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, May 16, 2018

A Companionable Time in Chicago

Hugo's Companions Annual Birthday Celebration and Awards Dinner
If there’s anything Sherlockians love, it’s history. The Chicagoland group called Hugo’s Companions, which we visited over the weekend, has plenty of that.

The Companions were founded in 1949 by the iconic Vincent Starrett, Matthew Fairlie, and other members of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), the senior Sherlock Holmes society in Chicago. “The name refers to the drunken and wicked companions of Sir Hugo Baskerville in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles,” according to the program for Saturday’s event.

In fact, the original name of the society was Hugo’s Drunken Companions, according to Irregular Records of the ’Early Forties, edited by Jon L. Lellenberg. Then as now, the titles of the officers were Sir Hugo, Most Idle Companion, Most Drunken Companion, Most Wicked Companion, and (since 1955) Most Bold Companion.

The current Sir Hugo, the leader of the pack, is the affable Alan Shaw, who just this year was invested by the Baker Street Irregulars as “Sir Hugo Bakersville.” On Saturday he emceed the group’s annual celebration of Sherlock Holmes’s birthday, which the group uniquely chooses to believe takes place on May 17. The co-ed assembly included specially invited Sherlockians from around the Midwest, as well as Hugo’s Companions. Like all Sherlockians, they were a fun crowd.

As the guest speaker, I hope that I was well prepared for my talk on familiar plot tropes in the Canon. I was not prepared, however, to receive the society’s Horace Hawker Award, “given to one who keep the memory of Sherlock Holmes green through publication.”

As a recovering journalist, I was certainly honored to receive an award named for one of only three journalists named in the Canon. (The others are Neville St. Clair, “the Man with the Twisted Lip,” and a newspaper editor named James Stanger in the American section of The Valley of Fear.) In addition to a scroll, the award included a handsome tile bearing the Baskerville coat of arms.  

There is one glitch, however: Harker gets the story wrong in “The Six Napoleons” because Holmes manipulates him to fool the criminal. The late Paul Herbert, founder of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, occasionally bestowed his own informal Horace Harker Award to newspaper stories about Sherlock Holmes or Sherlockians that were rife with error.

Al Shaw assured me that the award I received was given for more positive reasons!

Like many other Sherlockian societies, Hugo’s Companions has waxed and waned over the decades. It is good to see the group waxing into the 21st century.



Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Morley, McSorley's, and a Mystery



Re-reading is a good thing. Good books only get better the 15th time around. That’s why devotees of Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, and a select few other characters read their adventures again and again.

Rex Stout once said that one-third of his reading was re-reading. I don’t do that, but maybe I should. Recently I had the pleasure of re-reading The War of the Worlds Mystery by Philip A. Shreffler, former editor of the Baker Street Journal.

The novel, published in 1998, has been in my library for years. I don’t know what prompted me to open it again, but I’m glad I did. It’s a wonderful mystery that takes place around Orson Welles’s famously panic-inducing Halloween 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.

In the world imagined by Shreffler, Christopher Morley and other members of the first-generation Baker Street Irregulars get sucked into the case of a missing actress because they had been consultants to Welles’s earlier radio adaptation of William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes.

The characters, including Welles at points, make their way through Morley’s favorite haunts, including the Algonquin Hotel and McSorley’s Ale House. These locations have a resonance for me that they didn’t have when I first read the book. They have since become among the highlights of our visit to Manhattan each January for the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend.

Imagining Morley in these places is easy, especially at McSorley’s where his painting hangs above the table where a group of us gather. Last year when we entered, the server said, “Is it that time already?”

But you don’t have to have been there to go there in The War of the Worlds Mystery.

McSorley's Ale House, 2018


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Reference Books, Give Me Reference Books!


If one claims to have a library, not a collection, one needs a lot of reference books – even in this search-engine age. So I was delighted recently when a friend gifted me with a copy of Good Old Index: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Thomas W. Ross, published in 1997.

I already own the similarly named Good Old Index and its revision, The New Good Old Index, by William D. Goodrich. It's been an invaluable resource to me for many years. Comparisons between the Ross and Goodrich books are inevitable – and perhaps helpful. At this point I can only offer first impressions, having used my new acquisition very little so far for actual research.

