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, August 9, 2022

Baker Street Comes to Bloomington

Ann and Dan Andriacco and Glen Miranker

For almost a hundred years, the American Midwest has been a hotbed of Sherlockian activity. Vincent Starrett, Jay Finley Christ, Elmer Davis, Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs, and T.S. Eliot were all Midwesterners. So was Michael Whalen, long-time Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Midwest is also home to a number of legendary BSI scion societies and, since 2019, the BSI archives at the Lilly Library on the campus of Indiana University at Bloomington. It is only fitting, then, that the Lilly is now hosting the amazing “Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects” exhibit through Dec. 16.

Even more appropriately, a special Midwest scion day was held this past Saturday at the Lilly, highlighted by a talk by Glen Miranker, who is so generously sharing with the world a small part of his Sherlockian collection through this carefully curated exhibit. Facebook exploded with posts about the event in real time last weekend, so you may have seen many photos and know a lot about it. But this is my personal take:

Ann and I saw the exhibit in New York in January. That was great, but this was better—more intimate, and more time allowed to gawk closer up.

Although I am indisputably a book person, the first editions and the many handwritten manuscripts, letters, and diaries of Arthur Conan Doyle were not what moved me most. I was more blown away to see the iconic Sidney Paget and Frederic Dorr Steele illustrations. Think of Paget’s Holmes and Watson on the train, or every illustration that Steele drew for “Wisteria Lodge”—the originals, and many more, were there in Bloomington.

But even that was overshadowed by Glen’s wonderful presentation, in which he told the stories behind several books in the exhibit—how he acquired his copy of Beeton’s Christmas Annual, the detective work involved in tracing a non-existent library from which a pirated edition came, and his attempts to communicate with the former owner of the only known first edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a dust jacket (complicated because that individual is in prison for murder.)

And what is Glen’s Holy Grail as a collector? The first manuscript page of The Hound of the Baskerville. He already owns the second and third pages.

After the Lilly closed for the day, the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis and the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati hosted a dinner for 40 Sherlockians at the nearby Irish Lion. A whopping 14 scions from six states were represented at the event, highlighted by Sherlockian Show & Tell. And Jayantika Ganguly joined us from India. (Maria Fleishhack was at the exhibit from Germany.)

The entire day scintillated!  

The Lilly Library on the Indiana University campus

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

. . . Where It Is Always 1895

Adaptations bringing Sherlock Holmes into the current era didn’t start with Benedict Cumberbatch and his three-patch problem, or even Basil Rathbone fighting the Nazis. Holmes on the screen has often kept up with the times. For many of us, though, the late Victorian setting is part of the Canon’s allure.

That world, the one which Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about, was at the heart of a well-staged conference on “Sherlock Holmes and the British Empire” last weekend at Bear Mountain, NY, sponsored by the Baker Street Irregulars and open to all. About 125 Sherlockians attended.

With 12 presentations on Saturday, July 30, and 10 on Sunday, July 31, the range of topics was amazing. Marshall S. Berdan set the stage with an overview of the British empire. From there, speakers branched off to such subjects as scion societies in the Commonwealth, publishing the Canon around the empire, food, Kipling, India (and the plundering thereof), Canada, Egypt, whist, guns, the armed forces, the Privy Council, the five most important soldiers in the Canon, Silver Blaze and horse racing in art, and “Women, Power, and the Empire in the Canon.”

Ashley D. Polasek’s talk on “Sherlock Holmes on Stage Across the British Empire” wasn’t a survey of plays. Rather, she speculated on Holmes performing as an actor during his travels of the Great Hiatus. Peggy Perdue’s talk on British Colonial Africa put us into a jeep for a safari. Alex Katz and Karen Wilson rocked the house with a musical review, putting Sherlockian lyrics to well-known tunes of the Victorian era.  

Saturday evening offered the opportunity to play whist (using a specially created Sherlockian edition of a classic deck of playing cards from Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee), buy books and other Sherlockian goodies (which I did), enjoy the musical talents of Henry Boote, and mingle with old and new friends.

The BSI presents a conference about every four years—although this one was delayed two years by COVID. Earlier conferences have all been followed by a book containing the talks in essay form. I’m looking forward to the same treatment for “Sherlock Holmes and British Empire.” It would be a great resource for those of us who attended as well as for those not so fortunate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

A Funny Yet Mysterious Romp on Baker Street

Baker Street Beat isn’t a book review blog, so I seldom write about current books. This will be an exception because I think the tome in question is exceptional.

