Monday, June 30, 2014

Letters from a Baker Street Irregular.

Want to know how to tongue-tie a blogger? Make him stop and think.

As any regular follower of Sherlock Peoria might have noticed over the years, a lot of what appears here is reaction. Reaction to the Canon, to television, to some event in the Sherlockian social swirl. Sometimes, a single blog-post evolves from one topic to the next, just because the title was written before the rest of it was completely thought-out, and new ideas occur . . . and are allowed to derail the entire process. Just like these opening paragraphs.

Given recent events, I had been telling myself all week that I should pull out a certain old correspondence file from 1989 and see what one Jon Lellenberg, B.S.I., wrote me back then, at a time when I had just become a member of the Irregulars, tried to put into words what made my investiture a bit troubling (the male-only thing), and was more successful at offending folks than moving the cause forward. They're hard letters for me to read, as it brings back a time when this fun little hobby of Holmes was not so fun for a time, and it's very hard to see yourself fail at communicating something you feel strongly about. A few calls for my resignation did ensue, but Tom Stix gave me a phone call and not the boot, but it seemed near enough at the time to make the old business worth reflecting on.

With many another summer distraction, however, I didn't get to pulling those letters out last week. But then, upon returning home this Saturday night, I found a new letter from Jon in my mailbox . . . a letter in itself being a nearly magical anachronism these days.

And I immediately got blog-writer's block, as I found myself stopping to think again. There are a small handful of Sherlockians who always make me have to stop and think, whether agreeing or disagreeing with whatever I'm up to, and Jon Lellenberg is definitely among them.

So, for the moment, I have an actual snail-mail letter to write in reply, as seems appropriate, in which thoughts will be passed along that won't be appearing in blog-world just yet. Just like most folks used to do in the olden days, before Facebook and its kin started bringing folks up to turn private thoughts public on a regular basis.

I suspect many of us are going to be thinking a lot about what it is to be a Baker Street Irregular this summer, and I think I'm done reacting on that subject for the moment, looking back on what happened in 1989. But I'm not nearly done writing . . . or thinking about it all.

Stay tuned.

Summer of Sherlock: The Engineer's Thumb

Well, summer can't be all play, sad  to say, and in the summer of 1889, there came a day at the end of June when everybody had a little work to do.

The guard at Paddington station, Dr. Watson, a hansom cab driver, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Bradstreet, an un-named plain-clothes policeman, the crew running a train, the Eyford station master . . . all of them had work to do that June, and much of it revolved around Mr. Victor Hatherly and the results of a job he had taken that summer.

Some of that list were public servants. Some, the the cabman and the rail folk, we can assume got their pay as a part of the natural course of things. But Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes? Did they bill Hatherly later, or were they just working pro bono due to his tragic situation crossing their paths?

"If it is anything in the nature of a problem which you desire to see solved, I should strongly recommend you to come to my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes before you go to the official police," Dr. Watson suggests to Hatherly, with no mention of Holmes's rates and a tone of "I have this friend . . ."

Of course, Watson is the one who really has anything to bill for services rendered in this case. Sherlock Holmes is pretty much along for the ride with the police to see if there's anything interesting in it. 

In fact, Sherlock Holmes's payment in this particular case is exactly what he tells Victor Hatherly that the hydraulic engineer got for his thumb-costing job out in Berkshire: Experience. Holmes had probably learned to take that in payment a lot as he first worked his self-directed internship at a profession the world had never seen before, making his first inroads with Scotland Yard and his clients. The big money would come later, at least for Holmes.

The thumbless engineer probably didn't do too badly for himself either, as his story surely made him stand out among all the other candidates for any job he put in for later in life.

For a story that is, in the end, all about money, there is very little of it floating around in "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb," but it doesn't keep people from being on the job. And as we head into July, staying on the "job" of the Summer of Sherlock continues as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bored now.

One of the attributes of Sherlock Holmes played up in BBC's Sherlock has been the detective's capacity for being bored by any given moment in time. Out of the original sixty stories, we actually find him being bored only four times -- three of them after he defeated Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls and one being a hypothetical boredom regarding social invitations.

At least, that is "bored" by name.

"It saved me from ennui," Holmes says at the end of "The Red-Headed League." "Alas! I already feel it closing in upon me! My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so."

And we can't help but agree with Holmes, as his little problems help us escape the commonplaces of existence as well.

When one looks at all the creations, activities, discussions, events, and actual work that Sherlock Holmes fans have done over the years entirely apart from just reading his stories or watching his movies, one can easily see how much Sherlockiana is a life tool in our long ongoing effort to keep ourselves from being bored.

In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes chooses a different tool for "avoiding the dull routine of existence" -- his three-month experiment with morphine, cocaine, and probably some other drugs in various dosages. It's a little more dangerous than the three month, twelve hours a day, reading the annals of crime that he proposes to Inspector MacDonald in The Valley of Fear, giving one the distinct feeling that Holmes has done so himself. That reading session is a lot more intense than the drug session, which a drunken Watson finally complains about, early in the partnership.

In fact, that fanatical reading of the annals of crime sound a lot like fan behaviour. And since Sherlock Holmes didn't have Sherlock Holmes to be a fan of when he chose his "particular profession" and became the only unofficial consulting detective in the world. (At that time . . . but does anyone in such a profession exist now? Would he still be the only one?)

Last week, this blog asked the question, "Are you Holmes or are you Watson?" Now, I'd like to turn it around and ask "Who is closest to us? Holmes, the fan of studying and solving crime? Or Watson, the devoted follower of Holmes's exciting times?"

One has to escape the dull commonplaces of existence somehow, and a exploration of some piece of the Watsonian ouevre is always a helpful tonic for that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Have we hit maximum Sherlock saturation?

The prominence of Holmesian headlines these days is amazing:

TIME:  Court: Sherlock Holmes Is Public Domain, My Dear Watson

Forbes:  Get Ready For More Sherlock Holmes As Appeals Court Affirms Character Is In Public Domain

Smithsonian: “Sherlock Holmes” Is Now Officially Off Copyright and Open for Business

New York Times:  Appeals Court Affirms Sherlock Holmes Is in Public Domain

If you had the least bit of interest in a famous detective named Sherlock Holmes and have missed the fact that his character is now in the public domain, you just haven't been paying attention. And this news bit comes at a very interesting time . . . just after the crest of one of the biggest waves of popularity that Sherlock Holmes has ever ridden. (Individual thoughts on the crest of the current wave may vary -- my gut says we just passed the peak.)

So now we come to the big question: Can Sherlock Holmes get any more popular?

The genie would seem to be loose from the bottle with the decision in that appellate court case, as news outlets everywhere are telling us. And folks looking to make a quick buck by doing something with Sherlock Holmes are going to take advantage, yes, but weren't a lot of them already doing that? The court decision virtually guarantees that there will be more Sherlock Holmes in the days ahead. But will it be high quality Holmes enough to raise that popularity bar another notch?

Or, forget high quality . . . Sharknado was popular, Kim Kardashian was popular, the McRib sandwich was popular . . . will we get Sherlock Holmes in more forms that are more consumable by the masses? The McRib sandwich of Sherlocks?

We've had a lot of Sherlock Holmes lately, but we haven't really hit a saturation point. The fans are far from satiated and non-fans aren't complaining about him like he's World Cup soccer yet. Will that be the tell-tale indicator, when you hear someone at work going, "God, I wish they would quit with all the Sherlock Holmes stuff!" Could we even imagine such a day?

I don't know, ten years ago, it would have been pretty hard to imagine the state of Sherlock that we're in now.

And here we are now, with a public domain Sherlock Holmes and recent demonstrations of just how popular he can be, even in variant forms. The time is ripe for . . . .

