Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Currently on Twitter...

As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," in which Sherlock Holmes advises: "Your life is not your own...Keep your hands off it...The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world."

The current story is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," in which Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson: "It makes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely."

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Currently on Twitter...

As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "Charles Augustus Milverton," in which the reader is introduced to "the worst man in London" and learns that "...there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge."

The current story is "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," in which Sherlock Holmes advises: "Your life is not your own...Keep your hands off it...The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world."

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Takeaways from “Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space”

By Chris Redmond
I brought a lot of things home with me from the recent “Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space” conference in Minneapolis — some of them tangible, such as the anthology (“festschrift”) published in honour of Randy Cox and launched during the big weekend, but most of them intangible. You know the sorts of things I mean: friendships created or renewed, memories (mostly involving moments with those friends), ideas (picked up in conversation or from the speakers), web links, must-read lists, phone numbers.
From left to right: Lindsay Colwell, Chris Redmond, Monica Schmidt
In my case, the Sherlockian gains included a clearer appreciation for the BBC’s “Sherlock” series than I have previously had, thanks to the presentation by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London about their visit to the set of “The Reichenbach Fall”. Interestingly, and in contrast with much of the fangirl fandango of the past two years, they emphasized series creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, not Benedict Cumberbatch or any of his co-stars. Through the courtesy of Johnson and Upton, I am now displaying on the home page of Sherlockian.Net a photo of the two of them in close proximity to Martin Freeman’s coat at the doorway of 221B; the picture was taken by Gatiss himself.
Among the “Sherlock” clips shown during that presentation was the already classic scene in which the detective analyzes his new companion’s cellphone, much the way the original Holmes analyzes Watson’s brother’s watch in The Sign of the Four. The scene was received so vocally by the Minneapolis audience that I almost thought some of them had never seen it before. More likely, they had never seen it so clearly, on such a big screen.
Most of the 150-plus Sherlockians present seemed fully up to speed on television adaptations (British, American and now Russian) as well as cinematic history and even marginally relevant TV. I had not fully realized until last weekend how very Sherlockian “Doctor Who” is. Maybe I was hanging out with too fast a crowd, but I saw Whovian T-shirts, and heard Whovian banter, and sometimes felt lost because, to tell the truth, the Doctor is not part of my cultural armament. Neither are most of the movies people were referring to. (I would like to add artistic verisimilitude at this point by mentioning two or three titles, but the truth is, I know so little about cinema past and present that the titles didn’t even stick in my mind.)
I came away from Minneapolis wondering whether this media awareness is now the mainstream of the Sherlockian world, and if so, what’s to become of the likes of me. To my generation the Jeremy Brett TV episodes of the 1980s are still new-fangled, really, and the true Sherlock Holmes resides in books and archives. But most people seem to have adapted to the 21st century better than I have. I felt lucky, sometimes, that they were putting up with my clueless expressions.
In the talk that I had been invited to give, “Why the Carbuncle Was Blue”, I made sure to include a few nods to the video culture and the “feels” that it induces in true believers. Why, I went so far as to say that Arthur Conan Doyle might have approved of the creation of Molly Hooper. However, I suspect that doesn’t explain the generous way my talk was received. What seems to have struck my listeners was the range of Canonical and extra-Canonical detail, and particularly the research findings about colour naming that I included, half remembered from my academic days a couple of decades ago. I also tossed in some bits of literary theory, Gilbert and Sullivan, art history and the book of Revelation. Fields like these may be, though I had not realized it until recently, as exotic to the new breed of Sherlockian as Louise Brealey and Peter Capaldi are to me.
Perhaps best of all, I was able to include a little Sherlockian history in my talk, crediting the earliest research about the blue carbuncle to Doyle W. Beckemeyer, who published his work in 1953 through the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. I would like to think that the audience appreciated that, feeling linked by it to enthusiasts of sixty years ago who probably had just as much fun with Sherlock Holmes in their way as we do now in our way. Or ways. What Beckemeyer’s taste in movies was, we do not know, but it may well have involved some fellow called Rathbone.
oOo

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Currently on Twitter...

As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane," in which a retired Sherlock Holmes informs us, "I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles."

The current story is "Charles Augustus Milverton," in which the reader is introduced to "the worst man in London" and learns that "...there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge."

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: “The Annals of Sherlock Holmes”

Paul D. Gilbert; Publisher: Robert Hale (April 1, 2013)

“[Jeremy Brett’s] exuberance while filming ‘The Devil’s Foot’—an exuberance that to some extent was a result of his illness—led him to make additions to the story, some not always in keeping with either Conan Doyle’s Holmes or his previous performances. It was that great enthusiasm and thrill at developing the character that was responsible for us seeing Holmes wearing a bandana around his head, as Brett had worn one in the swinging ‘sixties. He also draped his scarf around his trilby hat in a strange way. Bohemian, maybe; risible, certainly. A still in ‘The Sunday Times’ which featured Holmes with this scarf/hat concoction was captioned: ‘Sherlock Holmes as a teapot!’” (David Stuart Davies, “Bending the Willow”)

The Sherlock Holmes of Paul Gilbert’s books is immediately recognizable. Beyond the features that automatically mark the character as the Great Detective, there is a more specific quality in every turn of phrase, sharply raised eyebrow and peculiar idiosyncrasy. Gilbert’s Sherlock Holmes is unquestionably and unmistakably Jeremy Brett. The author of four collections of Sherlockian pastiche – The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes, The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra, and most recently, The Annals of Sherlock Holmes – Gilbert said in a 2010 interview:

