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, April 26, 2017

A "Typical" Sherlock Holmes Meeting

An Illustrious Clients field trip
Recently I was asked on a radio program what are the typical activities of a Sherlock Holmes society. I'm not sure I gave a very complete answer.

Since there almost 1,000 of such groups around the world, many but not all of them scion societies of the Baker Street Irregulars, it may be going too far to say there is any such thing as "typical." But meetings I've been to have included some or all of the following:
  • A social hour;
  • Dinner;
  • An impossibly difficult quiz on the story of the evening;
  • Discussion of said story;
  • Presentation of a talk or scholarly paper by a club member or a visitor (sometimes me); 
  • Toasts to Holmes, Watson, the Woman, Mrs. Hudson, and other Conanical characters;
  • Recitation of Vincent Starrett's classic sonnet "22lB" to end the evening.
I've also been to picnics, costume parties, film festivals, and field trips. What else has your Sherlock Holmes society done, either once or regularly?

As mentioned previously in this space, we members of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati will celebrate our 40th anniversary with a party on Saturday.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Suddenly, I'm a Cover Boy!

I was thrilled over the weekend to find the latest issue of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and see my name on the cover for the first time! The issue contains my fifth article for the magazine, "I'm the Old Man." It's about connections between Sir Henry Merrivale, that irascible and indescribable Golden Age detective, and (who else?) Sherlock Holmes. I'm also happy to say that I'll return in the next number with a short story.

You can buy Issue #22, which also contains a new Nero Wolfe story by veteran mystery writer Marvin Kaye along with other fiction and features, online.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Meet Bill Mason, BSI

Bill in his library with his first edition Hound of the Baskervilles
Renewing acquaintances is one of the great pleasures of any Sherlockian confab. I had that delightful experience last month with the engaging Bill Mason of Nashville at the "Holmes, Doyle & Friends" conference in Dayton. I asked him a few questions later:   

Q: Let’s start at ground zero: When and how did you become a Sherlockian?

A:  My mother was a high school English teacher; and I was an avid reader, even as a child.  On my 13th birthday, she gave me the Whitman Classics edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  I was hooked on Sherlock Holmes from that point onward.  And that particular volume is still the most treasured item in my collection—even though you could probably get a copy for a quarter at a yard sale.

Q: What are your main involvements in Sherlockian societies?

A: Well, of course I am a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (“White Mason), and I make the trip to New York every January.  In my home town, I am a member of the Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem (“The Hydraulic Press”) as well as the Fresh Rashers of Nashville, where I am the founder and “Breakfast Ringer” (presiding officer). Currently, I am the “Head-Light” (president) of the Beacon Society, which gives grants to schools and libraries to teach about Sherlock Holmes.  I am also a member of the Bootmakers of Toronto, in which I am a “Master Bootmaker;” the John H. Watson Society, in which I am a charter member and have the name “Billy;” The Sounds of the Baskerville of Seattle; and The Red Circle of Washington, where I lived for many years.

Q: When I was a younger, I knew very few Sherlockians. What has it meant to you to be part of a Sherlockian community?

A: For years, I thought I was pretty much alone in my love of Sherlock Holmes.  I never missed any one of the Rathbone movies whenever they were on television, and I read (and re-read) all of the stories of the canon. Then, while in college, I came across the two-volume set of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Baring-Gould.  The annotations were great of course, but the real excitement for me was reading the dozen or so scholarly essays that opened the book and learning about the existence of scion societies, Sherlockian publications, and the Baker Street Irregulars.  I wanted so much to be a part of that.  My involvement in the Sherlockian world, all of the wonderful people I have met, the friendships I have forged, and the never-ending enjoyment of all things Sherlock Holmes have enriched my life tremendously. 

Q: When did you become a member of the Baker Street Irregulars?

A: I received my shilling at the BSI Dinner in January 2015. 

Q: What did that feel like for you? 

A: I was elated and very emotional about it.  I really had no expectation that it was going to happen that night, but I suppose that every Sherlockian hopes against hope to hear his or her name called into membership.  I knew that a major milestone in my life had been reached, secondary to getting married of course, but comparable to graduation from college, paying off my home, or my first day as a staff member at the White House.  The pleasure of it was greatly enhanced because only moments later Marino Alvarez of Nashville received his investiture.  We were the first from the Nashville area to be so honored.

