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.