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, May 27, 2015

Plugged in By Podcast

"I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler." - Mycroft Holmes to Dr. Watson, "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" 
Nobody would ever accuse me of being an early adopter. I still don't have cable TV or Blu-Ray. So it's no surprise that I only recently became immersed in the delights of the "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" podcast.

I'd known for some time that IHOSE, as it is familiarly known, was the world's first podcast dedicated to the all things Sherlock Holmes. But I simply never got around to listening to it until a few weeks ago. One episode drew me in. Fortunately, the other 76 are there waiting for me.

Each month affable co-hosts Scott Monty, editor-in-chief and founder, and Burt Wolder, editor, preside over 90 minutes or more of engaging and often wryly humorous conversation on all manner of Sherlockian topics. The bulk of the episode is usually devoted to a fascinating interview with someone I would like to meet (if I haven't already).
For example, I vastly enjoyed a two-part interview with Bert Coules, who wrote a landmark BBC series of all 60 Sherlock Holmes stories featuring the same Holmes and Watson.

Baby Boomers will remember the Remington razor commercials in which the late Victor Kiam proclaimed, "I was so impressed, I bought the company!" I didn't do that, but I did decide to support the podcast by becoming a sponsor of the June 15 edition. I hope you'll listen in and get hooked.

Meanwhile, IHOSE also has an informative and entertaining website. Check it out.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Happy Birthday, and RIP

On this day (May 22) in 1859, in the city of Edinburgh, was born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. When he died 71 years later, he was buried a tombstone that said in part “Steel True – Blade Straight – Arthur Conan Doyle – Knight.” 

A truer inscription was never written, for by every instinct and action this noble physician and man of letters embodied the ideals of knighthood long before King Edward VII made it official in 1902.  

Conan Doyle has been called “The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes” but also “The Man Who Hated Sherlock Holmes.” The first moniker was certainly true to a large degree, the second was perhaps exaggerated.  

To those Sherlockians who feel a twinge of resentment at Sir Arthur’s admittedly uneasy relationship with his greatest creation, I remind you that he eventually made his peace with the Great Detective. Or so it appears from his delightful prologue to The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927): 

"I had fully determined at the conclusion of The Memoirs to bring Holmes to an end, as I felt that my literary energies should not be directed too much into one channel. That pale, clear-cut face and loose-limbed figure were taking up an undue share of my imagination. I did the deed, but fortunately no coroner had pronounced upon the remains, and so, after a long interval, it was not difficult for me to respond to the flattering demand and to explain my rash act away. I have never regretted it, for I have not in actual practice found that these lighter sketches have prevented me from exploring and finding my limitations in such varied branches of literature as history, poetry, historical novels, psychic research, and the drama. Had Holmes never existed I could not have done more, though he may perhaps have stood a little in the way of the recognition of my more serious literary work." 

"And so, reader, farewell to Sherlock Holmes! I thank you for your past constancy, and can but hope that some return has been made in the shape of that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingdom of romance." 

Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur. Requiescat in pace. And thanks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Good Questions and My Answers

Irene Adler - romantic interest? I think not!

When I gave a talk on “Sherlock Holmes and the Development of Detective Fiction” to a group of retired men last week, I was really impressed with their questions. Here are a few of them, along with my answers – with which you may or may not agree:

Why did Conan Doyle make Sherlock Holmes a cocaine addict?

Whether or not Holmes was an addict has been debated, but he was certainly a user. That famous seven percent solution was legal at the time, but Watson warned Holmes of its danger to his health and eventually weaned him away from it.

But why did Conan Doyle choose to give the Great Detective this vice? Maybe he didn’t. Some characters just show up and report for duty without the author having much to do with it. Rex Stout described Nero Wolfe that way, while he said his Tecumseh Fox character was made up by him (Stout) and therefore “never worth a damn.”

Watson suspected Holmes of drug use in A Study in Scarlet but that wasn’t confirmed – and vividly so – until the first chapter of The Sign of Four. Perhaps it wasn’t until the second book that Conan Doyle realized that Watson had been right all along!

To whatever extent the cocaine use was an authorial invention, however, it emphasizes Holmes’s eccentricity and a key character trait: The absolute necessity to him of his life’s work. His mind “rebels at stagnation” so strongly that without a problem to work on he must artificial stimulus.

Was Dr. Watson the alter ego of Conan Doyle?

There’s certainly a good argument for that. They were both physicians but also men of action and adventure. Dr. Watson was never knighted, but his blade was every bit as straight and his steel as true as that of his creator. Some people would say, however, that Conan Doyle’s reflection in fiction was Holmes, not Watson.

