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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sherlock Holmes on Tape

Do you remember VHS? It's what came after Beta - eons ago in technology time.

I was forced to remember VHS recently when we cleaned out a room and discovered quite a few of the old tapes. You can see where this is going - many of them were Sherlockian:
  • Four tapes for kids: Chip 'n Dale SuperSleuths, Sherlock Undercover Dog, Wishbone's Hound of the Baskervilles, and an episode of the Japanese steampunk classic, Sherlock Hound.
  • Without a Clue, the comedic masterpiece starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley.
  • Ian Richardson's The Sign of Four.
  • The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, starring Arthur Wontner and Ian Fleming (not the author), based on The Valley of Fear.
  • Four episodes of Ronald Howard's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes TV series from the 1950s.
  • Four tapes of Basil Rathbone movies - three of which were the same one (Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon)! 
  • Elementary, My Dear Data, one of the two Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in which the android goes into the Holodeck as Holmes.
That list was in no particular order, so I can't say that I saved the best for last, but Data does make a cool Holmes as I recall the episode.

I have to recall rather than revisit because I no longer have a VHS player. I do have about half the titles on that list in DVD form, but Elementary, My Dear Data isn't one of them.

The VHS format didn't last long. How many more years will DVDs be viable? I don't know what's going to happen to e-readers, either, but I'm confident that as long as my eyes and brain are in working order I will be able to read the books on my shelves. I take a lot of comfort in that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Great Scots!

A Sherlock Holmes novel built around the quest for Scottish independence is, admittedly, of slightly less interest to most people than it might have been just a couple of months ago, before the great referendum. But those who know me realize that I am not most people.

Mike Hogan's The Scottish Question: Sons of the Thistle caught my interest for three reasons: (a) my mother was of Clan Paterson (although her ancestors became Americans well over 200 years ago), (b) my wife has decided that we are going to Scotland next year to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, and (3) I have enjoyed all of Mike Hogan's other Sherlock Holmes stories.

I wasn't disappointed by my choice. Here's the setup:

It's 1897, Victoria is still on the throne and Sherlock Holmes has been engaged to find the missing Stone of Scone (AKA Stone of Destiny) and the fabled lost Crown of Scotland. Oh, and the Queen's younger son, the Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, and his wife have been abducted. Throw in a great new villain in the person of a Prussian baron and you've got a great story.

The novel is also a good Scottish history lesson, but that never overshadows the story. At the heart of it all is a very clever conceit, and at the end is an exciting climax involving the airship on the cover.

As in other Mike Hogan books, the tone of the writing is more light-hearted than the Arthur Conan Doyle originals, but never quite veers into parody. The author seems to be serious about having fun with Holmes, Watson, the Royals, and the English (I mean British) Government in the person of Mycroft Holmes.   

Sherlock Holmes and The Scottish Question is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository .

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Hope This Will Be a Well-Read Review

It is beyond obvious to anyone following this blog that write what I might call "bottom-line" reviews: I give my reaction to the book I'm reviewing in short order and without a lot of plot description.

I'm grateful that Leah Cummins Guinn, proprietor of the Well-Read Sherlockian blog, is of the opposite school. Her wonderful review of Rogues Gallery gives loving attention to each of the five shorter tales in the book.

Having reviewed previous McCabe-Cody books, Ms. Guinn comes to the latest with a lot of perspective. I was greatly encouraged, therefore, by this passage in particular:
One of the enjoyable things about following a series is seeing how both the characters–and their author–develop. When I first began reviewing Mr. Andriacco’s books, I found them creative and enjoyable, but there were occasional passages which read “rough” to me, or abrupt insertions that, while they illuminated the characters, interrupted the general flow of the story. Those have vanished, and these stories go down as smoothly as Lynda’s favorite bourbon.
But please read the entire review.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Frederic Dannay, Sherlockian

Fred Dannay and a young James Yaffe in 1943

My friend Bob Byrne recently wrote a blog post over at Black Gate about the role of Ellery Queen's suppressed anthology of parodies and pastiches, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, in bringing Solar Pons back to life after a 10-year hiatus.

