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, April 6, 2021

Hints of Holmes in The White Company

When I mentioned to Nick Meyer that I had never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company, his response was a blank stare and, “Excuse me?”

Now that I’m into the novel, considered by ACD himself to be one of his best, I understand Nick’s dismay. This book is a rollicking adventure of knightly derring-do during the Hundred Years War, yet not as far removed from the world of Sherlock Holmes as you might think.    

In Chapter X, we find Sir Nigel Loring saying, “You see, dear heart, that they will not leave the old dog in his kennel when the game is afoot.” And two chapters later we read, “Fast spread the tidings, from Thorpe to Thorpe and from castle to castle, that the old game was afoot once more . . .”

Sherlock Holmes, of course, famously cries at the beginning of “The Abbey Grange”: “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.” That is the only time he quotes (or, rather, misquotes by not using a contraction) Shakespeare’s Henry IV: Part One, Act I, Scene 3, although Watson speaks of the game being afoot in “Wisteria Lodge.” The phrase is used in approximately 95 percent of all pastiches, however, to the point where it is become a cliché.  

Encounter “the game is afoot” in the great novel of knighthood struck a familiar note for me. So, I immediately went to my Sherlockian library and found a monograph on “Hints of Holmes in The White Company” by Bill Mason, printed as an 8-page pamphlet. I think I inherited it from Joel Senter.

Beyond the game being afoot, Bill’s monograph deals with bitterns on the moor in Chapter IV (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles), a reference to “Holmesley glades” in Chapter XII (leading to a discussion of Sherlock and Mycroft’s country ancestors), the annulets of the Musgraves in Chapter XXXIII, and parallels between Sherlock Holmes and the heroic Sir John Chandos, he of the hawk-like face and high aquiline nose.

And one more hint of Holmes hit me in reading the book – the brief appearance in Chapter XV “a crooked man”!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Finding Holmes Away from Home

Sherlock Holmes isn’t everywhere; it’s just us.

I’m kidding, of course. He really is everywhere. Recently we saw him at an eclectic gift shop in wonderful Beaufort, S.C., called Finder’s Keepers. The iconic image of the Master appears on a sign outside the building, on the manager’s business cards, and on this front door:

We were visiting South Carolina on vacation, staying on Fripp Island. While there, we picked up a paper called Low Country Weekly. In that particular mid-March edition was a story about Gracyn Kenyon, an 18-year-old senior at John Paul II Catholic School near Beaufort. She’s the school’s first National Merit Senior Finalist. And the story notes:

At the Kenyon’s home, Gracyn had access to a collection of Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“It was there, something I could grab off the shelf,” she said. “It would draw me to it, the fact that it was prevalent in popular culture.”

The Sherlock Holmes books struck a chord with Gracyn Kenyon, beginning her love for legal history.

We couldn’t even avoid Holmes on the beach. Something I saw there reminded me of “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.”

Where have you found Holmes away from home? 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Essential Young Stamford

Holmes meets Watson by George Hutchinson

The focus on A Study in Scarlet at Saturday’s meeting of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis had me thinking about the most important person in the Canon, even though he only appears once and briefly.

I refer, of course, to young Stamford.

“Without him, we wouldn’t be here today,” Illustrious Client Louise Haskett observed in her toast to the dresser under Watson at St. Barts. “We may not know his first name, but we owe him so, so much.”

Stamford – most likely not Archie Stamford, the forger in “The Solitary Cyclist” – appears in just six pages of the original Beeton’s Christmas Annual appearance of the novel. Although he has quite a few lines of dialogue, the most import of them are: “Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” If he hadn’t made this introduction, we wouldn’t have the Canon.

(The same could be said for Watson’s orderly, Murray, throwing him across a pack horse and taking him safely to the British lines. But Murray is just a name; not a character in the story as Stamford is.)

Watson isn’t just a foil. Holmes calls the good doctor his partner in “The Red-Headed League” and “Charles Augustus Milverton,” so we know Watson isn’t stretching it when he refers to their partnership in “The Norwood Builder” and “The Three Garridebs.” While the great detective was the senior partner, Watson is as essential to Holmes as Archie Goodwin is to Nero Wolfe.  