You see, that's the really good part. The time is ripe for anything. We don't even know what's coming.

And as we haven't hit that critical saturation point yet, I'm guessing, so it most certainly is coming, whatever it may be.


Monday, June 23, 2014

And now, a song!

Somewhere on my Sherlockian bucket list is one day finally making it out to an ASH luncheon . . . or dinner . . . or brunch. The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes have been known for their soirees for as long as I've been a fan of the great detective. You never know what's going to come out of an ASH event -- other than that somebody sure seemed to have some fun.

When the summer issue of The Serpentine Muse showed up in the mail today, I got to read of one of those little ASH treats, a tribute in song to TV's Elementary, by Karen Wilson. I'd heard good things about it along the Sherlockian grapevine, but the actual lyrics, meant to be sung to the tune of Frozen's "Let It Go" had a really great build to it . . . along with the line, "Watch the show, even though, in Peoria, it's panned."

Well, given that I'm Peoria's panner-in-chief when it comes to Elementary, and given that Sherlockiana has a long, rich history of songs being written in response to other Sherlockian songs . . . well, you know I had to come up with my own tuneful tribute to Elementary . . . from perhaps a slightly different angle.

And given that the original was created from a popular Disney tune, it seemed only appropriate to pick a popular little Disney tune from a bit further back. And so, without further ado, allow me to present:

The Elementarys . . . 
(Sung to the tune of "The Bare Necessities," from the movie The Jungle Book.)

Look out for Elementarys,
Those network shows, not NBC’s,
Designed to numb your Thursday evening strife!
Beware of Elementarys,
Those funky clones of the BBC’s
Attempt to bring old Sherlock Holmes to life.

Whenever I turn on, I see a cop show
With a brand new Watson, whose balls had to go!
The bees are buzzing’ on the roof
Yet I still don’t think that’s the proof . . . 
When Mycroft’s smart as a rock or plant
And then he gets into Watson’s pants . . .
Oh, please don't try this, too!

Those Elementarys each week will brainwash you!
They’ll brainwash you!

Look out for Elementarys,
Those scary Elementarys,
Forget about your Sherlock, two years off!
I mean they’re Elementarys
Addiction’s a spreading disease,
They're only missing David Hasselhoff.

Now when you watch some Cushings,
Or a Jeremy Brett
And you’d like some more things
You’d better beware!
Don’t gawk at Sherlocks found in New Yawk,
Ones that have pet cocks
And no Reichenbachs.
It might be Roger Moore, old sock,
Who’s down at the dock ripe for a good mock!
Don’t you miss Without A Clue?

Those Elementarys at night will brainwash you!
They’ll brainwash you!

Summer of Sherlock: The Musgrave Ritual

Reading the summer Sherlock Holmes stories on the days they began, way back when, "The Musgrave Ritual" is one that you may or may not want to include. Holmes and Watson are spending a winter's evening on Baker Street when Sherlock tells John the story-within-the-story that actually is the matter of the Musgrave ritual. And when it comes to the Musgrave ritual . . . .

Well, in order to truly figure out Sherlock Holmes originally investigated the Musgrave ritual, you have to figure out the Musgrave ritual. And that's just a crazy, crazy thing.

I mean, it's a location based on calculations having to do with the height of trees. Trees from hundreds of years ago.



It reminds me of a certain occasion when my aunt gave us driving directions based on seeing goats.

And while personally, I think Holmes looked into it in June, it has been placed as far away as October. It's also a mystery that involves trigonometry. And good parts that take place on a winter night on Baker Street.

So take this summer story with a "possibly just extra credit" disclaimer.

The Summer of Sherlock progression so far:

May 26, 1903, Tuesday -- "Shoscombe Old Place" (M)
June 1, 1889, Saturday -- "The Stock-broker’s Clerk" (M-Wd-S)
June 1, 1894, Friday -- "The Mazarin Stone" (S)
June 4, 1902, Wednesday -- "The Six Napoleons" 
June 8, 1889, Saturday -- "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (M-D-Wd)
June 19, 1902, Thursday -- "The Three Garridebs"(Y-M-Wd)
June 20, 1888, Wednesday -- "The Greek Interpreter" (Wd-S)
June 21, 1889, Friday -- "The Man with the Twisted Lip" (M-D-Y-Wd)
June 23, 1881, Thursday -- "The Musgrave Ritual"
June 30, 1889, Sunday -- "The Engineer’s Thumb" (Y-S)
July 3, 1880, Saturday -- "The Gloria Scott"
July 10, 1895, Wednesday -- "Black Peter" (Y-M-Wd)
July 16, 1881, Saturday -- Holmes meets Watson in Chapter One of A Study in Scarlet
July 19, 1887, Tuesday -- "The Second Stain" (Wd-S)
July 25, 1898, Monday -- "The Dancing Men" (M-Wd)
July 26, 1902, Saturday -- "The Disappearance of Lady Francis Carfax" 
July 29, 1887, Friday -- "The Naval Treaty" (M-D)
July 30, 1907, Tuesday -- "The Lion’s Mane" (M-Y-Wd)
August 1, 1894, Wednesday -- "The Norwood Builder" (M)
August 2, 1914, Sunday -- "His Last Bow" (M-D-Y)
August 20, 1898, Saturday -- "The Retired Colourman" (Y-S)
August 30, 1887, Tuesday -- "The Crooked Man" (Wd)
August 30, 1889, Friday -- "The Cardboard Box" (M-Wd)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Taking Sherlock paperlessly.

This has been a marvelous weekend for Sherlockian publications for me. Used to be that one had to write off, wait for snail mail to get your subscription to the person putting a given thing out, wait for them to send it back, snail mail again, and then, one random day much later, said publication would show up in your mailbox.

Things are a bit different now.

A Facebook tip from Charles Prepolec passed along a link to the latest issue of Canadian Holmes, the premiere Sherlockian journal of our neighbors to the north. Lots of good stuff there, and while I'm sure some collectors and archivists still feel better about tangible paper copies filling boxes and shelves, for most of us, the space-saving benefits of paperless PDF are pretty sweet. And since the writers for Sherlockian journals  have always done their work for love of the subject and not monetary gain, the free distribution allowed by the internet fits the old hobby like a glove.

A link to the latest issue of The Sherlockian E-Times also came along, passed via e-mail by Gael Stahl, and the E-Times was, as the name implies, an early entry into the used of the internet for a Sherlockian publication. Joel Senter provides plenty of good tidbits as he always does, and in this issue just happened to include a nice little list of journals and newsletters, which contained a link to . . .

The Pink 'Un, the newsletter of the Hansom Wheels of South Carolina. I've been enjoying The Pink 'Un in pink paper form for years -- the Hansom Wheels are a lively bunch, even from a newsletter distance -- and it's great to see that familiar publication in e-form.

The interesting thing about paper publications that make the transition to the internet, like Canadian Holmes and The Pink 'Un, is that even while reading them on a computer screen, I still see the paper version in my head. But then, we do tend to remember people, places, and things based on our first encounter with them, so I'm sure new readers will have a little different view.

The times, they are a'changing. And they always are. And the really cool part? There's not a point where we can ever just say "Done!" Sherlock Holmes moves through time, technology, and generations. No one media can hold him, no corporate entity . . . none of us and our point-in-time POV. But we all carry him forward, all the same, and it's good to see the good works people are doing in his name currrently . . . especially when internet links make it so quick and easy to do so.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Are you Holmes or are you Watson?

You are definitely not Sherlock Holmes, and neither am I. Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes, and I'm sure that is at least one point upon which we can all agree. As far as anybody else being Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch, Rathbone, that guy who isn't), I'm even more sure we have, and will probably continue to, disagree.

