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.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Decoding and Deciphering Sherlock Holmes

An 18th century cipher device on display at the National Cryptologic Museum
You wouldn't think that a super secret spy agency would operate a museum open to the public, but the National Security Agency does.

It's called the National Cryptologic Museum, and my wife and I greatly enjoyed visiting it last month in Ft. Meade, MD. It tells the story of the machines and the people involved in creating and breaking codes from ancient times to the present day. The human stories fascinated me even more than the history of, for example, the famous Enigma Machine from World War II.

But for all its wonders, this great museum has a serious gap. There is not even a mention of the man who broke the code of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes! Fortunately, Dancing to Death, edited by Ray Betzner and David F. Morrill, fills the gap.

Part of the Baker Street Irregulars Manuscript Series, this volume covers every conceivable aspect of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," including the cipher itself. Dana Richards's "Codes, Ciphers and the Canon" expands the topic to include secret writings throughout the Sacred Writings.

The heart of the book, however, is a facsimile of the original manuscript of  the story, with annotations and commentary. As a writer, I also find it fascinating to see the author's process at work, adding and deleting to produce the final story as we know it.

In a talk about "The Dancing Men" to the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis earlier this year, co-editor Ray Betzner confessed that he has always felt uneasy about this story because he blames Holmes for the death of the detective's client, Hilton Cubitt. Read the book to find out why.

Ray Betzner will be one of the speakers at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five in Dayton next March. Another speaker, retired NSA employee Brent Morris, will talk about codes and ciphers in the Canon. Register here.

A code machine at the Cryptologic Museum 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Some Holmes for the Holidays - Or Whenever

This is the time of year when literati are apt to compile lists of the best books of 2017. But that’s not what this blog post is about. I don’t read enough new books to do that.

What I can do is introduce you to a few books I have read that you or the Sherlockians on your Christmas list might enjoy. Full disclosure: They are all from MX Publishing, which publishes Queen CityCorpse and all my other Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries.

Here goes:

Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson’s Kitchen, by Wendy Heyman-Marsaw, edited by JoAnn and Mark Alberstat, is adapted from a series of columns in the journal Canadian Holmes. In addition to presenting recipes that might well have been served at 221B Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson offers a storehouse of information about the history, culture (high tea vs. cream tea), and attire of the Victorian era. Some good scholarship is on display here! The advertisements from the period that illustrate the book are also highly informative, and the recipe index at the end is helpful. This one is staying on the shelves in my office for easy reference.

The Case of the Swan in the Fog is the third in the author’s “Before Watson” series, in which Holmes is assisted by another Boswell who is also a doctor – Dr. Poppy Stamford. Poppy is the sister of the Holmes’s friend who eventually introduced him to Watson. The mystery is firmly set in historical circumstances, with a killer fog and Victorian social conditions playing key roles. The relationship between Holmes and Poppy is not a romantic one, and yet Holmes at one point steps out of his role as a thinking machine to protect her heart.    

Mycroft Holmes and the Adventure of the DesertWind, by Janina Woods, is an adventure indeed – more a thriller than a mystery. It involves magic, cultists, a Moriarty made mad by surviving the Reichenbach fall, and a love triangle involving the Holmes brothers and a character in the Canon who isn’t who we thought he was. In fact, he isn’t a he, according to this hitherto unpublished memoir by Mycroft Holmes. Needless to say, author Woods takes more than a few liberties with the Sacred Writings. But it’s quite a romp.

Imagination Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes, edited by David Marcum, is a clear choice for anybody who appreciates the art of radio drama as much as I do. Imagination Theatre broadcast 128 original Sherlock Holmes episodes under the title of “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” Sixteen writers contributed, and each is represented in this volume by a script from the series. As in any anthology, there is quite a lot of variety of approach here. But none of the plays stray too far from the Canon, not do they overwork the familiar.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Traditions of a Sherlock Holmes scion society

Relics of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"
Sherlockians are, by and large, traditionalists. And the Sherlock Holmes societies they form each have their own unique traditions. As one who has attended many scion meetings as a visitor, I am fascinated by the variety of ways they are structured and what they do.

On Monday, I had the pleasure of speaking to Watson's Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD, about persistent plot tropes in the Canon. As newcomers, my wife and I were warned that "one meeting is an honest mistake; attend two and you are considered a member." This is a rather informal criterion!

The Tin Boxers meet on the last Monday of every month, except for holidays. There are no dues. Since its founding in 1990, the group has had a new president (called the "Gasogene") every year in order to foster the development of leadership. 

As with most such groups, each meeting includes a discussion and quiz on one of the stories of the Holmes Canon. But along with this, Watson's Tin Box has an amazing legacy from its late co-founder, Paul Churchill. He created a large box for each of the 60 stories, purportedly containing the original relics of the story at hand.

