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 22, 2017

Holmes, Sherlock Holmes

In 1976, married not a year, my wife and I settled down to watch the made-for-TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York on our small screen black and white television. Featuring Roger Moore, Patrick McNee, and John Houston (as Moriarty), how bad could it be?

Pretty bad, I later thought!

I’ve always cringed when I thought of that movie, which was cranked out during the Holmes explosion of the 1970's while Moore was just beginning his long run as James Bond. Somewhere along the line I acquired a copy of the paperback novelization, but I never bothered to read it.

But recently I saw it again, for the first time in more than 40 years, during the annual film Sherlock Holmes festival sponsored by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis at the Zionsville Public Library. I was in for a huge surprise – it wasn’t that bad!

To be sure, much of the dialogue is groan-worthy, Roger Moore’s false sideburns look strange, and the sets would embarrass a community theater production. But on the other side of the ledger, the plot is clever, John Houston is always fun to watch, and the scriptwriter threw in a basketful of Easter eggs for fans not only of Sherlock Holmes, but of Nero Wolfe as well.

The bottom line is that Sherlock Holmes in New York is campy fun.

And by the way, so was the episode of “Gilligan’s Island” also included on the program. You haven’t lived until you’ve been in an audience of Sherlockians spontaneously bursting into “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale . . .”  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Changing Face of Sherlock Holmes

The original Basil of Baker Street
Today I turn Baker Street Beat over to guest blogger Rohase Piercy for a look at how portrayals of the world’s first consulting detective have changed over the decades.

“What is wrong, surely, is Mr. Rathbone’s reading of the great character,” complained Graham Greene, reviewing Basil Rathbone’s 1939 performance in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, “the good humour (Holmes very rarely laughed), and the general air of brisk good health . . .”

Commenting on the same actor’s portrayal in The Hound of The Baskervilles, Greene elaborated: “. . . he forgets that he belongs to the end of a century, and probably met Wilde at first nights.  One cannot imagine this Holmes indolent, mystical or untidy (there were tobacco jars and not – shouldn't it have been? - a Turkish (sic) slipper on the chimney piece).”

Yet when I was growing up in the 1960s, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were the only portrayals of Holmes and Watson on screen – a manly, stiff-upper-lipped detective striding purposefully across London with pipe clenched between his teeth, accompanied by a genial and somewhat dense old buffer in a greatcoat.  What had happened to the languid, violin-playing cocaine addict of the original stories, who lounges on the couch in his dressing gown in the middle of the day complaining of ennui and describes his life as “one long effort to escape from the commonplace of existence”? What had happened to his handsome, active, ex-military sidekick?

From the 1930s onwards some rather drastic reshaping of the Great Detective had taken place in order to make him fit the contemporary mold. “A pipe, a dog and a golf club,” opined Sydney Horler, whose Tiger Standish stood alongside Sapper's Bulldog Drummond and the heroes of Edgar Wallace as the ideal of British masculinity; “if you want to win the heart of a man, give him one of these.  And when I say a man, I mean a man – not one of these emasculated cigarette smokers.”

To those of us who noticed and resented the glaring difference between this hearty, healthy portrayal and the fin-de-siecle phenomenon that had fascinated Doyle’s original late Victorian readers, what a breath of fresh air was Jeremy Brett when he flounced onto our television screens in 1984 in the Granada TV adaptations!  Languid as a panther, sporting the “quiet sartorial primness” of the original Paget illustrations, Brett’s Holmes – partnered originally with David Burke’s handsome, soldierly Watson and later with Edward Hardwicke’s sensitive, intelligent portrayal – re-introduced the original troubled, cocaine-addicted Holmes to a public on the cusp of another fin de siecle.

And then came the 21st Century!  So far we’ve had Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law camping it up in Guy Ritchie’s “bromance” movies, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman wielding i-phones and hailing taxis in the BBC’s “Sherlock” series, and Sir Ian McKellen staving off dementia in Mr. Holmes, the film adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick Of The Mind.  It seems that every era wants to re-create Sherlock in its own image. 

