Welcome

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, 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. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Great Detective and a Great Character


Recently I ventured on Facebook that the new Hercule Poirot pastiche, The Monogram Murders, interests me very little because I’ve never found the little Belgian and his little grey cells to be very engaging. It’s the masterful plots that I re-read Agatha Christie for, not Poirot.
My good friend Amy Thomas begged to differ. For her, “Poirot just leaps off the page.”

Arguing taste is futile, whether the subject is books are beverages, so I never do that. But my dialogue with Amy did set me to thinking about why I love certain characters. For example:
  • Nero Wolfe is essentially a comic character. I love him for his foibles, not in spite of them.
  • Harry Dresden is a noble wizard who always tries to do the right thing, no matter how dead it is likely to get him.
  • Jeff Cody, in my own mysteries, is a bundle of neurotic ticks; who wouldn’t love that?
And then there is Mr. Holmes of 221B Baker Street.   

Millions of words have been written to try to explain the popularity of Sherlock Holmes. My task here is a little different. I’d like to explain why Holmes for all is flaws is somebody I want to spend time with, somebody I want to read about over and over - even in stories that occasionally aren’t that wonderful.

Why is Sherlock Holmes not just the Great Detective, but also a great character?

It’s not just that he has dozens of lines of unforgettable dialogue in a unique voice, or that the Canonical stories crackle with electricity when he’s on the scene.

Sherlock Holmes himself is a fully rounded human being, with human moral failings and human failures. Of course he has a brother and a French grandmother – he’s a real person!

Perhaps Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe, said it best: 

“Holmes is a man, not a puppet. As a man he has many vulnerable spots, like us; he is vain, prejudiced, intolerant; he is a drug addict; he even plays the violin for diversion – one of the most deplorable outrages of self-indulgence.”

But, Stout went on, there is much more to Holmes than that: “He loves truth and justice more than he loves money or comfort or safety or pleasure, or any man or woman. Such a man has never lived, so Sherlock Holmes will never die.” 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Sherlock/Suicide Mash-Up on Stage

A Playhouse in the Park pillar
The urge to mix Sherlock Holmes with other fictional characters seems irresistible. How many Holmes/Dracula mash-ups have there been, for example? I don't have enough fingers and toes.

One of the more unusual pairings that I've encountered is the play Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club. What's unusual about it, at least to me, is that "The Suicide Club" is  one of Robert Louis Steven's lesser known works, and the main character isn't in the play.

We saw the play, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, over the weekend at Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati. The acting and staging were of the highest professional quality.  Douglas Rees as Holmes recalled William Gillette, espeically in profile.

I found the explanation of the villain's plan at the end a bit hard to follow, but that didn't keep the script from being fun. Unlike most Holmes plays, Suicide Club doesn't borrow plot devices from the Gillette classic, doesn't feature Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler (or a similar feminine lead), and doesn't throw in every famous line of dialogue from the Canon just to make you feel at home.

All of that is to the good. The script is quite fresh from a Holmes standpoint, although it does borrow elements of the three Stevenson short stories that together made up "The Suicide Club."

On the down side, some of the black humor makes it hard to take the story seriously. And - worst of all for dedicated Sherlockians - this story just couldn't have happened. It takes place in 1914 and Holmes is living in Baker Street. By that time he had long retired to the Sussex Downs and, as we know from "His Last Bow," spent the two years before August 1914 away from England as a spy.

Still, it's a highly enjoyable bit of theater if you can just relax and go with the flow. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Four Holmeses and Three Watsons

Nigel Stock as Dr. Watson

Not being much into movies and TV shows, even ones about Sherlock Holmes, I've been boning up on them to prepare for Gillette to Brett IV a week from today.

In recent weeks I've watched:

  • The three World War II propaganda films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, and Sherlock Holmes in Washington all fail to solve the real mystery of all three - why Holmes's weird hairdo?

  • Murder by Decree, with Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Dr. Watson. Both great British actors demonstrated in this film why they are great British actors. I was especially fond of Mason's Watson, although he was too old to be Watson in the days of Jack the Ripper.

