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.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

An Adventure in Sherlockian Spousal Support

Although I’ve been a Sherlockian for more than half a century, I’d never heard of my interest referred to as a “hobby” until perhaps half a dozen years ago. But the term fits.

If a man has a hobby he follows it up, whatever his other pursuits may be,” Sherlock Holmes says in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.” That is one of just many uses of the word in the Canon.

One of the characteristics of hobbies is that they generally aren’t solitary. Name a hobby, and there is an association for it. By one count, there are almost 1,000 Sherlock Holmes societies in this beautiful world. A good deal of the fun is sharing our passion with others, meeting fascinating people who would be otherwise unknown to us.  

This has been my joy since the publication of my first Holmes-centric book, Baker Street Beat, in 2011. At that point I entered the larger world of Holmes-mania beyond Ohio and made wonderful friends around the world, both in cyberspace and in person.   

But even better – great as that is – I am blessed to have a wife who, though not herself a dedicated Sherlockian, has jumped into my hobby with a will. Ann is always on the lookout for a Sherlockian connection on our travels near and far, ready to take a picture or buy an obscure artifact related to that Baker Street guy.

On a brief trip this week not far from home to celebrate my retirement from the day job, she spotted the magical address of 221 (Main Street, not Baker) in Madison, Indiana. She had a photo almost before I knew what she was doing.

That’s what I call spousal support!  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Publication Day for the Latest McCabe-Cody!

“Where do we hide the body?”

This is the startling question that Jeff Cody and his wife, Lynda, hear during a wedding reception on the first night of the QueenCon mystery conference in Cincinnati. Not only are the whispered words unnerving, there is no one nearby to have spoken them.

Jeff’s brother-in-law, mystery writer and amateur sleuth Sebastian McCabe, discounts the puzzle with what seems to be a logical and reassuring explanation. But murder does come to QueenCon – and to a victim who seems to make no sense.

Mac’s usual freewheeling style of mystery-solving runs into a roadblock in the form of a homicide captain who has been his enemy since the seventh grade. So Jeff and Lynda wind up doing his legwork, and what they had expected to be a fun weekend is harder than any day at the office.

Queen City Corpse is available in all the usual places, including Amazon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

From One Great Mystery Writer to Another

No, I am still not a collector, just as I wrote in my very first blog post. But once in a while, I touch a book that has a magic connection for me. So it was earlier this month at Black Dog Books in Zionsville, Ind.

The volume in question was a copy of In the Queens' Parlor, a delightful collection of essays by Ellery Queen. As almost every mystery reader knows, Queen was the joint pseudonym of cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. Dannay was the editor/critic of the duo, and a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. One of the essays in the book, often reprinted in many forms, tells the story of his first encounter with Holmes as a boy.

I’ve owned copy of the book’s first printing, with a dust jacket in good shape, for probably more than thirty years. I bought it at a library sale for 75 cents. But the copy I picked off a shelf at Black Dog Books was different: It included an inscription from Ellery Queen to Rex Stout.

That’s amazing for a couple of reasons: 
  • ·         This is a book about books, so an author giving it to another author is perfect.
  • ·         The book contains an anecdote about Queen and Stout, connecting Nero Wolfe to Sherlock Holmes, as I have written about before. 

So one of my favorite Golden Age mystery writers inscribed a book to another and I actually got to hold it. It couldn’t get much better than that.

But it did.

My wonderful wife and children bought the book for me as an early birthday present. Now when I hold it in my hands, I know that this unique volume is mine. This must be how collectors feel all the time!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Holmes from Hell

For some reason, I enjoy off-the-wall riffs on Sherlock Holmes – just the sort of thing that you may hate. Maybe it’s because nobody takes that sort of things too seriously, including the author, and there is often a high degree of humor involved.

Warlock Holmes: The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles had me laughing out loud in places. But it took a while. Since I hadn’t read the first book, Warlock Holmes – A Study in Brimstone, I was a bit at sea at first. It was a little hard to come to grips with the idea that Watson had killed Holmes but kept the body, which was slowly reanimating.

Also, the aptly named Warlock Holmes has demons at his beck and call, sort of like street Arabs from hell.

The description of the book on Amazon is hard to improve upon (except that I have inserted an Oxford comma where needed):   
The game’s afoot once more as Holmes and Watson face off against Moriarty’s gang, the Pinkertons, flesh-eating horses, a parliament of imps, boredom, Surrey, a disappointing butler demon, a succubus, a wicked lord, an overly-Canadian lord, a tricycle-fight to the death, and the dreaded Pumpcrow. Oh, and a hell hound, one assumes. 