Q: You are a Sherlock Holmes collector. Do you have a subspecialty of books or other materials that you acquire?

A: For years, I snatched up anything Sherlockian I could find; but since the turn of the century, the avalanche of easily produced books and other items has forced me to be more selective.  In recent years, I have specialized in the writings about the writings, first editions of early Sherlockian literature (starting with those books mentioned or excerpted in 1944’s The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes and expanding from there), and Sherlockian comics.

Q: Do you know how many books you own?

A:  Currently, I own about 2,750 books and 825 comics, all pertaining to Sherlock Holmes.  In addition, I have periodicals, journals, newsletters, DVDs, games, toys, and various collectibles certainly numbering in the many hundreds if not thousands.  Even though I have an entire room of my home (and its walk-in closet) devoted exclusively to Sherlock Holmes, space is a problem.  I carry a title list of my collection with me to prevent buying something I already own.

Q: One of the delights of your wonderful book of essays, PursuingSherlock Holmes, is the wide range of cultural references from Bram Stoker to Mel Brooks and – of course – the Three Little Pigs. What genres and particular writers do you like to read outside the Holmes universe?

A: In literature, my particular favorites are John Steinbeck and Jack London.  In mystery fiction, I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie, and I enjoy the books of a Southern author named Margaret Maron.  In action novels, I seek out the Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child and books by Jack Higgins.  In non-fiction, I still try to read books in the field of my educational training (human resource management), and I am especially interested in World War II history. But that only mentions my main interests.  I believe that reading a wide range of subjects is necessary for a well-rounded world view. 

Q: What event(s) are you most looking forward to on the Sherlockian calendar this year?

A:  I already have attended the annual conference in Dayton.  The monthly meetings of the Nashville Scholars and the weekly meetings of the Fresh Rashers are the highlights of my regular schedule.  My wife, Cindy, and I are already planning for New York in January 2018.

Q: What question have I not asked you that you would like to answer?

A:  Well, I like being asked about my favorite Sherlock Holmes activity.  For me, the conferences/symposia are the most fun and most meaningful.  They bring together those with the strongest interest from all points, and they treat the subject matter seriously yet with a lot of fun.  The conferences, even more than the Birthday Weekend or the local scion meetings, are really like family reunions, but with family members you chose for yourself.  I just love them and have never been to one that I didn’t enjoy.
Some of Bill's collectibles

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Delightful Bleat

What sort of author would call his own book Unmitigated Bleat?

Why, a great Sherlockian, of course!

Devotees of Sherlock Holmes will recognize the title of Paul D. Herbert’s new book of essays published by Gasogene Books as coming from “The Adventure of Red Circle.”

“Dear me!” says Holmes, turning over the pages of newspaper agony columns, “what a chorus of groans, cries, and bleatings! What a ragbag of singular happenings!” After reading a few examples out loud, he adds: “Bleat, Watson—unmitigated bleat!”

But this book is delight—sheer delight! A long-time member of the Baker Street Irregulars, Herbert is a serious scholar who knows how to have fun with the Canon. Some of these essays are laugh-out-loud funny.

Herbert is an expert on pastiches and parodies, having written a book on the theme in the 1980s called The Sincerest Form of Flattery. His lengthy essay on the topic in the present book is particularly insightful. Herbert himself is guilty of three hilarious parodies included in the volume. I particularly liked the two featuring Herblock Stones and his associate, Dr. Witsno.  

Other topics subjected to Herbert’s magnifying lens include various problems in the Canon, movie scripts that were never produced, a play that perhaps shouldn’t have been, bibliographical curiosities, people named Sherlock Holmes in real life, and some questions without answers.

Several of these essays were originally presented as talks at Sherlockian conferences over the past four decades. It is good to have them preserved in print.