The Ross book is slight compared to The New Good Old Index – only 171 pages compared to the older and better-known book’s 602 pages. One reason is that Ross offers some prose under each entry, albeit in telegraphic style. Goodrich just has the entry, and the page number in the Doubleday Complete where it can be found. Those page numbers are very helpful! But each gets its own line, which takes up a lot of space.  

Under “Newspapers,” for example, Goodrich lists every newspaper mentioned in the Canon, with the corresponding page number. Ross only mentions a few journals by name, he but describes how Holmes uses newspapers in various specific stories and how they play into the plot in others.

To find out something about Holmes’s thoughts on religion in Goodrich, one must to go to the massive (128-page) entry on “Sherlock Holmes” to find just one sub-entry leading to the famous passage in “The Naval Treaty.” Ross does much better with references to five stories, although he misses some opportunities.  

Each of these book has its strengths, so that together they make good companion volumes. I will keep them next to each other on the bookshelves near the computer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Discerning Critic of Holmes on Film



“No Sherlockian library is complete without at least one book on the films of Sherlock Holmes,” Steven Doyle writes in Sherlock Holmes for Dummies.

Well, I had at least one. Now I have three more. I bought them from Don Curtis at a mini-auction during the most recent meeting of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis.

I decided to work my way through the trio starting with Sherlock Holmes on the Screen, by Alan Barnes. It’s “a real cracker,” as my British friend Roger Johnson might say.

The book covers both movies and TV shows – English-speaking and otherwise. It presents them in alphabetical order rather than chronological, with a chronology at the end. This approach has a lot of merit, but Barnes’s pedantic approach to titles does not. The first Basil Rathbone – Nigel Bruce movie shows up under the “S’s” because it’s official full title is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Therefore, all the many Hounds covered in the book aren’t considered together. Too bad, that.

In most cases, Barnes considers the plots in three sections: “The Mystery,” “The Investigation,” and “The Solution.” That’s a neat idea in theory, but rather arbitrary in practice.

The great strength of this book is the author’s strong opinions, which are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Here he is on Patrick Macnee as Holmes in 1993’s The Hound of London:

“Macnee was merely bad as Roger Moore’s Watson in Sherlock Holmes in New York, and only terrible as Christopher Lee’s sidekick in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady and Incident at Victoria Falls – but he makes a truly dreadful Holmes, wheezing out every line while resembling nothing less than an unshelled tortoise poured into a monkey suit.”

Wow!

Many of his comments are more balanced, as when he differentiates the best episodes of the 1950’s Ronald Howard TV series from the worst.

Surprisingly, Barnes finds “a certain gauche charm” in Sherlock Holmes in New York. He also defends Nigel Bruce as the perfect Watson for Rathbone. Their Hound, he says, “would be blissful even without such a fine detective/doctor team. The fact of that team’s presence makes it quite probably the only Sherlock Holmes film that can hold its head among the true classics of the cinema.”

That sounds about right to me.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Forward with the Tankerville Club

We flew the flag for a Tankerville Club party 
Over the weekend, I accepted the responsibility of leading the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars. I’m honored and excited!

One of issues yet to be decided is my title. Paul Herbert, BSI, founded the club 41 years ago and led it as Official Secretary until his death in February, as I have recorded previously on this blog. Nobody can fully replace Paul, so I don’t believe that any else should have the Official Secretary title. We’ll come up with another.

About 30 members of the club, many of them long-standing, met to salute Paul’s memory at a party on Saturday. Joel Senter, of Classic Specialties and the Sherlockian E-Times, rightly called Paul “a legend.”

Member John Bloomstrom proposed a toast that saluted Paul’s well-known penchant for unsolvable quizzes: 
We’re here to toast a Sherlockian whiz,Who loved nothing better than a devilish quiz.You could read the Canon multiple times,But his questions rarely referenced the crimes.You could argue for points, or act like a jerk,The best you could do was get Paul to smirk.Puns, songs, and references to all things oddWhere carefully crafted simply to get your panties in a wad.So raise you glass and taste the fizz,Let’s savor the times we cursed that damn quiz.

