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 27, 2020

A Treasury and a Mystery

Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors.” I think good books make good neighbors.

One of our neighbors recently passed on to me A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes. I already have three different editions of this book, so why did I accept another? Because, as a former pastor of mine said while accepting a slug of Bailey’s Irish Cream in his coffee at 10 a.m., “I’m never one to discourage generosity.”

I’ve written about this interesting anthology before, as you can read by clicking here.

But there’s a little mystery that goes with the edition I just acquired, and maybe you can solve it.

The book was published by Hanover House, Garden City, New York. But it’s exactly the same, page for page, as the edition pictured above published by Doubleday & Co. It’s also the same as another edition I have, published by the International Collectors Library. My third copy is a book club edition from Nelson Doubleday Nelson, on thinner paper but paginated identically.

In each edition, no matter the publisher, the second sentence of Adrian Conan Doyle’s introduction begins, “When our old friends at Hanover House . . . .”

Were Hanover House, the International Collectors Library, and Doubleday all the same company? Perhaps the answer is elementary.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

When Familiarity Does Not Breed Contempt

The murder of Milverton: Holmes compounded a felony as usual 

Same old, same old isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s just what we want.

“The Adventure of the Three Gables” contains many lines that are painful to read. But one quote that always makes me smile is Sherlock Holmes saying, “Well, well, I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual.”

This is a wry acknowledgment that Holmes often puts himself above the law by breaking it and/or giving a pass to someone else who does. It happens again and again. That was one of the numerous plot tropes from the Canon that I listed in an article in the Summer 2018 Baker Street Journal. Others included: 
  • The current case which has its roots in the soil of another country many years earlier, often being a killing for revenge or to silence a blackmailer; 

  • Holmes employing a disguise, an alias, a false pretense, or a pretended illness to fool the villain – and/or Watson; 

  • A wedding that fails to come off because of death, scandal, or estrangement; 

  • Holmes assigning Watson a task, then unexpectedly showing up to sharply criticize his friend’s lack of perfection in carrying it out; 

  • Holmes and Watson observing a long vigil, often in the dark; 

  • A woman missing or otherwise in danger, along with numerous other elements of the Gothic romance in the spooky spirit of Mrs. Radcliffe. 

For me, the familiarity of these plot engines isn’t a negative; it lets me know I’m home. That may not be true of all mystery series, but I think it characterizes many of the greatest. Consider, for example, the devices repeated by two premier mystery writers of the 20th century:

Nero Wolfe: The unusual murder method, the “charade” to expose the killer, the use of a newspaper ad or a planted story (often part of a ruse) to generate a break in the case.

Ellery Queen: The dying clue, the brilliant solution followed by the real solution, the adult siblings and other family members living near each other in the same house or a compound of houses, the Iago-like killer behind the killer, the nursery rhyme theme.

Conan Doyle, Queen, and Stout were each active for about 40 years. As a mystery writer myself, I am awed that they so successfully reworked familiar themes in various combinations over four decades to create different stories in their own unique styles.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Is Any Canonical Story Really Dull?

“Could a Canonical tale really be dull?”

The eminent Sherlockian Donald Pollock asks that question in “Death and Derbies,” an article published in The Saturday Review of Literature in 2014. He very kindly sent me a copy in response to my post last week, “Ranking the Best is a Fool’sErrand.”

The article was in response to a challenge by Russell Merritt for Don to talk about his choice of the dullest story in the Canon. After some thought, Don settled on “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” the last Canonical adventure published.

He makes a great argument that Holmes delayed his report to the police about the circumstances of Lady Beatrice Falder’s death until after the Derby in order “to invest a few quid in his own future, at exceptional odds.”

But “Shoscombe” as the dullest story? This is a tale with a haunted crypt and an angry baronet. What’s dull about that?

Here’s the wonderfully Gothic crypt passage:

It was pitch-dark and without a moon, but Mason led us over the grass-lands until a dark mass loomed up in front of us which proved to be the ancient chapel. We entered the broken gap which was once the porch, and our guide, stumbling among heaps of loose masonry, picked his way to the corner of the building, where a steep stair led down into the crypt. Striking a match, he illuminated the melancholy place–dismal and evil-smelling, with ancient crumbling walls of rough-hewn stone, and piles of coffins, some of lead and some of stone, extending upon one side right up to the arched and groined roof which lost itself in the shadows above our heads. Holmes had lit his lantern, which shot a tiny tunnel of vivid yellow light upon the mournful scene. Its rays were reflected back from the coffin-plates, many of them adorned with the griffin and coronet of this old family which carried its honours even to the gate of Death.

Then later:

Someone was walking in the chapel above. It was the firm, rapid step of one who came with a definite purpose and knew well the ground upon which he walked. A light streamed down the stairs, and an instant later the man who bore it was framed in the Gothic archway. He was a terrible figure, huge in stature and fierce in manner. A large stable-lantern which he held in front of him shone upward upon a strong, heavily moustached face and angry eyes, which glared round him into every recess of the vault, finally fixing themselves with a deadly stare upon my companion and myself.

