|Mike McSwiggen, decked out for the Baker Street Irregulars dinner
If you spend much time traveling in Sherlockian circles, sooner or later you will run into Mike McSwiggin, BSI. Mike is Second Most Dangerous Member (vice president) of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati and one of the speakers at the upcoming Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference in Dayton, OH on March 28. Let’s meet Mike:
How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?
I was in the first grade. My school librarian saw me repeatedly grab Encyclopedia Brown and Hardy Boys books. She suggested I try something different. By third grade, I had read them all.
How and when did you become a Sherlockian?
In middle school, I started reading about mystery writers. Then, at some point early in high school, I came across Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. That opened up Pandora’s Box for me. Explanations for terms that I didn’t know, theories about why certain things happened, and (probably most importantly) a chronology of the stories – all of these things just lit a fire inside me. I read everything I could get my hands on. I went to a few conferences (such as From Gillette to Brett), but kept to myself until I met Paul Herbert and all of the great folks at the Tankerville Club in Cincinnati. Sharing this interest with other like-minded people truly made me a Sherlockian.
Your talk at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends will be about Solar Pons, who is almost but not quite Sherlock Holmes. How do you rate your interest and/or affection for Pons vs. Holmes?
Pons is certainly not quite on the same level for me as Holmes, but I do enjoy the stories very much. The magic of the Holmes stories is the relationship between Holmes and Watson: two genuine friends who care about each other and happen to have adventures and solve mysteries. The language of the stories, the atmosphere, and the genuine goodness of the main characters all set the original Holmes stories at the top tier of detective fiction. The Solar Pons stories are pastiche – good pastiche – driven far more by mystery and plot than building up atmosphere or characterization. At their best, the plots are outstanding. However, they rarely achieve the same emotional complexity as Holmes and Watson. But that is a very high bar. I recommend the Pons stories to any Holmes fan who needs more than the 60 stories in the Canon.
And where does Nero Wolfe fit in there?
Ah, now Wolfe is another thing entirely. The Wolfe and Goodwin stories (which is really what we should call them, especially if I’m saying Holmes and Watson) are the only other stories I put on the same level as the Canon. We’re both Wolfeans, Dan. We fell in love with the language of Rex Stout. It drives me crazy that so many fans of twentieth-century American literature always mention Hemingway and Chandler, yet omit Stout (the word “omit” is a nod to fans of Wolfe). When at his best, Stout could write RINGS around those two! I love Chandler, too, but Stout seems to have been forgotten by too many. The plots weren’t always tops and the two main characters didn’t age in the many decades covered by the books, but so what? I smile every time I read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories, and I have read them all multiple times. Any fan of Holmes and Watson (especially those who read the stories for the relationship) should give Wolfe a try.
Your BSI investiture is “a seven per cent solution” in homage to your profession as a pharmacist. How has that profession affected the way you read the Canon?
Well, I certainly have a better understanding of the poisons mentioned in the Canon than when I first read the stories as a kid. I did a presentation at A Scintillation of Scions last year entitled “Pharmacy in the Canon,” where I went through the state of pharmacy in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period, as well as talked about every drug and poison mentioned in the Canon. It is actually pretty chilling the lack of understanding so many in medical world had regarding the substances they were prescribing or recommending. That’s not to say we live in a perfect world now, by any stretch, but we have a better understanding of how things work. But honestly, part of what drew me to mysteries is what drew me to pharmacy: I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and am always trying to turn chaos into order. That is essentially what a detective in a story does: he or she is presented with a problem that needs to be solved. The world needs to be made right (at least this small piece of it). So, too, must a pharmacist (or anyone in the medical field) solve a problem presented to them. Of course, I rarely meet engineers with nine digits, but I do try to help make things better where I can.
Although you and I both live on the same side of Cincinnati, we’ve crossed paths in numerous other cities at scion meetings and at conferences. What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?
Well, our home scion is the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, of course. I also belong to the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the Six Napoleons of Baltimore, the Sherlockians of Baltimore, the Denizens of the Bar of Gold (Eastern Shore of Maryland), the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago, the 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash, the Fourth Garrideb, the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC, and the Baker Street Irregulars.
What’s your favorite Sherlockian event?
As much as I love the Birthday Weekend in New York, I think I have to be honest and say From Gillette to Brett in Bloomington. Steve and Mark (and everyone else in Indiana) do such an amazing job there. The guests, the presentations, the movies on the big screen – all fantastic! Which reminds me, I haven’t nagged Steve and Mark yet this year about when the next one is happening…
What has it meant to you to be part of the far-flung Sherlockian community?
It really means more to me than I can say. I work a lot, I have a child with special needs, and I don’t have a lot of other hobbies. I spent a long time reading everything I could get my hands on that involved Holmes, but I never knew the joy of sharing it with others (face to face). When I finally got the nerve to start attending Tankerville Club meetings, I really began to understand the community aspects of this
obsession hobby. And that has made such a difference to me. Two
or three folks in my personal life have said that I am a happier person as an
active Sherlockian. And they are
What is your Sherlock Holmes guilty pleasure?
Without a doubt, it is the much-panned Hound of the Baskervilles starring Tom Baker (BBC, 1982). Is it great? Nope. Does it add an original twist, like Brian Blessed as Geoffrey Lyons in the Ian Richardson version from 1983? Nope. Is it at least commercially available on DVD in the United States? No. It is the Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who, chewing scenery. And the title sequence is a cartoon, for some unknown reason. But I love it anyway.
You can still register here to take part in Holmes, Doyle, & Friends on March 28, with an opening reception on March 27.