Rohase Piercy is the author of several novels, including My Dearest Holmes. Her new Sherlock Holmes mystery, co-authored with Charlie Raven, is A Case Of Domestic Pilfering.  She describes the books as post-Freudian takes on the original "indolent, mystical and untidy" Holmes. Rohase lives in Brighton, England with her husband Leslie and dog Spike.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Wonderful New Look at Holmes & Friends

Author Mattias Boström four years ago. He still has the beard. See below
From Holmes to Sherlock, new in English this month from The Mysterious Press, is the story of the birth and enduring life of the character whose name means “detective” in almost every language.

And what a fascinating story it is, as told by Swedish Sherlockian Mattias Boström! “Reads like fiction” is a cliché that’s hard to avoid in describing this engrossing narrative full of quirky characters and twists and turns of plot. The 497 pages of text, followed by 100 pages of notes and index, fly by.

The book begins in 1878 with Arthur Conan Doyle. It ends in 2015 with the rediscovery of the lost William Gillette film of his classic melodrama Sherlock Holmes. The closing lines of the book remind us, however, that the story will go on.

With so much ground to cover – literal ground across many countries as well as metaphorical ground across more than a century – even such a hefty tome as this one couldn’t give detailed attention to everything. So Boström had to be selective about what to sketch lightly and what to put under the magnifying lens. This he did almost perfectly.

Most of the 111 chapters, greatly expanded from the original Swedish version, involve material that I’m somewhat familiar with after more than five decades of Sherlockian reading. And yet, almost every chapter also contains material that was new and interesting to me. From Holmes to Sherlock is neither too elementary nor advanced for anyone interested in the Holmes phenomenon.

It would be hard for me to pick a favorite part, but the account of how the first female members were added to the ranks of the Baker Street Irregulars is among the most dramatic and moving. And the explanation of the Sherlock Holmes copyright ownership, a complex thread running through multiple chapters and many years, was most enlightening to me.

I first interviewed Mattias Boström about this book just over four years ago. I’m delighted to be able to finally read it in English and learn that it’s just as good as I expected. If I had a much smaller Sherlockian library, this book would still be an indispensable part of it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Non-Collector's Favorite Books

At book fairs, with all the mysteries I’ve written on the table before me, potential buyers often ask my favorite. I usually say, “I love all my children.” That’s pretty much true of the books I own as well, but some have particular significance for me. A few of those include:

  • ·         The Complete Sherlock Holmes, standard Doubleday edition. I bought this volume with my own money when I was in the seventh grade; it is now in tatters.
  • ·         Three Problems for Solar Pons by August Derleth. I paid a quarter for this limited-edition book at a library sale many years ago, the biggest book bargain of my life.  
  • ·         Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, published by for young readers by Whitman, was probably the first Sherlock Holmes editionI ever owned, although this isn’t the actual book I had as a boy. The stories are unabridged, although not all of the Adventures are included.  
  • ·         Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Steven Doyle is the general introduction I recommend to readers as the first step beyond the Canon itself.  

The following are all books that I borrowed from the public library when I was a lad, then acquired with great joy many years later:
  • ·         The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes, edited by Howard Haycraft, was another nice collection for young readers.  
  • ·         The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett introduced me to the wider world of Sherlockian criticism. I own three editions, just because I can.
  • ·         Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould actually isn’t one of my favorites, but it has such an import role in the history of Sherlockiana that I have to give it special honor. I have a copy on each floor of our home.

Oh, and I should add my own books. My favorite of these? As I said up top, I love all my children. Look for Queen City Corpse: A Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody Mystery in September and The Villa of the Doomed: Another Adventureof Sherlock Holmes in January.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Next Sherlockian Adventure

With a friend in Edinburgh
It’s been a wonderful year for me, and I’m excited to announce the latest: Wessex Press will publish my Sherlock Holmes novel The Villa of the Doomed early in 2018 under its Gasogene Books label.

