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.

Monday, January 15, 2018

British Holmesians Like Queen City Corpse

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London reviews Queen City Corpse:
Queen City Corpse by Dan Andriacco. MX Publishing, 2017. 240pp. (pbk) When QueenCon, a mystery convention named after the great Ellery Queen, comes to Cincinnati (Longfellow’s “Queen City of the West”) Sebastian McCabe BSI, Jeff Cody, and Jeff’s wife Lynda make the short journey from Erin, Ohio. Sebastian is a successful crime writer, magician and amateur sleuth, and Jeff still has hopes of publishing his own detective novels. Lynda wants to meet her favourite author, Rex Carter, before he succumbs to terminal cancer. On the first night Jeff overhears some ominous whispered words: “Where do we hide the body?” though no one’s there to say them. Inevitably (this is a McCabe and Cody story) murder ensues — but why would anyone kill a man who’ll soon be dead anyway? This is the seventh novel in a deliciously literate, witty series, with ingenious plots and engaging characters. Highly recommended!
Queen City Corpse is available from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USAAmazon UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in KindleKoboNook and Apple iBooks(iPad/iPhone). 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mathematician, Magician, Sherlockian

S. Brent Morris
S. Brent Morris, spouse of the scintillatingJacquelynn Bost Morris, ASH, BSI, is also a Sherlockian and a former Gasogene (leader) of the Watson’s Tin Box scion society in Ellicott City, MD. He will be a speaker at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five symposium in Dayton, OH, in March. His other interests are many and interesting. For example, his Ph.D. dissertation explored the mathematics of card shuffling and cutting. I am overdue in introducing him to you.  

When/how did you first become acquainted with Mr. Sherlock Holmes?

I read a couple of stories in high school, but they didn’t stick with me. I read most of Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes in graduate school, and made notes about Holmes’s familiarity with Euclid. My full-blown introduction was when I met Jacquelynn and she introduced me to her scion society, Watson’s Tin Box.

You are a Ph.D. mathematician, a magician, and a cryptographer). How have any and all of those affected the you read Sherlock Holmes?

As a mathematician, I’ve pondered what was included in Moriarty’s treatise on the binomial theorem, and I’ve speculated that his work on the dynamics of an asteroid contained a subtle, fatal flaw that led to his life of crime. As for cryptography, we’ve seen Holmes’ skills in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” and can only dream about his monograph on 160 separate ciphers. Were his skills sufficiently honed to handle a periodic polyalphabetic cipher? But there is no mention of magic in the canon, which is a shame. The Magic Circle of  London was formed in 1905 and Maskelyne and Cooke performed at Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly from 1873-1905. (It’s now a Richoux near Fortnam and Mason.) Surely Holmes must have been familiar with these contemporary London magic events, even if they are not mentioned in the canon.

What is your favorite canonical Sherlock Holmes story and why?

I think that would be “The Red-Headed League.” It’s a fun story with a satisfying conclusion, I’m amused by Jabez Wilson, and I love Holmes’ quote, “Omne ignotum pro magnifico.”

What is your favorite Sherlockian pilgrimage site in England or Scotland?

Simpson’s in the Strand! Not only can you pay homage to the canon, but you can enjoy a wonderful meal.

You are married to an ASH and a BSI. Do you talk about Sherlock Holmes over cocktails?

I defer to Jacquelynn in almost all things Sherlockian. She is indeed the master in our household. We enjoy cocktails and do occasionally discuss the canon, but rarely together.

Speaking of cocktails, what is your favorite?

Gin and tonic

What question have I not asked you that you would like to answer?

One of the great strengths of the canon is that provides a broad portrait of late Victorian life in which you can surely find something that aligns with your other interests.

Friday, January 5, 2018

An Enthusiastic Review From Portugal

My Portuguese fan, Nuno Robles, has just posted a wonderful review of Queen City Corpse on Amazon Check it out! 

Monday, January 1, 2018

"Dr. Watson, I Presume?"

Holmes meets Watson

The other day, while cleaning up and throwing out, I ran across a limerick that I apparently wrote some years ago. I have no memory of it. Maybe that's because it's pretty groan-worthy!

Bad though it may be, the subject matter makes it appropriate for today, which Sherlockians celebrate as the day in which young Sherlock Holmes first met Dr. Watson in the chemical laboratory at St. Bart's hospital in London. Brace yourselves!

Here goes:

There once was a young man at St. Bart's
Who met a doctor from foreign parts.
        "You've bee in Afghanistan," said he
        "Let's rent 221B!"
Thus showing that he had a lot of smarts.

Happy New Year - even though it is always 1895.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Looking Back at a Wonderful Year

With most of 2017 now in my rear view mirror, I'm looking back with much gratitude on a year in which I was able to realize so many long-held dreams.

In January, Ann (my supportive spouse) and I attended the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York City for the first time. It was fun from beginning to end as we hung out with friends old and new. We book-ended that in November by finally attending a meeting of Watson's Tin Box of Ellicott City, Maryland, where I spoke on plot tropes in Sherlock Holmes.

As you can see above, a few months ago I received copies of the Italian translations for two of the three Enoch Hale - Sherlock Holmes novels I wrote with my friend Kieran McMullen. Since I read Italian, I can assure you that translator Marco Bertoli did a fine job. Bravo, Marco!

My 65th birthday, September 28, was the official publication date for my seventh Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody mystery novel, Queen City Corpse. (There is also a book of shorter stories.) I finished the first draft of the next novel last week; it should be published next fall.

As rewarding as it continues to be to follow the McCabe-Cody saga, there's a special thrill for a writer to embark on something new, and I had several of those experiences this year:

  • My first appearance in The Baker Street Journal, the premier publication for Sherlockian scholarship, was in the Spring 2017 issue. I wrote on "Gothic Holmes: Dark Shadows in the Canon."
  • Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and Black Cat Mystery Magazine both put my name on their covers as the author of mystery short stories within. The characters in the Black Cat story, "Murder at Madame Tussaud's," are ones I hope to build a new series around. 
  • Earlier this year I finished my own Sherlock Holmes novel, House of the Doomed, which will be published by Gasogene Books/ Wessex Press in January. 
  • And just this month, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book of Holmes essays from the Baker Street Irregulars. I have a year to write it -- which is good because a lot of research is in order!

It looks like another great year ahead for me, one of the highlights of which will be the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five symposium in Dayton, on which I've also spent some time this year. I hope to see you there - or maybe in New York in January.

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.