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, January 28, 2015

The (Real) Napoleon of Crime

Most mystery fans and all Sherlockians know that Sherlock Holmes referred to his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, as "the Napoleon of Crime." But before there was Moriarty, the term was applied to master thief Adam Worth.

Recently  I acquired a copy of Ben Macintyre's highly engaging 1997 biography of Worth. It would be well worth reading, even without the chapter called "Alias Moriarty" that draws the connections between the real-life criminal and the fictional one. 

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Moriarty was suggested by Worth than that he was based on him. Worth was no genius mathematician, nor did he look like the famous Sidney Paget illustration of the professor. An American who made most of his ill-gotten gains in England, Worth stood only five-foot-four. I guess it would be no stretch to say that he had a Napoleonic complex!

Macintyre's boook is as much the story of a duchess and a detective as it is the story of thief and organizer of thieves who stole on a grand scale, lived a life of conspicuous consumption, and died nearly broke.

Worth's signature crime was the theft of a famous Gainsborough painting, The Duchess of Devonshire. He lived with the painting for 25 years, taking it back and forth across the ocean a number of times. In a sense, the Duchess was the love his life. He only gave her up near the end.

William Pinkerton, head of the famous American private eye agency, pursued Worth all that time. But in the end, they became close friends and exchanged a series of letters that can only be called touching. Pinkerton helped Worth broker the sale of the painting and watched out for Worth's children after he died of numerous diseases related to dissolute living.

The"Alias Moriarty" chapter of the book is rather thin, but no matter. This is still a fascinating yarn, much of it culled from the private archives of the Pinkerton agency.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Only the Quote Was Unforgettable

"How do you know that?
"I followed you."
"I saw no one."
"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
- "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"
Monsignor Ronald Knox, in his landmark "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes," cited that bit of dialogue between Dr. Leon Sterndale and Holmes as an example of what he called "Sherlockismus."

Another great Sherlockian, Anthony Boucher, alluded to this passage in his first Sister Ursula novel, Nine Times Nine, originally published under his H.H. Holmes pseudonym.

Here's the dialogue among Lt. Terence Marshall, his wife Leona, and protagonist Matt Duncan. Marshall speaks first:

"There's a passage I remember in one of the Holmes stories -- "

"I thought you didn't like mysteries," said Leona.

"Hell, darling, Sherlock Holmes isn't just mysteries, anymore than Macbeth is just a play or Bist du bei mir is just a tune. The Holmes chronicles are something wonderful and superhuman and apart. I grew up on them and I worship at the shrine."

"I'll agree they aren't mysteries," said Leona, with a noticeable absence or her husband's enthusiasm.

"Anybody that'll hold out clews on you like that --"

"This passage now," Matt suggested.

"I think it's in The Lion's Mane. The explorer says, 'I saw no one,' and Holmes replies, 'That is what you may expect to see when I follow you.' Well, that's the ideal of all shadowing. We aren't all Holmeses in the police force, but nobody should let a man notice he's being followed."

All that is very nice, but here's my question: Was it Lt. Marshall who got the wrong story as the origin of that great passage of Sherockismus, or was it Anthony Boucher - famed mystery writer, critic, and member of the Baker Street Irregulars?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Some of My Favorite People

More proof that Sherlockians, some of the my favorite people, are among the most fun:

Ann and I had a wonderful time over the weekend at the annual Masters Dinner of the Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay in Toledo. I was the keynote speaker, talking on "Sherlock Holmes, For Crown and Country: The Great Detective in Public Service."

Other hijinks of the evening included an "Unmasking," in which costumed members of the Petrels threw out clues and challenged other members to guess which Canonical characters they represented. The venerable Italian priest was fairly easy - there is only one in the Canon! (See "The Final Problem.")

Long-time member Jim O'Keefe was honored as "Stormy Petrel of the Year" - in part because he comes all the way from Detroit for the monthly meetings!

We hope to join these new friends again on March 14 when they go to The Valentine Theatre in Toledo to watch “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” The director of the play, the stage manager, and two of the actors are Stormy Petrels. And tickets are only $20 each!

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Were the Other Six?

Holmes and Watson with their client in "The Copper Beaches"
"What can be the matter, then? Can you suggest no explanation?""I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts so far as we know them."

-- "The Adventure of the Copper Beaches"
Has anybody figured out what were the other six?

Holmes says something like this on a couple of other occasions, as I recall - again tossing out the mystical number of seven possible solutions or courses of action. The good Watson, of course, never challenges him.