I can’t compete with Paul Herbert’s quizzes. I won’t even try. But I will do my best to see that we continue to have a lot of fun with Sherlock Holmes in the Tankerville Club. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A 'Social Enterprise' Publisher

Steve Emecz with Beniah, who is featured in The Happy Life Story
I'm the luckiest mystery writer in the world. I've worked with three great publishers of my fiction - MX, Wessex, and Wildside. But it all started with London-based MX, which published Baker Street Beat in 2011 and all of my Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody books. I profiled owner Steve Emecz in 2014, but I think it's time for an update. Here's a new interview with Steve about the changing nature of MX. 


You have described MX Publishing as a “social enterprise.” What does that mean?

We are a publisher whose main goal is to support several charitable goals. We used to use the term 'not-for-profit' but that doesn't really work for us as the more we grow, the more we can afford to do. We're staffed purely by volunteers. My wife Sharon and I both have day jobs and run MX in our 'spare' time.

What charities does MX support? Say a little about them.

We have two main charities. Happy Life Children's Home rescues abandoned babies from the streets of Nairobi in Kenya. My wife Sharon and I have spent the last five Christmases with the children of Happy Life - its the most wonderful few weeks of our year. In its first fifteen years it has saved the lives of over five hundred abandoned babies. In 2014 Sharon and I wrote a book about the project called The Happy Life Story. The second is Stepping Stones School, a school for children with learning disabilities, located at Undershaw, the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I'm a patron of the school. We also raise some funds for Help For Heroes and I am also a mentor for the United Nations WFP (World Food Program). MX enables all of these activities.

Are you willing to say how much you have been able to support these charities, in amounts of money?

It's tough to calculate, as so much of what we donate is our time and business skills, which all the organisations say is the most important thing. But we are probably sitting around $50,000 in pure donations across all the charities in the last decade.

When did MX transition from being a more conventional business?

It was sort of a social enterprise from the start. We began in 2006 with publishing NLP books for children with learning difficulties and very quickly (2008) got involved with Sherlock Holmes books and the campaign to save Undershaw from being demolished. In 2012, though, starting work with Happy Life took things to another level and enabled us to make a significant impact.

How does Kickstarter fit into your business plan?

Kickstarter is both a way fund projects that are financial challenging and a fantastic marketing tool. Some book projects have high up-front costs. This could be translation or, in the case of our large anthologies, getting copies of the books into the hands of all the contributors can run into thousands of dollars. The MX collection (of new Sherlock Holmes stories) is a great example. Authors kindly donate their stories to the collection so that the royalties can go to Stepping Stones. But to get a hardcover shipped to say forty contributors across the globe is costly. Kickstarter is perfect for that. Plus, the campaigns reach hundreds of new potential fans.

How many books has MX now published?

Across all genres more than 400, but for Sherlock Holmes we are at about 250.

How many authors?

About 250, and 120 for Sherlock. 

What do you see as the future of MX Publishing?

We are almost exclusively Sherlock now. We'll continue to publish Sherlock Holmes books whilst there are still authors that want to write and fans that want the books.  In around five years Sharon and I will be in our early fifties and we set that as a goal to exit from corporate life to work on 'social enterprise' projects full time. We are still on track for that and plan to dedicate more time to MX once we do that.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Sound Without Fury

Be sure to check out the interview with me this episode (number 141) of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, the world's first podcast dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and his world. We talk about bow ties, Sherlock Holmes and God, the late Paul Herbert, and much more. I've been a fan of this podcast for years and I was honored to be on it. It's the fastest hour in audio!

The Garden Gnome Sleuth



I am the one without the magnifying glass.
Whoa!

There’s a bit of snark going around cyberspace regarding the animated film Sherlock Gnomes. I never argue taste, especially when it comes to books, food, adult beverages – and movies. But I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

It wasn’t exactly the Canon, but Gnomeo and Juliet wasn’t Shakespeare either. I knew what I signed on for when I walked into the theater. After all, it is a movie about garden gnomes.

The filmmakers clearly have more than a passing knowledge of the source material. Doyle’s Doll Museum was an easy nod to a certain writer, but the Wisteria Lodge florist and the Sherrinford Moving van were delightful Easter eggs served up by somebody who knew a thing or two.

Although Moriarty comes straight from BBC Sherlock and the Holmes-Irene relationship is highly uncanonical, the character of Holmes is true to the original. The Great Detective, voiced by Johnny Depp, is brilliant, arrogant, utterly rational on the surface but with emotions beneath. He even takes Watson for granted as in the stories! (“Come at once if convenient – if inconvenient, come all the same” is not the demand of a man who realizes that his Boswell has a life.)

