well received since its publication in 2011. One of my favorite comments was from the blog Girl Meets Sherlock: "No Police Like Holmes is a chocolate bar of a novel -- delicious, addictive, and leaves a craving for more."

And there's a lot more! The ninth novel, and tenth book in the series, is in production now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Holmes for Christmas

Sherlock Holmes has a way of bringing people together – or together again.

A few years ago, I reconnected to grade school classmate Carolmarie Stock after 46 years through our shared interest in Sherlock Holmes.

She joined the Tankerville Club, our local scion society, and I dedicated my novel Bookmarked for Murder to her, “with fond memories of the class of ’66.”

Last month, when I turned 66, she gave me this great gift out of her personal collection. It’s a 1994 Hallmark Christmas Club ornament. Although I’m at that stage in live where I am letting go of a lot of things, I’m going to keep this.

Thanks again, Carolmarie!  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Gillette to Brett V

Silent but sensational - a German take on The Hound of the Baskervilles 

Gillette to Brett V, held last weekend on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, IN, was another wonderful symposium in this series devoted to media adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Organizers Steven Doyle and Mark Gagen, of Wessex Press, only do this every three or four years. When they do, they make it count.

More the 120 Sherlockians from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom gathered to hear eight world-class speakers and view three films. It was a gathering of friends. Rather than trying to summarize the event, I’ll tell you what I learned from each speaker.

Nicholas Utechin: A numbers of actors who don’t look like each other can nevertheless look like the Sidney Paget illustrations of Sherlock Holmes. He showed photos of actors and asked us to vote yes or no – doe he resembles Paget’s Holmes?

Ashley Polasek: Technology helps to determine how scenes are recorded on film, which in turn influences how the story is told. She showed examples from three televised versions of “The Six Napoleons,” and explained the difference in a way that even I understood.

Glen Miranker: Silent movies could be really good, and just as sophisticated as what’s in your neighborhood theater today. He showed the last silent Sherlock Holmes film made, a German version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The was only the second public U.S. showing of a film lost for decades. And it was wonderful!

Leslie S. Klinger interviewing Robert Doherty: In creating a story season-long story arc for Elementary, the producers focused each season on a different character. Doherty, creator of the show, said his biggest regret was not doing more with Moriarty.

Terence Faherty: The Sherlock Holmes radio programs featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce fixed them in the public mind as Holmes and Watson more than the films.

Charles Prepolec: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who became great friends, appeared in three movies together before they actually met. Cushing was Holmes and Lee was Sir Henry Baskerville in the Hammer Films 1959 version of The Hound, which we saw on the big screen Saturday evening. Cushing later made a second version of The Hound.

David Stuart Davies: Jeremy Brett was a kind man who completed a phone interview with Davies even though he was quite ill. “Don’t worry about me!” he said cheerfully in an excerpt we heard. A year later he was dead. During the short interview, Brett said he wished he could have remade The Hound (like Cushing) and done better with is.

Jeffrey Hatcher: The author of the Mr. Holmes screenplay and the Holmes & Watson stage play is a very, very funny man.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In Praise of Card Catalogs

We recently saw an old card catalog at an antique mall. What memories that brought back!

When I was in grade school and high school, I frequently rode the bus downtown on Saturdays to the main branch of the Cincinnati Public Library.  In those days, decades before the advent of online catalogs, the library had row after row of these sturdy wooden structures. That’s how one found the books, usually older ones, that were in the stacks and not on display.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a book about books called Through the Magic Door. To me, those card catalogs were magic doors to mystery. Through them, I encountered the novels of such great writers as John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, Leslie Charteris, Stuart Palmer, and others less well known.

And then there was Sherlock Holmes.

Looking up “Sherlock Holmes” in the card catalog opened to me the whole world of what Sherlockians call the Writings About the Writings – scholarship about the Great Detective.

Among the books I remember reading in those days were Carr’s The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Queen’s The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Edgar W. Smith’s Profiles by Gaslight, and S.C. Roberts’ Holmes and Watson. Now each of those books is part of my own library, along with a few hundred more.

All because of the card catalog. Do you remember card catalogs?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

No, He's Not Sherlock Holmes -- But . . .