But here's the question I really want you to consider. Are you Sherlock Holmes?

Yes, I already said you're not, but I'm peculiar that way. What I'm actually asking is this: In your heart of hearts, at the very core of your being, when you enjoy Sherlock Holmes to the fullest in whatever version or format, who are you relating to the most?

Do you see yourself as a Watson at heart, or a low-functioning Sherlock Holmes whose talents just don't click into gear as often as you might like?

And ask yourself the same question about your friends: Are they Watsons to your Holmes, or are you a Holmes to their loyal Watson?

We find ourselves on different sides of that fence with different folk at different times in our lives, 'tis true. But in the wee hours of the morning, when darkness is all around and you may or may not hear something slithering down the bellpull you don't remember having, who do you think you are? The one who is going to deal with it, or the one who waits for the person with a clue to deal?

Okay, so that last bit might bias your answer a wee bit -- didn't mean for it to go how it went, but just became enamored with it at the end. But I am curious about which choice is floating around in Sherlockian brains out there, and perhaps I'll ask you someday. But feel free to take your own poll in the meantime. I'm just taking a moment on a Saturday afternoon to wonder around.

Summer of Sherlock: The Man with the Twisted Lip

Almost exactly a year has passed since John Watson got to meet brother Mycroft in "The Greek Interpreter," and the good doctor is leading his own life . . . so much so that it's over two full pages into "The Man with the Twisted Lip" before any reference to Sherlock Holmes even comes up. Dr. Watson, it appears, has married a woman a lot like his friend Sherlock, who people come to when they are in trouble.

One almost suspects that if we ever got our hands on that tin dispatch box with Watson's name on it, we might find a few write-ups of John getting involved in his wife's handling of more domestic issues among her social circle, along with his cases with Sherlock Holmes. The opening couple of pages of this story are just like that, almost a tryout bit for a spin-off, like when Gary Seven's adventure co-mingled with that of Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek.

Watson's encounter with a disguised Sherlock Holmes in an opium den, when Holmes finally does show up, is also ample evidence against the old "Sherlock Holmes, addict" scenario, especially when played against the BBC Sherlock version of the same encounter. Watson is sincerely astounded to see Holmes in the opium den, not like "How dare you risk your sobriety?" but more like, "This is a weirdly out-of-charcter place for you to be!" Watson drops off the true addict, Isa Whitney, in a cab.

It's a chance meeting, and they laugh as any two friends running into each other in a strange place. The fact that it is Holmes who laughingly brings up cocaine, while Watson doesn't show the least concern. Indeed, Watson's view of Holmes is quite the opposite: "It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes' requests for they were always so exceedlingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet air of mastery." Even in an opium den, John Watson sees Sherlock Holmes as a man in control and is simply excited by the prospect of a new adventure.

And what an odd little adventure it is!

Sherlock Holmes is staying at his client's house in the suburbs. He's driving a tall dog-cart around London, and has a man named John who looks after it for Holmes when he's pretending to be an opium bum. And Holmes is getting saluted by police constables who recognize him. There are all sorts of great details in "The Man with the Twisted Lip" that one can spin up wonderings about -- one hallmark of a great Sherlock Holmes story.

The warm June of 1889 was a great time for Sherlock, John, and Mary in the days of classic Holmes. And a chance meeting leading to a buddies slumber party with a morning revelation and breakfast back on Baker Street (a location that never appears during the story, curiously enough) is a great summertime treat for everyone involved, including us.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Greek Interpreter

Sooooo . . . . "The Greek Interpreter."

Summer evenings, desultory conversation, hazardous international travel, there's a good feeling of the season in this case occurring in 1888. But the subject one can't steer away from in "The Greek Interpreter" isn't the weather or the investigation. It's the first appearance of good old brother Mycroft.

And as I read "Greek Interpreter" this time, I found myself completely distracted by another of Holmes's cases, scratching at the back of my mind: "The Dying Detective."

It has nothing to do with "Greek Interpreter," right? The two cases have no similarities at all. But there is a "dog in the night-time" aspect to "Dying Detective," to use a reference to a third case Sherlockians tend to know all too well. And that silent dog in the night?

Mycroft Holmes.

In 1903, when "The Dying Detective" takes place, Dr. Watson is convinced that Sherlock Holmes is dying -- that's the whole point of the story. And who does Watson not think to call, not even mention as an interested party?

Sherlock's brother Mycroft.

Yes, yes, the siblings are distant and not in each other's everyday lives, but when times get tough, as in the Moriarty business, or after, when things need done during a different time of faked mortality, Mycroft is there. He's family. And he lives in the same town. And Dr. Watson is a caring sort of guy, the kind who would definitely think to tell your brother if you were dying, whether you said so or not.

Now, in 1903, Mycroft Holmes would have been roughly 56 years old. And he's seriously obese. Really, his hands are so fat that Watson compares them to the flippers of a seal -- even in this age of obesity, when have you ever seen that? And when we meet him in is early forties, in "The Greek Interpreter," he's smoking, like everybody else in those days.

Given the average male lifespan of 46.3 at the turn of the century just passed, things are just not looking good for Mycroft's survival to 1903, when Watson fails to mention him in "The Dying Detective."

In January of 1901, Queen Victoria died. In July of 1902, Arthur Balfour took over the role of prime minister from his uncle, Lord Salisbury. The government was changing, and who "was" the British government? Who might have felt some measure of pride and his job being done when the first British submarine launched in October 1901?

Mycroft Holmes. And his "dog in the night-time" non-mention in "The Dying Detective" would seem to indicate his job and life was over by that time.

My apologies for getting so distracted from "The Greek Interpreter" today, but it is Mycroft after all. And suddenly realizing that he's gone while teading the story of his first appearance is very distracting.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

That Sherlock Holmes movie without Sherlock Holmes.

This morning my radio happened to be tuned to the nationally syndicated Bob and Tom Show, when I heard a very odd conversation . . . or maybe not so odd.

The show's crew of radio jocks were talking about "that Sherlock Holmes movie where he chases Jack the Ripper into the modern day." And of the six or seven people in the room, no one corrected the person who brought it up . . . because there isn't a movie where Sherlock Holmes chases Jack the Ripper into the modern day. (At least not a big-time, played-in-theaters movie -- if there was, I'd sure be amazed to hear about it.) But we all know exactly what movie they were talking about.

Time After Time.

Malcom McDowell, as H.G. Wells, uses a time machine to follow Jack the Ripper to what was then the modern day. Wells even identifies himself as Sherlock Holmes at one point in the movie, so I suppose a little confusion could be excused. And the movie is just so Sherlockian, in every way but having Sherlock Holmes in it.

So tonight, when I got home and needed a little wordless background music, it was time to pull out the old vinyl LP of the Time After Time soundtrack by Miklos Rozsa . . . and wow, that sounds like the soundtrack to a Sherlock Holmes movie. And it should. Because I'd forgotten about Rozsa until looking at the album cover again just now. Miklos Rozsa . . . the composer of the soundtrack to my favorite Sherlock Holmes movie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

So close to being a Sherlock Holmes movie.

Of all the weird mis-information the non-Sherlockian public can come up with via the real world version of that old kid's game of "Telephone," remembering Time After Time as a Sherlock Holmes movie is about the best mistake that can be made.

Because it might as well be.

Summer of Sherlock: The Three Garridebs

We're coming to the latter end of June at this point in the summer cases, and what do we find Sherlock Holmes doing in 1902?

Spending several days in bed. I don't know about you, but when I think of spending a leisurely day in bed, I'm usually thinking of cooler months, when one can cocoon or nest in a bunch of blankets. But we grown used to air conditioning, and having a nice lie-down on a hot summer day when the air isn't moving probably felt pretty good, even to a fellow with as little body fat as Holmes.