"He was a great actor and when I write, Jeremy Brett is my Sherlock. His family have read my books and I believe they have gone down well with them… I owe a lot to Jeremy Brett. I never met him but my interpretation of Holmes owes a lot to his character."
And that debt to Jeremy Brett is present within even the first few pages of The Annals of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of three stories inspired by canonical references (to both unpublished cases in Dr. Watson’s dispatch box at Cox and Co., at Charing Cross, and fringe characters from published stories). In the very first tale, as Holmes and Watson keep a frigid vigil on Christmas Eve, Watson remarks:

“I could not help but wonder at my friend’s effrontery. After all, he was sitting comfortably in the corner of this tiny stable with his muffler tied down about his hat while a large brown blanket was draped over his shoulders forming the shape of a teepee (13).”
The passage evokes an almost instantaneous recollection of Jeremy Brett’s puzzling wardrobe choices from the Granada Television adaptation of “The Devil’s Foot.” Gilbert’s Sherlock Holmes is a vivid and sharply painted portrait, recognizable in every word and gesture. It is a remarkable tribute. Likewise, his Watson seems to be equal shades of David Burke and Edward Hardwicke – although there appears to be a little bit more of Hardwicke’s interpretation in his Watson’s frustration and exasperation: “Really, Holmes, on this occasion you have surely surpassed yourself. Your shabby treatment of me displays a wanton lack of respect that I surely don’t deserve!” (51) Over the course of three separate stories, Gilbert successfully achieves cohesiveness and consistency, allowing the collection to be appreciated as a whole – as well as for the merits of its parts.
 
vvv

The Dundas Separation Case: In “A Case of Identity,” as he attempts to explain to Dr. Watson just how infinitely strange life can be, Sherlock Holmes makes reference to some papers, saying:

“This is the Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was engaged in clearing up some small points in connection with it. The husband was a teetotaller, there was no other woman, and the conduct complained of was that he had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling them at his wife, which you will allow is not an action likely to occur to the imagination of the average story-teller.”
While the canonical reference makes it sound as if Watson was unaware of this peculiar case, Gilbert’s readers soon learn that this just simply isn’t so. When Holmes and Watson are contacted by Miss Edith Swinton – a friend of Miss Violet Hunter (COPP), she asks their help in deciphering the excessively bizarre behavior of her employer, Sir Balthazar Dundas. Since the arrival of a mysterious visitor, Dundas has begun to treat his wife in an appallingly abusive fashion, and is now cloistering himself in the attic of his home in Dungeness. Readers soon learn that this case is also the explanation behind Watson’s oblique canonical reference to “the whole story concerning the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant” (VEIL).

The Abernetty Mystery: During “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,” Sherlock Holmes tells Inspector Lestrade:

“The affair seems absurdly trifling, and yet I dare call nothing trivial when I reflect that some of my most classic cases have had the least promising commencement. You will remember, Watson, how the dreadful business of the Abernetty family was first brought to my notice by the depth which the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day.”
The unpublished case of the Abernetty family has always stimulated curiosity. What could be a better example of Sherlock Holmes’s keen deductive reasoning than his observations on something as seemingly insignificant as a sprig of parsley? When Holmes and Watson are invited to visit the Collier family (a reference to Gilbert’s previous work, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra), Watson suggests that they make a brief visit to his friend, Montague Abernetty, along the way. But where Holmes and Watson go, trouble is sure to follow. When the men arrive, Abernetty is already dead of cyanide poisoning – and every member of his family is a suspect!

The Adventure of the Reluctant Spirit: "I have come to you, Mr. Holmes," Miss Mary Morstan told Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four, "because you once enabled my employer, Mrs. Cecil Forrester, to unravel a little domestic complication. She was much impressed by your kindness and skill." While it has been some time since the passing of his wife, Dr. Watson still maintains contact with the woman who once employed her, Mrs. Cecil Forrester. Unfortunately, Mrs. Forrester is recently bereaved and under the influence of a medium who claims he can make contact with her deceased daughter, Evangeline. As such, she turns again to the man who once impressed her with his “kindness and skill”. But with Sherlock Holmes supposedly engaged in the investigation of a sapphire gone missing from a locked room, Watson appears to be on his own in assisting his old acquaintance. However, the two cases begin to intersect, and Langdale Pike (3GAB) arrives, with his own peculiar set of skills, to aid them both.

vvv
 
Gilbert has summoned a Sherlock Holmes who is in full possession of his powers, and does not hesitate to use them completely. His Watson is at equal turns admiring and exasperated, but always at the Detective’s side. Everything about them is authentic and familiar, as comfortable as a visit to Baker Street and an old dressing gown. The Annals of Sherlock Holmes is the latest contribution to Paul Gilbert’s fine collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and he remains exacting in his details and faithful in his execution.
 
oOo
 
The Annals of Sherlock Holmes is available in hardback and for the Kindle from Amazon, and in hardback and for the Nook from Barnes & Noble. Paul D. Gilbert is available on Twitter, and Facebook.
 
“Better Holmes & Gardens” has its own Facebook page.  Join by “Liking” the page here, and receive all the latest updates, news, and Sherlockian tidbits.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Currently on Twitter...

As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "The Speckled Band," in which Dr. Grimesby Roylott introduces the reader to: "Holmes, the meddler... Holmes, the busybody... Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!"

The current story is "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane," in which a retired Sherlock Holmes informs us, "I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles."