“Who the devil are you?” he thundered. “And what are you doing upon my property?” Then, as Holmes returned no answer, he took a couple of steps forward and raised a heavy stick which he carried. “Do you hear me?” he cried. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” His cudgel quivered in the air.


But maybe it’s not fair to pull out these moments of high drama from the story. As Rex Stout who said in a January 1941 radio interview, “It is impossible for any Sherlock Holmes story not to have just one  marvelous scene.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Ranking the "Best" is a Fool's Errand

Holmes, Watson, Mycroft, and Lestrade - "The Bruce-Partington Plans" has them all! 

At least she warned us.

Jessica Plummer writes on Book Riot: “As a public service, I present to you this definitive ranking of all 60 canonical Sherlock Holmes stories and novels from worst to best. Please note that this list is a matter of opinion, and also that my opinion is always correct, all the time, about everything.

The rest her post is just as silly. (She ranks The Sign of the Four as #57, calling it “appallingly racist.”) In fact, the whole idea of “definitively” ranking the Canon is a fool’s errand. One cannot argue taste. (I find scotch undrinkable, for example, and the assertion by scotch drinkers that bourbon is too sweet befuddles me.)  

But it can be interesting to discuss why we like what we like. And here’s an even better approach to doing that: Four years ago this month, the late Meredith Granger asked selected members of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis to talk about their favorite story, least favorite story, best story, worst story, strongest story, and weakest story of the Canon.

What I really like about this approach is the recognition that one’s choice of favorite, best, and strongest story may be three different tales.

Another interesting aspect about this exercise for me is that until Meredith asked the question, I’d never realized how great “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” is. It’s almost the perfect Holmes story, for the reasons I listed in the older post.

But tastes, since they are never “definitive,” can change. I never gave much thought to “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” until my friend Amy Thomas pointed out in a blog post how wonderfully gothic the story is, with a truly creepy villain. That completely changed my view and moved the story way up on my list of favorites.

Not that my opinion is necessarily correct, any time, about anything. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Gonzo Sherlock Holmes

Is there any cultural icon who has not intersected with Sherlock Holmes at some point?

After seeing a video clip of Frank Sinatra and Basil Rathbone, I think probably not. A great example is a comic book that came my way a few months ago through the generosity of The Tankerville Club’s Unknown Constable (Bill Harris) and Unknown Nurse (Teresa Harris) as a birthday gift for Ann.

The name Muppet Sherlock Holmes says it all. This was the first of four comics issued in 2010 by BOOM Kids. If you know the Muppets, you know all you need to know. Gonzo is Holmes, Fozzy Bear is Watson. And this dialogue goes like this:

Holmes: “Quick! Put on your coat!”
Watson: “But it’s June!”
Holmes: “In London.”
Watson: “Good thinking. I’ll get my galoshes.”

The case is “The Speckled Band.” The snake talks, of course. It’s best to read this quickly, and in the appropriate voices.

Sherlock Holmes appeared in thousands of comic books and graphic novels, both humorous and serious, including the 50th anniversary issue of Detective Comics where he shared a case with Batman. (I own two copies of that one.) The late Paul Herbert, BSI, collected many such publications. I suspect that even Muppet Sherlock Holmes did not escape his grasp.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Missing (Sherlockian) Links

What does the well-dressed Sherlockian look like today? Like this, of course:

Note the bow tie in the Holmes tartan.

But this is not a forever-look. So I'm excited by what the Easter bunny brought me from jolly old England, albeit a little late.

I used to wear cuff links all the time, but now I only own a couple of shirts with French cuffs. This needs to be addressed. I also must get back to writing with fountain pens and wearing suspenders. All of these accessories I have drifted away from for no good reason. Perhaps this gift is the missing link(s) to put me back on track.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Weird Tales for This Weird Time

Not long ago my brother texted me to say, “Took a break from reading yesterday to watch several episodes of The Twilight Zone before I realized we’re living in one.”

I know what he means. Even though I’m retired and no social butterfly, I’m finding life under a state “stay at home” order just plain weird. So, now is the perfect time to read stories with a weird take on Sherlock Holmes. I have some suggestions.

I’ve long enjoyed Shadows Over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. This collection of stories by various authors Holmes into “the nightmare world of H.P. Lovecraft.” Neil Gaiman’s Hugo-awarding winning “A Study in Emerald” made its debut here. You can’t get any better than that. Just thinking about Gaiman’s Queen Victoria makes me shiver.

But J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec have staked out a special claim in this field with their four Gaslight anthologies: Gaslight Grimoire: Fantastic Tales of Sherlock Holmes,  Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock, Gaslight Arcanium: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes, and Gaslight Gothic: Strange Tales of Sherlock Holmes.

The most recent addition of these to my library is the first in the series, Gaslight Grimoire. It’s a fine anthology with a great variety of alternative realities. I especially liked Barbara Hambly’s hauntingly written Peter Pan story, “The Lost Boy,” and Bob Madison’s highly original take on the Holmes-Dracula trope, “Red Sunset.” Fans of Kim Newman’s Colonel Moran will enjoy his “The Red-Planet League.”