Of course, it must not be that hot out as this case progresses, because Watson refers to it as "twilight of a lovely spring evening" when they go to visit Nathan Garrideb. And even in June, one does get the occasional spring-like evening.

All weather aside, the summertime nature of "Three Garridebs" shines through to me in that we see, almost metaphorically, Sherlock emerging from his man cave to do what people do in the summer: meet new and interesting people. Unlike the cases it gets compared to, like "Red-headed League" and "Stock-broker's Clerk," "Three Garridebs" is about one man's search for connection. Sure, it takes a the promise of cash to spur him to it, but Nathan Garrideb is out looking to find a rare kinsman. Sherlock Holmes is out to catch a rare criminal. And "friend Lestrade" even gets a visit.

And boy, do we get interesting folks in this story!  John Garrideb is like Mr. Canon Composite of 1902. He's a combo Moriarty/Mycroft in one alias (Morecroft). James Ryder and James WIndibank (James Winter). And a forger named Evans and any one of a dozen hardened killers ("Killer" Evans). Oddly, among a host of murderers that Holmes and Watson encountered, Killer is the only one referred to as a "killer." Too American for British murderers, I guess.

If Killer Evans isn't interesting enough, what about Nathan Garrideb, the one true Garrideb? He's one of those people in the Canon like Dr. Barnicot of "Six Napoleons" who seem a lot like he would be a Sherlockian in the modern day. He's haunting Christie's and Sotheby's for whatever little thing he can afford, indexing and labelling his pieces, and generally studying as he acquires. Of course, there's always someone who's going to shout, "NERD!" at such a fellow, and here we get "boob of a bug hunter."

There is so much cleverness, odd references to old Holmes cases, and a crime that's only the stepping stone to a greater crime in "Three Garridebs," that one would really wonder, were it not explicitly 1902, if Professor Moriarty was back in London. Were there to be a sequel to this tale, one could almost imagine all the morning newspapers mysteriously having the same front page: a large engraving of Moriarty's face looking straight at the reader with the headline: "Did you miss me?"

Ah, but that wasn't Doyle, was it? Yet as much fun as there is to be had in "Three Garridebs," that little touch might not have been out of place.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Alternate Moriartys.

Catching up on my Baker Street Babes podcasts this morning, I was really struck by a discussion recorded at 221B Con called "From Baker Street to the Holodeck." The point which really caught my attention was a part of the discussion that involved Professor Moriarty's appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I'd kind of forgotten about Nex Gen Moriarty, who is actually one of the most interesting Moriartys that's come along in the last hundred and twenty years of Moriarty. The Professor is a pretty tricky bastard of a character to work with -- so little is given of him in "The Final Problem," and what we get there are things like: 

"A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers."

In other words, he's just evil. Evil, evil, evil, and very, very good at it. And once we're calling things "evil," all critical analysis seems to go out the window. Our brains like the easy binary route, on/off, black/white, good/evil . . . instead of actually thinking about things sometimes . . . and Moriarty plays to that inclination: Sherlock good, Moriarty evil. 'Nuff said.

Over the years, many a writer has tried to get behind the man behind the evil. John Gardner worked to make him a functional crime boss. Nicholas Meyer cast him as a harmless mathematics tutor with poor choices in dating. Michael Kurland kept him a criminal mastermind . . . but a criminal mastermind who fought evil. 

We've seen deliciously evil Moriarty, so-so criminal Moriarty, ex-girlfriend and mother Moriarty, oddly ethereal Moriarty, younger Moriarty, and Moriartys I can't even wrap my head around . . . which is kind of the problem.

We don't really know Moriarty. He comes from an outside, alien place many times, and we aren't meant to relate to him. Yet he's made up up the same basic components we are, and we should be able to find a place of empathy with him at some point. Some of the better versions of him have done pretty well with that, but most times? He's just a hard main character to write and make him true to what we know of him, yet someone we relate to.

In reconsidering all of the alternate Moriartys I've seen and read over the years, I'm starting to think we haven't found our defining Moriarty yet. Everybody has a favorite Holmes, the guy who is the Holmes to them, but a lot fewer folk are emphatic about Moriarty. Which is why I don't think we've had our ultimate Moriarty yet.

Will we ever? Is Moriarty someone, by his very nature, that we're never supposed to get behind, even if he's fun-crazy and funny and likes disco? Do we just need somebody to be the bad guy, that we have an excuse not to even try to relate to? Could be. The ancient animal wiring in us all is something we trip on all the time, rationalizing along the way.

Still, I would like to see a Moriarty that sets the bar for all other Moriartys to come one day, by giving us an understanding of the guy that we never had before. A Moriarty where we're just a little sad to see him inevitably go off that cliff in Switzerland, and maybe hope he survived.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where I stand with the Baker Street Irregulars.

Let's try this again.

Apparently I'm wrong about the lack of interest in the Baker Street Irregulars of New York, because my last two posts upon that subject seem to be getting a few more hits than normal. And that last BSI bit was far from my best blogging, as I started with one notion and got distracted by those weird little BSI websites when I was searching for a little history of the club on the web. And the subsequent frustration about the lack of comprehensive history on the web (Oh, how spoilt we are these days!) might have altered my temper a bit. A bit.

One might notice that I always seem shy about actually writing Mike Whelan's name in this blog when referring to the BSI chief. That is a conscious attempt on my part to hate the game and not the player, as preceding players in his place have pretty much done the "benevolent dictator" thing, too. And while I'm not very fond of that term, there is another I think we should probably replace it with: "caretaker of the legacy." And I have no doubt, Mike has done the best job he knows how at filling that role. I truly don't think he's a bad guy, just as Tom Stix before him was not a bad guy either.

But we do differ in our opinions to a drastic degree, partly because I can be ridiculously radical and Mike, being at the center of the great behemoth, is naturally more conservative. At the other end of the spectrum, we find the "state unknown" Jon Lellenberg, who was always pretty fond of the way the Irregulars used to be, which even makes Mike a moderate by some lights. He might even be the Sherlockian Barack Obama that way, but not knowing anyone's politics, I shan't state that with any firmness. Where he stands is his business, though, and where I stand is mine. So I shall try to state it a little more clearly, just in case anyone got confused by the first two installments of this hap-hazard trilogy:

1.) Not really fond of the corporate-seeming "decentralization" of the Irregulars. Yes, the club may have gotten away from the original Morley vision, but once we've got divisions, one can imagine them being sold off piecemeal to the Bootmakers of Toronto or the Sherlock Holmes Society of India when times get tough. Yes, yes, I'm being silly and the horse may be out-of-the-barn-and-traded-in-for-an-automobile at this point, but there's something there that just seems all awry.

2.) If you'd like to be a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, I think you should be able to be a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. As it stands, for every happy soul who gets in each year, there are a number of good folks who feel left out, some who get really bitter, or are flat-out robbed. Those are the folks I stand with, and always will until things change. Yes, I am a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, and I could go to the dinner each year and just enjoy myself, but I know those outside folks too well. (Including one or two who bitched about Mike Whelan behind his back to high heaven until that moment Mike gave them the shilling and they became glowing little angels. And, no, my former web partner, I'm not talking about you. Relax. In fact, if you have any inkling at all this statement was about you, it probably wasn't.) As it stands, BSI membership is an award without definition, and if it is indeed a private club (whatever that really means), one has to ask why a private club is needed. Just so membership can be awarded? Universal BSI membership, eternal BSI membership, and sort the award part out in some rational manner, that's my thought.