  • Episodes of the mid-1960s BBC "Sherlock Holmes" TV series, first with Douglas Wilmer in the starring role, and later with Peter Cushing. Both made admirable Holmeses, although Crushing was a bit long int he tooth by then. Nigel Stock was Watson.
Only the famous BBC series was to new to me, although it had been 35 years since I'd seen Murder by Decree. I found myself reaching for Kieran McMullen's The Many Watsons to see what he had to say about Nigel Stock. I think he nailed it:

"Stock plays Watson the way he was. Delightfully, he does an excellent job with Wilmer and even seems better with Cushing. While I believe that Wilmer is a better Holmes, there is a better chemistry between Stock and Cushing, so it's kind of take your pick."

Do I have to pick? I like all the Holmes and all the Watsons!


The Many Watsons is available from all good bookshops including in the USA Amazon and Barnes and Noble, in the UK Amazon and Waterstones. For elsewhere Book Depository who offer free delivery worldwide.In ebook format there is Kindle, iPad, Nook and Kobo.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Holmes, Challenger, and the Space Invaders


When I was a boy, I first became acquainted with William Gillette's classic play Sherlock Holmes second-hand through a juvenile mystery novel by Manly Wade Wellman. At a crucial point in the story, the boy protagonist adapts a trick from the play to foil the villains.

At least, that's the way I remember it. But I can't recall the title of the book, so maybe Wellman didn't really write it. Whether he did or not, for decades I've associated Wellman very positively with Sherlock Holmes. So when I saw a copy of a book he wrote with his son, Wade Wellman, about Holmes, Professor Challenger, and the War of the Worlds, I had to buy it.

Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds was published in 1975 and republished as The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds in 2009 as part of the "Further Adventures" paperback reprint series from Titan Books.

The authors certainly know their Holmes - the novel is replete with Canonical references. Violet Hunter is the third Mrs. Watson, and Percy Phelps has risen in the Foreign Office to become Sir Percy. Several passing references in Canonical stories are amplified on nicely.

Mrs. Hudson turns out to be the wife of Morse Hudson, from "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," who is the son of the blackmailing butler Hudson from "The 'Gloria Scott'." More surprisingly, Mrs. Hudson is carrying on a romantic relationship with Holmes, who is a few years older than she is! This is going on while Watson still lives with Holmes, but the doctor never notices. Challenger does, although he keeps the secret. 

The Challenger chapters are much more true to the original Conan Doyle character than the Holmes parts. That's only natural. Manly Wade Wellman was a science fiction writer, and this book is a retelling of the Wells novel of the same title and one of his short stories. As an adventurous science fiction story, it's a good read. As a further adventure of Sherlock Holmes, not so much.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Meet Michael J. Quigley, a Modern Mycroft



Michael J. Quigley with the Diogenes Club Banner

I was surprised and deeply honored to be asked to give the keynote address to the inaugural meeting of the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC, on Sept. 20. I wanted to know more about this fledgeling group and its founder, Michael J. Quigley. As you will see from my interview with him, his background is fascinating: 

What inspired you to create the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC? 

I have always been struck by the rather prominent place public and national service plays in the Canon. Whether it be the intrepidity of Inspector Lestrade and the boys down at Scotland Yard, or Mycroft being, at times, “the British government,” service to something larger than oneself is a constant that seems to run through the stories. From “The Bruce-Partington Plans” to “The Naval Treaty” to “His Last Bow,” Conan Doyle sets national service at a high premium and clearly sees it as a virtuous undertaking.

By extension, it would appear Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson agree. Watson, himself a war veteran, risked his life for the Empire. He returned to Britain, wounded, but undaunted. Holmes even considered service beyond the borders of the British Empire to be noble and worthwhile. He took on key cases on behalf of the Pope; he has a history of having worked with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the New York Police Department; and he was awarded one of France’s highest honours for services rendered. 
Furthermore, many of the earliest Sherlockians themselves were committed public servants. For example, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a Baker Street Irregular himself) appointed fellow Irregular, Elmer Davis, as director of the newly created United States Office of War Information, a sprawling organization with over 3,000 employees. Even though Davis was being paid $53,000 per year by CBS, he left the network to work in government during the crisis of World War II. As Director of the Office of War Information, Davis recommended to President Roosevelt that Japanese-Americans be permitted to enlist for service in the Army and Navy and urged him to oppose bills in Congress that would deprive Nisei of citizenship and intern them during the war. He argued that Japanese propaganda proclaiming it a racial war could be combated by deeds that counteracted this. Davis has been termed one of the “unsung forefathers” of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei combat unit in the war.
In keeping with the long history and tradition of Sherlockians in public service, I felt that a special scion of the Baker Street Irregulars to be based in Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, should be established to celebrate Sherlockians in public service, whether in the military or as public school teachers. The Diogenes Club of Washington, DC would also honour the public service found in the stories. with special emphasis on any American associations that are evident in the Canon.

