Welcome

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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Books Galore at Prices to Adore



Denny Dobry at his 221B

Denny Dobry is probably best known in the Sherlockian world for his incredibly detailed and accurate recreation of 221B Baker Street his home in Reading, PA. He is also in charge of selling books for the benefit of the Baker Street Irregulars Trust Historical Archives. You can tour the sitting room and get a great deal on Sherlockian materials at Denny’s Book Fair and Open House on Aug 21.

“Thousands of books will be available for purchase at rock-bottom prices,” Denny says – and neither part of his statement is an exaggeration. He has a vast inventory of donated books priced to sell quickly. Included are many editions of the Canon, rare Sherlockian scholarship titles, hundreds of pastiches and parodies, a variety of non-Sherlockian Conan Doyle works, titles from other mystery writers (Sayers, Christie, Queen, Starrett etc.), extensive selections from Christopher Morley and P. G. Wodehouse, and lots of crime and British reference works. 

This is where Ross Davies would say, “But there’s more!” Denny also has statues, glassware, mugs, games, jigsaw puzzles, and posters, as well as publications by the Baker Street Irregulars Press. In terms of both volume and variety Sherlockian items, nothing else compares.

So, mark your calendar now for Aug. 21 and build a few days of vacation around it. Carpool with a Sherlockian friend! The hours of the Open House/Book Fair will be from 10 a.m. until everyone is gone. The address is 5003 Stony Run Drive, Reading, PA.  Reading is 100 miles from Manhattan, 80 miles from Baltimore and 40 miles from Philadelphia.

Lunch will be available.  If some out of towners stay over Friday and/or Saturday night, Denny would be happy to arrange for getting together for dinner.

Any questions? Contact Denny at dendobry@ptd.net.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Sherlock and Chicago with the Izbans



"I started my pilgrimage at Chicago . . . " Sherlock Holmes, "His Last Bow"  

I've always admired the incredible effort that Sherlockians, as individuals and as scion societies, have  put into writing and publishing chapbooks, pamphlets, and the like. This has gone on for decades.

Recently, through the kindness of Don Izban, I acquired a copy of the short book Investigating Chicago, by Don and his wife, Patricia. They are Sherlockians. The late Susan Z. Diamond, who wrote the Prolegomenon; the late David Hammer, who wrote the Preface; and George Vanderburgh, whose Battered Silicon Dispatch Box published the 84-page book in 2006, are all Sherlockians of note.

And yet, the text of the book has little to do with Sherlock Holmes, a well-known former resident of Chicago whose name appears on the cover. But that hardly matters. It's a great little guide to the Windy City through the Izbans' eyes. 

Don and Patricia tell how how to best spend a single day in Chicago, the best attraction (and it's free), a very special place (the Walnut Room restaurant at Marshall Field, which is now Macy's), Chicago's 10 Commandments (#1: Eat a Chicago-style hot dog), Vincent Starrett, statuary, architecture, where to eat, and where to billet.

All of this is supplemented by dozens of photos, delightful Sherlockian-themed cartoons by Paul Churchill, and a comprehensive four-page index that covers everything from "221B, The poem" to "Wrigley Field." 

By now, some of this is information in Investigating Chicago is outdated. But it's still fun to read. And I'm taking it with me on my next Sherlockian foray to "that toddlin' town."  

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Unique and Memorable Mycroft Holmes


Those who know Sherlock Holmes and his world only through film, television, and general cultural awareness likely assume that Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and Mycroft Holmes appear in dozens of stories.

They do – but only in film, television, and pastiches; their appearances in the Canon are few. Yet so unique and powerful are these characters that they have captured the imagination of readers and writers from the beginning. It’s hard for pasticheurs, in particular, to avoid these characters, often putting them on center stage to the detriment of Sherlock Holmes.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s current Mycroft series is the latest of at least three on my shelves in which the smarter but lazier Holmes brother is the protagonist.  

The earliest example of Mycroft Holmes pastiche appears in a chapbook called The Resources of Mycroft Holmes: Solver of Historical Mysteries, published by Aspen Press in 1973. It brings together three supposed interviews with Mycroft published in The Bookman in December 1903, a few short weeks after the return of Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”

Note that this was six years before the second canonical story, “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” was published, meaning the author didn’t yet know that “at times [Mycroft] is the British government.”

The titles of Charlton Andrews’s three stories in interview form say it all: “He Repudiates Sherlock,” “He Solves the Mystery of the Shakespearean Authorship,” and “He Solves the Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask.” Clearly, these are to not be taken seriously.

However, the illustrations by Enid Schantz for the chapbook are wonderful, as are Tom Schantz’s afterword and checklist. The afterword summarizes what we know of Mycroft from the Canon, then surveys the speculative literature from W.S. Baring-Gould to (possibly) H.G. Wells. He concludes by saying:

“Mycroft, we hardly knew you – and it’s a pity.”