That was just one accomplishment of Frederic Dannay's life as a great Sherlockian, as well as half of the team of mystery writing cousins best known under the joint pseudonym of Ellery Queen.

Among his accomplishments (not shared by his cousin and partner-in-crime Manfred B. Lee):
  • Dannay was an early member of the Baker Street Irregulars.
  • He wrote an unforgettably evocative memoir of his discovery of Sherlock Holmes when he was a boy. It has appeared in many different forms, sometimes under the title "Who Shall Ever Forget?"
  • As the hands-on editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, he was godfather to many pastiches and parodies of The Master - most notably Robert L. Fish's hysterical Schlock Homes stories.
Ellery Queen, the fictional sleuth, was once known as "the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes." Sadly, his fame has not proved to be as durable as that of the original. Most of his adventures are no loner in print. But his co-creator, Frederic Dannay, BSI, will long be remembered fondly within the Sherlockian community.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A New World of Sherlock Holmes

Dana and Dan at Bouchercon in 2012
My friend Dana Cameron, multiple award-winning mystery and fantasy writer, recently published in electronic formats a short story called "The Curious Case of Miss Amerlia Vernet." She talked to me about the story and about matters Sherlockian.  
This seems to me the Brass Age of Sherlockian pastiche – some of the stories being published today display knowledge of the Canon about a mile wide and an inch deep. But you obviously know your Holmes. Tell us about your involvement with the gentleman.

I first encountered Sherlock Holmes through reading “The Speckled Band” in school; I loved the creepiness!  This was right when I was consuming mysteries by the fist-full, and Sherlock fit in perfectly with Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and “One-Minute Mysteries.” 

I returned to the canon throughout my life, but especially when I spent a year studying in London; there was something about wandering the streets of London that made it perfect.  Each new encounter with a movie or film or book that featured Sherlock Holmes sent me back to the canon, where I would inevitably gravitate toward some new aspect. 
Among my favorite pastiches were the movie “Young Sherlock Holmes,” Neil Gaiman’s “A Case of Death and Honey,” and especially The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King.  That series blew me away, as a crime writer and someone who’s spent a lot of time doing historical research. Most recently, I’ve become a fan of BBC's “Sherlock;” the chemistry of the actors and the modernization is grand, even if I don’t love every detail.  The things that keep resonating for me are the sense of history I got from reading the stories and the logic that Holmes employed. 
As a writer, I appreciate the amount of logical construction that went into the short stories, especially those with supernatural elements; it’s as much math as it is imagination.  And one early, valuable lesson I learned was about the value of John Watson, not simply as a narrator, but as a character with whom the reader can relate and someone who can help interpret for a more extreme, sometimes more alien character.  That’s key not only in crime fiction but in any story-telling.

I know that you are a member of the Diogenes Club of Washington, D.C. What other involvement have you had in the Sherlockian community?

I happened across the Baker Street Irregulars and Friends Weekend several years ago, when I was in New York on other business.  I realized that friends from the mystery community were there—Jan Burke, Laurie King, Les Klinger, and SJ Rozan—and figured I would swing by to get my copy of A Study in Sherlock signed.  I kept running into more folks I knew that day, and having amazing conversations, and I asked myself “where has this been all my life?”  I've been back ever since.  I was honored to be invited to the BSI Dinner last year.

I was so pleased to be asked by Jacquelynn Morris to present a talk at the Scintillation of Scions; that’s a fantastic weekend!  I spoke about the Special Operations Executive, the WWII precursor to MI6 who called themselves “the Baker Street Irregulars.” Spies and intelligence studies are a hobby of mine.  That led to me meeting Michael Quigley, who said he was founding a new scion, the Diogenes Club of Washington D.C.  I was proud to be at the founding meeting (where you presented!); I hope to revise that paper to submit to the Diogenes Club’s publication. 