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

“The Meaning of This Extraordinary Performance” (COPP): Granada Television’s “The Man with the Twisted Lip”

Jeremy Brett particularly enjoyed the next stage of the story, the construction of the divan and Holmes’ enormous consumption of tobacco as he thinks the problem through while Watson snatches an hour or two of sleep. We decided that Holmes had brought his mouse-colored dressing gown with him rather than borowing [sic] a blue one, thus adding our contribution to one of the minor mysteries of the Canon. Jeremy also enjoyed finding new aspects of Holmes and he relished the meditative stillness of this sequence, although inspiration does not strike until he washes his face at dawn.” (From A Study in Celluloid: A Producer’s Account of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, by Michael Cox)

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original short story, “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” Mrs. Kate Whitney actually arrives at Dr. Watson’s home looking for, not the doctor himself, but his wife. “Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a light-house,” he says. But in the 1986 Granada Television adaptation of the story, Dr. Watson is the lighthouse. This is, of course, because the marriage between Mary Morstan and Dr. Watson was written out of the Granada series. According to Jeremy Brett, “[Mary Morstan] would have got in the way. Watson was more in love with Holmes – in a pure sense – than he could have been with a woman. He wouldn’t want to give up the excitement, the danger. As for Holmes, if Watson had gone off and left him for a woman he wouldn’t know what to do. He’d be stoned out of his mind every night.” And so, in Granada’s version, Mrs. Kate Whitney arrives at Baker Street, hoping that Dr. Watson (played by Edward Hardwicke) might help her find her missing husband, Isa Whitney. But the hour is late, and Mrs. Whitney tells Mrs. Hudson that she is concerned that she will only be in the Doctor’s way. “He won’t mind, I’m sure,” says Mrs. Hudson. “He’s the kindest of men.”

The audience has already seen Mr. Isa Whitney in the opening sequence of the episode, walking distractedly past the beggar, Hugh Boone. Whitney attracts Boone’s attention momentarily, if only because he fails to give him any change before disappearing down a shadowy alleyway. “Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven, sir,” Boone mumbles after Whitney’s retreating figure. Whitney walks past a group of workmen, who lift a burlap sheet in the course of their labors, but when the sheet falls again, Whitney is gone – vanished completely. It is an effortless bit of cinematic magic, but nevertheless effective. Whitney has evaporated as completely as the smoke from an opium pipe, gone the audience knows not where, but the tone of the episode has been set. Existence and identity are insubstantial notions, and both ideas are at odds in this episode. A person can dissipate into nothing, with an ill-timed word or a thoughtless action. A person can vanish completely, but they can also vanish deliberately. “Mr. Holmes disappears without a trace at regular intervals,” Watson tells Kate Whitney, and such is the episode’s common thread. The audience finds characters that are tasked with the effort of identity and the burden of existence.

Dr. Watson eventually leaves Baker Street to retrieve our vanished man, leaving Mrs. Whitney to take tea with Mrs. Hudson. The two women muse philosophically as to whether “men ever really truly grow up, or if they remain little boys forever,” over a shot of Dr. Watson running to catch a cab and arriving in Upper Swandam Lane – a vile alley of disrepute if there ever was one, and brought to vivid life out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story. As the Doctor arrives, a well-dressed man is discussing trade with two women of ill-repute (who then turn their attentions to Watson), then a scream as a fight breaks out, and Watson narrowly avoids being struck down by a shattering bottle. Watson locates the vanished Whitney inside The Bar of Gold, the opium den, but he also finds Sherlock Holmes, “merge[ed] with the surroundings,” and artfully disguised as an opium addict – complete with grizzled wig and beard, false eyebrows, a prosthetic nose, and tattered clothing. It’s a masterful camouflage, and so the effect is rather singular, therefore, when Holmes removes the disguise once in a cab with Watson. Each piece of his false face is removed to reveal the refined, patrician features of Jeremy Brett underneath. He has already exchanged his ratty addict’s costume for his traditional black suit, all crisp lines and sharp angles, and the transformation is complete. Sherlock Holmes himself has shown the audience how simple it is to assume the persona of another person – and also how effortless it is to dispose of one.


Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson arrive at the Cedars, near Lee, in Kent, where Mrs. Neville St. Clair is waiting and eager to attest to her husband’s character. Of interest, in this adaptation Mrs. St. Clair is played by Eleanor David, who would take another Sherlockian turn in the 2004 film Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking as Mary Pentney (with Jonathan Hyde, as George Pentney, who appears in Granada’s 1994 adaptation of “The Dying Detective”). She describes her dramatic ordeal in detail, including how she found her (also vanished) husband’s garments behind a curtain in the opium den. Neville St. Clair’s clothing has been discarded like a snakeskin, disposed of like so much trash, but Mrs. St. Clair fervently announces the name of her husband’s tailor – as if that were somehow an integral part of his identity and the mention of it will somehow summon him into being. Later on the episode, as Holmes recounts a discussion with Inspector Bradstreet, the audience sees those same clothes in Bradstreet’s office. In this instance, however, the clothes are laid out neatly, as if trying to replicate the man who should be occupying them. And at the end of the episode, when St. Clair emerges from his Bow Street cell in his gentleman’s persona, he arranges the remaining scraps of Hugh Boone in a similar, tidy fashion, perhaps in the hopes of bidding the beggar into his own separate, independent existence – so that he won’t have to destroy him completely by casting him into the fire.  