The storyline contains surprises, at least to me, even after I thought I had it all figured out. One of those surprises is that Sherlock Gnomes is ultimately a “message movie.” The message is heavy-handed so that kids won’t miss it, but it’s a good message.

There’s also some nice music by the executive producer, a fellow named Elton John.

I think Sherlock Gnomes is very good at being what it is – a fun take on some old friends. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you might want to skip it.  

In my Easter basket! 


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Next Up: Murder at the Opera


You may not know this, but some Italians like opera. My father sure did. I remember with him at the Cincinnati Zoo back when the opera performed there during summers. Dad sang along, although I'm not sure he added much more than the animals.

Not being musical, I never thought much about opera until my wife and I hosted dinner a few years ago for several Russian musicians. One of them made the comment that opera has it all - the music, the drama, the costumes, the lavish sets. That made me look at opera a whole new way, and love it.

Naturally, it eventually occurred to build a mystery novel plot around an opera. The motive occurred to me at once, and therefrom sprang a tale. The great Sherloockian Vincent Starrett wrote a fine short story called "Murder at the Opera" in 1934, so I considered that title already taken. My effort is called Death Masque. Here's a preview from the back of the book:
Small town controversies can be murder.

When a newcomer to Erin, Ohio, proposes to tear down the historic Bijou Theater and erect in its place a boutique hotel, Sebastian McCabe adds “civic activist” to a long resume that already includes magician, mystery writer, professor, and amateur sleuth.

With the strategic help of brother-in-law Jeff Cody, Mac launches a far-reaching campaign to “Save the Bijou.” The issue becomes highly political when three eccentric mayoral candidates stake out their positions –  which one of them switches after a hefty campaign contribution.

“The plot machinations of grand opera seem positively guileless by comparison!” Mac cries. Can homicide be far behind?

The opera comparison is a natural one, for the new Erin Opera Company is staging an original work with a Mardi Gras theme. As murder strikes again, this time back stage, Sebastian McCabe becomes aware that many of the actors in this real-life drama are wearing metaphorical masks as well.  

Lynda Teal, Jeff’s wife, records much of Mac’s sleuthing for a podcast series, never imagining that the most dramatic audio of the concluding episode will come from the murderer. 


The terrific cover produced by Brian Belanger over the weekend made me impatient to share this early look. The book will be available in late summer. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

70 Years of Fun and Scholarship



One of the members of the Agra Treasurers of Dayton likes to recall that her father used to refer to Sherlockian meetings as “her literary society.”

And so it is. Amid the friendship and the socializing, Sherlock Holmes scion societies have always been primarily literary associations. Members read stories, they take quizzes about stories, and they often present and hear scholarly papers.

Some scion societies also publish. Perhaps the most published of all is the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. In celebration of the club’s 70th anniversary, it recently published a book of essays called 70 Years by Gas Lamp: The Illustrious Clients’ Sixth Casebook. The first “casebook” was published in 1948, just two years after the club was founded by precocious teenager named Jerry Williamson.

Edited by Clients Mary Ann Bradley, BSI, Louise Haskett, and Melanie Hoffman, the 23 entries in 70 Years are impressive for the scope of their topics as well as their erudition. For example: Ann Margaret Lewis writes on the polyphonic motets of Lassus, Don Curtis on “Plumes, Pipes, and Lens,” Pat Ward on sex and violence in Sherlock Holmes, Pam Wampler on Holmes and Freud, Michael Whalen on “Rex Stout: Hoosier Heretic,” and Steven Doyle on the history behind what many believe is the worst story in the Canon.

Full disclosure: My own contribution is called “Sherlock Holmes Gone to the Dogs: Canine Capers, Canonical and Otherwise.”   

As in previous casebooks, not all the authors are Clients. Some of the chapters were originally talks delivered to the Clients. I particularly enjoyed Patrick Bennett Shaw’s reminiscences of his father, the great John Bennett Shaw; Leslie Klinger on “The Vampire and the Detective,” a Halloween talk; and Michael W. Homer on “Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and the Mormons.”

After all these years the game is still afoot, and as lively as ever. See for yourself in 70 Years by Gas Lamp, available from Wessex Press.