In the surreal world of April 2020, none of this seems not quite as unbelievable as it did a few months back. What are you reading to keep you sane?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Locked Treehouse Murder

I’ve been nibbling at the edges of the “impossible crime” subgenre forever. But my best outing along that line is a soon-to-be-published short story with a locked room murder in a treehouse.

“Done with Mirrors” is the second adventure of Carlo Stuarti, my amateur detective who lives in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Stuarti is an Italian-born professional magician who claims to be much more – the rightful king of England, by descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie!

It’s his knowledge of the conjuror’s art, though, that helps him figure out how the seemingly impossible murder was “Done with Mirrors.”

Stuarti has his own “Watson” to narrate their adventures, American press agent Jack Barker. Like the young Sherlock Holmes, he lives on Montague Street.

Their first story, “Murder at Madame Tussaud’s,” appeared three years ago in the inaugural issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The follow-up, which also features Holmes’s old friend Inspector Tobias Gregson, will appear this summer in an anthology called Sherlock Holmes and the Great Detectives. Most of the other stories pair Holmes with famous sleuths of the past, such as Father Brown, the Thinking Machine, and Dr. Thorndyke.

The publisher, Belanger Books, is a small press. As such, it’s using crowdsourcing to fund production. Please check out their Kickstarter page and see if it’s something you’d like to support. Here’s a link. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Socially Distant, But Far From Idle

Sometimes I wear this tie when I've pretending to be a writer. 

I’ve been mourning the loss of so many Sherlockian activities, as I mentioned last week. But I have not been idle. Here are some of the writing projects that have occupied me in this Age of Quarantine, with apologies for the necessary lack of specifics:
  • My next Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody book, a collection of three novellas, is in the hands of its second beta reader. This one, Murderers’ Row, fills in some blanks in the series. Two of the stories take place before the most recent McCabe-Cody novel, Too Many Clues. MX should publish the book in September. 
  • Meanwhile I’m making strides every day in plotting the next McCabe-Cody, which will be back to novel length. The title, not yet ready for unveiling, is a quote from Sherlock Holmes.  
  • My new Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel for Wessex Press, The Sword of Death, just got back to me from the second reader and I have incorporated his suggestions. Look for this one next January at the Baker Street Irregulars Weekend.
  • On Thursday of last week I finished editing eight out of nine essays for a book coming this fall from Belanger Books. It’s a project I’ve had in mind for years, putting between the same covers a Canonical Sherlock Holmes story with two related pastiches. Each story will be accompanied by three essays and five original illustrations. This will be a handsome hardcover book in slipcase. 
  • On Friday I sent the Baker Street Journal an essay I’ve been working on for years. But I didn’t know that’s what I was doing until last week! 
That doesn't even include the reading that I've been doing. 

So, though I miss the non-virtual contact with my friends, I’m not bored! I hope that you, too are being productive at this unique time in history.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Woes of Sherlockian Social Distancing

Close-up of the Tankerville Club meeting of March 6, before social distancing

As an introvert, I’ve never thought of myself as very social. But Sherlockian social distancing has me down.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a shuddering halt to scion meetings and conferences across the Sherlockian world. The holes thus blown in my formerly crowded calendar have made me acutely aware of what I have temporarily lost. The opportunity to come together for fun and friendship with a fascinating group of people is a priceless treasure easily available to most.

We were fortunately able to hold our quarterly meeting of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati as usual on March 6, with only one person missing because of health concerns related to the coronavirus. Just nine days later, when bars and restaurants in the state of Ohio were forced to close, the Agra Treasurers of Dayton had to cancel the annual Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference. (Holmes, Doyle will be back at full strength in 2021!) 

By that time, another conference and a scion society meeting Ann and I planned to attend had been canceled. I’m not sick and, being retired, I’m not out of a job. So, I have nothing to complain about compared to others. But I do miss the in-person Sherlockian interaction, which the virtual kind doesn’t quite replace.  

If you’re a Sherlockian who doesn’t belong to a local group, I urge you to do so when life resumes. Mike McSwiggin lists 259 such groups around the world in this year’s Baker Street Almanac. The glorious variety among them is stunning.

A Sherlockian society club may bring together members based on geography or almost other common denominator – from a penchant for bow ties or cigar-smoking to a shared hobby or profession. Membership may be invitation-only, require surviving a rite of passage, or be open to anyone who shows up. (“Attend one meeting and we will consider that an honest mistake. Attend two and you are considered a member of Watson’s Tin Box.”)

Meetings may be annual, bi-annual, quarterly, monthly, or irregularly; for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; and embodying any number of traditions such as quizzes, discussions, toasts, and a recitation of Vincent Starrett’s “221B” to close the gathering. There may be dues or not.

Whatever your other interests or level of congeniality, there is a Sherlockian society – or, more likely, several – ready to welcome you home.