And with that, I heartily concur.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

"Baker Street Beat" at Year 10

Some of our Sherlockian library

"Welcome to my library.  Just don’t call it a collection.” 

Those were the first words of this blog when it debuted on May 28, 2011. A decade later, I suspect you will know what I mean when I say it feels both longer and shorter than 10 years.

I began the blog at the request of Steve Emecz of MX Books when he published my first Holmes-related book, Baker Street Beat. Blogging about The Great Detective seemed an easy task for me, given that I’ve been collecting files on him for 40 years. So I disappeared into our garage to see what we had.

What we had included eleven unpublished, and mostly unpublishable, mystery novels that I had largely forgotten about. But two of them, written in the late 1980s, featured a Sherlockian sleuth that I thought MX might want to bring to light at long last. I updated and wrote them as No Police Like Holmes and Holmes Sweet Holmes, the first two novels in my McCabe-Cody mystery series, published in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

No Ghosts Need Apply, the tenth novel in that series and the twelfth McCabe-Cody overall, will be published this fall. I’ve also committed five novels about Sherlock Holmes. Many other wonderful Sherlockian adventures have happened to Ann and me along the way. And I still manage to put out this blog most weeks. This is my 942nd post.

At the end of that first blog post I wrote, “I know it’s going to be fun for me, and I hope it will be for you as well.” That is still my hope. Thanks for checking in. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

What Do You Make of It, Watson?


Face it, nothing quite says "it is always 1895" like a Deadpool Sherlock bobblehead!

Here at the Andriacco house we also have 3D representations of Sherlock Holmes as a mouse (Basil of Baker Street), bird, gnome, bear, cat, rubber ducky, and multiple canines (including Wishbone and multiple Snoopys). 

We have Sherlock Holmes dolls (plastic and stuffed), finger puppets, nutcrackers, wine stoppers, magnets, cream pitchers, after-shave containers, Christmas ornaments, and bookends. But, then, doesn't everybody?

And this doesn't even get into the collection of greeting cards featuring animals in deerstalkers, all of them sent our way by our friend the Unknown Constable.

What's on your shelves? Post pictures! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

When Biography Gets Too Creative

Grace Dunbar with Mrs. Gibson in "Thor Bridge" 
 

All right, then, I’ll say it: William S. Baring-Gould just made stuff up.

The Sherlockian giant’s revered biography, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, is riddled with unCanonical material that he invented or borrowed from others who did, such a romantic relationship between Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes, the identification of Athelney Jones as Jack the Ripper and (following Vincent Starrett) Mrs. Hudson as the “Martha” of “His Last Bow,” and Holmes dying on a Sussex bench at age 104.

All of this, and much more from Baring-Gould, would be surprising news to the author of the Sacred Writings. Maybe Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street should have been subtitled "A Fictionalized Life of the World's First Consulting Detective." It is refreshing, then, that June Thompson in her double biography Holmes & Watson dismisses a number of theories with the phrase “there is no evidence in the Canon.”

Unfortunately, she doesn’t apply that same yardstick to some of her own theories, such as the one that Grace Dunbar of “The Problem of Thor Bridge” was the second Mrs. Watson.

Holmes & Watson, published a generation ago, lies in quality somewhere between two other works of what name – the wonderful S.C. Roberts book from 1951 and the odiferous Will Farrell movie from 2018. Parts of Thompson’s tome are quite good and the scholarly rigor of her thought process in many cases is exemplary. Most of her speculation is well-reasoned.  

However, the book is not as well-written as some of the finer examples of the Higher Criticism – those by S.C. Roberts and Vincent Starrett, for example. Her style is a bit clunky and the dozens of footnotes referring readers to the appendices are stumbling block to reading enjoyment.  

Some of her errors of fact are quite jarring. She says, for example, that “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone,” written in the third person in 1921, was “the first instance within the whole of the published canon of the use of this narrative form.” Hardly. “His Last Bow,” also in the third person, preceded it into print by four years.

Thompson also refers to the first two series of Holmes adventures as “twenty-three accounts,” whereas in fact there were 24, of which one (“The Cardboard Box”) wasn’t collected in book form until His Last Bow.

But at least she didn’t make stuff up.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

When Close is Good Enough


I love facsimile editions.

Even though I don’t have a collector gene that causes me to acquire a lot of first editions of rare or significant books (although I own a few), I enjoy the experience of reading a treasured book in an edition that looks just the one the first readers would have read.

I’m happy to have in my library facsimiles of the Beeton’s Christmas Annual  appearance of A Study in Scarlet and the first book edition of The Sign of Four. And, like many Sherlockians, I have multiple books reprinting the old Strand magazines with Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve found these facsimile editions not only fun to read, but useful for research on variant wordings.

For example, did you ever notice that it’s Baker-street not Baker Street in the Holmes stories as published in  The Strand? It is, and that usage was picked up in the first book publication The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by George Newnes in 1982.