For example, Monday's story was "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor." Mr. Churchill accumulated what he claimed to be the vanished bride's watered silk wedding dress, the letter that Lord Robert St. Simon send to Sherlock Holmes, the hotel bill on which Francis Hay Moulton wrote his true love a desperate note, a post card of Flora Miller, a guidebook to France from the period of the story, a flag combining the Union Jack and the Stars & Stripes, etc. It is a marvelous conceit.

Learn more about Watson's Tin Box at their website. If you get a chance, stop by for a meeting. Or attend two and thereby become a member! 

Signing copies of my newest mystery novel for friends at Watson's Tin Box 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Master Sleuth as Master Criminal

“What if . . . ?”

That’s essentially how I begin plotting my detective novels, and that’s the game Rob Nunn plays in his new book The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street. He makes his starting point clear in the introduction:

“What if one of the cleverest men in London had turned his brains to crime instead of detection?”

The answer to that question is a chronological retelling of the Canon, from Holmes meeting Watson in the late Victorian era to their encounter with the German agent Von Bork at the dawn of the Great War. Instead of being the world’s first consulting detective, Holmes is a consulting criminal who helps the police when it serves his own ends.  

This does not proport to be a lost manuscript from Watson telling the “true” story behind familiar tales. Rather, it is a sort of alternative universe or mirror image view of our old friends, which I find much more satisfying.

The Holmes of this book turned to crime when he solved the riddle of the Musgrave ritual and his employer reaped the fruit of his labors – i.e., the treasure. He is the mastermind behind many of the crimes in the Canon, including the gold robbery in “The Red-Headed League.” And Irene Adler was his client, not her royal ex-paramour, among many other differences.

Moriarty is, of course, a rival that Holmes has to eliminate. But Colonel Sebastian Moran escapes from prison and plays the role assigned him in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stage play “The Crown Diamond” (later reworked without Moran as “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone.”)

All of the Canonical cases are mentioned in this volume, as are many of Dr. Watson’s untold tales. Some of these adventures are related in detail with quotes from the Canon subtly altered to fit the conceit of the book. Victor Lynch the forger, for example, is an employee in Holmes’s criminal empire, and Charles Augustus Milverton is blackmailing Watson.

Rob Nunn’s knowledge of the Canon is equal to his affection for it. The book is peppered with inside jokes. Thus, the Watson of this book doesn’t write about Holmes until he retires. Then he changes his friend’s name to Sheridan Hope and adopts the pseudonym of Ormond Sacker!

There is no point in being a Sherlockian if you can’t have fun with it. This book is fun.

The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street is available 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 KindleKobo and Nook. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Arthur Conan Doyle, Writing Model

One of the talks I like to give to non-Sherlockian groups is called, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Sherlock Holmes.” Apparently, my mystery-writing friend Kathleen Kaska is of the same mind. In her recent book, Do YouHave a Catharsis Handy? Five-Minute Writing Tips, she dips into the Canon for an example of good writing.

Kathleen, no stranger to readers of this blog, is the author two awarding-winning mystery series: the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book.

Here’s the passage in which she brings Holmes into her newest book: 
What’s the difference between a run-on sentence and a long sentence? A run-on is usually long; however, a long sentence is not necessarily a run-on. A run-on sentence is grammatically incorrect. It also lacks sign posts for the reader to know how the clauses or thoughts are related. It is comprised of two or more independent clauses that are not separated by a conjunction or punctuation. 
 Here’s how a great passage would become a run-on sentence if the punctuation and the conjunction or were removed. Sherlock Holmes said it in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, “The Adventures of the Creeping Man.” 
 “My line of thoughts about dogs is analogous to how a dog reflects the family life whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family a sad dog in a happy one snarling people have snarling dogs dangerous people have dangerous ones and their passing moods may reflect the passing moods of others.” 
 Thankfully, Conan Doyle wrote: 
 “My line of thoughts about dogs is analogous to how a dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones. And their passing moods may reflect the passing moods of others.” 
 Long sentences are best written with a stylistic purpose; and if done well, they can be literary works of art. 

I once took part in a panel in which two prominent American mystery writers agreed that Conan Doyle was a great story teller but not a very good writer. They were wrong. He was a wonderful writer, and a great model for any other writer today, 87 years after his death. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Meet the Irrepressible Monica Schmidt

The Sherlockian world has been blessed in this decade with an influx of energetic young enthusiasts. One such is Monica Schmidt, whom I have had the pleasure of encountering repeatedly at events around the country. I decided it was time to ask her a few questions. Her interest in Holmes didn’t begin with the BBC’s Sherlock.    