3.) As I said, eternal BSI membership, which is really kind of the way it stands. Truly, I don't think you can even quit once you're a BSI. You've been captured by the record books as a Sherlockian. You can get an asterisk by your name, you can get cut off from receiving any communications from the official parts of the group, you can lose all privileges that may exist at any given time, yes. But Sherlockians are collectors, and once you have been collected by the cult of Sherlock, you stay collected, if only in their memory and lists.

4.) There is no four. That's it. That's my view in a nutshell. Not really that insistent on my thoughts on number one, except where it gets in the way of number two. And number three never existed, nor had to exist until recently. Not sure what's up with that, but somebody needs to work it out. Like all of you folks who actually attend the dinner each year.

Y'see, that's the thing. I got investitured as an Irregular way back when they didn't allow women in, and even though that part was fixed, it still put a bee in my bonnet. It wasn't just women who weren't being allowed in, it was people. And people still aren't being let in. My views on that haven't changed. So I'm stubbornly saving a few bucks and emptying a precious seat by not attending these days. Maybe one more person will get to go. And maybe they'll have a good time, and maybe they'll disagree with me later, but, hey, ya gotta go with what you believe.

Do I expect universal BSI membership in my lifetime? Do I think sitting in Peoria like a bump on a log instead of doing the whole "change from the inside" thing is my best contribution? Am I just a pompous ass of the internet, whose incredible narcissism just has him spouting off like a crazy man without censoring his thoughts?

Hell if I know. But that is where I stand with the Baker Street Irregulars. I'll try to be nicer about it in the future, but man, am I getting old and grumpy. It's a real battle, and in the end, my impotent old opinions will be as irrelevant to the younger generation as those of a racist, homophobic great-grandfather who can't get out of his chair. So forgive an old guy, kiddies, and I'll try to entertain you with my train-wreck antics and honest opinions for as long as my typing fingers hold out.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sherlock is free, and I'm buying him!

A good friend of the Sherlockianly heathen variety sent me a link today that he'd seen put out by Neil Gaiman to the complete appellate ruling on the "Free Sherlock" case. As legal writings go, it's actually quite readable and a bit fun in spots.

The Doyle Estate actually tries to argue that creativity will be inhibited by not letting them continue to collect license fees on the character of Sherlock Holmes, which is one of those weird, backwards sort of arguments we seem to hear a lot of these days, especially in politics. Chief Judge Ruben Castillo, however, was wise enough to see through such silliness and concluded that the Estate was actually trying to functionally extend copyrights beyond the limits set by U.S. law.

I quickly followed up by checking Twitter and found Les Klinger's blog on the matter, condensing the whole thing. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing, and even though we can't all line up to give Les a well-deserved pat on the back, there is one thing I definitely had to do in celebration: check Amazon for the availability of pre-orders on the book at the core of the whole case.

And guess what? The Amazon pre-order page is there.

So I immediately pre-ordered the book for its November 19th publication. A little bit of a celebration now, a longer bit of celebration in November.

The book's title is In The Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, and it's edited by Les Klinger and Laurie King. The fact that the first thing Sherlock Holmes is going to do now that he's free is let us be in his company is a grand little twist, and I'd encourage anyone with even the slightest notion that they'll one day want this book to pre-order now, as a tip of the hat to Les and a celebration of a very special moment in the history of Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy father's day, Sherlock Holmes!

Are the sons of Sherlock Holmes paying a call on their old man today, in that special place where all such titans still dwell?

Nero Wolfe, Auguste Lupa, Scott Adler, Clyde Miller Wynant, Mycroft Adler Norton, John Hamish Adler . . . most of Holmes's boys seem to have come via poor Irene Adler, who probably had to work hard to keep her stage figure after that lot. Unless they were just one or two lads with multiple names.

But that is old school Sherlockian thinking, and I've probably missed a Mary Russell pregnancy or a daughter by some Victorian incarnation of Molly Hooper. (We can retrofit new Canon into old, can't we?) If dear Sherlock was that potent, he probably produced some girls in his line, and my five minutes of research was just too lazy to turn them up.

Whether or not any or all of those kids are wishing Sherlock Holmes a happy Father's Day, I would certainly like to add my own compliments of the season to the list. For Sherlock Holmes has always been a little bit of a remote father figure to me.

My own father died when I was thirteen years old, under circumstances I sometimes wistfully wish I could turn into a Sherlock Holmes story, instead of the grim reality that it was. And during those following formative years when a boy is growing to manhood, looking around for role models to chart his course, I didn't really connect with any of the adult males wandering through my life . . . except for the ones I saw in books.

They had integrity, will power, courage, and drive. And foremost among them was a fellow named Sherlock Holmes. He was a man of many talents, who raised the life of his friend Watson to a level beyond the ordinary. Dedicated to finding scientific answers, hidden truths of the human ocean, and exposing superstitious silliness, Sherlock Holmes has always been a fellow to look up to, both then and now. Sure, he's not really a loving paternal figure, but not everybody can be Santa Claus.

And Sherlock Holmes is not a guy who will steer you wrong. Such advice as "When one tries to rise above Nature, one is liable to fall below it," has come in very handy over the years.

Perhaps I'm still not an exemplary human being for Holmes's role in my life, but hey, who among us did turn out perfect? "We can but try," as the big guy used to say.

So a very happy Father's Day, Mr. Sherlock Holmes! I hope those swarms of offspring Irene Adler went to all the trouble to deliver are treating you well.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is the BSI relevant in the age of the internet?

I'm always hesitant to blog about the Baker Street Irregulars of New York these days.

It's not because I fear the ire of its powers-that-be, or the occasional grumpy e-mail or two that follows. One gets used to those things over time. No, I hesitate to write because I get a real feeling that nobody much cares about them so much in this latest Sherlock boom.

Once upon a time, when one graduated to the larger Sherlockian world and bought a Baring-Gould Annotated, one of the early chapters, fully equivalent to that on Holmes, Watson, and Baker Street, was a whole chapter on the Irregulars and all the fun things that whimsical and celebrated fan club did when they invented the whole Sherlock Holmes club idea. (Yes, yes, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London was inventing it at the same time, but we weren't as globally-thinking back then.) And the Baker Street Irregulars was where you could write (via snail-mail, of course) to get connected to the larger Sherlockian world.

But times change, and social networking has really changed, and one is left to wonder. Go looking for that other esteemed Sherlockian society of old, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and you find a lovely and interesting website, details about what they're up to, their history, etc. Go looking for the Irregulars, and what do you find? A pretty weak Wikipedia article, and maybe this:

Or maybe this: 

There's a big ol' website for "The Baker Street Irregulars Trust," the Harvard archive for preserving the past of the Baker Street Irregulars. And, of course, a web presence for The Baker Street Journal, because the B.S.I. wants your subscription dollars, even if they don't necessarily want you. But no real online presence for the Irregulars themselves.

Why? Because America's oldest Sherlock Holmes club doesn't want you. Let's be honest, now.  The guy in charge hand picks who gets to be a member of the club (and now, apparently, who doesn't get to be a member of the club) and loves talking about how it's "a literary society," which lets him ignore prominent fans of any TV or movie Holmeses at will. There are plenty of excuses about "Oh, how, oh how could we hold our annual dinner if we just let anybody be a member?" despite the fact that the Sherlock Holmes Society of London seems to do it every year. But in the end, it all comes down to one thing: the guy in charge wants to keep getting to pick which Sneetches get stars on their bellies and which don't. Keeping the little garden that blooms once a year well weeded. And that comes with a cost.

I wonder if the Irregulars aren't just slowly hand-picking themselves into irrelevance. By picking a small number of safe choices each year, people that the one guy has to like, there's a certain spark that could easily get missed, and a certain tendency toward encouraging butt-kissing. (Anybody really notice when the "Two Shilling Award" quit being for contributions to Sherlockian culture and more about contributions to the Irregular organization under the current regime? I did.)