A little more than a year ago, I had no interest in writing a novel-length Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which I define as a book written in the style of Dr. Watson. But my friend Steven Doyle, co-owner of Wessex along with Mark Gagan, asked me to consider it. I did so, taking a temporary break from my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries published by MX Publishing.

What I came up with – I hope – is a book that Arthur Conan Doyle could have written. I’ll flesh out a little more what I mean by that when the book comes out. But this is what Mark and Steve wrote in offering me a contract for the book: 
We are particularly pleased that it is a traditional Sherlock Holmes adventure. It should stand out against the latest crop of “SH meets Jack the Ripper, Zombies, historical figures and literary characters” books.

And here is what the eminent Roger Johnson, BSI, ASH, editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, thought about it: 
Dan Andriacco is well established as a formidable detective story writer and (no great surprise) as a formidable Sherlockian. It was only a matter of time before he turned his hand to a full-length and full-blooded exploit of the sage of Baker Street – and what a cracker it is! Shortly after the Queen’s death brings an end to the Victorian era, Sherlock Holmes is invited to investigate an apparent vendetta against a young woman in Surrey .  . . Rumours of ghosts and occult rituals add an extra frisson to the atmosphere of mystery and suspense as the screw gradually, remorselessly tightens. And as a nice bonus we meet an old friend, the one police detective who is undeniably on the same level as Holmes himself. Capital!

I’m looking forward to seeing what you think about it! Coming in January!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pinning Down a New Collection

Since I don’t collect books, maybe I should collect pins from Sherlockian societies. They don’t cost much, they’re easy to store and transport, they identify one with a group, and they carry happy memories.

Also, I already have a start! It’s a modest start, though. I only have the few pins pictured here, but I love to wear them.

The Tankerville Club pin, from the Cincinnati scion society I’ve belonged to since 1981, features a profile of Holmes and a hand of cards signifying the nature of the Canonical Tankerville Club as a card club. (The Tankerville is the only club mentioned twice in the Canon, in “The Five Orange Pips” and in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”)

The pin for the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, of which I’m also a member, is suitably regal. It also includes the club’s founding date – a nice touch! – and the iconic pipe and magnifying glass of the Master.

The Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay pin features the eponymous bird of the group’s name, to which Holmes once compared Dr. Watson. (“You are the stormy of crime, Watson,” he says in “The Naval Treaty.”) This pin evokes a nice memory for me because I received it when I gave a keynote address to the group one January in honor of Holmes’s birthday.

The extraordinarily complex and beautiful Diogenes Club of Washington, D.C., pin brings back another fond memory of a talk. Michael Quigley presented me with a patch of this logo when I spoke at the inaugural luncheon meeting. Ann bought the pin earlier this year. She qualifies as a member of the group, which is made up of individual who have served their country in some official capacity.

My friend Bonnie MacBird, author of Art in the Blood and general bon vivant, gave me the Sherlock Breakfast Club last January during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. That’s her group in Los Angeles. It’s nice to see Dr. Watson saluted through the presence of a bowler hat.

Now I need an Agra Treasurers pin from the Dayton group. Fortunately, they do exist. And so do dozens more pin designs from other groups. And now I’m on the hunt!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Stone of Destiny

“On Christmas Day 1950 four Scottish students removed the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. On 11 April 1951 it turned up 500 miles away – at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey!”

So says the official souvenir guide to Edinburgh Castle, which I picked up last year on our Scottish vacation. The oblong red sandstone block – also known as the Stone of Scone and used for centuries in the coronation ceremony of Scottish monarchs – has been on display at the castle since the English returned it to Scotland in 1996.

That is the historical fact. But there are many alternative facts, and one of the most intriguing is the idea that Sherlock Holmes (or a reasonable facsimile) was involved retrieving the stolen stone. August Derleth ploughed this ground in “The Adventure of the Stone of Scone” in The Return of Solar Pons. More recently, Mike Hogan spun a great yarn with The Scottish Questions: Sons of the Thistle.