An iconic novel became an icon film -- both masterpieces  

“I’m not Sherlock Holmes or Philo Vance.” So says Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which I had the pleasure of re-reading recently.

Well, no s**t, Sherlock!

On the surface, Holmes and the two-fisted, wise-cracking Marlowe would seem to have little in common except the fact that they are both unofficial detectives and they both smoke pipes. In fact, Chandler disdained what he called the British school of mystery represented by Holmes.

But look beneath the surface:

·         Holmes is primarily an urban creature, one who actually finds the countryside full of horrors.
·         He’s a loner, often cutting even Watson out of the loop.
·         He’s unmarried.
·         He often operates outside the law – by committing burglary or letting the villain flee.
·         He bucks authority, even royalty.
·         He can’t be bought.

Those are all part of the description of the hard-boiled private eye of fiction.

In the famous closing paragraphs of his classic essay on “The Simple Art of Murder,” Chandler wrote:

“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

Such a man was Sherlock Holmes.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sherlock Holmes of the 87th Precinct

Meyer Meyer criticizes fellow detective Bert Kling for reading a book on the job instead of working.

“I am working,” Kling protests. “These are stories of the deductive method.”

“The what?”

“Of detection. Haven’t you ever heard of Sherlock Holmes?”

“Everybody’s heard of Sherlock Holmes,” another detective interjects.

So it goes in an early chapter of Ed McBain’s The Heckler, the 12th book in his 87th Precinct police procedural series. Written in 1960, it’s also the first novel to feature McBain’s “Moriarty,” a methodical criminal known only as “the deaf man.”

Later, the deaf man pulls a ploy straight out of the pages of “The Red-Headed League,” which is mentioned by name, when he places an ad for redheads to model women’s dresses. “No experience necessary.”

The Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street is far removed from McBain’s fictional big city Isola in the twentieth. And yet, the influence of the Great Detective is obvious even there.

Fifteen years later, McBain (legal name Evan Hunter) would write a tongue-in-cheek introduction to A Study in Scarlet in which he defended Scotland Yard and argued that Holmes should have been arrested for bribing Constable Rance.

But Holmes foiled Moriarty. It was a patrolman, not the 87th Precinct detectives who are the collective heroes of McBain’s series, that defeated the deaf man.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Sherlock, Yes: Sherlockians, Not So Much

Julian Symons, the late mystery writer and critic, understood Sherlock Holmes – but not Sherlockians.

Last week in these precincts we looked at my recent re-reading of his novel, A Three-Pipe Problem. Insightful comments in response from Bob Katz had me running to Symons’ 1972 historical-critical book Mortal Consequences.

In this history of crime fiction, subtitled “From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel,” Symons inevitably devotes a chapter to the Great Detective of Baker Street. The acid that often flowed out of the Symons pen is nowhere in evidence as he displays an undiluted and apologetic admiration of Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes triumphs as a character from the moment we meet him,” he writes. Conan Doyle doesn’t just tell us that Holmes is superior, Symons says – he shows it again and again.

Symons defends the Holmes stories from the criticism by fellow mystery historian Howard Haycraft (a member of the Baker Street Irregulars!) that the Holmes stories are “all too frequently loose, obvious, imitative, trite, and repetitious in device and theme.” Symons pushes back that “some of Haycraft’s objections are wrong and others are of little importance.”

He lauds Conan Doyle (correctly, in my view), as “a fine story teller.” And therein lies his rub, apparently, with Sherlockians. In a section called “The Myth of Sherlock Holmes,” he writes that he has an uneasy feeling that members of Sherlockian societies “are more interested in having fun with Sherlock Holmes than in the merits of the stories.”

This seems to me a snobbish objection. Perhaps, though, it is not a surprising one from a writer who brands Conan Doyle a “Victorian philistine.” Certainly, Sherlockians have fun with Sherlock Holmes! We do so in many ways. Some of us even enjoy the essays that Symons smugly considers “high among the most tedious pieces of their kind ever written.”

Surely tediousness, like beauty, is in the eye (or mind) of the beholder.

Disagreements about that aside, probably none of us who wear the Sherlockian label would quarrel with Symons’s chapter-closing comment, still true 46 years later: “that if one were choosing the best twenty short detective stories ever written, at least half a dozen of them would be about Sherlock Holmes.”