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, 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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Excellent Escapade for Houdini and Conan Doyle

There’s practically a cottage industry in novels about Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, not to mention a short-lived TV series.

That’s understandable. The escape artist and the author were two of the most famous men of their times. The fascinating true story of their friendship, with its ups and downs, has been chronicled in a number of non-fiction books, as well as in every biography of the two.

After passing up several opportunities to buy Walter Satterthwait’s Escapade, a 1995 Houdini - Conan Doyle mystery novel, I finally succumbed at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend last month. I’m glad I did.

It’s a great book for several reasons: 
  • ·         It’s an English country-house mystery.
  • ·         And yet, narrator Phil Beaumont is a hard-boiled Pinkerton detective from America who cracks wise on every page.
  • ·         Interspersed with Beaumont’s prose is another refreshing voice – that of paid companion Jane Turner, a young Englishwoman telling the story from her viewpoint in breathless letters to a friend.
  • ·         It’s a locked-room mystery.
  • ·         The plot is excellent, most especially in the way the subplot comes back in at the end when the reader has mostly forgotten about it.
  • ·         The characters of Conan Doyle and Houdini are, it seems to me, largely true to life. This isn’t always the case in what passes for historical fiction. 

As in any genre or subgenre, some Houdini - Conan Doyle stories are better than others. This is one of the good ones, well plotted, well written, and highly entertaining. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Quiz on Dr. Watson

Fellow MX Writer Tim Symonds, who once made it possible for us to get a guided tour of the Reform Club in London, asked me to re-post this. I'm happy to do so: 

Many of us know quite a bit about Sherlock Holmes – his Stradivarius violin, his ear-flap hat, the fact he keeps his tobacco in a slipper, that he bumps off the Professor Moriarty, the ‘Napoleon of Crime’. But what about Holmes’s great friend and biographer Dr. John H. Watson?  Try these multiple-choice questions. A score of 8 out of 10 would be brilliant.

How did I do? Perhaps I wouldn't answer that question if I hadn't answered all 10 questions correctly, And perhaps you will do as well as I did. It's a good quiz, but even better are the explanatory paragraphs by Tim once you choose an answer.  

Tim Symonds has published five full-length Sherlock Holmes novels including ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Sword Of Osman’ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/178092755X) and his latest, ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil’

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bringing the Great Detective to Life

If you’ve been seeing pictures of your Sherlockian friends posed with the new Life magazine publication “Sherlock Holmes: The Story Behind the World’s Greatest Detective,” you may wonder whether it’s worth picking up a copy. In my opinion, it is.

For veteran admirers of the supersleuth, or even well-read neophytes, there’s little new in the five-chapter, 96-page magazine. But the story of the detective who never lived and so can never die is told in a very engaging fashion with no more than the usual number of minor errors. The writers may not be experts in the subject matter, but they talked to four Baker Street Irregulars who are: Otto Penzler, Leslie Klinger, Lyndsay Faye, and Mattias Boström.

Most of the magazine is devoted to the story of Sherlock Holmes from the point of view of his creator, but chapter five concerns what might be called the sleuth’s afterlife – fandom and dramatic presentations and re-imaginings of the sleuth of Baker Street. The weakness here is lack of attention to Jeremy Brett, although contemporary screen Sherlocks are covered. 

Not incidentally, this is a beautiful publication, lavishly illustrated throughout with striking photos – many of them new – and well worth revisiting just to look at. In short, it does not disappoint. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Clever Book - But That's Not Why I Own It

There can be many reasons to buy a book, especially a used one. The most recent example of that in my library is a copy of ResurrectedHolmes, an anthology of pastiches edited by Marvin Kaye.
I bought it at Mysterious Bookshop over the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend.

Kaye’s name on the binding was probably the initial attraction because he has bought a number of articles from me for Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, which he edits. Upon opening the book, I noticed that both Kaye and Otto Penzler, the owner of Mysterious Bookshop and one of the two people to whom the volume was dedicated, had both inscribed the book. And they had inscribed it to Jerry Margolin, a famous collector of Sherlockiana, particularly artwork.

So that gave me three great reasons to buy the book.

Only after I had it home and began to pursue it more carefully did I discover a fourth reason: One of the stories is by the late William L. DeAndrea, whom I met once, talked to on the phone once, and corresponded with a bit. He was about three months older than me and died in 1996 at the age of 44. I think he’s one of the most under-rated mystery writers of our time.   

The gimmick of the anthology – and it is a gimmick, though a delightful one – is that each story is written not in the style of Dr. Watson but in that of another famous writer. DeAndrea’s entry, “The Adventure of the Cripple Parade,” for example, is told from the point of view of Holmes and in the style of Mickey Spillane.