In the original short story, after a few hours of sleep at the St. Clair residence, Watson (and therefore, the reader) is awoken by Holmes’s shout of revelation, to find the Detective still smoking and in much the same contemplative position as he was before the Doctor drifted off. Holmes has solved the case, but the readers do not get to witness the actual epiphany. Granada’s adaptation remedies this omission by having the audience witness Sherlock Holmes while in the midst of his method. Immersed in the golden light of a slowly rising sun and subtle clouds of tobacco smoke, the Detective sits in a meditative state. The camera angle moves in gradually and narrows into a tight shot of Jeremy Brett’s face, his eyes opening slowly and his brow subtly arched. With his pipe in hand, perhaps we see a slight echo of Holmes as he appeared earlier – as the ragged opium addict in the Bar of Gold. And in this version, Watson sleeps through the moment of grand understanding, because it takes place elsewhere. In front of a mirror, Holmes washes his face only in waistcoat and shirtsleeves, and understanding slowly dawns, resulting in a boisterous clap instead of a verbal cue. As he wakes Watson in the next scene, Holmes is suddenly fully dressed – including overcoat and hat – his detective identity fully assumed and ready for battle.


At the end of the episode, Inspector Bradstreet makes Neville St. Clair promise that they will see no more of Hugh Boone. “I swear it by the most solemn oath that a man could take,” St. Clair replies. But the understated smirk and downturned expression on Holmes’s face suggest that the Detective doesn’t think much of St. Clair’s promises. Perhaps it is simply because the end of Hugh Boone doesn’t necessarily preclude St. Clair from taking up some other beggar persona, in another part of London. The man had a gift for disguise, after all. Or perhaps he understands that St. Clair and Boone are inexorably intertwined, and that untangling the two will be no mean feat. Because as the audience has already seen, Sherlock Holmes knows better than anyone how simple it is to assume an identity, dispose of one, and begin the whole process anew.

oOo
Sources:
"Better Holmes & Gardens” has its own Facebook page.  Join by “Liking” the page here, and receive all the latest updates, news, and Sherlockian tidbits.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: “The Amateur Executioner: Enoch Hale Meets Sherlock Holmes”

Dan Andriacco and Kieran McMullen; Publisher: MX Publishing (April 2013)

“Hale had read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a boy, of course; everybody had. But even though Hale knew that Holmes was a real person, like America’s Alan Pinkerton in the last century and William J. Burns in this one, he had viewed the world’s first consulting detective as a remote and almost legendary figure. And to think that Wiggins had known him! What had Pound said? It was too bad that Holmes was retired. Hale was inclined to agree. But it seemed that the detective’s old friend, his ‘Boswell,’ was still keeping his eye on crime news” (73).

The year is 1920, and the world hasn’t stopped moving simply because Sherlock Holmes has retired. Time has marched relentlessly and ruthlessly forward, and no one has come away unscathed. The Baker Street Irregulars are no longer little boys; familiar canonical characters are now old men with a propensity to ramble; London is filled with an entirely new generation of dizzying intellects and untapped creative potential; and Sherlock Holmes can no longer be found easily with a telegram to the Baker Street flat. And it’s against the background of this complex historical tapestry that Dan Andriacco and Kieran McMullen weave together their new collaborative novel: The Amateur Executioner: Enoch Hale Meets Sherlock Holmes. But despite all that has changed in the years since 1895, some things endure. The criminal class remains active and evergreen, as do those who work in the pursuit of justice. And the art of deduction, as journalist Enoch Hale proves, is still very much in fashion.

The Amateur Executioner is the first collaborative work between Sherlockian authors Dan Andriacco and Kieran McMullen. Andriacco is the author of several Sherlockian writings, including Baker Street Beat, No Police Like Holmes, Holmes Sweet Holmes, and The 1895 Murder. McMullen’s works include a trio of military-themed Sherlockian pastiches: Watson’s Afghan Adventure, Sherlock Holmes and the Irish Rebels and Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Boer Wagon, as well as an insightful survey of actors who have portrayed Dr. Watson on stage and screen throughout the years entitled, The Many Watsons. The authors’ combined talents and respective areas of expertise are well-matched, in addition to being well-balanced. The resulting effort is a triumph of historical fiction – well-researched, engaging, and supremely entertaining.

Journalist Enoch Hale of the Central Press Syndicate, an American expatriate in London, is not a detective – although like most reporters, he certainly has the makings of one. And while Hale himself is not particularly illustrious (although the prominent Wall Street family he left in America would likely beg to differ), his circle of friends and acquaintances more than exceeds the definition of the word. They include poets and politicians, actors, directors and musicians, as well as some characters that seem tantalizingly familiar, but remain stubbornly on the wrong side of recognition until almost the very end of the novel. Well-known canonical faces are also present in abundance. Horace Harker, who readers should know from “The Six Napoleons,” is a regular feature at Hale’s day job, and on separate occasions, Hale turns to both Langdale Pike (3GAB) and Shinwell Johnson (ILLU) for information. To investigate a series of murders, whose common theme is that the victims are executed with a hangman’s noose, Hale even works in close concert with a Chief Inspector Henry Wiggins, whose eye for detail and methods of investigation should be instantly recognizable, as if this character has spent his life studying at the feet of some master instructor.

But the mystery at the heart of The Amateur Executioner is more than just a device meant to propel Enoch Hale from one familiar face to another. The machinations behind the series of murders (and their seemingly unrelated victims) are intricately and expertly plotted, and as complex as any of the one hundred and sixty separate ciphers in Holmes’s monograph. It is a mystery of hidden dimensions and international implications, but with a local flavor not unlike one of the Great Detective’s own cases. The novel stays satisfyingly grounded in the world of Sherlock Holmes – even if the man himself is not a constant presence. Enoch Hale is as doggedly persistent as Sherlock Holmes is known to be, and when his managing director at the Central Press Syndicate (one Nigel Rathbone, recently arrived from South Africa) tells the journalist, “Get the story, Hale!” – there is almost certainly an echo of “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot."