Chris Chan’s Sherlock’s Secretary (MX Publishing) isn’t a pastiche. It’s a humous mystery that is both laugh-out-loud funny and also mysterious, with a solution that is surprising yet easy to follow without making a chart. It was nominated "Best Comedy" by the Killer Nashville mystery con, with the winner to be announced next month.    

Protagonist Adalbert “Addy” Zhuang’s job is, in part, to answer letters to addressed to Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street, which is in reality the address of Addy’s employer, a bank. It’s a dream job for a Holmesian, until Addy is held up and robbed of three letters to the Master.

Who would do such a thing? Finding police interest somewhere between slim and none, Addy sets out to solve the mystery by going to the authors of the letters. Fortunately, he is aided in this endeavor by a true crime podcaster named Zabel Carvalho, with whom he is besotted.

The first two letter writers are amusingly eccentric; the third has been murdered just before Addy and Zabel show up.  

One description of the book says that it is not only a whodunit but also a whydunit. I would call it a “whatsup,” which is my term for a story in which the central problem is not who or why but what—as in “what the devil is going on.” Many of the canonical Sherlock Holmes tales are like that (think “The Red-Headed League”), so the subgenre is quite appropriate for this story about Sherlock’s secretary.

Mrs. Baker Street Beat (Ann Brauer Andriacco) and I don’t always agree on our reactions to books, but we both highly enjoyed this quick read and look forward to more Addy and Zabel adventures. This is planned to be the start of a trilogy, but I hope it won't stop there. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Joy of Sherlockian Show & Tell


Sherlockian Show & Tell has become one of my favorite parts of our quarterly meetings of The Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, the scion society of which I am Most Scandalous Member.

Last month Ann and I showed off this handsome pair of Holmes and Watson rubber duckies. What's the point of going to London if you don't bring back something Sherlockian? Not being a collector, and being at an age in life where I don't want to acquire a lot of big stuff, we bought these at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in late May. 

At recent meetings of our club, members have showed off, among many other wonderful things: 

  • 221B in Legos
  • A doll portraying Sherlock Holmes as a badger
  • Seasonal sweatshirts showing Holmes and Watson as showmen
  • A collection of pre-decimal British coins
  • An incredibly tiny Sherlock Holmes book
  • A “Sherlock Study's” soy candle smelling of cherrywood, tobacco, and rain

What's in your Sherlockian closet? Whatever lurks there, don't keep it to yourself! 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Adventure of the Fabulous Film Festival

The great thing about a Sherlock Holmes film festival is that it’s an opportunity to meet new friends and renew acquaintances with old ones – and by “friends” I mean the movies.

I own both the British and American versions of the novelization of A Study in Terror, attributed to Ellery Queen, but I never saw the 1965 movie until last weekend at the annual summer film festival of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. And it was much better than I expected.

Some of the Sherlockian aspects of the film were a shade off, Jack-the-Ripper’s victims were much too well dressed for Victorian era prostitutes, and the soundtrack was a bit jarring. But the plot and the acting (with a cast including Judi Dench and Anthony Quayle, with John Neville as Holmes) was a good one. While the Ripper’s identity didn’t surprise me, the motive did.

The other full-length film, a 1983 made-for-TV version of The Sign of Four starring Ian Richardson, was also well worth watching. Richardson is an excellent Holmes, although a bit too jovial for my taste. The screenplay, which took more liberties with the novel than I would have liked, was by Cincinnati native Charles Edward Pogue. He wrote an excellent version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, also starring Richardson. Along with other members of the Tankerville Club, I met Pogue in 1987 at the staging of a Sherlockian play he wrote.

Read about Pogue’s Hound here: https://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com/2015/08/a-tv-hound-worth-watching.html

Read about his play, The Ebony Age, here: https://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-ebony-ape-of-sherlock-holmes.html

In addition to the films, the Illustrious Clients screened a fun episode of the classic TV program Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Called “My Dear Watson,” it presented a decidedly different take on a post-Reichenbach Holmes.

Although none of these productions was perfect, watching them with an enthusiastic crowd of about 40 Sherlockians made for a fun afternoon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Speckled Band Shines as a Play, Too

 I recently acquired a copy of The Illustrated Speckled Band. Why did I wait so long?

