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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Golden Scholarship from the Copper Beeches

Leaves from the Copper Beeches: Don't judge this book by its cover

 A literary society doesn’t have to create literature. But in the Sherlockian world, many of them do. I’m astonished at how many scion societies have published books over the years.

The subject at hand is Leaves from the Copper Beeches, published in a limited run of 500 copies by Philadelphia’s Sons of the Copper Beeches (SOCB) in 1959. I recently bought copy number 53 from the Baker Street Trust.

This book is a gem. The essays have all the verve, creativity, and spirit of fun that characterized the Sherlockian scholarship of a generation before. For example:

Charles Fisher serves up a hilarious parody about Holmes and Jack the Ripper, followed by a masterful essay demonstrating that the Ripper was – wait for it – Horace Harker of “The Six Napoleons,” at the direction of Moriarty. The Napoleon of Crime created the Ripper scare so he could sell protection to likely victims in Whitechapel.

The legendary A. Carson Simpson explains that Mary Morstan not only wasn’t the first Mrs. Watson, she wasn’t a Mrs. Watson at all! Less surprisingly, H.W. Starr lays out a case that Captain Nemo was Moriarty, and John Ball Jr. quite logically maintains that Watson had only one wound and it was in his buttocks.

Other essays explore the London of Sherlock Holmes, poisons in the Canon, “that little thing of Chopin’s,” the princes in the tower, and the fictionality of all the post-Reichenbach adventures. This is great stuff.

There are also some interesting nuggets of SOCB history in the introduction. One of the names originally floated for the scion was The Tankerville Club, later chosen by Paul D. Herbert as the name for our Cincinnati area scion society when he founded it. And one of my favorite mystery writers, John Dickson Carr, attended a SOCB meeting on Sept. 23, 1949.

The volume is delightfully illustrated throughout with humorous sketches by H.W. Starr.

Ann and I attended our first meeting of the Sons (and even the female members are sons) in October 2019. The April 2020 meeting was canceled for the predictable reason, and we attended the virtual meeting of October 2020. Reading Leaves from the Copper Beeches and its similar sequel from 1976, More Leaves from the Copper Beeches, makes me even more eager to attend an in-person meeting. But it won’t be in April: That one is already set to be virtual.

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