But there is no denying that the strength of The Amateur Executioner is in the effortless manner in which it evokes historical figures, fictional characters, and famous places. It’s certainly entertaining to read that a fortune-teller (one of the executioner's victims) told both George Bernard Shaw and W.B.Yeats that they will win the Nobel Prize (the former is dismissive of the prediction, while the later seems eager to believe). And as for Winston Churchill, who met with the same fortune-teller? “She said I would be Prime Minister some day. What politician wouldn’t want to hear that” (54)? Later during a visit to a moving picture studio, Hale encounters “Hitch,” the studio’s art director. Short, balding, and chubby, he is described dismissively: “Hitch here designs title cards, but he harbors a not-so-secret desire to be a director” (119). The cavalcade of famous faces culminates in the arrival of William Gillette, the American actor so famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. But the actor seems to be more than a little immersed in his most famous role – despite being nearly 70-years-old – and Hale begins to fear for the actor’s well-being after a round of insightful deductions aimed at the journalist:

“I’ve also never met a journalist who wears Brooks Brothers suits. That takes more money than Fleet Street pays out, until you’re the boss, if then. Your family can hardly be pleased that you’ve become a scribbler, which may explain why you’re pursuing that trade in old England instead of the New England your accent comes from. Yet it’s obvious that they haven’t cut off your allowance since you’re wearing the very latest style and a new fabric that Brooks Brothers has just begun to import from India called Madras. By the way, that notebook in your hand is as indicative of your profession as Chief Inspector Wiggin’s two-and-a-half inch barrel weapon and handcuffs are of his” (125).

A good novel should endeavor to surprise its readers on every page, and The Amateur Executioner is the best kind of surprise – the subtle wink and nudge to – not just fans of Sherlock Holmes – but those who enjoy a wide variety of topics, from poetry to politics to popular culture. The novel is not unlike a treasure hunt, and you wonder just who or what is going to turn up next. It’s a fast-paced and immersive read, barely allowing the reader to take a breath from page to page. But it’s also a remarkable and masterful undertaking – suggestive of something new and fresh, while remaining true to the source that shaped it.

“The essence of lying is in deception, not in words.” (John Ruskin)

oOo
The Amateur Executioner: Enoch Hale Meets Sherlock Holmes, by Dan Andriacco and Kieran McMullen is available in paperback from MX Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.  It is also available for the Kindle. You can follow the authors on Facebook.
“Better Holmes & Gardens” has its own Facebook page.  Join by “Liking” the page here, and receive all the latest updates, news, and Sherlockian tidbits.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Currently on Twitter...


As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," in which Sherlock Holmes professes his affinity for all things American: “It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

The current story is "The Speckled Band," in which Dr. Grimesby Roylott introduces the reader to: "Holmes, the meddler... Holmes, the busybody... Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!"

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Some Thoughts on Setting: The Tranquil
English Home

“As we drove away I stole a glance back, and I still seem to see that little group on the step – the two graceful, clinging figures, the half-opened door, the hall-light shining through stained glass, the barometer, and the bright stair-rods. It was soothing to catch even that passing glimpse of a tranquil English home in the midst of the wild, dark business which had absorbed us.” (SIGN)

221B Baker Street was not a tranquil English home. Life with Sherlock Holmes was not tranquil. The world with Sherlock Holmes in it was not tranquil. An existence punctuated by indoor pistol practice, unpredictable and uncontrollable chemical experiments, and an assorted cast of unsavory characters arriving at irregular hours was not a tranquil one. But there were moments of tranquility. For instance, the conclusion of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” in which the reader finds Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson enjoying a peaceful, seasonal meal together. The passage in The Sign of Four in which Holmes lulls a tense and exhausted Watson to sleep with his violin. Or even the opening lines of “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,” in which the reader finds that Inspector Lestrade has acquired the habit of dropping in at Baker Street of an evening, just to chat. But, by and large, the Baker Street flat was a rambunctious residence.

But that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that all other canonical residences were tranquil ones, either. An address off of Baker Street did not guarantee a peaceful life. The eponymous residence of “The Copper Beeches,” for all its efforts at the appearance of normalcy, turned out to be – for Miss Violet Hunter especially – as dark and dangerous a residence as any alley of ill-repute in London. The Trevor residence in Donnithorpe, seen in “The ‘Gloria Scott’”, is certainly more than peaceful enough in the beginning. As Sherlock Holmes said, “…he would be a fastidious man who could not put in a pleasant month there,” but unfortunately the “old-fashioned, widespread, oak-beamed brick” dwelling quickly becomes the site of high drama, when the elder Trevor’s previous transgressions follow him home. And of course, in “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange,” no number of ivy-covered walls or pillared front facades can conceal the dark business that took place inside – the monstrous cruelty of Sir Eustace Brackenstall and his violent end.


Nevertheless, in “The Crooked Man,” Sherlock Holmes arrives at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Watson, seeking sanctuary. The Watsons have only been married a few months, and the hour is late – Watson informs the reader that his wife had already gone to bed – but there is no question that Sherlock Holmes would be welcome, that his hat can fill the vacant peg on the hatstand. So, if a tranquil English home doesn’t necessarily mean “anywhere outside of Baker Street,” then what was Dr. Watson longing after as he gazes back at the Forrester residence in The Sign of Four? Was it necessarily the tranquility? Was it the sense of stability? Was it the woman standing on the doorstep (you know, the one he would eventually marry)? Or was it something else, some more intangible quality, something that perhaps escaped even Watson’s implicit understanding?