Finally, I’m working on an article for the Baker Street Journal.  I’d also love to attend 221BCon.

In “The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet,” you bring Sherlock Holmes into your own Fangborn universe. How fun was that?

Wicked fun!  I loved putting my own spin on the denizens of Baker Street and it was a blast working out how they might work in the Fangborn ’verse.  Since my vampires, werewolves, and oracles are dedicated to the protection of humanity and the eradication of evil, there was a lot of overlap to play with.  I loved trying to fit the details of the two worlds together.

The story is written from the point of view of Miss Vernet, a young cousin of Sherlock Holmes. That works very well. Why did you do that instead of the traditional Watson viewpoint?

Thank you, Dan!  There were a number of reasons to use her as the narrator.  First, it was the easiest and fastest way to introduce the Fangborn ’verse to the reader through Amelia Vernet’s point of view because she is relatively new to her work as a Fangborn and as a detective.  Second, it was a way to avoid spoilers.  Third, by having Amelia narrate, it was another signal to the reader that I was going to play with the canon; I’d keep the traditional structure of the stories, but neither Watson nor Holmes would be the narrator. 
One Sherlockian I know says he accepts all pastiches as being true, even when they contradict each other. How do you want us to read this story Рis it the true hidden story of the Baker Street m̩nage, a fantasy of what might have been, an alternate universe, or what?

I love that notion!  For me, I think of pastiche as a parallel world, and my story is how Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson fit into the Fangborn world.  My goal is to honor the characters and the stories, while putting my spin on them and elaborating on them.  To me, pastiche is like a folk interpretation of the original text, a reinterpretation to suit a particular audience.  Of course they are all true, according to their audiences!  

Are we going to see more of Miss Vernet?  

I certainly hope so!  I enjoyed following her and working out the puzzles in writing in the key of Sherlock Holmes.  I have several ideas brewing...

What’s next in the world of Fangborn?  

Next March, the third Fangborn novel, Hellbender, will be out; it picks up where I left my archaeologist (and werewolf) Zoe Miller in a very bad place at the end of Pack of Strays.  It also prominently features an artifact I mention in “Miss Amelia Vernet.”  Next October will be another Fangborn short story, probably set in New York City of the mid-eighties, which will also feature the history of that artifact.

What other questions do you want to answer?

Is it true you met Benedict Cumberbatch?

It is!  My husband won tickets to the NYC premiere of BBC's “Sherlock.”  I met the man himself and thanked him for doing a brilliant interpretation of the character; I also met Stephen Moffat and Sue Vertue!  It was a thrilling evening.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Studious Study in Terror

My library includes at least half a dozen anthologies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's horror fiction. I would trade them all for the new two-volume A Study in Terror, edited by Derrick Belanger.

First of all, the story selection is great, certainly including the best of ACD's "stories of fear and the supernatural," as the subtitle calls them. It even includes the entire text of The Mystery of Cloomber, a non-Sherlock Holmes mystery novel with overtones of horror.

But the real bonus here, the value added, is the informative essays by Derrick Belanger, Brian Belanger,  Joel Jensen, and Chuck Davis sprinkled throughout the books. From them you can learn about:
  • How ACD was ahead of his time in his horror-filled aviation stories.
  • How his fictional "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" unintentionally contributed to the legend of the Mary Celeste and her missing crew.
  • H.P. Lovecraft's debt to Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • What The Mummy, the classic Boris Karloff film, owed to Conan Doyle's two horror stories about mummies.
Many of the writing skills that made Sherlock Holmes immortal are present in his creator's other work. If you haven't read some of it, you should. If you have read it, you should re-read it. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

From Sherlock Holmes to Solar Pons

Bob Byrne and Dan Andriacco at Gillette to Brett IV 

More than a few Sherlockians are also fans of Solar Pons, “the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street.” One of the biggest Pons boosters in the Sherlockian community is my friend Bob Byrne, whom I met for the first time at Gillette to Brett IV last month in Bloomington, IL. I think you’ll be interested in his answers to the questions I put to him recently.

