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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Storied Sherlockian Scion Society

There are numerous novels about the Baker Street Irregulars, the premier Sherlock Holmes society in America, of which most other societies are scions. (I especially liked Baker Street Irregular and The War of the Worlds Mystery, and there was also The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, Murder Most Irregular and The Sherlockian.)

But so far as I know, the only mystery novel about an real-life scion society was Arthur H. Lewis’s Copper Beeches from 1971. Since I will be attending the October meeting of Philadelphia’s venerable Sons of the Copper Beeches later this week, I re-read the book for the first time in about 40 years.

It’s not a “whodunit” but a kind of “will-he-get-by-with-it” mystery. A member of the SOCB, Col. H. Wesley Eberhardt, makes a bet with five other members (soon to be joined by a sixth, the narrator) that he can elude them for six months. If he wins, they will have to fork over a total of $100,000, which he will use to buy a rare Sherlockian treasure.

In the course of this cat-and-mouse game, the pursuers learn enough about Col. Eberhardt’s backstory to be concerned about the safety of his much more popular wife.

A good deal of the fun here is the ironic distance between how the narrator, one of the Sons, thinks of himself and how the reader will think of him. He imagines himself to be very enlightened about “betters.” This makes for high humor at times because he’s actually a prig.

Speaking of irony, here’s a passage from the author’s brief forward to the book:

“Meetings of the Copper Beeches are held in October and April and no – repeat “no” – woman has ever been admitted to one and, despite Women’s Lib, chances are no woman ever will be.”

The Sons of Copper Beeches, founded in 1947, has been co-ed since 2017. For which I am most grateful!