Some of the contributors are better at pulling off the approach than others, but most of the stories are quite entertaining. I especially liked “The Adventure of Ricolleti of the Club Foot” in the style of P.G. Wodehouse (featuring a butler named Reeves) and “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” as if by H.P. Lovecraft. From humor to horror, it’s an interesting collection that I am glad to have on my shelves.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Still Hounded by The Hound

One of my Sherlockian maxims is, “You can’t have too many copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

That’s obvious, I know. Although I’m not a collector, I own about 90 copies of that masterpiece, each bought for a specific reason. I’ve written about this too often to provide the links. Until recently, however, I didn’t have the bookpublished by the Baker Street Irregulars. I filled that lacuna during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. And high time, too!

In 2001, as part of its wonderful Manuscript Series, the BSI published a volume containing a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript of Chapter XI of The Hound, along with the typescript of the chapter and nine often-insightful essays.

As a mystery writer myself, I was fascinated to see how few changes the author (Arthur Conan Doyle? Dr. Watson?) made in the manuscript, and what those changes were. Many of the alterations showed a careful writer in search of the precise word – “keen” becomes “eager” near the bottom of the first page, for example. In other kind of change, the real village of Newton Abbot in Devon becomes the “Combe Tracey” familiar to readers in the revisions.

Like Sherlock Holmes with magnifying glass in hand, the essayists in this volume examine The Hound as a work of literature from many different angles – the plot, the atmosphere, the many hypothesized sources. Richard Lancelyn Green makes a strong argument, but to me ultimately unconvincing, that the story was suggested by a tale about a snake in The Strand magazine.

Michael Dirda’s “The Spell of The Hound” closes out the book with a charming reminiscence of his own first reading of the work which introduced him to Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

A special treat of this volume is a reprint of an ad for the American edition of The Hound. It ran in the May 10, 1902 issue of The Publisher’s Weekly. The three paragraphs of text, unillustrated, contains this startling statement: “The new Sherlock Holmes novel may be dead one hundred years from now, but it’s very much alive today.”

Dead one hundred years from now? How wrong could a publisher get?!  

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Canonical Toast and the Answers to a Quiz

Holmes overpowers Von Bork
I was unexpectedly asked to offer a toast to Von Bork, Sherlock Holmes’s antagonist in the chronologically last Sherlock Holmes story, at the Gaslight Gala a week ago today during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. The wording follows. And at the end – answers to a quiz!   

More than 50 years ago, when I was in the seventh grade, I first read, fell in love with, and memorized the final paragraph of “His Last Bow.” And so, it is a great joy and a singular honor for me to propose a toast tonight to a key character from that story – one for whom I retain a special fondness.  
You no doubt recall that on the second of August, the most terrible August in the history of the world, two famous Germans stood talking in low, confidential tones beside the stone parapet of a garden walk on the English coast. The glowing ends of their cigars resembled some malignant fiend looking down in the darkness. It is to one of them that we raise our glasses now. He was Sherlock Holmes’s last known opponent . . . but was he truly a villain? Well, you shall judge for yourselves.

I refer, of course, to “a remarkable man . . . a man who could hardly be matched among all the devoted agents of the Kaiser” –
·                     A man who was a master spy, the most astute secret-service man in Europe;
·                     A man who, as a born sportsman, yachted against his hosts, hunted with them, played polo, matched them at every game, and took the prize at Olympia; 
·                     A man who grudged Altamont nothing and paid him well;
·                     A man who was a kind master by his own lights, trying to protect his servant Martha by sending her to Germany along with his wife in August 1914;
·                     A man whose cousin Heinrich was the Imperial Envoy when Sherlock Holmes prevented a scandal in Bohemia;
·                     A man who owned a remarkable wine, an Imperial Tokay, from the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s special cellar at the Schoenbrunn Palace;
·                     A man who could have inspired a new village inn called The Dangling Prussian had he been so foolish as to shout for help while being kidnapped by Holmes and Watson;
·                     A man who was the herald of an East Wind coming, such a wind as never blew on England yet;
·                     And a man who – despite all of that – was never accorded a first name in the text!   

Fellow Sherlockians, let us lift our glasses of Imperial Tokay – we wish! – and toast our favorite German spy, Herr Von Bork, by saying –


Here are the answers to Karen Wilson’s quiz on “Sherlockian Firsts and Lasts” at the Gaslight Gala.
1.      C. August Dupin
2.      Beeton’s Christmas Annual
3.      “A Scandal in Bohemia”
4.      “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place”
5.      “‘The Gloria Scott’”
6.      A Study in Scarlet
7.      “How are you?”
8.      “His Last Bow.”
9.      D. H. Friston, Charles Altamont Doyle
10.  Sherrinford
11.  William Gillette
12.  The Hound of the Baskervilles
13.  The Voice of Terror
14.  The Last Sherlock Holmes Story
15.  The Final Solution
16.  Sherlock’s Last Case
17.  Granada
18.  The Benedict Cumberbatch
19.  1934

20.  1992 (although the decision to admit women to the BSI was made in 1991 and that is their investiture year)