Now comes Richard T. Ryan with another enjoyable tale, The Stone of Destiny. This time around, it’s a group of Irish rebels who decide to kidnap the ancient stone shortly after the death of Queen Victoria and hold it ransom. The price for Edward to get it back for his coronation is independence for the Emerald Isle. 

Like Ryan’s earlier The Vatican Cameos, the story is told in chapters that alternate between Dr. Watson’s narrative and another viewpoint. In this case, the other narrative is a third-person account from the point of view of the Irish who took the stone. Since we already who they are, the suspense is wondering how Holmes will figure out where the stone is being held.

Holmes does not disappoint. His method, combining brilliant deduction and a trap or sorts, is extremely clever and worthy of the Master. In a foreshadowing of his undercover work in Irish disguise in “His Last Bow,” Holmes masquerades in Ireland as a chimney sweep. And Watson goes undercover, too – even sacrificing his mustache for the cause!     

The Stone of Destiny: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure is available for from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Kindle.

Monday, June 26, 2017

3 Days in a Weekend, 3 Ways to be a Sherlockian

The Illustrious Clients at the Zoo
Collecting memberships in Sherlock Holmes societies can be like collecting books, except easier and cheaper. Without trying I’ve joined a half-dozen or so. But the ones I am closest to are the ones I am closest to – geographically.

This weekend my wife Ann and I attended meetings in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Indianapolis. We rather feared it was going to be a Bataan death march of a weekend, but it turned out to be delightful. And together, the three meetings show the wonderful variety of Holmes-mania.

On Friday, the Tankerville Club met at a Cincinnati-area Panera restaurant. We had a quiz and a discussion about “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.” Official Secretary Paul Herbert’s legendary prowess at creating excruciating quizzes has not waned. (Example: “Would an investigation uncover any collusion between the Russians and either Arthur Conan Doyle or John Watson? Yes No Uncertain.”)

On Saturday, the Illustrious Clients made a field trip to the Indianapolis Zoo, led by the Illustrious Client, StevenDoyle. It was scavenger hunt in which we were charged with finding Canonical animals on a check list. A few examples will suffice:

Baboon: “The Speckled Band”
Lion: “The Veiled Lodger”
Ostrich: “The Engineer’s Thumb”
Tiger: “The Empty House”
Eagle: The Second Stain”
Gild Monster [lizard]: Tie breaker – what story? (A Study in Scarlet)

Ann was able to check off 16 animals, some of which she found on a carrousel, but her dogged attempts to find the worm from “Thor Bridge” proved fruitless.

On Sunday, the Agra Treasurers met for lunch at a Dayton restaurant and a quiz on a “The Red-Headed League” by member Stanley Wyllie. The Agra Treasurers’ tradition is that the winner of the quiz has to prepare the next one. Why wasn’t I warned? That task has now fallen to me.

There are many ways for a Sherlock Holmes society to function, but friendship is the lifeblood and the fun of it all. If you don’t belong to a group, join one. If there isn’t one near you, start one.

The Tiger of San Pedro or a Sebastian Moran target? (Steven Doyle photo)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Drawing Humor Out of Sherlock Holmes

Sometimes – and I know this is hard to believe! – it is possible to take Sherlock Holmes too seriously. But the late Norman Schatell had a cure for that.

The Lighter Side of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of more than 300 of his hilarious cartoons and illustrations, compiled by his son, Glenn, gently poking fun at Canonical characters and conventions. A lot of them are laugh-out-loud funny, and all the more so because only Sherlockians would understand the humor.

Many of the cartoons appeared first in such illustrious publications as The Baker Street Journal, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, The Armchair Detective, Baker Street Miscellanea, and The Serpentine Muse. Others were illustrated envelopes that Schatell mailed to his friends.

The Lighter Side of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores including Amazon USABarnes and Noble USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon KindleNook and Kobo.