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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

"Who, then, is Porlock?"

“Who, then, is Porlock?” Watson asks in the marvelous opening scene of The Valley of Fear.

Holmes responds: “Porlock, Watson, is a nom-de-plume, a mere identification mark; but behind it lies a shifty and evasive personality.”

Shifty, indeed! The name keeps coming back. 

According to the official list of Baker Street Journal editors, Fred Porlock fulfilled that role during 1984. In reality, someone who would know told me that several individuals hid behind that name. I am the BSJ’s tenth “editor of record.”  

Now a new Porlock has emerged, the author of a book called The Adventure of the Murder on the Calais Coach. It’s a mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (specifically the book best known as Murder on the Orient Express), printed in a limited-edition of 1000 hardback copies by UK-based Crystal Peake Publisher, and sent free to Sherlockians far and wide. The dedication page gives few clues as to who is hiding behind the name. The author says:

I hope, but in no way guarantee, that you enjoy this work and also that I have honoured and done justice to the two national treasures who created the original works on which this pastiche is based; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie.

My intention was only ever to build upon rather than contradict the Canons.

Written in London during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown of 2020 and dedicated to the memory of the millions of  souls lost.   


And what of the original Porlock? My friend Robert Sharfman, in a so-far-unpublished essay on “Moriarty – Saint or Sinner?”, writes:

This name first appearing in The Valley of Fear has been examined by no less than Ronald Knox, David Talbott Cox, Noah Andre Trudeau, Paul Smedegaard, Thomas Andred, Christopher F. Baum, Paul Zens, Alan Olding, and Donald Alan Webster without a solid bit of fact to support any conclusion that this Porlock was Professor Moriarty, and having guesses ranging from the Professor and his brother James to Colonel Moran (by  Smedegaard)—all summarized by Leslie Klinger in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Sharfman concludes that, contra Holmes, Porlock is in fact Porlock, not a nom-de-plume. That seems dubious to me, but we can never really know.

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