Full disclosure: My friend Paul Herbert, BSI (“Mr. Leverton”) is the Official Secretary of the Tankerville Club, a Cincinnati-based scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, which he founded. The first meeting was held in April 1977. I have been a member since January 1981. My wife and I will host a 40th anniversary party later this month.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Ripping Good Ripper Tale

Perhaps the most overworked of all pastiche storylines is that of Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. But as well-worn as the trope is by now, first-time novelist Mark Sohn of Sussex takes it on with a great deal of success in Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Murders.

Good writing and first-rate atmospherics enhance a fast-moving tale with enough action to please even adventure-junkie Dr. Watson Рa prize fight, an abduction, a s̩ance, and the pursuit of a woman on roller skates. The subplot involves a plot to steal the Crown Jewels of England, masterminded by a brutal brain known as the Professor.

“I hope the ending of the book provides entertainment and a few surprises,” Sohn told me. “Some of the events are, of course, dramatic fiction, but there are – perhaps surprisingly – plenty of actual historical events blended in, some of which left me aghast at how easily they fitted with my story.”

One of my favorite elements in the book is the presence of real-life magician John Nevil Maskelyne, who creates a brilliant illusion to simulate the theft of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. The gimmick works just like many of Maskelyne’s real tricks.

“The idea to write a Holmes/Jack the Ripper story came to me about three years ago,” Sohn said. “Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most prominent ‘feature’ of later Victorian life and is perfect for Holmes.

“Both the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police failed to catch this person or persons. Who, then could have a chance? The man who never lived! I hope that the book will be a springboard, both for more Holmes tales and also my other stories, which range from horror to science fiction to historical thrillers. Who knows?” 

Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Murders is available from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Kindle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Toast to Sherlock Holmes

One of the common activities of Sherlock Holmes gatherings is a series of toasts to individuals of Sherlockian fame, either from what is generally called “real life” or from the pages of the Holmes Canon. Over the weekend (March 25, 2017), I was surprised and honored to be asked to toast the Master at the banquet of the Holmes, Doyle & Friends Four conference in Dayton. Here’s what I (more or less) said:

“Holmes, Doyle & Friends” is an indisputably appropriate name to gather under tonight, for the Sherlockian community is all about friendship – the friendship of Holmes and Watson, and our friendship for each other.

Sherlock Holmes once asserted that he had no friends save Watson. Surely that is untrue, however. Inspector G. Lestrade, who had a habit of looking in at 221B of an evening, must be considered a friend. And so must Mrs. Hudson, Billy the page, and brother Mycroft, each in his or her own unique way.

But the greatest friends of the world’s first consulting detective are not to be found in Baker Street. They span the globe . . . and the decades. They are located in small villages and great metropolises, whether alone with their books or joined with other like-minded eccentrics in almost a thousand societies devoted to the master.

We, dear comrades, are the friends of Sherlock Holmes.

And so tonight we raise our glasses in a toast:

To him whom we shall ever regard as the best and wisest man whom we have ever known –

Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street!   

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The MacGuffins of Sherlock Holmes

The Great Agra Treasure (The Bristol Observer, 1890)
In last week’s blog post, I mentioned the use of MacGuffins as one of the frequent plot tropes in the Canonical Holmes stories. This deserves more comment.

Alfred Hitchcock coined the term “MacGuffin,” but good old Wikipedia offers the best definition that I have found: 
“In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot. The most common type of MacGuffin is a person, place, or thing (such as money or an object of value).”

In other words, it doesn’t really matter what the MacGuffin is. My favorite MacGuffin is the eponymous Maltese Falcon. In principle, the characters could have been chasing after a package of money – but the Falcon is so much more exotic and romantic, especially given its history.

The Canon is full of MacGuffins, although sometimes we don’t know what they are until they are found:

  • The Great Agra Treasure
  • Irene Adler’s photo with the King of Bohemia
  • The beryl coronet
  • The crown of Charles the First
  • The naval treaty
  • The blackmail papers in Milverton’s safe
  • The black pearl of the Borgias
  • The document in “The Adventure of the Second Stain”
  • The Bruce-Partington plans  
  • Baron Gruner’s diary
  • The Mazarin stone

Should we include the long parade of missing persons in the Canon? I’m not that sure we can say they are “unimportant to the overall plot.” But for the sake of completeness, let’s mention Hosmer Angel, Neville St. Clair, Lady St. Simon (who did not exist), Lady Frances Carfax, Godfrey Staunton, Lord Saltire, and – last but far from least – Silver Blaze.

