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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, September 22, 2021

Collection? Library? That's Debatable

My library isn't a collection 

From the very first post on this blog 10 years ago, I have always insisted that I have a library and not a connection. In fact, I was taken aback when a friend of mine laughed because I told her I am not a collector. She obviously doesn’t know any real collectors.

A few of the Sherlockian books that I own might be classified as “collectable,” but that’s of secondary consideration to me. I acquire books for their content, not their pristine dust jackets. And many of them I use for researching in writing trifling monographs. To that extent, my library could be called a research library.

All of this came to mind recently while listening to a wonderful episode of the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast devoted to the “Shaw 100” – John Bennett Shaw’s ever-changing list of what he called “A Basic Holmesian Library.” Check it out at your favorite podcast source or at  https://www.ihearofsherlock.com/

Near the end of the episode, hosts Scott Monty and Burt Wolder engage with guest Tim Johnson on the issue of how difficult it would be for someone who is not a multi-millionaire to acquire all the volumes on this list. (Answer: Very difficult.) It’s a natural question, I suppose, since Shaw was the Sherlockian collector par excellence and apparently aimed his list at collectors. But I call your attention to the title of his list: “A Basic Holmesian Library.”  

I would argue that a collection is a library, but a library doesn't have to be a collection. These terms are rather fungible, and I suspect that some collectors will disagree.   

Without focusing on it as a goal, and without emptying my pockets, I have gradually acquired the great majority of books on JBS’s list. But for the most part, they are not in the first editions with dust jackets that collectors prize so much. Nor has the pursuit of some elusive volume ever kept me awake at night. If what you want is a library and not a collection, it’s not that expensive or difficult to build one.

When I informed Bill Mason several years ago that I’m not a collector, he said, “Well, you’re a lucky man.” But I’m sure that collectors are lucky, too. If you are among them, good luck with the chase!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Dipping into Edgar W. Smith


Anybody who’s been a Sherlockian for more than five minutes knows about the generosity of the breed. I was the recipient of that virtue again recently when our friend Joe Eckrich gifted me with a copy of Edgar W. Smith’s Baker Street and Beyond Together with Some Trifling Monographs

This was one of a number of red, limited-edition softcovers the Baker Street Irregulars published during Smith’s reign. In this case, it’s number 319 out of 350. I also have The Incunabular Sherlock Holmes (1958) and Introducing Mr. Sherlock Holmes (1959). Smith edited those two, whereas he wrote the volume at hand and published it in 1957.

The Baker Street and Beyond part, which takes up perhaps a third of the book, is a reprint of a Sherlockian gazetteer first published in 1940. It lists every location in the Canon, supplemented by five wonderful maps drawn by Dr. Julian Wolff, an amateur cartographer of no small talent.

The rest of the book consists of essays (or monographs, if you prefer), verse, and a pastiche.

Although I’m no chronologist, Smith’s forays along that line seem fine to me. My favorite essay in the book, however, is “The Napoleon of Crime” about You Know Who. It is closely reasoned, drawing inferences from the text. Other essays go a little further afield in discussing such now-familiar topics as Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper and what really happened during the Great Hiatus.

Smith’s pastiche of “The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore” is seldom reprinted for good reason, in my opinion, and my taste in Sherlockian verse runs more to Helene Yuhasova if I can’t have T.S. Eliot. But Edgar W. Smith was a truly colossus of the Sherlockian world, in some ways the true founder of the Baker Street Irregulars as we now have it, and I’m grateful and excited to add this volume to my library.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Sherlock Holmes, Misogynist? Bunkum!

Victoria Hunter presents her problem

 A lot of ineffable twaddle has been written about Sherlock Holmes and women, and in two different directions.

On the one hand, there is the totally unsupported balderdash that he had romantic feelings and more for Mrs. Godfrey Norton.

Equally fallacious, however, is the good Watson’s assertion that he “disliked and distrusted the sex.” Testimonies to the contrary are numerous in the form of stories where he is protective of women without being condescending. Just ask Eugenia Ronder, the veiled lodger.