Enoch Hale, hero of what eventually will be a trilogy of Holmes-related historical mystery novels by Kieran McMullan and me, isn't so passive. In the The Poisoned Penman, in a chapter called, "The Seven Solutions of Sherlock Holmes," Hale challenges Holmes's claim that he could think of seven separate solutions.

“Wait a minute.” Hale looked at Holmes square in the face. “Whenever you told Watson that kind of thing—‘seven separate solutions’—he just swallowed it without question. I’m not so easy. What are all these possible solutions? And I want to hear seven, not six.”

With a sigh, Holmes lists all seven. But, of course, there will be no spoilers on this blog. I hope you read the book and see what they are.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

You, Too, Can Be Sherlock Holmes

"The world is full of obvious things nobody by any chance over observes," Sherlock Holmes said in the Hound of the Baskervilles.

But Holmes observed, and does Mark A. Williams, Sr. Now Williams is teaching the rest of us how in his new book, How to Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes.

"I have used the techniques in the book,"  he assured me. "I am still learning, however, and am by no means an expert or on Holmes’s level.  My mentor and friend, Thomas Stanziale, Sr., could size up people just like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Joseph Bell.  I saw him do it many times and became interested in learning how to do it myself. After seeing him in action, I became interested in trying to do what he did.  I read books on body language, psychology, etc. and eventually found the 54 short stories and four novels about Sherlock Holmes."

He was in his forties when he discovered the Great Detective, who was not part of his cultural background. "One interesting fact about me is that I am African American and not many of my friends know anything about Holmes, although they’ve heard about Sherlock and seen his movies."

The degree to which Williams absorbed the Canon is impressive. Almost every page contains multiple examples drawn from it, although the book also contains 28 pages of footnotes and bibliographical references to other works as well. 

What all those citations illustrates is that the Holmes technique, as analyzed by Williams, boils down to four questions and eight principles. The questions are: What so I observe? What can I deduce? How can I verify it? What does it mean? The principles for principal application are: observation, deduction, knowledge, experience, listening, memory, imagination, memory, and intuition. Yes, Holmes used them all - even intuition.

Chapter 12, the one on how to practice, is worth of price of admission all by itself. I especially liked the section on movies, those which contain scenes of practical deduction you might not have noticed, and Williams's admonition to "watch/learn magic." 

"I’ve been practicing the techniques each day trying to get better," Williams said. "I wrote the book to help me improve my skills, since a person understands and learns more as they explain and teach others.  I’ve had successes and failures in sizing up people.  I am a union shop steward at work in the Postal Service and use the techniques when I deal with people on my job.  I have to size up people constantly to tell if they are speaking the truth or not, to help them resolve their problems and so forth.  One guy who just bought the book challenged me to size him up.  I did and was 75-80% correct."

That's impressive. So is this book.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Holmes in Ohio

Quick, Watson - the registration form!

Even though we are in the cold and dreary winter, you should register now for the Holmes, Doyle & Friends: Two seminar which will be presented in Dayton, Ohio, March 20-21. There's a discount if you register before Feb. 27. This was an excellent event last year, a worthy successor to the famous Dayton program of years gone by, and I'm looking forward to being there again. So check out the details and register here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Sherlock Holmes, a Fairy Tale?

Vincent Starrett
Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies. Vincent Starrett believed that ACD wrote fairy tales.

At a dinner in Chicago in his honor on June 4, 1963, Starrett gave a talk later reprinted under the title "How I Got That Way" in the March 1974 issue of The Baker Street Journal after his death. He ended that little speech with this thought:
More than any other form of fiction except perhaps the children's fairy tale - of which it is perhaps the successor - the detective story is (or should be) an allegory of Wickedness overcome by Virtue; of Evil confounded and put to flight by Justice and truth. It is Conan Doyle's triumph that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are the best of all fairy tales for grownups.
The mind rebels a bit at the notion of Sherlock Holmes as a fairy tale. In our day the designation seems dismissive. But the great G.K. Chesterton, a huge (in several senses) admirer of fairy tales and of Holmes, likely would have agreed with Starrett. His most famous observation about fairy tales is often paraphrased or misquoted, so here's what he actually wrote in an essay called "The Red Angel":
Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
What is Sherlock Holmes but a St. George? What are Moriarty, and Milverton, and Moran ("a fine collection of M's") and all the other villains of the Canon but dragons to be slain?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

H.M. and M.H.

