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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. 

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