Have I missed any Canonical MacGuffins?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Familiar Plot Tropes in the Canon

James Ryder begs for mercy - and Sherlock Holmes grants it  

In plotting my own Sherlock Holmes novel recently, it struck me how many plot tropes are used repeatedly in the 60 Canonical tales. I don’t mean the 11 points in Monsignor Knox’s classic outline of the archetypical Holmes story. I mean actual plot engines, such as:
  • A crime with roots in the past. I count 19 stories like this, most often a past in America (six stories), India, or Australia. The first such was A Study in Scarlet.
  • Revenge, usually the motive for the above.
  • A thwarted marriage. At least 10 engagements in the Canon come to nothing because of scandal, estrangement, or death. Again, it all started with Jefferson Hope.
  • Holmes giving Watson an impossible assignment, then showing up on the scene to cruelly criticize him for failing to carry it out as Holmes would have. “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax” is a great example.
  • Unlawful entry. Commentators have argued over whether Holmes actually commits burglary, housebreaking, break and entering, or no crime at all. Whatever it is, he does it five times – from the first short story (“A Scandal in Bohemia”) to the second-last one published (“The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”).  
  • Disguise. Sometimes I think Holmes just likes getting dressed up.
  • Letting the criminal go free. Private eyes often take the law into their own hands, but Sherlock Holmes only does so in the name of mercy. Presumably such characters as Jack Horner and Captain Crocker are grateful.  
  • The use of a MacGuffin. 

Do we feel cheated when a Canonical story uses one of these familiar devices? Not at all. We feel at home. That’s why I’m using some of them in my novel-length Holmes adventure. As to which ones, you will have to wait and see.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Calling All Midwesterners - and Others

Among the fond memories of my first Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend a couple of months ago are many meals and cocktail hours with friends old and new. At one such, Steven Doyle opined that the American Midwest has become the center of the Sherlockian universe.

(I believe that we were sitting in the Blue Bar at New York’s famed Algonquin Hotel at the time.)   

Well, there certainly are a lot of Baker Street Irregulars in Indianapolis, including Wiggins and the publisher of The Baker Street Journal!  

But whether one accepts Steve’s premise or not, it’s certainly true that a Midwesterner doesn’t have to go very far to connect with other Sherlockians and take part in great programs. A case in point is the upcoming “Holmes, Doyle & Friends Four” symposium presented by the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, Ohio on March 24 and 25. 

The first three Dayton symposia under the current name were all great, attracting both speakers and participants from far beyond Ohio. And this year there’s a special keynote speaker – John Linsenmeyer, who edited the BSJ in the late 19790s and early 1980s.

So register at once if convenient. If inconvenient, register all the same! To do so, and to get more information, go to: http://www.agratreasurers.net/

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Few of My Favorite Books

My little library
Maybe I have a face for radio. A very small station in Cincinnati, WMKV, invited me to hold forth on a call-in program about book collecting. My subject, of course,  would be Sherlock Holmes.

My objection that I’m actually an accumulator of books and not a collector was met with an assurance that the listeners aren’t collectors either. Having no good rebuttal to that, I agreed to go to the studio for an hour on Friday, April 7.

I plan to talk about some of the books in my library that are most meaningful to me – The Complete Sherlock Holmes that I bought with my own money in the seventh grade, the rare Three Problems for Solar Pons that I picked up for a quarter at a library sale, and several books that look and feel like volumes I read when I was very young.  

I’ll also explain the Shaw 100, recommend Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, tell the story of Vincent Starrett’s Holmes collections, and discuss the Holmes material stolen in my first Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mystery, No Police Like Holmes.

All of that may take less time than I think, so help me out. What’s your favorite Holmes book now residing on your shelves and why? Or what’s your favorite story about how you got a book? Or your favorite story about how you didn’t get a book?

If you’re willing to share with me, I’m willing to share with the radio audience. This is starting to seem like fun.