It’s worth noting that, in the passage from SIGN, Watson is neither coming from nor returning to the flat at Baker Street. He is coming from Pondicherry Lodge – returning Miss Mary Morstan to the home where she currently resides as a governess – and their evening has been long and dark, punctuated by theft, murder, and the revelation of secrets horrible and long-harbored. After leaving Miss Morstan with the Forresters, Watson does not immediately return to Pondicherry Lodge, but instead embarks on an errand for Sherlock Holmes, and goes to Pinchin Lane. It is an unlovely place. As Watson says, “Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby, two-storied brick houses in the lower quarter of Lambeth. I had to knock for some time at No. 3 before I could make any impression.” He is then subjected to a variety of abuse at the hands of the resident, Mr. Sherman, before mentioning Sherlock Holmes and thus gaining entrance, and Sherman’s deference. The interior of No. 3 Pinchin Lane is no better than the exterior: “In the uncertain, shadowy light I could see dimly that there were glancing, glimmering eyes peeping down at us from every cranny and corner. Even the rafters above our heads were lined by solemn fowls, who lazily shifted their weight from one leg to the other as our voices disturbed their slumbers.”

So, what was Watson really seeing in that passage from SIGN, what were the particular items that drew his eye? The first thing he mentions is Miss Morstan and Mrs. Forrester on the doorstep – “the two graceful, clinging figures.” Mary Morstan didn’t just arrive at the place where she lived; she was welcomed home by Mrs. Forrester: “…it gave me joy to see how tenderly her arm stole round the other’s waist and how motherly was the voice in which she greeted her. She was clearly no mere paid dependant but an honoured friend.” And hasn’t Watson received similarly warm welcomes from Sherlock Holmes? In “The Naval Treaty,” the Doctor is informed, “You come at a crisis, Watson” and “I will be at your service in an instant... You will find tobacco in the Persian slipper.” In “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Holmes tells his friend: “So it was, my dear Watson, that at two o’clock to-day I found myself in my old armchair in my own old room, and only wishing that I could have seen my old friend Watson in the other chair which he has so often adorned.” It’s really very simple. What more can one want from a home than to just to know that you are welcome, and that all the comforts are at your disposal?  


And speaking of those comforts, that is the second thing that draws Watson’s eye in the passage from SIGN: “the half-opened door, the hall-light shining through stained glass, the barometer, and the bright stair-rods.” These items are all meant to be indicators of home – things that are comforting and familiar. So, how are these articles any different that the tobacco in the toe-end of a Persian slipper (or the cigars in the coal-scuttle, for that matter), correspondence eternally fixed under a jack-knife, or the bullet-marks in the wall. In “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” Watson practically equates himself with these items: “As an institution I was like the violin, the shag tobacco, the old black pipe, the index books, and others perhaps less excusable.” If bullet-marks and jack-knifes are perhaps less graceful than “hall-light shining through stained glass,” does that make them any less effective as objects of comfort? They are still indicators of home, no matter what kind of home that might be.

Perhaps what Dr. Watson was longing for in that passage from SIGN was not necessarily a different type of home. Is it possible that he just wanted to go home – no matter where that home was, or what it might be? It had already been a long night, with the promise of it being even longer, and maybe all he wanted to do was feel welcomed, and surround himself with the items that comforted him (and most likely sleep, of all ridiculous notions). This is, after all, what Watson does for Holmes when the man arrives on his doorstep, on that long dark night in CROO. He welcomes him in, offers him a familiar creature comfort (in the form of his tobacco pouch), and shares his company with a man that knew his habits even better than himself. The tranquil English home might be, after all, not a necessarily a place, but a place of being.  

oOo

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sherlock Holmes on Screen: “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1939)

Professor Moriarty: “My whole success depends upon a peculiarity of Holmes’s brain, its perpetual restlessness, its constant struggle to escape boredom.

Bassick: “Holmes again?”

Professor Moriarty: “Always Holmes until the end.”

The man is a music hall singer – a vaudeville performer in a gaudy jacket, adorned with large stripes in an array of undoubtedly ostentatious colors. A straw boater with a large brim, adorned with a ribbon that coordinates with his jacket, is clutched between his gloved hands, and he uses it in a variety of theatrical flourishes during his performance. He sports a handlebar mustache – complete with extravagantly curled, upturned ends – and slickly-styled hair with a pronounced side-part and subtle fingerwave along the brow. He prances energetically about the stage at a garden party, clicking his heels and leaping at appropriate intervals, as he sings a rather nasally-pitched version of the popular British music hall song, “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside.” The singer trills and trumpets, and drums upon his boater when the moment calls for it. As a performer, he is utterly outlandish, wildly outrageous, and completely entertaining. He is also Sherlock Holmes – sporting one of his best disguises in his long career on film.