Is it a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars? 

Yes. I have applied for official scion status to Wiggins and according to a little Blau… er, I mean blue bird, we may expect to have official scion status bestowed upon the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC at the first meeting in September. 

What are the requirements for membership? 

Participation in any meeting or event sponsored by the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC will be open to any and all Sherlockians without qualification. That said, membership is reserved for any Sherlockian who has spent at least one day in the direct employ of some office, department, or agency of government. Qualifying service can be found in federal, state, or municipal government; military service; civil service; elected office; or diplomatic service. Sherlockians from any nation not currently at war with the United States who have served in their county’s military or government may also qualify for membership. Sadly, contractor service to the government does not qualify for membership. But as I stated above, all are welcome! 

What has been your own service?

In 1989, I enlisted in the U.S. Army. Over the next 14 or so years, I served in several military occupational specialties, including as an infantryman, military policeman, and in three separate specialties of military intelligence—Intelligence analyst, interrogator, and counterintelligence agent. During my enlistment, I studied the Arabic language at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, California.
Some of my enlisted career highlights include service an Operations Assistant in the Defense Attaché Office in Dublin, Ireland, where I served as an advisor to Senator George Mitchell during the multi-party peace negotiations in Northern Ireland resulting in the “Good Friday” peace accord of 1998. A few years later, I was assigned to be a counter-terrorism analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Joint Intelligence Task Force-Combating Terrorism (JITF-CT). While there, I served as the primary briefer to the Joint Staff, J2 and the counter-terrorism briefer for the Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Just days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I deployed to Bosnia as the Stabilization Forces’ (SFOR) first-ever, Lead Counter-terrorism Analyst. 

My enlisted career culminated with a deployment, in 2003, to Iraq in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, where I served as the Special Agent/Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge of the Counterintelligence Section of the 800th MP Brigade and later Combined Joint Task Force-7. While still in Iraq, in 2003, I was commissioned in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer. Since my date of commission preceded my discharge from the Army by nearly two months, I was briefly, the only ensign in the Army!
My commissioned service has truly been one adventure after another. I served as an al-Qaeda senior leadership analyst and as a lead analyst for al Qaeda in Iraq at the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC). In 2005, I reported to Lexington, VA, as Assistant Commandant of the Virginia Military Institute. The following May, I returned to active status with the Office of Naval Intelligence and was mobilized to support Operation ENDURING FREEDOM first with SEAL Team Five and later to the Joint Task Force-Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where I served as the Senior High Value Detainee Interrogator in the task force and the Section Chief of the Saudi Arabia and North Africa/Europe Human Intelligence Collection Teams (HCTs) between 2006 and 2007. 

Taking a brief hiatus from my naval career, I entered St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Seminary in Baltimore, MD, after returning from Cuba to discern a possible call to priesthood. After a year of theology and philosophy studies, I discovered that I was called to national rather than religious service and entered back onto active duty with the Joint Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. One month later, I deployed back to Iraq as Deputy Chief of Human Intelligence Operations for a joint task force of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). 

Following this deployment with special operations, I returned to DIA as part of the Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC) having served as the USSOCOM program manager and US Navy service representative before being posted as the Assistant American Legation and US Naval Attaché (A/ALUSNA) first to the Kingdom of Belgium and later, to the Republic of Malta. Upon return to the States, I was appointed a Professional Staff Member on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where I participated in an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
After serving on the Hill for a year, I was assigned as the acting Assistant Officer-in-Charge of Navy Intelligence Reserve Region-Washington, DC, before being requested by the Director of Intelligence for U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, to serve on his personal staff. In March of 2011, I was reassigned to U.S. Africa Command and embarked aboard USS MOUNT WHITNEY (LCC-20), command ship for Operation: ODYSSEY DAWN, and Operation: UNIFIED PROTECTOR, the US and NATO operations in Libya. 