Let’s engage in a thought experiment: What would have happened if Holmes and Watson had never met?

Pat Ward, in her toast to Dr. Watson at the Illustrious Clients gathering, speculated that Holmes would have been lost to cocaine addiction and Watson would have killed himself out of depression. That’s possible. And this is for sure:

  •  Holmes is lost without his Boswell, as he says in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
  • Watson is lost without his Holmes, as we see in the opening scenes of “The Empty House.”   
  • We are all lost without Watson telling the story, especially in “The Mazarine Stone,” “The Blanched Soldier,” and “The Lion’s Mane.”

No wonder Young Stamford has given his name to a BSI investiture and a scion society, the Younger Stamfords!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

A.J. Raffles and Sherlock Holmes

“Though he might be more humble, there is no police like Holmes.”

E. W. Hornung, Arthur Conan Doyle’s friend and brother-in-law, is almost as famous for this witticism as for his creation of A.J. Raffles, the archetypical gentleman thief. But only almost. The Raffles stories are still widely read today.

As Conan Doyle observed, “Raffles was a kind of inversion of Sherlock Holmes, Bunny” – Raffles’s narrator and partner-in-crime – “playing Watson.” Horning dedicated the first Raffles  book, The Amateur Cracksman, “To ACD This Form of Flattery.”

I recently read all 25 Raffles short stories. I observed similarities, differences, and cross-connections with the Holmes Canon.

Most obviously, both series are about two men in late Victorian England whose adventures are narrated by the junior partner of the team. Added to that, Raffles is an expert at disguise, apparently dies but comes back, and faces a villain he calls “the professor” (although he isn’t one). Less importantly, Raffles and Bunny enjoy the Turkish bath on Northumberland Street as much as Holmes and Watson and have an adventure that involves the City and Suburban Bank, which is featured in “The Red-headed League.”

The stories in the first two Raffles books, The Amateur Cracksman and The Black Mask, are in strict chronological order. No chronologists needed here! The third volume, A Thief in the Night, is backfill that takes place at various times earlier, but usually placed in reference to an earlier story. Obviously, this is much different from the Canon, which is a chronological nightmare.

But the biggest difference between the two protagonists, of course, is that Raffles is a thief. Holmes is a burglar five times over by my count, but never to line his own pockets. The moralistic ACD objected to Raffles in his autobiography. “You must not make the criminal a hero,” he wrote.

Ultimately, however, the life of crime is far from glamorized in Hornung’s tales. Consider: Raffles, who is often without money, is caught and disgraced, exiled, tortured to the degree that his hair turns white, and ultimately dies in the Boer War. Bunny, meanwhile, goes to prison, loses the love of his life, and is constantly wracked by pangs of conscience.

Raffles may be an inversion of Holmes, but in the end his saga teaches the same lesson as the Canon: Crime Does Not Pay.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Military in the World of Sherlock Holmes

Although we are the proud parents of an Air Force master sergeant, I know next to nothing about the military. So I have no idea why I was asked to write an essay for Corporals, Colonels, and Commissionaires: The Military and the Sherlockian Canon, but I’m glad that I was.

My assignment for the book, part of the Baker Street Irregulars Professions Series, was to write about “The Royal Mallows: Irish Regiments in the British Army.” With a lot of help from Bill Mason, the original co-editor of the book, I dove into the topic and became fascinated.

Irish regiments have been part of the British Army since the late 17th century. To research them is to learn a lot about the Anglo-Irish, which I did. But the particular focus of my essay is the regiment called “The Royal Mallows” in the British editions of “The Crooked Man.”

In the American editions, including the Doubleday Complete, the regiment is called the Royal Munsters, which is a real regiment. But there is no Royal Mallows, and much ink has been spilled trying to identify it with the Munsters or one of the other four southern Irish regiments. I go in a different direction in my essay, which I won’t spoil for you.