Photo Credit: www.basilrathbone.net
However, the song itself, “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside,” is an anachronism. Opening credits date the plot of the film as opening on May 9, 1894, but the song Sherlock Holmes so energetically performs was not written by John A. Glover-Kind until 1907, and was not popularized by the music hall performer Mark Sheridan until 1909. Likewise the 1939 film, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. John Watson, is filled with moments that, while not necessarily anachronistic, certainly seem out of place or inconsistent. The film opens with Professor Moriarty on trial for the murder of a man named “Lorait,” but he is ultimately acquitted, much to the courtroom’s dismay. Moments later, Sherlock Holmes races into the courtroom, proclaiming that he has found incontrovertible evidence of Moriarty’s guilt. He is trailed closely by a man who never speaks a word, and is never introduced. According to Alan Barnes of Sherlock Holmes on Screen, the man was supposedly chief astronomer Dr. Gates (played by Ivan Simpson), who was meant to provide the evidence about which Holmes was so adamant. However it appears that the explanation, along with many other contextual scenes, was cut from the picture (20). According to Barnes:

“The first of three possible endings has Holmes explaining how the vengeful Mateo believed that Ann’s father had been responsible for the death of his own, and had stolen the mine that had made the Brandons rich; meanwhile, Brandon family lawyer Jerrold’s shifty behaviour had been caused by his desire to shield Ann from the truth about her dead father. None of this crucial background information is conveyed in the finished piece” (21).

There are other contextual anomalies in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson is inexplicably antagonistic toward the young page, Billy (Terry Kilburn – who, for some reason, receives top billing over George Zucco, the actor portraying Professor Moriarty), beginning by mocking the frilly, feminine apron that Mrs. Hudson has forced the boy to wear while doing chores. When Holmes good-naturedly points out the deficiencies in the boy’s housework (that Billy has swept the dust under the rug, rather than into the dustbin), the Doctor gives him an intimidating, unforgiving stare, while Billy stares back defensively. Watson is then positively hostile when Billy is able to provide a bit of opportune insight into a piece of evidence: “I’ve listened to seashells that made better sense.” The hostility isn’t solely confined to the Doctor, however. Sherlock Holmes behaves in an equally unfriendly fashion towards Watson, at one point calling him “an incorrigible bungler.” The Detective frequently interrupts his companion’s sentences, often providing his own piercing expression. At one point, Watson says, “You pushed me out of the room as if I were a child. What am I to make of this, Holmes?” And the audience may find themselves wondering the same thing. What are we to make of this?

 
But that doesn’t mean that the film is without its highlights. For every discordant note in the film, there is a harmonious one. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the second of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes films made by the Rathbone-Bruce team. It was also the first film it which Rathbone and Bruce received top billing. For their first film, The Hound of the Baskervilles (also in 1939), Rathbone and Bruce were given second billing to their co-star, Richard Greene, who portrayed Sir Henry Baskerville. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was also the last film in the series made by 20th Century Fox, as afterwards the franchise would be acquired and produced by Universal Studios. It was also the last “period” film from the franchise; afterwards, a series of three Sherlock Holmes films set in World War II-era Britain, Europe, and the United States, were made, and followed nine contemporary films in non-wartime settings (sometimes embellished with gothic, not but strictly period, elements).

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes features George Zucco in the role of Professor James Moriarty (the 1942 film, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon would feature Lionel Atwill in the role). Zucco’s Moriarty is sedately evil, with undercurrents of roiling menace. He is not a villain that chases after his victims; he waits for them to come to him – as they inevitably do. According to Alan Barnes, “The most measured of crazies, [George] Zucco’s Moriarty makes a significant impression, enjoying another standout scene in which he dares the bullied Dawes to let slip a razor while shaving him: ‘You’re a coward, Dawes. If you weren’t a coward you’d have cut my throat long ago…’” (21).

 
The film also contains an iconic scene. Watson arrives at Baker Street to find Sherlock Holmes in the sitting room, playing scales on his violin to a glass of trapped houseflies. He tells Watson that he is “observing the reaction of the common housefly on the chromatic scale,” and that once he is successful, homeowners will only need to play the correct note to rid the house of flies. The scene is replicated in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr., as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Of course, Law’s Watson ultimately releases the carefully trapped flies as recompense for all the trouble his flatmate inflicts upon him. In another interesting contrast, George Zucco’s Moriarty is an avid horticulturist – even making murderous threats at his butler for failing to water one of his plants – while Guy Ritchie’s Professor Moriarty’s (played by Jared Harris in the 2011 film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) inattention to his box of flowers is a critical part of Moriarty’s downfall.

 
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was supposedly based on the play by William Gillette, although little – if anything – of the original plot was carried over for the film. Instead the audience is treated to a series of notable scenes, often irreverent, but not without purpose. After all, what could be more memorable than Dr. Watson laying in an empty street – playing at a dead body for Sherlock Holmes’s investigation – and snidely calling a well-meaning, if persistently inquiring stranger a “Stupid fellow”? Anachronisms, contextual problems, and incomplete plotlines aside – much of Sherlock Holmes’s film legacy is owed to the Rathbone-Bruce films, and to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in particular. The film’s moments are renowned, and transcend whatever small clumsiness may assert itself, leaping easily into the twenty-first century.  
 
oOo

Sources:


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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Currently on Twitter...


As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "The Red-Headed League," in which Sherlock Holmes investigates a seemingly irreverent case, with rather more sinister designs, and in which the Great Detective reminds the reader: “I begin to think, Watson, that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid."