When/how did you first become acquainted with Mr. Sherlock Holmes?
In January of 1987, I was 5 ½ years-old.  I have a memory of watching a movie on TV featuring a guy who had been cryogenically frozen and woken up in the modern day (The Return of Sherlock Holmes, starring Michael Pennington).  This guy wore a funny hat and cape, had an accent, and was a detective.  And then my mother made me go to bed before I could catch the name of the movie or watch its conclusion.  But the memory of that character stuck with me. When I was 7 or 8, I came across a children’s edition of The Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (featuring abridged versions of BLUE, RED, and SPEC).  Thanks to the cover art, I recognized that this Sherlock Holmes fellow must have been the same one from that movie I remembered. I really enjoyed those stories and thirsted for more.  A year or so later, I came across Jeremy Brett’s Holmes on PBS and got hooked. I started devouring all things Sherlockian and I haven’t stopped. 

What’s your favorite canonical Holmes story and why?
This question is like asking which are your favorite children. But, if I must choose, I would probably have to pick BLUE because it was the first story I read and therefore it’s a sentimental favorite.  The story is set during the winter holiday season (which is always a favorite time of year) and it’s become a custom in my household to re-read the story and watch the Granada version of the tale over the Christmas holiday.  Also, as someone who works closely with the criminal justice system, I like that the story also plays with the idea of legal vs. social justice:  Holmes allows Ryder to go free because he recognizes justice is not served by making Ryder into a jailbird. 

How does your day job as an addiction counselor give you insight to Holmes?
I’m a licensed mental health counselor, but I specialize in the treatment of addictions (alcohol, drugs, and gambling).  So, I’d like to think I have a fair amount of insight regarding Holmes’s drug use as well as his mental health.  Because Holmes is a hero to many, I like to give presentations about the intersection between mental health and the Canon as a way of educating the public about what addiction or mental health concerns actually look like (as compared to the extreme pop-culture stereotypes we are presented with in movies and on TV).  

How did you get involved in the Younger Stamfords?
I had to go to Minnesota to find my local scion in Iowa City. My first Sherlockian event was the Norwegian Explorers/University of Minnesota Sherlockian conference in 2010.  While I was at the conference, I sat next to Peter Blau (had no idea who he was) and we chatted about youthful engagement in the community.  I convinced him that a Sherlockian scion needs a web presence if it is to draw younger people… and this is why The Red Circle of DC has a website.  I mentioned to him that I had searched the Internet and could not find a scion close to me in Iowa City or Cedar Rapids.  Of course, the idea of searching in books never occurred to this ’net-savvy young lady.  Peter pointed at Dr. Richard (Dick) Caplan, founder of the Younger Stamfords, and told me to go talk to him.  Thank you, Peter, for making sure I found my way. 

How did you become the scion’s president?
Dick Caplan founded the Younger Stamfords in 1988 and decided he would step down from running it after 25 years – just before his 84th birthday in 2013.  In a small market like Iowa City, there are a lot of people who are interested in attending, but not a lot of people who are interested in doing.  Therefore, if you found a group, you may be president for life.  When Dick decided to step down, he resigned himself to the idea that the scion may disband.  I was crushed at this idea because I had just connected with the group and couldn’t bear the idea of the scion going defunct.  So, even though I was the scion’s youngest (and least experienced) member, I volunteered to carry the banner.   

What other groups and scion societies have you been involved with?
In taking over the Younger Stamfords, I made a promise to myself (and an unspoken one to Dick) to educate myself about the greater Sherlockian community so I could feel like I earned the honor of running a scion.  So, I jumped in with both feet.  I am a member of The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago, The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, The O’Lunney’s of Helston Asylum, The Torists International Sherlockian Society, The Wizards of Iz (Sherlockian Brunch Club), The Fourth Garrideb, The Criterion Bar Association, The Friends of the Great Grimpen Mire, The Hansom Cab Clock Club,  and 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash, as well as The Sons of the Copper Beeches.  

How do you think Midwestern scion societies are different from those on the coasts?
Every scion has its own distinct traditions and unique flavor, so grouping or generalizing them would do a disservice to all the organizations.  But I can say that, within the Midwest, The Illustrious Clients (1947) to the east; The Norwegian Explorers (1948) to the west; and The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) (1943) and Hugo’s Companions (1948) in the middle in Chicago have acted as long-standing anchors of Sherlockian activity and scholarship in flyover country.  In the Midwest, scions are a little more geographically spread out and siloed (far less membership overlap than one would find in the Mid-Atlantic region), which means that it takes a larger effort for someone in the heartland to fill up one’s calendar of Sherlockian events. 