Was Sherlock Holmes romantically involved with Irene Adler?

Dr. Watson tells us in the first paragraph of the first short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” that he was not. Why is the good doctor so widely disbelieved on this point? Admittedly, if Holmes  put one over on Watson it wouldn’t be the first time. But Holmes’s recorded attitude toward the adventuress seems more one of deep respect than love: She beat him and he gives the devil her due for that. There is not the slightest hint in the Canon that he ever saw the woman again after her wedding day. I suspect that if he had it might have been a disappointing rematch for both of them. (But I do enjoy some of the Holmes-Adler pastiches, especially those by Amy Thomas.)

What do you think of “Elementary”?

I don’t think of it. I’ve only seen the pilot. I don’t watch a lot of television, which may be one reason that I can write two books a year. My favorite pastimes are reading and writing. I don’t read enough – and maybe I write too much!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Watsonian - Worthy of the Name

This is not the cover of the latest issue, but it's what's inside that counts! 

Devotion to Dr. Watson, the faithful friend and chronicler of Sherlock Holmes, may be sufficient reason to belong to the John H. Watson Society, but The Watsonian is a great reason.

In just four issues, this twice-yearly journal already has proved to be a scholarly publication worthy of carrying the good doctor's name.

The Baker Street Journal is the gold standard in Sherlockian scholarship, of course. And over the years decades Watson has come in for his share of the attention in that famous quarterly. But The Watsonian gives contributors free range for concentrating on the detective's adventurous friend. 

The recently published Spring 2015 number (Volume 3, Number 1), for example, checks in at 208 pages and includes a host of familiar authors, many of which have also graced the pages of the BSJ. Among the contributors whose names I know are Kieran McMullen, Alexian Gregory, Michael J. Quigley, Judith Freeman, John Foster, Robert S. Katz, Andrew L. Solberg, Nicholas Utechin, James McArthur, Sandy Kozinn, Hugh Ashton, and Roger Johnson. The quality of their work, and that of the other writers, is extremely high.

This issue also includes Donald A. Yates's tribute to Don Libbey ("Buttons"), founding member of the society and publisher of The Watsonian. Although I never had what I am sure would have been the great pleasure of meeting Don Libbey, we exchanged many friendly e-mails before his untimely death. I find myself missing a man I never really new, but the Society carries on his spirit.   

The Watsonian comes with a two-year membership in the society, which costs a modest $50. It belongs on your bookshelf.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sherlock Holmes: Archetype

Next Friday morning (May 15) I will discuss Sherlock Holmes with the Metallic Club of Cincinnati. The letterhead identifies the club as “a retired men’s organization – SILVER in our hair – GOLD in our teeth – IRON in our blood – RUST in our joints – LEAD in our feet.” I like these guys already!

They want to hear my talk on “Sherlock Holmes and the Development of Detective Fiction.” Because they’ve asked me to speak longer than I normally do on this topic, I’m going to say more about Holmes as the archetype of the Great Detective.

I believe Orson Welles once said, “Everybody knows what a detective looks like – he looks like Sherlock Holmes.” (And if he didn’t say that, he should have.) Here’s an example: http://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Detective

When our grandchildren were younger, they thought that hundreds of books in their school library were about Sherlock Holmes because all the mysteries were identified with a deerstalker cap and magnifying glass label. Those two elements are the universal symbol of Holmes but also of detectives in general.

Unlike most archetypes, Holmes wasn’t the first of his kind. Edgar Allen Poe created the figure of the amateur sleuth (and detective fiction itself) forty years before Holmes came on the scene. When Harry Houdini became disaffected from his former friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he accused him of plagiarism by basing Holmes on Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. The charge didn’t stick, however. Holmes is real; Dupin is not.

Although Holmes called Dupin “a very inferior fellow,” Conan Doyle was boundless in his admiration for Poe. But not one person in a hundred today would recognize the name Dupin, whereas Sherlock Holmes is the most famous person who never lived.Nobody ever says "He's a regular C. Auguste Dupin" or "It doesn't take an Auguste Dupin to figure that out." 

Science fiction great Poul Anderson, writing in the September 1968 issue of The Baker Street Journal, said “the general idea of a Holmesian figure had been evolving for a long time. Its time was ripe in the nineteenth century, and its elements crystallized in Sherlock Holmes.”

And that’s why everybody knows what a detective looks like.   