The current story is "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," in which Sherlock Holmes professes his affinity for all things American: “It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

“I should very much like to have a word with Mr. Holmes.” (3GAR): Some Thoughts on the Dichotomy of Sherlock Holmes

"It was 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.' I opened the book with no realization that I stood, or rather sat, on the brink of my fate. I had no inkling, no premonition, that in another minute my life's work, such as it is, would be born... I finished 'The Adventures' that night... As I closed the book, I knew that I had read one of the greatest books ever written. And today I realize with amazement how true and tempered was my twelve-year-old critical sense. For in the mature smugness of my present literary judgment, I still feel unalterably that 'The Adventures' is one of the world's masterworks." (Frederic Dannay)

"The best literary work is that which leaves the reader better for having read it. Now nobody can possibly be the better – in the high sense in which I mean it – for reading Sherlock Holmes, although he may have passed a pleasant hour in doing so. It was not to my mind high work, and no detective work ever can be, apart from the fact that all work dealing with criminal matters is a cheap way of rousing the interest of the reader." (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Sherlock Holmes ruined my life. But he also saved it. Because of Sherlock Holmes, I now know more about the world, the people in it, and myself. Previously a curious and avid student, Sherlock Holmes has made me compulsive about learning to an obsessive degree. I think differently, and more often, but to be fair, I’m usually thinking about a particular subject. And the things I know aren’t always something everyone would find particularly interesting, useful or necessary to everyday life. Some people would call it superfluous knowledge. These aren’t always scholarly or erudite facts, either. But some of them are. Nor has it always been a lofty or cerebral education. But some of it has been. And now as I stand at the precipice of 100 blog posts (well… sit, really, as Frederic Dannay was sitting… I’m sitting at my computer), I’m prepared to admit to the dichotomy. I’m here with hat in hand (not a deerstalker, rather more like a homburg, as we all know) and confess that the Great Detective is both the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.


I’m sure that some of Sherlock Holmes’s canonical clients would say much the same thing. While Holmes might have been able to solve whatever mystery they first approached him with, the explanation may have ultimately exposed something that they would rather the world have not known, something that they would never have willingly revealed to others, or simply something that they would rather have not realized about themselves. In “The ‘Gloria Scott’”, one of Holmes’s very first cases, Victor Trevor undoubtedly felt relief that Holmes was able to explain what happened to his father – the real identity of Hudson and the reason for the shadow he cast over the elder Trevor’s life – and the reason for his father’s fatal reaction to a seemingly innocuous letter. But ultimately Holmes’s explanation revealed uncomfortable facts about his father’s past – things that would be even more unsettling and disturbing now that Victor’s father was no longer alive to discuss them. There may been a solution for Victor Trevor, but there would never be any closure. Likewise Violet de Merville of “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” probably felt no joy that her fiancĂ©, the villainous Baron Gruner, was unquestionably revealed as an utter blackguard by Sherlock Holmes – but eventually there must have been relief at the disastrous future that she so narrowly avoided.  

And no one was more versed in the disparity of life and human nature than Sherlock Holmes. As he said to Dr. Watson: “I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor” (SIGN). But being aware of that disparity doesn’t mean he was always able to correctly assess it. In “The Yellow Face,” the Detective is quite convinced of his own theory: that Mrs. Munro’s first husband is the occupant of the mysterious cottage and he is an unscrupulous blackmailer. The climax of the story reveals both Sherlock Holmes’s failings, and that the occupant of the cottage is Mrs. Munro’s daughter from her first marriage. The Detective had assumed the worst, and Mr. Munro neatly assesses the situation in saying: “I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think that I am a better one than you have given me credit for being.”

The Detective himself is a study in contradictions. Who among Sherlockians doesn’t know that “…although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction” (MUSG)? The actors who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes over the years have usually been rather adept at capturing both sides of the Detective’s personality. Most recently in his turn as the Great Detective, Benedict Cumberbatch sports immaculately tailored suits and coats (and, for some reason, shirts that that appear expensive, if a size too small) – but keeps severed heads and other assorted body parts in the refrigerator. And who can forget the incomparable Jeremy Brett crawling through an ever-growing sea of papers in the Baker Street sitting room – his hair sleeked back into a sharp widow’s peak, his cuffs and collars spotlessly white, his suit somehow inexplicably remaining wrinkle-free despite his exertions?


In addition, Holmes was ever inconsistent when it came to personal relationships. In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Watson says, “Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.” And in “The Five Orange Pips,” Holmes pronounces that he has no friends, except for Dr. Watson. All of this proves to be profoundly untrue. During 56 short stories and 4 novels, the reader learns of the Detective’s other friends, such as Victor Trevor (GLOR), a companion from Holmes’s university days. Even more significantly, over the course of the Canon, the Detective’s relationship with Inspector Lestrade evolves and eventually he comes to refer to the Scotland Yard inspector as “Friend Lestrade” (NOBL, CARD, EMPT, NORW, 3GAR). And of course, all readers remember how in “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” Watson sees all his “years of humble but single-minded service culminated” in a grand moment of revelation.


As such, I’ve found many Sherlockians to be the same – not inconsistent, but definitely contradictory. I include myself in that lot, of course. We pursue endlessly obscure topics, isolate ourselves during our researches, and hold fast to our theories when we believe ourselves to be right. We wait for our grand moment of revelation, a sign that all of our efforts have not been in vain. But in the end, we seek each other out. And such relationships are unique unto Sherlockiana, and often profound, because as C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

I say that Sherlock Holmes is both the best and worst thing that ever happened to me, because he’s revealed the best and worst things about me. Surely my husband, who no longer remembers the color of our carpet, so covered in books it has become, would tell you that the Great Detective has revealed my slightly more compulsive and obsessive tendencies (and for the record, the carpet is grey… no, beige… taupe?). But I have also learned the most spectacular things, met some of the best and wisest people, and my life has been profoundly changed. I’m not the person I was before I met Sherlock Holmes, but I am the person I was meant to be. Such as I am.

oOo

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