The first book I read this year turned out to have an unexpected Holmes connection. But I shouldn't have been surprised.

One of my reading projects for 2015 is to re-read, in order, the 22 novels, one novella and one short story featuring semi-amateur sleuth Sir Henry Merrivale, written by locked-room master John Dickson Carr under his Carter Dickson pseudonym.

The irascible Merrivale is better known as H.M. or "the old man." But in his inaugural appearance, The Plague Court Murders (1934), we learn that he has another nickname - Mycroft! When H.M. was head of the British Counter-Espionage Department, one of his agents wrote from Constantinople:

"The most interesting figure in the stories about the hawk-faced gentleman from Baker Street isn't Sherlock at all; it's Mycroft. Do you remember him? He's the one with as big or bigger detective hat as S.H., but is too lazy to use it; he's big and sluggish and won't move out of his chair; he's a big pot in some mysterious department of the government, with a card-index memory and moves only in his orbit of lodgings-club-Whitehall. I think he only comes into two stories, but there's a magnificent scene in which Sherlock and Mycroft stand in the window of the Diogenes Club rattling out a chain of deductions about a man passing by in the street - both of them very casual, and poor Watson getting dizzier than he's ever been before . . . . I tell you, if our H.M. had a little more dignity, and would always remember to put on a necktie, and would refrain from humming the words to questionable songs when he lumbers through rooms full of lady typists, he wouldn't make a bad Mycroft."

All of this is completely spot on.It turns out that H.M. is even a member of the Diogenes Club.

This homage to the Holmes brothers is only natural, given that Carr was such a devotee of the Master. (He later wrote The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and co-authored The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes with ACD's son Adrian.)

We learn a lot about H.M. in this first adventure, which is a great locked room mystery with surprises right up to the last paragraph:
  • H.M. has a sister named Letty and a nephew named Horace.
  • His phone number is Whitehall 0007. (007 anyone?)
  • He was born in 1871, so "the old man" is only 59 in this case, set in 1930.
  • He stands five-foot-ten.
  • A fanatical Socialist (quite unlike Carr!), he once ran for Parliament.
  • His favorite authors are Dickens and Twain.
  • Despite his atrocious grammar, he is both a barrister and a physician.
But the most important thing about the outrageous H.M. is that he is fun to read about. I look forward to doing more of that throughout the year ahead.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Madcap Murder and a Spot of Holmes

I’ve seen a lot of Sherlock Holmes plays of varying quality, but I’ve never seen one like “Sherlock Holmes at the Alamo.” Neither have you.

For starters, Holmes uses time travel to go to the aid of Davey Crockett and company.           

“What object is served by the circle of misery and violence and fear?” said Holmes, looking over the future battle site. “It must tend to some end, or else or universe is ruled by –”    

“Santa Anna, by the looks of it,” said Dr. Watson in a Texas drawl that drew a hearty chuckle from the audience.

Oh, and Holmes is played by a 12-year-old girl named Lydia, who also wrote the play.

That’s just part of the fun, a minor bit of amusing byplay in Kathleen Kaska’s new Murder at the Driskill (LL-Publications). Like the first three mysteries in her Sydney Lockhart series, the latest is a highly entertaining mash-up of screwball comedy (think 1930s movies) and Texas noir.
Murder at the Driskill finds Sydney, an intrepid 1950’s newspaper reporter, with a new gig in addition to her day job at the Austin American. She and her boyfriend, former cop Ralph Dixon, and their associate Billy Ludlow have formed their own private detective agency in Austin.
One of their first clients is a rancher who wants them to investigate his business partner, who is also his brother-in-law. Before they can even begin, the subject is shot and killed at the Driskill Hotel just as he is expected to declare his candidacy for governor of Texas. His wife confesses to the murder, but nobody believes she did it – including their client, who now wants them to prove his sister-in-law’s innocence.
Sydney and Ralph’s investigation turns up lots of motives – for killing their client. Everybody liked the victim, including his wife.
The 1950s were seldom as exciting as in this fast-paced and funny mystery, which is packed with action right to the end. The central problem around which the story revolves is an intriguing one and the solution is satisfying. What will bring you back to the next Sydney Lockhart novel, though, are the snappy dialogue and a cast of memorable characters – the child prodigy Lydia not least among them.
If you’re tired of the 21st Century, or just need a little break from it, pour yourself a martini and open Murder at the Driskill for the perfect escape.