I call your attention particularly to Violet Hunter. Watson tells us that Holmes “manifested no further interest in her once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems . . .” Romantic interest, he means. But the text makes it clear that Miss Hunter is not just a piece of the puzzle to him. Consider:

  • Watson says that “he would always wind up by muttering that no sister of his should ever have accepted such a situation.” And, indeed, he appears to have a brotherly concern.  
  • “You seem to have acted all through this matter like a very brave and sensible girl, Miss Hunter,” Holmes says. High praise! The term “girl” is not dismissive here, as is quickly clear.
  • The praise continues. “Do you think that you could perform one more test? I should not ask it if I did not think you a quite exceptional woman.”
  • “You have done very well indeed!” Holmes tells Miss Hunter later.

“Disliked and distrusted”? Not remotely. Sherlock Holmes was hardly a feminist of any stripe, but he was no misogynist either.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Holmes, Wolfe, and Their Admirers

The first Nero Wolfe novel, 1934 

“I’ve never read a Nero Wolfe story.”

So said (approximately) one Sherlockian friend of mine to another Sherlockian friend of mine. Sherlockian #2 immediately sent Sherlockian #1 a CARE package of Wolfe books.

Why is there such an overlap of Sherlockians and Wolfeans? Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, was an early member of the Baker Street Irregulars. (Coincidentally, he wrote the first Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, in 1934, the year the BSI started.) But there is much more to it than that.

When I attended an early Black Orchids dinner in New York in 1979, the room was packed with Sherlockians – my friend John McAleer, Chris Steinbrunner, Otto Penzler, and Isaac Asimov spring to mind. Today, the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, Ira Brad Matetsky, is also a BSI and a Sherlockian scholar of note.

Although Holmes and Wolfe are very different – and Dr. Watson and Archie Goodwin even more so – I believe that their adventures have three things in common that have little to do with the stories as mysteries:

  • The lead characters, minor characters, and the villains are all great. They pop off the page.
  • The writing is terrific. Pick a page of the weakest story in the Canon or the Corpus and read it out loud to see what I mean.
  • More than anything else, though, Holmes and Wolfe inhabit immersive worlds that we want to go back to again and again. Nuno Robles, a Portuguese reader of my own Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries, was kind enough to say that opening a new one was like going home again. That’s the feeling of re-reading a Holmes or Wolfe adventure for the fourth or fourtieth time.

I’ll be interested to hear how Sherlockian friend #1 reacts to Nero Wolfe. I suspect that he will soon be working on a chronology of the Wolfe stories.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Real Mrs. Hudson of 221B

The capture of Colonel Moran was made possible by Mrs. Hudson

A posting this week by Dave Price had me thinking about the redoubtable Mrs. Hudson.

As Dave pointed out, William Hyder’s 11-page article on “The Martha Myth” in the March 1991 issue of the Baker Street Journal effectively destroyed the idea that Mrs. Hudson was also Holmes’s “old housekeeper” in “The Lion’s Mane” and/or “Martha” the spy in “His Last Bow.” Rob Nunn did likewise on his blog last year: http://interestingthoughelementary.blogspot.com/2020/07/that-is-martha-last.html

The triple identity fantasy was born of the fertile mind of Vincent Starrett an d later adopted by others, including William S. Baring-Gould (who, let’s be honest, made a lot of stuff up).

  • But what do we really know about Mrs. Hudson? A surprising amount!She is the landlady of 221B Baker Street, not a housekeeper (every Canonical reference).
  • In that capacity, she “was a long-suffering woman” who “stood in the deepest awe” of Sherlock Holmes, whose “payments were princely” (DYIN).
  •  She had cronies (FIVE).
  • On numerous occasions she ushered in the clients or others (SIGN, VALL, BLAC, WIST), brought in a cablegram (DANC), or presented a card (GARR).
  •  Although she is first mentioned by name in The Sign of Four, she most likely was the landlady right from the beginning in A Study in Scarlet with her “stately tread.” Nobody really knows who Mrs. Turner is (SCAN).  
  •  “Her cuisine is a little limited, but she has as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotchwoman” (NAVA).
  • Those grubby Baker Street Irregulars freaked her out (STUD, SIGN), but who can blame her for that?
  •  She was absolutely essential to Holmes’s plan for capturing Colonel Sebastian Moran as she turned the wax bust every quarter of an hour (EMPT). Undoubtedly she didn’t hesitate when asked.

In many ways, Mrs. Hudson was truly the woman in the life of Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Cabinets of Curiosities

Can you see the London skyline? Postcard from Vincent Starrett

It’s nice to have someplace to put all those little bits of Sherlockiana that accumulate. Over the years I picked up two almost-identical small cabinets with etchings of Sherlockian Holmes on the front. We bought one and the other was a gift form a late friend. The Master’s profile is the same on both, but is facing in different directions. Also, one of them has an additional image of the London skyline. I wonder how many of these are out there. Do you have one?