What has it mean to you to be part of the broader Sherlock Holmes community?
For me, being part of the broader Sherlockian community means being able to look forward while upholding tradition.  It is eye-opening when one reads the biographies of those Sherlockians who have come before:  so many men and women did great things. Many were at the top of their professions or made major contributions to their fields in addition to making their mark in the Sherlockian community through scholarship and scion involvement.  It’s a great honor to follow in the footsteps of those giants of yesteryear and to be able to make our own contribution to the community they helped craft.

What is something you think people should know about you?
Nearly everything I’ve done in this community is the result of a lot of other people giving me a chance.  People have allowed me to attend their scion meetings.  Someone reached out and invited me to their event.  Or maybe a person spoke up on my behalf because they believed I would be a good fit.  Others have asked me if I would write a paper, do a presentation, or work on a project.  It’s humbling when others have believed in me even when I may not have believed in myself and that people expect great things of me.  And I have always tried to make sure that no one regretted their decision to include me.  It’s a privilege of being involved in the Sherlockian community.  

You can hear Monica speak at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five in Dayton on March 10, 2018. Register here. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Books, Anyone?

I'm still basking in the afterglow of a great day at Cincinnati's annual Books by the Banks book fair last Saturday. Queen City Corpse, the latest Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody adventure, is off to a great start!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Downsize My Way, Please!

Downsizing is a good thing – especially when a friend downsizes some goodies my way!

Such was the happy case recently when playwright/composer Mark Friedman gifted me with a nicely framed poster from John Wood’s legendary turn as Sherlock Holmes in the iconic William Gillette play on Broadway in the mid-1970s. Mark attended the play and bought the poster, which now resides on the wall of my Sherlock Holmes library.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s

I love the way the poster hyped the melodramatic aspects of the play – which is, after all, a melodrama. It noted the presence of:


Yes, the ending is unbelievable to most Sherlockians – the most unbelievable part of the whole play, to me.

Mark Friedman and writing partner Janet Vogt have written more musicals than I have fingers and toes. One of them is a gem called “Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Crown Jewel,” which has been performed by 15 companies so far. Mark will play excerpts during his talk at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five symposium in Dayton in March. Register now!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Despite Reichenbach, Moriarty Lives

Is any character in alleged fiction of the last 150 years as much of an archetype as Sherlock Holmes?

Well, yes - Professor Moriarty is. Just as Holmes is the archetype of the Great Detective, Moriarty is the epitome of the Master Criminal. Before him there was none in fiction, and every one that followed owes something to him.

Moriarty is one of a trio of characters from the Holmes Canon, along with Irene Adler and Mycroft Holmes, who intrigue us because they are great creations about whom we know so little. That is a gap that pastiche writers fill with endless creativity. For example, both Mycroft and Moriarty have been portrayed as the original "M" of James Bond's secret service.

Recently I picked up a copy of The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, an anthology of 37 new tales edited by Maxim Jakubowski, and was pleasantly surprised at the overall quality. As in an collection of stories by different writers, some are understandably stronger than others. But most are quite good, well written and entertaining.

The variety of approaches in these three dozen stories is astonishing. Most are not written from the pen of Dr. Watson. In fact, one is narrated by the Professor himself. Many give us a young Moriarty who is already devilish, and two involve Moriarty seeking psychiatric help. One ventures into steampunk with a young heroine who turns out to have a surprising identity. In several, the name Sherlock Holmes never appears. 

Since quite a few of the stories take place after Reichenbach and Moriarty is still alive, it's safe to safe that Sherlockian orthodoxy is not observed within these pages. But who cares? The point is to have fun, and this is a fun book. Even though I didn't believe a word of it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Coming Clean with Sherlock Holmes

What does an unemployed philosopher do? Think up cool Sherlock Holmes products, in part.

Ann and I returned home this week from a sojourn in Maryland where, at the Books with a Past bookstore at historic Savage Mill, we found a cute little bar of soap bearing the Master's image. It was produced by the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, the fine folks who also gave us the Sherlock Holmes doll, finger puppet, notebook and card, along with many other literary gems. 

We bought several bars for ourselves and for friends (not to imply that the intended recipients are in need of washing),

What I admire most about this product is the attention to detail and the knowledge of Sherlock Holmes that went into a $3.95 bar of soap. For example, the description on the website begins with a a familiar quote from the Great Detective: 

"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important." Enjoy your next bath with the soap worthy of a fastidious gentleman and the world's first consulting detective! 

The bar itself proclaims it to be, with acceptable self-promotion, "A most Salubrious and Beneficial cleanser for the Beekeeper and consulting Detective alike." That's on one side. The other side says: "Wash away what you see, but you do not observe." As any real devotee knows, that's pure Holmes! So is the back of the bar, which urges purchasers to "Vanquish the Napoleon of grime!"

The two ends of the package are decorated with an inky fingerprint, which can only be an homage to "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder."

The only problem I foresee is that I don't want to destroy the package to get to the soap!