They forgot to mention that Mrs. Hudson is a shrew.  

In addition to the title story, the volume also contains four other adventures. All are based on original Sherlock Holmes stories. The creative distortion of these classic tales adds something to the enjoyment for devotees – or to the outrage, depending on your viewpoint.  

If you occasionally like your Baker Street with a big dash of humor (of the Three Stooges variety), Warlock is the Holmes to try.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hard-Boiled Holmes with a Cover to Match!

I’ve long thought that one of the most underrated volumes in the Canon is The Valley of Fear. It’s really two great tales in one – an excellent mystery unraveled by Sherlock Holmes, and a backstory that Steven Doyle says (correctly) is the world’s first hard-boiled detective story.

My favorable opinion is not a complete outlier. Mystery great John Dickson Carr listed Valley as one of the 10 best mystery novels, and Curtis Armstrong, BSI, said recently on the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast that it is his current favorite of the Holmes novels. Curtis called it “noir,” which is pretty much another way of saying hard-boiled.

Steve Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes for Dummies first alerted me to the ground-breaking nature of the second part of the book, “The Scowrers.” How fitting, then, that it was in Steve’s magnificent library that I first saw the incredible Hard Case Crime edition of the book published in 2009.   

Hard Case is a paperback series of private eye novels, old and new. Whether a particular volume just came out of the author’s computer or was first published in 1917, the front and back cover always evokes the style of the Mike Hammer books from the 1950s. Accordingly, the front The Valley of Fear in this edition features a scantily clad damsel and the chilling words, “They All Answered to The BODYMASTER!” It also correctly notes, “INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY.” 

The back cover is even more over-the-top: 
 A sawed-off shotgun blast to the face leaves one man dead – and reveals a secret that has pursued another across an ocean and set the world’s most ruthless criminal on his trail. The man needs the help of a great detective . . . but could even Sherlock Holmes help him now?
That’s great writing, folks!

Happily, a copy of this edition came my way recently as a gift from Gary Reibert of the Agra Treasurers in Dayton. It’s a wonderful addition to my Sherlockian library, and I will always prize it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sherlock Holmes in German, Ja!

“A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs.” – Sherlock Holmes

“A Scandal in Bohemia,” from which the above quote is taken, is in part a story about a wedding. Late last month a sort of family wedding took us back to the delightful Austrian town of St. Veit. While there I acquired a new German translation of The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

A couple of things about this volume interested me. The first is that the outline of Holmes on the front of the book and the shadow on the back owe nothing to Paget, Steele, Gillette, Rathbone, or Brett. The model is Benedict Cumberbatch.

Secondly, in this translation Holmes and Watson address each other using the polite form of the word for “you” rather than the familiar – “Sie” vs. “du.” English used to have “thou” for use between friends, but this has virtually disappeared except in prayers and Shakespeare. The distinction is still alive in Italian, however, so I hauled out my Canon in Italian, Tutto Holmes, to see how the Italian handle it. Sure enough, Holmes and Watson also address each other formally in Italian.

I guess this is British reserve, as perceived by German and Italian translators.

German is well known for convoluted sentences, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the German translation of “The Adventure of the Empty House” begins with a sentence of 27 words compared to five for the German translation. But the opening sentence of the English original has 33 words!

At the wedding, I learned about a language-learning app, beelinguapp, which offers selections in English paired with the same in numerous languages that English-speakers may wish to learn. Since I’m studying German, I was pleased to find an extract from “The Final Problem” in that language.

Our St. Veit hotel room wasn’t 221, but we were close enough to sneak next door for a couple of pictures. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Second Thoughts About Agent Pendergast

During a quick trip to Austria over the weekend for a family wedding, I re-read White Fire, an Agent Pendergast novel from 2013. I'd forgotten that it's such a wonderful homage to Sherlock Holmes, including a better-than-average pastiche!

My opinion remains what I blogged at the time. It's highly entertaining, with special treats for Sherlockians. But it struck me the second time around that the uninitiated might take a lot of the fictional backstory as being true. This is a novel. If you're unsure which of the parts including real people (primarily Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde) didn't actually happen, there are many factual sources to go to.

May I recommend From Holmes to Sherlock?  

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.