I know that because I recently picked up a boxed set of Adventures and Memoirs in facsimile editions. These paperback volumes were published by A&W Visual Library in 1975. I often re-read the Canon in my facsimiles of the Strand, but next time around I plan to encounter the first stories just as the first readers of these books did.



Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The "Real" Sherlock Holmes? Enough already!

 

The late Trevor H. Hall devoted 21 pages of his book Sherlock Holmes and His Creator to well-trod path of trying to figure out who was the “real” Holmes. That is, and always was, a fool’s errand.

Hall begins the chapter by poking holes in Michael Harrison’s bizarre theory, unveiled in 1971, that Conan Doyle was inspired to create the world’s first consulting detective by reading about a German private inquiry agent working in London. The agent, Wendel Scherer, called himself a “professional consulting detective.”

Scherer’s name made its way into the London newspaper in 1882 in connection with his unsuccessful efforts a missing person’s case, a matter which Harrison professed to have some similarities to the Enoch Drebber murder in A Study in Scarlet.

After demolishing the notion that the character of Sherlock Holmes owed anything to the hapless Scherer, Hall goes on to consider whether Holmes was in some sense “really” Dr. Joseph Bell or Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

Adrian Conan Doyle, one of the author’s playboy sons, was much invested in proving the latter. He claimed in an interview that Bell once wrote to his father, “you are yourself Sherlock Holmes, and well you know it.” Notably, Adrian apparently first made this often-quoted claim decades after his father’s death, and he never published the letter itself.

But it doesn’t really matter. As I wrote in my essay on “The Royal Mallows: Irish Regiments in the British Army” in Corporals, Colonels, and Commissionaires: “The truth is that Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Joseph Bell and given life by Arthur Conan Doyle. He has traits of both men, and but he is neither. As a fully realized character, he transcends his models.”

My own experience as a writer of mystery fiction tells me that the notion of characters being “based on” real people is overly simplistic and highly misleading. Once they hit the printed page, fictional creations take on a life of their own.

Only one chapter of Sherlock Holmes and His Creator really resonated with me. Michele  Lopez, my Italian friend who appears on Facebook as John Sebastian Moran, drew my attention to the one on “Thomas Stearns Eliot and Sherlock Holmes.” In it, Hall fully details the many connections between the world first consulting detective and the man I regard as the greatest poet of the 20th century. For me, that was worth the price of admission.  

But the “real” Sherlock Holmes is . . . Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Complete Paget Holmes


I spent a wonderful weekend with Sidney Paget, my favorite illustrators of Sherlock Holmes.

The Complete Paget Portfolio, by Nicholas Utechin, brings together for the first time all 356 illustrations Paget produced for the 38 Holmes stories published before his untimely death in 1908 at the age of 47. But it has much more than that.

In addition to the reproductions from The Strand magazine, this plus-size volume also includes photographs of 23 story illustrations and three portraits of Holmes that Paget drew for other purposes. To see the amazing quality of the originals is to wish for 356 of them, but Utechin rounded up images of all but four originals whose whereabouts are unknown. The search took him to eleven individuals and a number of institutions. 

But this is not just a book of illustrations. Utechin's commentaries add immeasurably to the appreciation and enjoyment of the original drawings. Of the drawing above, from "Silver Blaze," he writes:

In this, perhaps the most iconic of the Sidney Paget Sherlock Holmes illustrations, he has made the pair less cramped than in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" railway carriage picture, and has helped Watson's image rather more this time around. His use of white to highlight Watson's trousers and the left side of his coat, as well as providing gloss to the arm rests is most successful. Holmes is leaving, breathing, intense, with long fingers. The Naumann engraving takes nothing away from the original -- very sharp and accurate.

As an added bonus, Utechin provides photos of Paget's magnifying glass and hunting crop (both of which he owns), as well as a wicker chair said to be his. All of these items were models for his Holmes illustrations. 

"A good knowledge of Paget's work, it seems to me, is an integral part of being a Sherlockian," Utechin writes in the introduction. I heartily agree. I don't say this often, but The Complete Paget Portfolio belongs be in every Sherlockian's library. It's available here from Wessex Press.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Books on the Square is Worth a Visit

A tiny portion of the Sherlockian fare at Books on the Square

If you ever chance to find yourself near (i.e., two hours or less away from) the west-central Illinois town of Virden, population 3,354, be sure to stop at  Books on the Square. 

The store's flyer tells you that it:

  • Is the largest bookstore in the state, at least south of Springfield;
  • Occupies three contiguous buildings full of books at 153, 157, and 167 E. Jackson Street; 
  • Has more than 50,000 books "reasonably well organized by subjects of all types.

What it doesn't tell you is that hundreds of those books are about Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Many of them belonged to a deceased collector. 

Even a Sherlockian who is not a collector needs to add books to his research library. I did so last Thursday at Books on the Square, spending a delightful hour or so with owners John and Jeannie Alexander. I made a few purchases, which no doubt will find their way onto this blog in coming weeks.

And I will find my way back to Books on the Square sooner rather than later. I think I left behind a few books that want me to buy them.