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sherlock Holmes in Yiddish yet!

What does Yiddish have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Funny you should ask!

I was aware of Harry Golden’s The Joys of Yiddish when it was first published back in the last century. Although only a lad then, I was already interested in language. Recently I bought the updated edition for research. Later this year I plan to launch a new historical mystery series featuring a Yiddish-speaking vaudeville performer named Professor Ben Sterling.

Professor Sterling (1869-1930) was a real person – a psychic, magician, and ventriloquist. He was also my wife’s grandfather.

Research aside, I’m finding Yiddish a fascinating subject. It’s a wonderfully expressive language drawn from German, Hebrew, and a host of other languages. So, naturally, I wondered whether Sherlock Holmes was translated into the language.

Such a silly question! Melanie J. Meyers, M.S., Senior Reference Librarian at the Center for Jewish History, wrote about this on the Center's blog for the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 2012:

Members of the Yiddish-speaking world were also fans of the great detective, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research here at the Center holds several Yiddish versions of Sherlockian adventures in both short story compilations and serial versions.

As the Holmes stories were often printed in periodical form first, the compilations subsequently published in places such as Warsaw were not always the same as the “official” versions. Their titles, for example, present differences. YIVO holds a book by the title of Fantasy and Reality (Warsaw: 1926), which is five of the stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. One of the stories included was “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,” or, as the Yiddish version was called (in translation), “The Case of the Master Builder.”  YIVO also holds a copy of a Holmes story from a Yiddish periodical (publication date unknown), which is curiously titled “Holmes and the Circus” and has art depicting a sinister-looking big-top scene.  It appears to be the story that Doyle titled “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger,” as that is the Holmes tale in which a circus theme features prominently.

As usual, there is more to be learned from looking at these items than the fact that there was a demand for Sherlock Holmes stories among Yiddish-speakers. One of the Holmes short story translations, which was simply titled “An Interesting Study of Exceptional Human Ability,” was published right here in New York in 1928 . . . The implication is that the Yiddish-speaking population in New York City was hungry for reading material in their own language—enough to have their own local printing company to cater to their tastes.

“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” according to an adage that was popularized (in Yiddish) by the sociolinguist and Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich. Yiddish has neither an army or a navy. But it does have a fascinating story – and it has Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, May 1, 2015

With Friends Like This . . .

The friendship turned ugly between Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini is the stuff of legend. Christopher Standford does an admirable job of bringing the legend to life in his 2011 book Masters of Mystery.

The escape artist and the creator of Sherlock Holmes knew each other for about six and a half years, a relationship cut short by Houdini’s death in 1926. They corresponded often and met several times. Conan Doyle, a committed Spiritualist, famously insisted that Houdini’s amazing escapes and illusions were accomplished by supernatural means. The American always denied it.

If ACD comes off as naïve and at times a bit paranoid, Houdini seems duplicitous. At first, the two men jousted cordially about the occult as Houdini presented himself as open to the possibility of communication with the death while debunking individual mediums. His private diary, however, often reflected a harsher view than he shared with Conan Doyle.

One gets that impression that Houdini, at heart insecure despite his professional bombast, wanted to keep the friendship of perhaps the most famous writer in the world as a kind of credential.

In 1924, however, he took the gloves off, saying publicly that Conan Doyle “is misleading the public and his teachings are a menace to sanity and health.” He even accused him of plagiarizing Edgar Allen Poe in the creation of Sherlock Holmes! Even the gentlemanly Sir Arthur understandably took umbrage.

Masters of Mystery is as much a double character sketch as it is a biographical history. In the end, Sandford observes, the two protagonists of the book turned out to have a lot in common:

“Neither cared to admit he might ever be wrong; neither had any intention of retiring quietly; and both were determined to keep up the fight to their dying day, and did so.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Size Matters with Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle's longest Holmes story was 59,452 words

A lot of novel-length Sherlock Holmes pastiches fail at the level of verisimilitude for me before I even open the cover. Why? Because they are too lengthy.

I just picked off of my shelves several popular (and in many ways well done) novels of Sherlock Holmes published in recent years. Each was 300 or more pages. That's in the 100,000 word range. No Canonical Holmes novel was nearly that long.

The April 1960 issue of The Baker Street Journal carried an article by Charles E. Lauterbach called "The World Length of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." In it, he lists the number of words in each Holmes short story and novel, from "The Veiled Lodger" at 4,499 words to The Hound of the Baskervilles at 59,452 words.