Note the two Snoopys!


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Mysteries, Yes; Whodunits, No

 


T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Every writer owes something to Holmes." That's certainly true of every mystery writer, from soft boiled to hard boiled. We all walk in his shadow. 

Not surprisingly, then, many of the early Sherlockians on this side of the pond and Holmesian on the other were mystery writers. Just a random list would include Dorothy L. Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Vincent Starrett, Anthony Boucher, Frederic Dannay (half of Ellery Queen), and Rex Stout. 

And yet . . . 

How many of the Canonical stories are mysteries? They are all detective stories, because they are about a detective, but how many are mysteries? 

That depends, to some degree, on how one defines "mystery." Everybody knows what a whodunit is: The point of the story is to identify the criminal. But there are other types of mystery story. John Dickson Carr was the best-known practitioner of the howdunit school, in which the main focus is how the criminal committed a seemingly impossible crime. It's also possible to have a whydunit, in which the main point of mystification is why someone would kill this particular victim.

I submit that most Holmes stories could be called a whatdoing. That doesn't exactly fit the pattern, but it's the best I can do. What I mean is, in dozens of stories Holmes is called on to figure out what is going on. In just the Adventures alone, "The Red-headed League," "The Five Orange Pips," "The Man with the Twisted Lip," "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," and "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" all fit this pattern.

In come of those stories, the initial crime seems clear but it soon become obvious that something far more puzzling is going on. And, in fact, the crime that seems so clear is not even a crime in some cases.

They are all mysteries (although some later Holmes stories aren't), but the mystery is not such much the identity of the villain but "what the heck is going on here." This is a topic I need to explore further! 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Being a Certified Sherlockian

          

Ann and I have been proud members of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, a venerable scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, for some years now. We received handsome certificates of membership earlier this summer during the club's annual field trip.

Sherlockian membership certificates have been around almost as long as the BSI. I love them, certificates, although the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati doesn't have one. What's your favorite? 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Behind the Time Traveler Professor


Ghosts, time travel, espionage, spirit guides, astral projection, telepathy, karma – A War in Too Many Worlds has it all! The third book in Elizabeth Crowens’ acclaimed Time Traveler Professor series is a breathless romp through time and space with Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, H.G. Wells, Bertram Fletcher Robinson, and the eponymous professor, who doubles as a spy in Berlin during the Great War. Fasten your seat belt!

I asked the pseudonymous Ms. Crowens, once a fellow Cincinnatian, a  few questions about the series, this latest entrant, and what's ahead:  

What was the genesis of the Time Traveler Professor series?

 

Like the average person on the street, when someone mentioned Arthur Conan Doyle, I equated that solely with his creation of Sherlock Holmes. Before writing the first novel, my familiarity of Sherlock Holmes was primarily with the old Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films with a few others here and there such as The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Young Sherlock Holmes, Peter Cushing’s version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the recent Robert Downey, Jr. versions. I had no idea Doyle wrote over 125 works including novels, short stories, magazine articles, and non-fiction reference books. Least of all, I had no clue that he wrote tons of ghost stories, belonged to the Society of Psychical Research (SPR), or that he was into Spiritualism and friends with Harry Houdini.

 

On the other hand, I always loved Victorian ghost stories and for years had been fascinated by some of the metaphysical writings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially when British explorers and archeologists went to Egypt and opened the tombs of the Pharaohs. To this day, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is one of my top five favorite films. In addition, I used to have an antiques business and worked with estate liquidations. Personally, I love to collect old, unusual books. At one point I came across some diaries by an obscure 19th century Scottish guy who claimed he tried some metaphysical experiments and mentioned something about consulting with Doyle about them. That got me wondering, what if he did?

 

Assuming the role of Sherlock Holmes, I couldn’t find any conclusive evidence but that’s when I discovered that Doyle was interested in that type of stuff. So, that was essentially the springboard that got me going about coming up with a highly fictionalized, alternate history series, but it also made me curious to dive headfirst into actual biographies of Doyle.

 

In creating this gaslight paranormal fantasy series, I had the ability to play around with blending fact and fiction. Apparently, that’s my writing style. I do the same, but in a very different way, with two other historical mystery series that I’ve written and am shopping around to get published.