Yes, they have a lovely publishing business, but I remember some guys like David Hammer, Jack Tracy, and Sam Gringras, who had Sherlockian publishing interests that did great things for our Sherlockian world in smaller print runs than any big house would have allowed. Do we need the B.S.I. to be a publishing company? And yes, they now have a Harvard archive about themselves, when the in-house historian, a guy named Jon Lellenberg, once did pretty well at that, possibly having a greater impact than the archive ever will, unless somebody just like him gets a fire in the belly on some future occasion.

But the thing that gets overlooked, time after time, is that the Baker Street Irregulars of New York is, whether we like it or not, America's main Sherlock Holmes society. America's big Sherlock Holmes fan club. And instead of being a flagship, it too often seems like a private yacht for a few invited guests to cruise around singing, "I'm on a boat!" Is that fostering connection and helping support our Sherlockian community here in the states? No, but I'm sure there are many who might say that's not the BSI's job -- which is to hold one entertaining dinner each year for mostly the same crowd. (Except for maybe the publishing and the archives . . . . and this paddle game . . . and this remote control . . .)

And when you look at it in that light, I really shouldn't have brought up the website business, or any of the rest of it. A little banquet for mostly the same couple hundred people every year doesn't really need a cool website, or a social networking presence, or, really, relevance in the internet age.

I probably shouldn't have brought any of this up at all. I just find myself a little fired up that a guy who I have tended to disagree with got yanked from the official BSI membership roster, something that doesn't even happen to dead people. And if somebody's going to start shouting "Off with her head!" Some of us are going to feel the urge to stretch our neck out on the block and say, "Let's see how sharp that axe is."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Arrows are the new black.

Since I didn't make it to 221B Con this year, I didn't get to work on my choice of cosplay ideas for the con. As I tend to run hot, most Victorian garb leaves me sweating a tad more than I'd like on such occasions, so this year I was going to opt for one of the most comfortable outfits to be found in the original Canon: Jack Prenderghast's prison garb.

In Britain, that outfit might be as boringly mundane as classic prison stripes are here in America. But here? I think it would be kinda cool.

As much as some fanboys famously pooh-poohed the fangirls a while back, I totally credit their feminine influence for the rise of cosplay as an accepted mode of fan creativity. Sure, there were those Holmesians and Sherlockians of decades past who dressed in a Victorian fashion for a special event, but those were special events, and at normal gatherings of Sherlock fans, the odd costumed person tended to stand out. I remember one fine fellow at a Lisle, Illinois workshop back in the eighties who appeared each day in a new costume -- as is quite con-normal now -- but he was the only one.

And a con, something Sherlockiana has long been short on, is really the best place to do serious cosplay. When everyone is in an enclosed space, like a hotel or convention center, strolling around in something completely impractical is a lot easier than wandering the streets of New York City during the Holmes birthday weekend, with functions some distance from each other.

But back to the Prenderghast suit: Having done a Snake Plissken cosplay during one previous adventure, another convict who would attempt escape seemed a nice match for me. And unlike the stripes of American prison garb, the arrows have a much more specific meaning: "property of the Crown." And since the year the Gloria Scott sailed was 1855, well into the reign of Queen Victoria, those arrows on Prenderghast meant the man inside the suit was the property of that "certain gracious lady" herself, in a sense. The idea was to demean the convict to the status of property, but as a temporary costume? It's kind of like bullet-pocking a "V.R." -- a nice little tip of the cap to Her Highness.

Just because I'm writing about it here does not mean I won't eventually get said costume together, or that you aren't welcome to beat me to it. In fact, it would be cool to have a whole Gloria Scott prison gang at a con one day. It seems, as I said, like it could be a very comfy outfit, which I'm sure it wasn't for its original wearers.

As to why I'm writing about it here? Well, season two of Orange Is The New Black is being watched currently here in Sherlock Peoria, and I just wanted to use the blog title "Arrows are the new black."

As Jephro Rucastle once said, "We are faddy people, you know."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Groundhog Day at 221B Baker Street.

A matinee of the latest Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow put me in mind of the world of Sherlock Holmes today.

The plot would seem to be totally unrelated to Holmes, being a science fiction reworking of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day in some respects. The same day and its events are lived over and over again until some goal is achieved -- my main movie compadre likened it to playing a video game, where one butts heads with a given scenario time and again until finally figuring out how to beat it.

But to me, the repetition of a single day, memorizing all of its minor details, getting to know all the people within it, reminded me of nothing so much as a Sherlockian's relationship with the sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes. As the years pass, and one revisits the stories time and again, noting this detail here, looking into the historical context of this bit there, one gets to the point . . . like the lead characters in those repeated day movies . . . where one could finish Holmes and Watson's sentences, if you were suddenly dropped into the action.

Because we have been there before, after all.

That's the difference between great fiction and recorded history -- a Civil War scholar might be able to tell you in great detail how a particular battle was won or lost, and know all sorts of trivia from studying every known fact or witness testimony, but they were never actually there. Great fiction transports us to the time and place where it occurs, and we come away with a certain amount of experience of the events within.

And when we revisit a place like 221B Baker Street time and again to savor those bits that happen within, it eventually becomes like Punxatawney, Pennsylvania was to Murray's character in Groundhog Day: a place that feels a lot like home, where we can relax and settle in. It's no wonder so many Sherlockians over the years have chosen to re-create a 221B room in their homes.

Of course, the science fiction battlefields of Edge of Tomorrow aren't exactly as comfortable as all that . . . but they put me in mind of good ol' 221B, just the same.

And I would much rather relive the Sherlockian Canon by reading a tale than be Tom Cruise, in any of his movies.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Small audience, big creativity.

This morning I discovered one of my favorite podcasts had somehow fallen out of the world. (Don't worry, it's not one of the Sherlockian ones!) Whether its network had crumbled or what, I don't know, but the way I found out about its disappearance was the announcement of a new podcast, whipped together in under a week, by the creators of the original podcast.

Contemplating this sudden turn of events, and the whole phenomenon of the small podcast with a widely spread assortment of listeners, as well as the ability for one or two people to entertain people across the country or globe thanks to the internet, I stopped and went . . . wait, we had this before.

Sherlockians, before the internet, had the U.S.-Postal-Service-Net. And instead of podcasts, video blogs, tumblr sites, etc., we had newsletters and journals.


They weren't as quick to respond to events of the moment, nor as readily available for any given moment of boredom needing a fix, but they were what we had and a lot of fun and fussing went into creating them. Had we had digital video, YouTube, audio podcasting, etc. a lot of that creativity would have flowed some other media direction, sure, but back then? Print was all we had. Print, and the U.S. Postal Service. Like those TV fans who one recorded their favorite show's audio on a cassette recorder, we worked with what was there, sometimes pushing the limits, sometimes just going with the standard format everyone else used.

And it wasn't about fame and fortune, increasing circulation numbers, or any noble literary cause. It was really just about having fun with your friends and making new friends along the way. Which is what fandoms have always been about, really.

For a look at some great old publications, on the old Sherlock Peoria site, try this link.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Boscombe Valley Mystery

Reading the summer cases of Sherlock Holmes on the days they began does definitely gives them a different light. And so far, ti seems to be the light of a summer getaway quite a bit.

Even "The Adventure of the Boscombe Valley Mystery," beginning with Watson and his wife at home, and not at 221B Baker Street, starts with the good doctor's wife actually telling him he's pale and needs to take a little vacation. And it doesn't seem like you have to tell Watson twice when it's time to go -- he's very swift at packing.