The range of other topics in the book is impressive, and the essays interesting: Monica Schmidt on military wives in 19th Century colonial India, Jayantika Ganguly on the British military in India, Daniel Stashower on Conan Doyle and the military, Bill Mason on Watson’s military service, Regina Stinson on “The Blanched Soldier,” Catherine Cooke on those mysterious individuals in the Canon called “commissionaires,” and much more.

Corporals, Colonels and Commissionaires, edited by Michael J. Quigley, BSI, and Marsha Pollak, BSI, is available from the Baker Street Irregulars. Click here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A SIGN of Controversy

Even Sherlockians disagree at times, and always have.

Did Sherlock Holmes have a romantic relationship with Irene Adler? (No way.) Is “Martha” in “His Last Bow” Mrs. Hudson? (See previous.)

And is the second Holmes novel The Sign of the Four or The Sign of Four? Let’s look at the facts.

The novel first appeared as The Sign of the Four in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in February 1890. And that is the way the phrase appears within the text itself. According to Randall Stock's manuscript inventory at www.bestofsherlock.com, "Conan Doyle later shortened the title to simply The Sign of Four." The British and American first book editions used the shorter version, but even a modest-size Sherlockian library inevitably has multiple examples of both titles.

Christopher Morley, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, preferred The Sign of the Four and used that version of the title in his annotated anthology, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship. Edgar W. Smith, his successor, did likewise in what is often considered the BSI edition of the Canon from Heritage Press.

William S. Baring-Gould’s groundbreaking Annotated Sherlock Holmes followed their example, although the estimable Leslie I. Klinger’s New Annotated doesn’t.

Morley, Smith, and Baring-Gould constitute a formidable trio on one side of the controversy, but their street cred is more than balanced out by three gentlemen on the other side: Watson, Holmes, and Conan Doyle.

In the original Strand magazine publication of the stories, Dr. Watson calls his second book The Sign of Four in “A Case of Identity” and “The Five Orange Pips;” Sherlock Holmes does so “The Cardboard Box” and “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk.” Arthur Conan Doyle used the shorter version of the title in Chapter VIII of his Memories and Adventures.

Case closed! It’s The Sign of Four.

But if you disagree, I respect your opinion. 


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Even in the 1940s, It Was 1895


A huge percentage of Sherlockians around my age (think Baby Boomers) first became acquainted with Sherlock Holmes from watching reruns of the Basil Rathbone – Nigel Bruce films on TV, but I am not one of them.

I’d already most or all of the Canon by the time I first saw the Universal films around 19645-65. I recall being appalled by the bumpkin masquerading as Watson. And moving the our heroes into the 1940s – what was that all about?

Since then, I’ve learned to love the Rathbone-Bruce movies, although preferring the first two period pieces from Twentieth Century Fox. Now Amanda J. Field’s England’s Secret Weapon: The Wartime Films of Sherlock Holmes has increased my appreciation of their artistry.

Field’s 2008 book is academic in tone and annoying in some of its inaccuracies (such as saying the last Canonical story was published in 1926 rather than 1927 and that the Sir Henry-Beryl romance in The Hound of the Baskervilles was a Fox invention), but well worth reading.

The author divides the 14 movies into four periods: the two Victorian-setting films, the three war-themed films (in which Rathbone wears a bizarre hairstyle previously unknown to man), “the Gothic ambiance of the middle series,” and “the rise of the female villain in the latter years.”

In all periods, but to various degrees, one of Field’s major themes is the time warp of these films. Inside of 221 Baker Street, “it is always 1895” in terms of furnishings. “Even when not at 221,” Field writes, “Holmes and Watson always carry traces of the Victorian with them through their costume.” But their dress is neither entirely modern nor thoroughly old fashioned, making the time ambiguous – an “historical neverwhere,” writer Alan Barnes called it. The ambiguity is especially acute in such Gothic entries as The Scarlet Claw.  

Field gives several of the films a “close reading,” with due praise for director Roy William Neill, a veteran of Universal horror films who made these B-movies into minor works of art. Reading this book made me want to watch them again for the umpteenth time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Revisiting a Holmesian Classic


Just as Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes film had nothing to do with the classic Vincent Starrett book of that name, neither is S.C. Roberts Holmes and Watson: A Miscellany guilty of any relationship to a much-reviled movie. 