Who is Solar Pons for you – a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, the successor of Sherlock Holmes, or who?

That’s the question, isn’t it? I think he’s both. Vincent Starrett said that Pons was the best substitute for Sherlock Holmes known. That’s pretty good. Anybody wanting that Sherlockian feel can get it by reading Pons (who is Edwardian, rather than Victorian). But in my essay, Why Solar Pons?, I talk about how Pons is more than just a carbon copy of Holmes. So, Pons gives us what we look for in those 60 Holmes stories, but he gives us even more than that. I use the phrase ‘variations on a theme.’ And August Derleth is simply a very good writer; he did far more than just create another Sherlock Holmes.

How did you first encounter Solar Pons?

Back in the eighties and into the nineties, pastiches weren’t all that common and generally only came out from big publishers. So I snagged about everything I saw: L.B. Greenwood, Michael Hardwick, Frank Thomas, Larry Millett, et al. Along the way, I grabbed a used copy of Pinnacle’s The Adventures of Solar Pons. But it sat on the shelf, even after I read Derleth’s Sherlockified version of The Adventure of the Circular Room in Marvin Kaye’s The Game’s Afoot. But sometime after 2000 I cracked open The Adventures and bought all the other Pinnacles from Derleth and Copper: I was hooked.

You’ve written that you prefer Solar Pons to Sherlock Holmes. Please explain.

I’d guess I’ve got at least 300 Holmes/Doyle/Victorian mystery-related books: I remain a huge Holmes fan and still write Baker Street Essays, my free, online Holmes newsletter. But Derleth liked Pons: we know Doyle’s attitude towards Holmes. I think that comes through in their works. And while Holmes is the original, I like that Pons is less arrogant, more open to the supernatural; that Inspector Jamison isn’t quite the buffoon that Lestrade is and that Derleth put more effort into plotting than Doyle did sometimes. I also like reading about Pons solving Watson’s untold tales.

What other characters do you like?

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is actually my favorite mystery series of them all. Others standouts
 include Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police books, Will Thomas’ Barker and Llewellyn series and I’m a hard boiled aficionado, old and new. I highly recommend James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, Michael Stone’s Streeter, about anything by Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee (and everything else he wrote), and other pulpsters. I’ve actually read more fantasy/sword and sorcery than mystery, so that’s a whole other article, but Glen Cook’s Garrett PI books combine Nero Wolfe, hard boiled, and fantasy: that’s no easy task!

You seem to have so many writing projects I can’t keep up with them. Where do you blog regularly?

Www.BlackGate.com was kind enough to let me start writing a Public Life of Sherlock Holmes column every Monday morning. The unprecedented popularity of Holmes made it a good time to pitch such a column. It also didn’t hurt that I could point out the many fantasy and sci-fi authors who have visited Baker Street, as well as the supernatural bent of many pastiches, which fits their readership. I also try to post weekly to my own Holmes/Pons-centric blog, Almost Holmes at http://almostholmes.wordpress.com/

Do you also write fiction?

I’ve written some Holmes pastiches and parodies, but just for fun. And the 2015 Solar Pons Gazette will feature new pastiches from myself and two other writers. Someday, I’m going to put everything aside and finish the Holmes novel I’ve outlined and tinkered with for over a dozen years, based on a famous murder. I’ve also done some groundwork for a Solar Pons novel about the Oscar Slater case, but I’d like to have the Estate’s permission to publish that one, rather than just posting it online.

What are you working on right now?

Well, there are two SP Gazettes and one Baker Street Essays underway. And I’d like to get back to adding more content to www.SolarPons.com, the only website dedicated to The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street. There are two projects that I’d like to complete and publish for sale. First, I’m writing about a character that will be to Nero Wolfe what Pons is to Holmes. And second, I’m working on a study guide to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which is my favorite book of the Bible.