 

Who is your favorite character in the books and why?

 

It would have to be the protagonist, John Patrick Scott. He’s a bit of an anti-hero, but these books are based on his “secret diaries.” For the first two books, I told his story in First Person POV (point of view). In A War in Too Many Worlds, after much debate, I switched the POV to Close Multiple Third, because that book focuses a lot more on what’s going on with Arthur Conan Doyle and the challenges he faces. He’s clearly in a supporting role as Scott’s mentor in the first two books.

 

There is a lot of fact as well as fiction in A War in Too Many Worlds and its predecessors. How did you research?

 

Research was the most time-consuming part of writing the series, but it also was the most exciting. I had to make about six, month-long trips overseas. While over there, I’d spend an enormous amount of time in museums, libraries, and used bookstores, and I also took thousands of photographs for visual references. While researching A War in Too Many Worlds, I had to test my memory of the trip I made to Germany five years ago, and because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, I couldn’t go back. When I needed a pre-WWI street map of Berlin and realized I already owned one, I was ecstatic.

 

One of the biggest challenges was finding information about what civilian life was like in Germany, France, and Britain during the First World War. Most material was about trench warfare, which was important for Book Two, A Pocketful of Lodestones. Also, MI6 for British intelligence was in its infancy during the Great War, but I have a knack of finding obscure books and found a few gems on espionage. That’s one of the reasons why my invested name in the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) is “A Collector of Obscure Volumes,” which came from The Adventure of the Empty House, when Holmes surprises Watson and reemerges from the dead in the disguise of an old bookseller. As I mentioned earlier, I’m an antiquarian book collector and have an eclectic library.

 

This is the third book in the series, and it ends with an open door to the next book. How many more volumes do you foresee?

 

There will be one more book called The Story Beyond Time, which will bring us from the summer of 1922 when Doyle started to have his falling out with Harry Houdini to the end of both Arthur Conan Doyle’s and John Patrick Scott’s lives.

 

What do you most want people to know about this book and the series as a whole?

 

The Time Traveler Professor series is a “serialized” series as opposed to a stand-alone series, similar to both Outlander and the Harry Potter books in that it follows a timeline, and it really helps to read the books in order to understand the characters, their backstory, their motivations, and how they grow or regress over the course of time. Since I encourage everyone to read Silent Meridian (Book One) first, the eBook is discounted on Amazon. Unfortunately, discounting the trade paperback or the audiobook is out of my control. Since there were a few years in between the release of each book, I definitely urge everyone, regardless of whether they’ve read the previous books or not, to read the Authors Note at the beginning of the book which summarizes the previous books in the series. It’s easy to forget.

 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Yes, Conan Doyle Was a Great Writer

The new light being shown on Arthur Conan Doyle by the ACD Society, the Literary Agents, and the Doings of Doyle podcast is well deserved. ACD was not just a great “teller of tales,” although he was that, but a great writer as well.

This came up Sunday during a Zoom meeting of the Great Alkali Plainsman, based in Kansas.

The virtues of Conan Doyle’s writing, so evident in the Holmes tales, include a simple but effective style, great beginnings and great endings, crackling dialogue, memorable epigrams, showing rather than telling, and descriptions of weather that put you right there.

You can find examples of the above by opening the Canon at any page.

It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled down between n the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreathes.

That’s ACD six paragraphs into “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” setting the scene for a highly gothic tale.

And how’s this weather description from the second paragraph of “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet”:

It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay as white as when it fell.

But my favorite opening in the entire Canon comes from my favorite story, “His Last Bow”:

It was nine o’clock at night upon the second of August – the most terrible August in the history of the world. One might have thought already that God’s curse hung heavy over a degenerate world, for there was an awesome hush and a feeling of vague expectancy in the sultry and stagnant air. The sun had long set, but one blood-red gash like an open wound lay low in the distant west. Above, the stars were shining brightly, and below, the lights of the shipping glimmered in the bay. The two famous Germans stood beside the stone parapet of the garden walk, with the long, low, heavily gabled house behind them, and they looked down upon the broad sweep of the beach at the foot of the great chalk cliff on which Von Bork, like some wandering eagle, had perched himself four years before. They stood with their heads close together, talking in low, confidential tones. From below the two glowing ends of their cigars might have been the smouldering eyes of some malignant fiend looking down in the darkness.

Character, plot, and setting – the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle has all that. But don’t forget the good writing.