Returning to the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2011, I served as Chief of the Policy and Strategy branch, Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force, until transferring to the Navy Reserves in April, 2013, where I am assigned to the Directorate of Intelligence for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. 

The inaugural meeting is coming up. What will other meetings be like? (How often and what form will they take?) 

Like most scion societies, the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC will meet on an irregular schedule. I suspect that we will convene about four times a year and hopefully sponsor a few excursions to places of Sherlockian interest in the future. I don’t wish to make Diogenes Club a highly ritualized organization, but I do expect a Rite of Initiation to be part of the process for membership. Together with one of my dearest Sherlockian friends, my Sherlockian godfather of sorts, John Baesch, we have drafted a constitution and, barring a few more refinements, this charter will guide our future endeavors of Sherlockian scholarship. One annual event I hope to bring to fruition will be a black tie dinner meeting to be held in February, in honour of the supposed birth month of Mycroft Holmes, where the annual initiation ritual will take place. Beyond that, our meetings will likely feature a keynote address, such as the one you are preparing for our inaugural luncheon meeting in September. I also hope to publish a Christmas Annual journal called, “The Pall Mall Gazette,” as an outlet for original Sherlockian scholarship, with particular emphasis on governmental or public service and any American connections for in the Canon. 

How did you first encounter Mr. Sherlock Holmes? 

I first met Sherlock Holmes in 1980 when my grandmother gave me the Barring-Gould boxed set of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes. This began my lifelong love for and adventure with Sherlock Holmes. I credit my interest in foreign intelligence to Holmes’s methods. I learned how to become a keen observer of mere trifles, which has served me well in the world of human intelligence. In 1993, I discovered the Baker Street Journal and even attempted to “apply” for membership in the Baker Street Irregulars, not knowing how this august body of Sherlockians actually work. To my initial disappointment (but now delight), I received a personal note from John Bennett Shaw disabusing me of my naïveté. But he encouraged him to join a local scion. This letter is one of my treasured relics of Sherlockiana! 

What has been your involvement in Sherlockian affairs over the years? What has that meant to you? 

In 2009, I finally joined several scion societies of the Baker Street Irregulars, including the Red Circle of Washington, DC; the Six Napoleons of Baltimore; and Watson's Tin Box. I have attended every BSI weekend since 2009 except one owing to being overseas at the time. As you well know, Sherlock Holmes draws together some of the best and most interesting people from across generations and from every corner of the earth. I have really made some wonderful friends as a result of entering into the social and scholarly aspect of Sherlock Holmes. This past year has been especially memorable for me as I was invited to attend my first BSI annual dinner this past January and just last month, I published my first essay in the Baker Street Journal. With the founding of the Diogenes Club and our first meeting already on the calendar, I think I shall recall 2014 as a seminal year in my Sherlockian development.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An Adventurous Adventuress

Karen Murdock in my library

Some of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes are adventurous indeed.

Take our friend Karen Murdock, ASH ("May Blunder"), editor of that wonderful book Sherlock Alive.
She recently e-mailed to let us know that she was driving from Minnesota through Ohio by way of her sister's house in western Pennsylvania with rather flexible plans.


We found out later that Karen, a geographer by training, had set off in her car with no timetable and no GPS, but adequate maps. She wound up visiting U.S. Grant's birthplace at Point Pleasant, OH, before spending the night at our house in Cincinnati. (The fun was all ours as we fed her local beer and Cincinnati chili.)

On her way back home she stopped by William Henry Harrison's tomb in North Bend, OH, and took in the world-class architecture of small town Columbus, IN. All of this was done on the fly.   

The moral of the story: Get to know as many Sherlockians as you can. They are always interesting and often adventurous folks that you will enjoy spending time with.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Peerless Parody/Pastiche


Sometimes - probably more often than not - I regret the books I give away. So when I recently had a chance to "reacquisition" a copy (in a different edition) of Philip Jose Farmerr's The Adventure of the Peerless Peer for my library, I snapped it up.