It's interesting to me that Holmes doesn't start talking to Watson right away on this case. He's wrapped up in his thoughts and research early on the train ride, and Watson is perfectly comfortable with the silence. Usually Holmes has explained the current case to his friend at his first participation, but this time he's still doing his initial research . . . and Watson is okay to let him do that. That "grand gift of silence" we hear of elsewhere.

The case they head out for is an actual murder mystery, one that Inspector Lestrade has been brought in on, and a lovely bookend to "Six Napoleons," as, seemingly, the second time Watson has been with Holmes on a case with Lestrade. (Note to self: re-examine the chronology of cases with Lestrade's participation in mind some time.) While "Six Napoleons" is so much later that a friendship has built up between the three men, "Boscombe Valley" is still a time for first impressions.

Lestrade seems a little more cool in a rural setting somehow, with his leather leggings and dustcoat, having a carriage ordered while he sits with a cup of tea. One doesn't often picture Victorian Lestrade as a handsome, cool dude, but the guy we meet in this case could certainly be cast that way.

"Still, of course, one can't refuse a lady . . ." Lestrade says. Yeah, I think he could be cast as as a fan favorite.

The "vacation" aspect of this case remains prevalent, as Watson winds up doing a little tourist wandering on his own, and even tries to read a novel at one point. It must not be a very good novel, of course, as it doesn't hold his attention, but we still have to wonder what it was. Probably not by Clark Russell, whose work Watson enjoys on another occasion.

"The Adventure of Boscombe Valley" offers its share of little Sherlockian treats, to be sure, but this being a summer Saturday with its own distractions, like Watson, I'm going to wander away from my reading for other adventures.

Friday, June 6, 2014

B.S.I. Inc.

A great many of you out there neither know that much or care that much about the Baker Street Irregulars of New York, America's grand old organization of Sherlock Holmes fans. I hear this every time I blog about the subject, so I'll give you all fair warning so you can move along to something more interesting this morning.

Once upon a time, the B.S.I.'s founder, Christopher Morley, wrote a swell little essay called "On Belonging to Clubs" in which he commented upon how his little Sherlock Holmes club had certainly gotten away from him . . . and this was well over fifty years ago. The group's current leader's annual summer letter to the membership put me in mind of that essay, and I really had to wonder what Morley would have to write now.

The concerns of the Irregulars have become so large that a "decentralization" has taken place, where "unit directors" now manage each of the the subsidiaries of the larger entity. BSI Conferences, Baker Street Irregulars Press, The Baker Street Journal, the BSI Trust, BSI Scion recognition, and BSI dinner management have all been split out from the concerns of the BSI CEO, kind of like corporate vice presidencies. Pretty impressive for a club that only has a few hundred members, none of whom pay dues, once has to admit.

The current CEO of the group retains what many see as the true power within the Irregulars -- the ability to choose who is invited to the dinner and who gets made a member. And he seems a bit fussy these days about people who write and ask to be invited or made members of their own accord. One can almost hear a tone of "How DARE they!" And the simple one-line announcement that "Jon Lellenberg is no longer a member of the Baker Street Irregulars" is both historic, precedent-making, and full of backstory, none of which is mentioned. Not sure if he quit or got fired, but either or both was quite possible.

There is talk of institutionalizing core beliefs, the details of a new photographic policy, requests to both react and not to react, reminders that the BSI is not a democracy or anything else outside its CEO's vision . . .  generally not fun stuff for those of us that endure corporate life on a workaday basis. But, hey, I'm just an out-of-touch Midwesterner, what do I know? Just that I would greatly enjoy Chris Morley's take on the current state of his little dinner club.

The Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in New York City has blossomed to the point where it would probably go on just fine if the Irregulars mysteriously disappeared tomorrow, just as Sherlockian life in America goes on just fine without the BSI at its core every day. But there just something a little troubling to an older Sherlockian in the latest missive from the group's CEO.

The goofy old "Buy-Laws" of the Baker Street Irregulars haven't been followed for a long, long, looooong time . . . but at least when they were at the club's center and repeated every year, the old joke made a statement about the core of the group that all this new corporate hoo-haw sadly misses: that somebody was having fun and not taking this little fan club too seriously. It'll be sad if that ceases to be the case.

Moriarty lives! But should he?

Tonight I got caught up with Dynamite Comics' new series Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives! -- now on its third issue. And was pleasantly surprised.

Not to be confused with the Image Comics Moriarty series of a few years back, Moriarty Lives is a more down-to-Earth tale of the events following the professor's time after his survival of the Reichenbach Falls incident. Despite Holmes's name appearing on the cover, he isn't a character in the book, although this is one of those Moriarty tales where the professor is something of a dark reflection of Holmes, using the same powers of observation for more nefarious ends.

Writer David Liss provides a very solid Moriarty, a little less professorish and a little more criminal that my own mental image of the fellow, but that's his perogative. Daniel Indro's art has a certain savage physicality to it, and the colors by Josan Gonzalez, are, as one would expect, dark and ominous.

For a story with Moriarty as the protagonist, one must have an even-more-evil villain, whom appears in the persona of Baron Bombastus Von Hohenheim, a name somewhat reminiscent of a Full Metal Alchemist character, who claims to be a master of . . . coincidentally . . . alchemy. It seems, at first, that Moriarty has survived Sherlock Holmes only to be about to meet his end at the hands of an evil power greater than himself. But Moriarty did not become who he is without reason.

Moriarty Lives gives the professor some dark deeds to do, some challenges to plot his own master plan to deal with, and, even more interestingly, a young boy to take care of while doing all of the above. It's a good story, and I'll be following it to the end, but damn, Moriarty is just a little too evil to be able to enjoy completely, even when he's facing a foe who deserves a solid comeuppance.

While Professor Moriarty can be an interesting character in his own right, and has, many times, he's still no replacement for the good guy who put him down at the falls to begin with. (At least Holmes isn't dead in this version.)

Or maybe I'm just not evil enough to ever fully get behind him. If you're evil, though, I will whole-heartedly recommend Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives! Just quit being evil for long enough to actually pay for your copies, as I'd like to get to read the rest of the story without it getting cancelled for having all the copies stolen instead of bought.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: Six Napoleons.

There is a marvelous thread of socializing that has run through the "Summer of Sherlock" stories so far, and "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" adds a lovely new wrinkle to that trend.

By the summer of 1902, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard and Sherlock Holmes had become friends. As much as current adaptations of Holmes like to paint him as socially awkward in a variety of ways, the Holmes of the original stories is quite socially adept -- he just chooses not to socialize when his career is in high gear. By 1902, he's mellowed quite a bit, thinking about retirement, and not only does Lestrade just now be wandering by for the occasional evening chat, those chats can be about such conversation filler as weather and what's in the newspapers.

Sure, Sherlock Holmes draws Lestrade out, when he's quiet and there's obviously something on his mind, but a Sherlock Holmes that allows idle, purposeless talk of the weather? That's not a fellow we've seen on TV recently. But then, they're a bit younger than this Holmes and may get there in time.

Like all of the best of Holmes's cases, "Six Napoleons" starts with an odd and trivial incident and builds to something much more sinister. Along the way, we get to hear a mention of "the dreadful business of the Abernetty family [which] was first brought to my notice by the depth to which the parsley had sunk into the butter on a hot day," another summertime case that went unwritten. (And a case celebrated with a mention in the movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and other places, as well as many a Sherlockian's experimental attempt to sink parsley into butter.)

And there is London in this case. A drive through the many districts of the great city. Encounters with a few of its multi-national residents, as well as folk of a variety of occupations.

Holmes and Watson take take time for "a hasty luncheon at a restaurant" during the case, but even though it's hasty, Holmes is still taking a lunch break, which it is good to see him doing after he was going on about starving himself in "Mazarin Stone" like it was a fad diet for refining the senses. But then, "Mazarin Stone" was starving us for the lovely sort of detail that "Six Napoleons" lays out like a banquet feast, as well.