A Study in Scarlet has 43,483 words, The Sign of Four 43,372 and The Valley of Fear 57,881, according to Lauterbach. Some writers contend that these longer Holmes adventures aren't even long enough to be novels but are more properly considered novellas. I disagree with that. But as there is no real definition of how many words constitutes a novel or a novella, this remains a matter of opinion.

My own mystery novels are in the 60,000 to 65,000 word range, which was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the Rex Stout and Agatha Christie novels are about this length, for example - around 200 pages, give or take a few.

The longest Holmes short story isn't all that short, by the way. "The Naval Treaty" is a hefty 12,701 words. Stout's shorter Nero Wolfe stories, generally considered novellas, are not much longer at mostly around 20,000 words.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Panoramic View of Conan Doyle

Michael Dirda, in his Edgar-winning 2012 book On Conan Doyle, says that the chapters in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Through the Magic Door “resemble good talk much more than they do explication de texte.” He could have said the same about On Conan Doyle itself.

This is an engaging, chatty romp through the life and literary output of ACD. I found in its pages almost nothing new to me, but much to admire.

Dirda, a Pulizer Prize winning literary journalists and long-time book columnist for The Washington Post – as well as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars! – has the good taste to recognize that ACD was not only a great story teller but a fine writer.

“Conan Doyle certainly stands unrivaled for crisp narrative economy,” he writes. “He achieves powerful and often highly poetic effects through a first-person prose that is plain, direct, frequently epigrammatic, and mysteriously ingratiating.” As an example, Dirda cites the wonderful opening paragraph of “A Scandal in Bohemia” as an example.

The greatness of Conan Doyle as a writer may seem as obvious to you as it does to me, but I was once on a Bouchercon panel where two American mystery writes advanced a contrary view as if it were a given.

Dirda calls Holmes “the Great Detective, the profession’s Platonic ideal” but lauds Watson as the perfect straight man. He cites Ronald Knox: “Any studies in Sherlock Holmes must be, first and foremost, studies in Dr. Watson.”

But this short book – about the size of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four – isn’t just about the great duo. It’s presents a panoramic view of Conan Doyle’s work. There is no part of that corpus that Dirda doesn’t admire (science fiction, historical fiction, adventure) and rightly so. On Conan Doyle seems quite a broad topic for so little a book, but it is quite an appropriate one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chaucer on Sherlock Holmes!

Geoffrey Chaucer, from 17th century portrait

April always reminds me of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" and Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." Both great poems mention this month in their opening lines, although they have very different views of it.

By happy coincidence, I just chanced across "Geoffrey Chaucer Describes Sherlock Holmes" by Robert N. Brodie in the December 1970 issue of The Baker Street Journal. It's character sketch of the great detective, put forward in a wonderful pastiche of Chaucer's style. With the permission of Steven Doyle, publisher of the BSJ, I share it with you in toto:
In London, so the tales by Watson tell,
There lived a wight named Holmes, to whom befell
Adventures all grotesque, bizarre and strange
From Mackleton in the North to Abbey Grange.
Little he knew about astronomy
Or Literature or e'en philosophy
And politics was never yet his forte
Though poisons knew he them of every sort.
His geologic lore was practical,
Profound his knowledge of the chemical.
At fisticuffs and single-stick, I hear,
As well as at the sword, he had no peer.
The British law he could full well construe
And of anatomy some facts he knew.
Keen was his mind, sharp as any blade,
And on a Stradivarius he played.
An energetic man in life's full prime
Was he; a walking calendar of crime
Who could from flaky ashes of cigar
Bring malefactor straight to Justice's bar.
Grey were his eyes and aquiline his nose,
Full early in the foggy dawn he rose
Because, as he remarked, "the game's afoot,"
So strove he to untangle questions moot.
He was much like a hound upon the scent
While on a case, yet took much merriment
In chaffing minister and duke and lord
Who sneered or doubted of his truthful word.
Little he cared if Earth went 'round the sun,
But only for the science of Deduction.
Treasure he rarely sought to get and hoard,
But rather his work its own reward.
Sixty times in tales each one immortal
He opened wide imagination's portal.
At last retiring to Sussex, hale and hearty,
Conqueror of that prince of crime, Moriarty.
All praise to this deductive gentleman.
We shall not ever see his like again.
Gems like this from long-past issues of the BSJ are a great reason to buy The e-Baker Street Journal. This is a single DVD that includes every issue of the publication from its inception in 1946 through 2001 in PDF format. That's 246 issues - an amazing 18,000 pages - fully searchable! For research, there's just nothing else like it.