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, 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 – is it the true hidden story of the Baker Street ménage, 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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Very Public Library A Must for Sherlockians

I held the Noble Fragment in my own hands

At the first Gillette to Brett we attended, three years ago, we arrived late and skipped the opportunity to visit the Lilly Library on the Indiana University campus.
That was a big mistake which will never be repeated. In fact, I’d like to visit the Lilly sometime when I can stay for hours.
The Lilly is a Midwest treasure holding 400,000 books, 1230,000 pieces of sheet music, and about 7.5 million manuscripts. And here’s the best part: You don’t have to be a scholar to see and even touch these wonders. “Curiosity is enough,” director Joel Silver explained in a 40-minute presentation at the beginning of the weekend. 
Silver let us hold a First Folio of Shakespeare and a first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Later I gaped at the original manuscript of Ian Flemming’s Goldfinger and an early script of Citizen Kane, then known as American.
As you might expect, given the context, there is a strong Sherlockian bent to the Lilly collection. David A. Randall, the first director of the Lilly Library, was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. And I so we got to hold “The Noble Fragment” – Holmes’s Reichenbach Falls note to Dr. Watson, written in Arthur Conan Doyle’s own hand – and an edition of Beeton’s Christmas Annual containing the first Sherlock Holmes story.
We later saw the manuscript of “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” and a script of the Basil Rathbone’s Hound of the Baskervilles with notes written in by producer Daryl F. Zanuck.
My tongue was probably still hanging out when Steven Doyle interviewed me on camera about my reactions. He asked what I would say to IU contributors who might question serious amounts of money being spent on such items. For the answer is easy: These first editions and manuscripts, an irreplaceable connection to the past, have to be owned by somebody. If they weren’t owned by a public institution such as the Lilly Library, they would be part of a private collection.
I think it’s much better for them to be somewhere with public access. And what better place than the Lilly Library, where the access is very public indeed?

Joel Silver and Beeton's Christmas Annual

Friday, September 26, 2014

Basil on the Big Screen

And so it begins -The Hound at the IU Cinema

My first exposure to Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, years after I'd begun reading the Canonical tales, came on a small-screen television. It didn't matter that the movies were black and white - so was the TV set.

As others have noted, watching the Rathbone movies on a big screen in a theater full of Sherlockians was an entirely different experience, a wonderful one. We gasped together and laughed together. One could feel the love.

I'm describing the Gillette to Brett IV conference at Indiana University in Bloomington last month, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by screening the two films on successive nights.

They were the Rathbone's first outings as Holmes and, unlike the 12 films that followed, were set in the original Victorian time frame of the stories rather than in the 1940s. Nigel Bruce's hair is darker and his performance as Watson less buffoonish (though only slightly).

Gillette to Brett IV organizers billed this 1939 version of The Hound as the greatest Sherlock Holmes movie ever made. Although I haven't seen all the others, it's easy to believe that they are right. It's a great flick.

But, still . . . One can respectfully quibble. Why add the séance scene that didn't appear in the book? It adds nothing. Why not build up more suspense with The Man on the Tor? And why end with story less action than the dramatic chase across the moor in the novel?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is less open to criticism from purists because there is no story to compare it to - it's a complete fabrication of the screenwriter, and quite a good one. Never mind that Professor Moriarty isn't quite the Moriarty of "The Final Problem."

At some point one has to forget purity and enjoy these films for what they are. And what they are is just plain marvelous. I'm grateful to Gillette to Brett IV for the chance to enjoy them with like-minded enthusiasts.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Holmes Film That Could Have Been

Almost two weeks after the hugely successful Gillette to Brett IV conference, I find myself thinking about a man connected with the conference who wasn't there, except in spirit and video.

Producer and screenwriter Michael A. Hoey was a generous and popular participant in two previous Gillette to Brett outings, was the son of Dennis Hoey, the actor best known for playing a bumbling Inspector Lestrade to Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson.

Hoey, scheduled to attend this one as well, died last month of cancer at the age of 79. But he left a legacy. His last book was published posthumously by the Gasogene Books imprint of Wessex Press, G2B4 sponsor, just in time to be available for sale at the conference.  I read it over the weekend.

The Drury Lane Theatre Mystery is an original screen treatment by Dennis Hoey for a Sherlock Holmes film. Not all of the dialogue is fleshed out, but a lot of it is. It's a fascinating look at what might have been if Rathbone hadn't sworn off Holmes by the time he finished it.

The actor clearly intended the film to be a Rathbone-Bruce vehicle, with Watson played for comic relief. But the atmospherics are good, especially the exciting ending based on Hoey's knowledge of the hydraulics in the Drury Lane Theatre stage. I liked the idea that it's set in the gaslight era, although 12 of the later Rathbone-Bruce films were brought up to the 1940s.

Michael Hoey's introduction to his father's screen treatment is worth the price of admission. In three parts it tells the history of (1) Dennis Hoey, (2) the Bruce-Rathbone films, and (3) Drury Lane, the famous London theater that's the setting of the screen treatment.

Hoey makes the telling point that, although Basil Rathbone claimed that Sherlock Holmes ruined his career, the Holmes movies were the only ones in which his name ever appeared above the title!

One of the highlights of the G2B4 banquet was a video Michael Hoey being interviewed at an earlier Gillette to Brett. He spoke with warmth and humor about his father's great friendship with Nigel Bruce. Watching it made me wish that I'd talked with him when we were in the dealers' room together three years ago - and also that he could have signed his book for me this year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reflections of a Sherlockian Spouse

Ann and I in the dealers' room with a customer - photo courtesy of Steve Doyle

I could go on and on about the joys of the Gillette to Brett IV conference last weekend, organized by Steve  Doyle and Mark Gagen of Wessex Press. And eventually I will in future blog posts. But today I'm turning this forum over to the most long-suffering of spouses, Ann Brauer Andriacco. Here is her report, which I encourage Sherlockians to share with their reluctant Significant Others:

I am a Sherlockian Spouse…which is better than being a Sherlockian Widow. I read the stories and enjoy them, but I have not yet committed every detail to memory as has my husband.

Three years ago I attended my first real conference at the Gillette to Brett III in Bloomington, Indiana. I remember a long drive in the rain and not knowing many people. I am an extrovert, but I didn’t want to barge in on groups already in animated discussions, so it was being on the outside looking in for me.

What a difference a few years…and several conferences later can make! I met wonderful many people at A Scintillation of Scions in Maryland in 2013 and 2014, and enjoyed very much all the talks and presentations. I had begun to put faces with names.  I found out I really didn’t have to have everything memorized to enjoy myself.  This year’s Gillette to Brett IV was incredible. I am so glad I went.
The Lilly Library stands out as a highlight for me. Not only do they let you LOOK at manuscripts like a Shakespeare Folio, an illuminated manuscript from the 12th century or an original script for a Sherlock Holmes movie, they let you TOUCH them. I want to go back for more.

And the talks, film screenings and conversations were the best! Can’t wait for the next one.