And what details they are! We find evidence that the Mafia is starting to move into London in the void left by the destruction of the Moriarty empire. Lestrade is not only a regular visitor at Baker Street, but the sort of friend who is welcome to stay for dinner and sleep on the couch. We learn what Holmes's favorite weapon is. And I just love that the victim of a crime invites Sherlock and the boys in for refreshments after they spare him the trauma of a burglary.

Sherlock Holmes, the showman, is never more in evidence than he is at the end of this case. And that is one facet of the great detective that truly makes him the Great Detective. He's not just about getting to the answers. When there's no time pressure involved, when he has the case well in hand, he'll slow things down a bit and give us a show, a little magic trick, before explaining it all away. And that's exactly what he does with the Napoleon busts.

By the end of this case, Lestrade is proud of Holmes. Scotland Yard is proud of Holmes. All of England is pretty proud of Holmes by this point in his career. He has his fans within the stories, almost the same as he does outside of the stories, so in that point, the last season of BBC Sherlock was not too far off the mark.

And for a fan, "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" is a lovely treat.

Especially during a Summer of Sherlock.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Instant collections.

Once upon a time, many of us ancient Sherlockians indulged our fondness for the great detective by collecting print references to Sherlock Holmes in scrapbooks. We'd clip them from our local newspaper, magazines to which we subscribed, bar coasters . . . basically, if it was made of wood fiber and flat enough, we'd add it to our books.

Enter the digital age.

The digital age began with some folks printing web articles out and collecting those in scrapbooks. At first, it was a bit like before. You had to stumble across references to Holmes, and there were few enough of those that finding one felt like something.

Enter Google. Amazon. Alibiris.

Suddenly the joy of hunting and finding, whether it was references or books or whatever, pretty much vanished for most of us. You actually had to be interested in something very specialized and work to find it. The random encounter collection was gone.

But today I discovered a new sort of Sherlockian collector out there, who has taken the place of us old Neanderthals . . . the digital collector presence of the web. is out there, making any human collector look like a mere insect of collecting. The Google scholar collects references to Sherlock Holmes in scholarly articles. It also collects references to Sherlock Holmes in case law. You just say, "Hey, Google scholar, let me see your collection of mentions of Sherlock Holmes in legal matters, and boom!" There's it's collection.

The robots may not have taken over just yet. No metal men are selling you Starbucks coffee. We may not have artificial intelligences roaming our digital pathways of their own free will just yet. Usually it still takes a real person to carry on a relationship with you on Facebook.

But we mere humans are in for a very interesting time of it ahead. Even as Sherlockians.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: Mazarin Stone

On behalf of Dr. John H. Watson, I would like to take this moment to apologize for "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone." My theory has always been that Dr. Watson was somehow missing or passed on at the time his literary agent put The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes together. The story that was pulled from earlier collections for subject matter, "The Cardboard Box," is suddenly back in print, the scandalous businesses of Baron Gruner and Professor Presbury are brazenly seeing publication, and then there's "Mazarin Stone."

Reading "Mazarin Stone" can sound very much like a bad stage play in your head, at first, and for good reason. It seemed a lot like the mini-novelization of the play Watson's agent wrote called "The Crown Diamond." Billy the page shows up for the first time since the 1880s, simply because Dr. Watson, unable to narrate, has to have someone to talk to before Sherlock Holmes shows up. And since Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be in bed sleeping at seven on a bright summer evening . . . but perhaps that's just a nap.

 When Sherlock Holmes does show up, though, there's a snap to his dialogue that saves the tale from being dull. And what goes on in this case . . . well, it really isn't a mystery that needs solving. It's just Sherlock Holmes messing with people. Whether it's Billy, the villains, or the client, Sherlock is all about toying with the normals in this tale.

And after a bout of that, and Watson being sent to get the police, as he had Hall Pycroft do at the end of today's other summer tale, "Stock-broker's Clerk," Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sit down for a nice dinner prepared by Mrs. Hudson at 221B. So in a way, one could see both "Clerk" and "Stone" as cases where Holmes and Watson getting a chance just to hang out was a key feature of the case. One could make a case for this being the "Red-Headed League/Empty House" rerun combo pack, but we're just getting into the lazy days of summer and need more relaxing cases to ease into the season.

So go have dinner with a close companion, or just mess with the regular folk a bit. The Summer of Sherlock continues.

Summer of Sherlock: Stock Broker's Clerk

The first of the two Sherlock Holmes cases that begin on June first (my chronology), is fascinating from the get-go for one important reason: It starts off by being completely about Watson.

Watson rarely writes completely about himself without tying Holmes in. The very first novel, A Study in Scarlet, even starts off as a Watson biography only to be quickly sidetracked into a story of Sherlock Holmes. When Holmes calls Watson "my biographer" in later cases, he tends to ignore/forget the fact that Watson began this whole thing as a part of his own biography. So the details we get at the beginning of "The Adventure of The Stock-Broker's Clerk" are especially rare.

We even find out how much money Watson's practice was bringing in at the outset -- three hundred pounds a year. But it's 1889, Watson is both young and hard-working, and he's throwing himself into his career to try to raise that number back up to the twelve hundred pounds per year it once was. (Interesting that Watson still considered his "youth" a big plus in his early thirties in Victorian England. But then, remember Holmes saying, "You look the same blithe boy as ever" when he sees Watson almost twenty-five years later? Watson had a youngish thing going, to be sure.)

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked, as I always do in these stories. "Stock-Broker's Clerk" is a very career-oriented tale, from Watson's intro to the main client and his new job, but for Watson, this case comes as a much enjoyed day off, a one-day vacation if you will -- just the sort of thing one does at the beginning of summer.

Hall Pycroft, the clerk from the title, is a hale and hearty young fellow who makes half what Watson does, even at the start of his new practice. He has some hip lingo to his story-telling that emphasizes him being the young urbanite: "nasty cropper," "soft Johnny," "the screw" and the like. (And at least one racial slur.) Watson may be young compared to old Farquhar, but Hall Pycroft is younger and even more ambitious, which is where the troubles start for him.

Get ready for another sidetrack, though: Is "Stock Broker's clerk" the high point of Holmes and Watson's urban investigations? Their trip up the stairs to the fifth floor of the office building on Corporation Street may be no Reichenbach climb, but it certainly stands out among their usual crime scene locations. The first "skyscraper" was built in Chicago only a few years before and stood ten stories tall, so a fifth floor office was still pretty high up at that time.

While the plot beneath "Stock-Broker's Clerk" is sometimes seen as a rerun of "Red-Headed League," it's really a much more complex con -- rather than one fellow being duped, there are actually rubes being fooled at both ends of this scheme. The villains kindly keep Hall Pycroft fooled at one end (rather than just imprisoning him or killing him, which would seem much more practical) while working their true con at the other. And this double-ended con leaves Holmes and Watson far, far away from the real scene of the crime and the climax to the adventure, when it all comes apart.

And all of that makes "Stock-Broker's Clerk" an easy day off. After their criminal catch is handed over to the police, one can easily envision Holmes and Watson finding some decent place in Birmingham to have lunch before taking the train back to London. And, hey, since Watson took the whole day off anyway, why not spend the afternoon catching up?

It's summer, after all. And summer with Sherlock, at that.

Postscript one: Similarities between the movie "Trading Places" and "Stock-broker's Clerk"? I can find a few.

Postscript two: Beddington's great-great-grandson may have taken a page from his ancestor's book and tried to go to New York and get a job under the name "Sherlock Holmes." That would certainly make the odd bits of a certain TV show more elementary.