Thanks for letting me talk about Pons! If the Derleth Estate would put the tales out in e-book format, I think Pons could regain his popularity in this new Sherlock Holmes Era.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota

Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota?

If you've read any of Larry Millett's Holmes novels, you know it works. I'd forgotten how good they were until our friend Karen Murdock recently gifted us with a copy of Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders, the second in the series.

This book introduces Shadwell Rafferty, Irish-American private eye and bar owner. Rafferty is a great character in his own right, and that's one of the strong points of the series. I haven't read them all, but the ones I have read do without the usual familiar dramatis personae of pastiches - Irene Adler, Moriarty, Mycroft, the Baker Street Irregulars, etc. Thus, Millett isn't burdened with trying to do something new with them, and no reader is upset at a taking a beloved character in a new direction.

Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders is set during St. Paul's Winter Carnival of 1896. The ice palace built there not only provides a great title, but is the location for an action-packed climax. Against this promising background, Millett builds a great mystery in which Rafferty isn't the only memorable character.

The surprise ending is worthy of  Ellery Queen, but Holmes's decision of what to do about the murderer is very much true to the Holmes of the Canon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This Adaptation Isn't Scandalous

Adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories, in any media, can be wonderful, wretched, or somewhere in between. I found the Czech writer-artist Peter 's Kopl's graphic novel of "A Scandal in Bohemia," which is combined with "The Speckled Band," to be one of the most delightful I've encoutnered.

Let's start with the art work, which is certainly key to any graphic novel. The exaggerated images of Holmes and Watson are a early tip-off that this isn't a a slavish retelling of the Canonical stories. It's more like a creative re-envisioning that at times borders on parody. Kopl plays with the source material, with which he is clearly familiar, and has a lot of fun doing it. I had fun reading it.

For example, when the King of Bohemia tells the story of his romance with Irene Adler, the steam from his coffee makes a heart shape. When Watson goes to Holmes's files, the drawer including C's and D's is labeled Conan-Doyle.

And then there's dialogue like this:

WATSON: "Oh . . . Mrs. Hudson you haven't changed a day."
MRS. HUDSON: "But you are getting fat. What do you want?
WATSON: "I missed your charm."

Clearly, we aren't supposed to take this seriously, and so I didn't take offense that Kopl takes the conclusion of both stories into new directions -- blood-curdling in the case of "The Speckled Band" and clever in "A Scandal in Bohemia."

Along the way Kopl livens the story with cameo appearances by Dorian Grey, Mrs. Hyde, the Frankenstein monster ("I am not a monster"), Phileas Fogg, the Solitary Cyclist, and Mata Hari.

The resulting graphic novel deservedly won the Fabula Rasa, a Czech award for the best screenplay, the best artwork, and the best comic book of 2013, as well as plaudits from the Czech Society of Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Voice of Mystery

Sometimes we get lucky. Recently that happened to me when I set out looking for Sherlock Holmes books and found something totally unexpected.

It happened at Curmudgeon Bookseller in Historic Savage Mill, a shopping mall in Savage, MD. At first I was surprised and disappointed when I couldn't find a single Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle book among the 5,000 used, rare, and collectible volumes. Then my wife checked with the clerk - or perhaps he was the owner.

"They're in the Literature section," section she reported.

"No argument from me," I responded. Of course they're literature.

Then followed the usual torture. Do I have this book or not? Is the copy of that book in my library in better or worse shape than the one I'm holding in my hand?

And then I saw the box pictured above and there was no question that I would buy it. It's a set of five audio cassettes of the great Basil Rathbone reading unabridged Holmes short stories from the Canon. It brought me right back to listening to those recordings on 33 rpm records at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County more than 50 years ago.

"Too bad nobody has cassette players anymore," said our younger son, age 35.

"I have two," I reported. "One is my car. The one is in the living room - it looks like an old-time radio."

"Sherlock Holmes Soundbook" cost me $3. It wasn't the only bargain I found that day, but it was the best one.