 This 2012 volume from Wessex Press (still in print), edited by Leslie S. Klinger, is more than just the script of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s play, although it is that. This beautifully designed book also includes more than 100 photographs of the original 1910 stage production with H.A. Saintsbury as Sherlock Holmes and Lyn Harding as Dr. Grimesby Rylott (Roylott in the short story).

Including his starring role in the famous William Gillette play, Saintsbury played Holmes on stage about 1,400 times. Harding reprised his role as the villainous Roylott in the 1930 film version of The Speckled Band, with Raymond Massey as Holmes, then graduated to playing  Moriarty against Arthur Wontner’s Holmes in The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes in 1935.

The Illustrated Speckled Band includes a contemporary review of the play that lauds Conan Doyle as a dramatist “who has the gift of characterization, crisp dialogue, and telling situations.”  And all that is true! Although I’d read it before, I’d forgotten that it’s simply a wonderful play, with some great lines. For example:

Watson is newly engaged, and Holmes asks what Miss Morstan would say about him going with Holmes on a dangerous quest. “She would say that a man who deserts his friend would never make a good husband,” Watson responds.

There is some great humor—mostly at Watson’s expense. Such as:

HOLMES: An inquest, was it not, with a string of most stupid and ineffectual witnesses?

WATSON: I was one of the witnesses.

HOLMES: Of course—so you were, so you were.  

Holmes in disguise as a workman complains about the mess that is 221B. “I’ve ’eard say he was as tidy as any when he started, but he learned bad ’abits from a cove what lived with him. Watson was his name.” “You impertinent fellow!” the doctor explodes. “How dare you talk in such a fashion. What do you want?” But by this time Holmes has slipped into his bedroom to remove the disguise. Wasn’t that episode inserted into one of the Basil Rathbone films? 

The play includes Billy the page (a creation of William Gillette), Charles Augustus Milverton, an Indian servant named Ali, and a delightful local rustic called Mr. Armitage. 

An example of ACD’s crisp dialogue comes at the end in an exchange that doesn’t appear in the short story. “The brute is dead,” Watson says, looking at the snake. “So is the other,” Holmes replies, meaning Rylott. Then he assures his client, “Miss Stonor, there is no more danger for you under this roof.” Curtain! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Shades of Sherlock Holmes on Montague Street


“When I first came up to London I had rooms in Montague Street, just round the corner from the British Museum, and there I waited, filling in my too abundant leisure time by studying all those branches of science which might make me more efficient.”

So said Sherlock Holmes in a nostalgic and revelatory mood one winter’s night sitting by the fire with Dr. Watson.

We visited Montague Street recently on a trip to London. It runs in a north-south direction between Russell Square on the north and Great Russell Street on the south. The British Museum is on the west side of the street, fronting on Great Russell Street. There is also a museum entrance on Montague Street.

I’m told that the street today it is much the same as it was 130 years ago. There is at least one difference, however: All the flats there are now hotels and restaurants. So it is possible to stay in one of the Georgian row houses where young Sherlock Holmes once lived and first began to ply his unique trade. But which address was that, the pro-221B?

In the early 1970s, Michael Harrison, the well-known British Holmesian, established from old volumes of the London Post Office Directory that a “Mrs. Holmes” rented 26 Montague Street on a seven-year lease beginning with the Michaelmas (September 29) of 1877. (Harrison originally wrote “24 Montague Street” but later corrected that.) Neither tax records nor records of the Duchy of Bedford Estate, which owned the freehold, yielded any further information about Mrs. Holmes. But we would be dull indeed if we did not strongly suspect that she had two sons, one of whom lived with her as he tested his ability to make his own way in the world.

That would mean that before there was Mrs. Hudson, another Mrs. H was tested by his strange hours and even stranger visitors.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Inside 221B at the Sherlock Holmes Pub

I was pleased that our granddaughter wanted to join me in the room!

I bought my first copy of the Doubleday edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes with my own money when I was 12 years old. One of the things I loved about the book was the photograph on the back: the sitting room at 221B Baker Street. On Friday, May 27, I was in that room—although at a different location.

The room was constructed at Abbey House on Baker Street as just part of the Sherlock Holmes Exhibition mounted during the Festival of Britain in 1951. Mattias Boström and Nicholas Utechin tell the whole story in the Baker Street Journal’s 2018 Christmas Annual. The Exhibition moved to the United States in 1952, the year I was born.