(“The lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson than does Holmes and Watson.” – Rotten Tomatoes) 

I think of S.C. Roberts as one of the British counterparts to Starrett. He was part of the original Sherlock Holmes Society in England, founded simultaneously with the Baker Street Irregulars in 1934. Faber & Faber (where Sherlockians T.S. Eliot and Frank V. Morley shared an office) published his monograph Doctor Watson, the first biography of the good doctor, 1931. 

Holmes and Watson: A Miscellany, published in 1953, is well-named. It brings together in one book a number previously published essays, including the contents of Doctor Watson. This was exactly the architecture of The Private Life two decades earlier. 

I recently acquired excellent copies of both the book and the monograph from the BSI Trust. Like Starrett, Roberts is a wonderfully evocative writer who plays The Game with the perfect touch; he feels no need to impress with the novelty of his speculations in the parts that profile the title subjects. 

His contemporary account of the Sherlock Holmes Exhibition of 1951, though nowhere near as complete as the 2018 Christmas Annual from The Baker Street Journal, is quite interesting. 

In the vein of pastiche, Holmes and Watson includes a radio play (“Christmas Eve”), a short story (“The Adventure of the Megatherium Thefts”), and a curiosity. The curiosity is six and a half pages of what Roberts says is a draft Watson manuscript recounting Holmes’s investigation of the death of Cardinal Tosca, one of the famous untold tales of Dr. Watson. 

The curiosity is that Roberts presents the beginning and the end of the case, from which any reader can deduce the middle. Basically, all the plot is there. Why not write the whole story? The fragment is already half the size of “Megatherium,” with just as good a storyline.  

That takes nothing away from the fact that Holmes and Watson is a fine book, full of pleasing passages. I will end with one of them: 

“The Baker Street mise-en-scène is indeed one of Conan Doyle’s master-strokes. In some way not easy to define, No. 221B has become a focal point of the metropolitan civilization of the nineties – the November fogs, the hansoms, the commissionaires, the gasogene, the frock-coats, the Wigmore Street post office” (p. 106). 


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Forgotten Master of Mystery


The late Herbert Brean isn’t particularly famous among Sherlockians, but he has meant a lot to me over the years. 

Invested in the Baker Street Irregulars in 1961 as “The Ferrars Documents,” Brean was executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America and editor of The Mystery Writers Handbook. I think that work, published in 1956, was the best of its kind and still useful many decades later. 

Brean, who died in 1973 at the age of 65, also wrote seven mystery novels. They are well-plotted and equally well-written. I read all of them about 40 years ago and wished Brean had written many more. Recently I acquired two Brean novels from the Paul Herbert collection of Sherlockiana. They earned their place there by their frequent references to the Great Detective.  

Wilders Walk Away was Brean’s first novel, introducing freelance writer and photographer Reynold Frame, who professes himself to be “an old Sherlock Holmes addict.” Every chapter is headed with a quote from the Canon, and halfway through Frame cries “Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot.” 

The story in set in Vermont in the late 1940s and involves a family whose members over the generations have a habit of disappearing. The Wilders just walk away. 

The Traces of Brillhart, the first book in a series of just two about magazine writer William Deacon, is set by contrast in the Manhattan of 1960. It fairly throbs with an early ’60s New York vibe that seems in no way forced. 

The Brillhart of the title is apparently dead when the book starts, but just won’t stay dead. The story is divided into three parts, with each part again headed by a Canonical quote. There’s also a little byplay with the female lead calling herself Watson, and Deacon receiving a first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles (!) as a birthday present. 

For me re-reading these old friends was like going back in a time machine. The Sherlockian references are icing on the cake – a very good cake indeed. The Reynold Frame novels are hard to come by, but Brillhart and its sequel, The Traces of Merrilee, are available in paperback and as e-books. 

Sidenote: Brean once enlivened a BSI Dinner with a Bob Newhart style-telephone conversation involving J. Edgar Hoover and Rex Stout. It's on this CD set from Wessex Press.   

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.