I first owned and tried to read this madcap parody (or is it a pastiche?) a generation ago. I disliked it so much that I didn't finish it. Although I completely understand my younger self''s taste, I managed to read all of it with enjoyment this time around.

The key to appreciating the book is knowing what you're getting into. A quote on the back cover from  Science Fiction Review gives the flavor nicely: "Phil Farmer has the ability to look a reader straight in the eye, tongue in cheek, and outrageously pull that reader's leg out of true. And here he is doing it again . . . "

The setting is World War I. An aging Holmes and Watson are tasked with retrieving a new form of chemical warfare: a bacillus that eats sauerkraut, which would devastate Germany. The bacillus is known as the S.B. for short.

Farmer frequently mixed characters from different genres in his work, which was extensive (75 novels). Major characters in this escapade are Holmes, Watson, Von Bork, Lord Greystoke (AKA Tarzan), and The Shadow. Minor appearances are made by Dr. Gideon Fell, Sir Henry Merrivale, Allan Quatermain, Lord John Roxton, and Lord Peter Wimsey.

In fact, The Peerless Peer is full of wimsey. It even ends wit a groan-out-loud pun. This doesn't make for great literature, but it's a fast and fun read.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sherlock Holmes for Young Readers



Sometimes it helps to clean house. Ann recently found three Sherlock Holmes books she had acquired for me over the years. All are aimed at children (which may say something about my mental or emotional age).

Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, A BabytLit Sounds Primer by Jennifer Adams with art by Alison Oliver is for the very youngest Sherlockians. It consists of just 10 pairs of words teaching about sounds, from "HOUNDS HOWL" to "DOORBELLS RING." The last is nicely illustrated with the door to 221B. This is a delightful book, and I'm glad that I saw a copy at our youngest granddaughter's house.

The Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, adapted by Judith Conaway, is part of the Stepping Stones series of chapter books based on literary classics. It includes three well-chosen tales - "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," and "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle."

In general, the adapter does a good job - keeping the Watson perspective and most of the storyline. The need to compress creates some disappointments, however. There are no brilliant deductions at the beginning of the stories, and no Dr. Roylott showing up at Baker Street to bend the fireplace poker. Two of the three stories end with wordplay that kids might like but is non-canonical.

I liked the illustrations by Lyle Miller except that Holmes's hair is too bushy and his sideburns too long.

The biggest surprise to me of this trio was the Can You Survive Version? of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, adapted by Ryan Jacobson and Deb Mercier. This is a Choose-Your-Path book, the first I've ever read, and I was impressed by its ingenuity.

The setup is that Holmes and Watson - and you, dear reader, are Holmes - have three cases to solve. And one of them is a trap set by Professor Moriarty. If you make a mistake, you could die. Death or disgrace is a real possibility. If you make the wrong choice, that is your fate as Sherlock Holmes.

The cases are familiar ones - once again "The Red-Headed League" and "The Speckled Band," with the third being a surprising version of "The Engineer's Thumb" in which Holmes plays the Victor Hatherley role.

Ryan Jacobson also provides a nice introduction, which advises the reader to consider this book a short introduction to Sherlock Holmes. "When you reach a time, now or in the future, where it is appropriate for you to do so, I encourage you to read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in its entirety." That's great advice for any young Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Holmes in Ohio



Last weekend we visited the International Exhibition ofSherlock Holmes, now in its waning days at COSI in Columbus.


Others have reviewed it at length, but I just want to share a few impressions:
  • My favorite parts were those which dealt most closely with Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes – facsimiles of letters and manuscripts, Dr. Joseph Bell’s academic gown, and the exhibits of exhibits of books, posters, and other memorabilia at the end.
  • The interactive part in which visitors work through a mystery was clever, but sometimes hard to follow. The elements of it that I liked best were the Sherlockian ones, especially reasonably accurate reconstruction of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street. The crime to be solved was based on one of the famous “untold tales” of Dr. Watson, which was a plus.
  • The exhibition wasn’t designed for holders of graduate degrees in Sherlock Holmes, but I deduce that even members of the Baker Street Irregulars would enjoy it. The many children we saw there certainly did.
All in all, it was a an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, and the cost was reasonable.