Since the end of 1957, the sitting room—reduced in size—has been part of London’s Sherlock Holmes Pub in Northumberland Street. And that is where I was afforded the rare opportunity of stepping inside, courtesy of the British Holmesian Roger Johnson. Roger and his wife, Jean Upton, maintain what Roger calls “the study” as a labor of love. The coal scuttle, the chemical corner, the gasogene, the wax bust of Sherlock Holmes—everything that signals 221B was there. And so was I, along with granddaughter Amelia (who is a Potterhead rather than a Sherlockian).

Most pub patrons only get to the see the familiar room in passing. At the end of the Christmas Annual, Mattias argues that photos taken of the reconstruction over the years have played an important role for Sherlockians and for people who are not so fortunate:

“Those pictures have been used in so many books and articles; they have become our shared images of Holmes’s and Watson’s living-room. Through that Room, the two friends on Baker Street stepped out of our imagination and into reality.”

If you visit London, the Sherlock Holmes Pub is a “must” stop. Even the food is good.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Joys of The Valley of Fear

I’ve been in the Valley of Fear recently.

It started when I bought a copy of Murderland at the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis auction on May 14. This companion volume to the Baker Street Irregulars expedition to Jim Thorpe, PA, and environs in 2004—site of the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel—is a wonderful little book with essays covering both historical and literary analysis of Valley.

Steven T. Doyle writes about the Mollie Maguires of fact vs. the Scowrers of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction, for example, while Gary Lovisi deftly explores Birdy Edwards as the first hard-boiled detective of fiction. (In my mystery novel Queen City Corpse, one of the characters writes a series of Birdy Edwards novels—which I still think is a crackerjack idea.) And the manuscript notes for the novel in ACD’s own hand are reproduced here for the first time.

The Valley of Fear on Film,” Pat Ward’s largely positive take 1935’s The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, caused me to watch for the first time a movie I’ve owned for years. And it’s great!

I agree with Pat that it has a weak supporting cast, with a Watson whom she accurately characterizes as a “pompous popinjay.” The film has more of Moriarty than the novel, which is all to the good, but Lyn Harding is a bit over-the-top in the role. Arthur Wontner, on the other hand, is an excellent Holmes who looks just like the Frank Wiles portrait for The Valley of Fear that caused ACD to say, “This comes nearest to my conception of what he really looked like.”

The scriptwriters did superb job of making the second half of the novel—the world’s first hard-boiled detective story—into a flashback that is the middle part of the movie. And, best of all, they retained this glorious exchange between Boss McGinty and the man he knew as McMurdo:  

“Is he here? Is Birdy here?”

“Yes, Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!”

Asked for his favorite passage of English prose, T.S. Eliot—one of the greatest poets of the Twentieth Century—gave that interchange as his response, delivered with appropriate gestures.

The Valley of Fear is nowhere near as famous to the general public as The Hound of the Baskervilles. But count me among those who consider it a masterwork—two great short novels in one. I’m grateful that Murderland made me take another look at it. Unfortunately, Murderland is out of print. But if you can find it, get it!

Sherlock Holmes by Frank Wiles

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

'And It is Always 1914'?

I had the pleasure of choosing the story and writing the quiz for Sunday’s meeting of the Agra Treasurers of Dayton. I picked my sentimental favorite, “His Last Bow.”

This isn’t the best story. It’s not even the story that gives us the most of what we love about Sherlock Holmes in one tale. (My choice for that is “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” which has Mycroft, Lestrade, a murder mystery, a spy story, Holmes and Watson committing burglary, and some wonderful dialogue.)

For years I thought that what I loved out “His Last Bow” was the beginning and the ending. Both are fantastic. The opening:

“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.”

And the famous ending:

“There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”

“I think not, Holmes. It is very warm.”

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God's own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared. Start her up, Watson, for it’s time that we were on our way. I have a check for five hundred pounds which should be cashed early, for the drawer is quite capable of stopping it if he can.”

Great writing, indeed! But I now realize that what makes the story special for me is something else: This is the story that makes Holmes and Watson real because they have aged along with the world around him, unlike Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. They were young men in A Study in Scarlet and, well, not-young men in “His Last Bow.”

And the last couple of sentences assures us that they will keep soldiering on.

Always 1895? Not really. Sometimes it’s 1914. And that’s a good thing.