Saturday, January 31, 2015

The snow day story.

Of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, "The Blue Carbuncle" is probably the one most associated with a particular season. And yet, as Christopher Morley once pronounced in the first line of his introduction to that tale, "Surely one of the most unusual things in the world: a Christmas Story without slush." Not only without slush . . . without snow, as well.

Oh, it's bitter cold, and there's bundling up, but snow? 

No, if you want snow, you have to go to but one story in the  Canon of Sherlock Holmes: "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet." From the fourth sentence: "It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun," it's all about the snow.

The hansom cabs are driving more slowly through the snow. Sherlock Holmes takes care to knock the snow off his shoes over the client's doormat, only to get them more covered in the stuff when he's out looking for clues. And those clues? Is there a better time for finding tracks that tell a story than after a fresh snow? And Sherlock Holmes knows exactly how to read that story, embossed in that cold, white page.

As we sled into February with snow on the mind of much of America, there could be no better time to warm up that mug of hot cocoa and sit down with the case that came four stories after our non-Christmas-y Christmas story, "Blue Carbuncle." Is it a coincidence that "Beryl Coronet" has the same initials as that other story of the winter season?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Del Gruner versus Charles Augustus Magnussen.

Two third season TV shows with a main character going by the name of "Sherlock Holmes. Two third season villains forced to try to impress audiences that already had Moriarty. And two TV versions of Canonical characters whose modern names have been changed just a bit to make them distinctly new incarnations.

Elementary's Del Gruner. Sherlock's Charles Augustus Magnussen.

As I've considered last night's climax to the season-long Kitty Winter involvement on CBS's Elementary throughout the morning after, I've found it instructive to look at its villain, Del Gruner in comparison to BBC Sherlock's Charles Augustus Magnussen.

In Conan Doyle's original work, it is hard to say who is the more repulsive villain, Baron Adelbert Gruner or Charles Augustus Milverton. They both ruin lives. They both are all about the documentation of sins and things best kept hidden. And they both get Watson's blood up.

But in their recent TV incarnations, one finds distinct differences that show definite traits in the productions that presented them.

Del Gruner has kept a woman prisoner and burned her with a branding iron. (Not shown.)

Charles Augustus Magnussen licks an unwilling woman's face to show dominance. (Shown.)

Del Gruner grab's Joan Watson's arm so hard that it leaves bruises.

Charles Augustus Magnussen flicks John Watson's face with his index finger.

Del Gruner's twist is that he has a secret child by a woman he raped, which proves to be his undoing.

Charles Augustus Magnussen's twist is that he has a secret mind palace of store blackmail information, which proves to be his undoing.

Del Gruner has his head horribly burned with acid after the show's consulting detective allows his apprentice to do what she wants to this man who threatened the detective's friend.

Charles Augustus Magnussen has his head shot clean through by the show's consulting detective, as he is a man who threatened the detective's friend.

One drama uses the language of the over-used stock serial killer genre to mundanely recreate a character we'd like to know more about.

One drama uses minor interpersonal violations to viscerally communicate just how repulsive a character who we knew was repulsive in the Conan Doyle story . . . but man!

And while the nominations are still far off for one of these villain's drama, the other helped win his episode seven Emmy awards and an additional five nominations for excellence in television.

And while Del Gruner seems to have ended mid-season, leaving one to wonder what will happen the rest of the year (Kitty becomes a villain herself and allies with Jamie Moriarty?), Magnussen's finish was the climax to his season (and set up a return of Jim Moriarty?).

It's hard being the villain that's not Moriarty. Harder still without a deft hand holding the pen that works out your schemes for you. Who comes out on top in a Gruner/Magnussen contest is surely a thing for each of us to decide, but given all of the above, I know who I'm picking, despite his inability to recognize proper toilet facilities. Your opinion may differ.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

E3:12. Wasted Dels and wasted nights.

Well, there were about three other things of Sherlockian significance I could have written about this week, had time allowed. Yet time did not allow. And Thursday is here. And with Thursday comes that one hour I know will produce a blog, even though it will never be one of the better essays that appears here, because it isn't thought out in advance, meditated upon, or worked through to its logical conclusion.

It's just Elementary watching time, and the reactions and random thoughts that come along with that. And even though when life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade by adding enough sugar and water, and you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear (though I'm sure someone would find than an acceptable challenge and pull it off), well . . . . 

The vampire Lestat, Dorian Gray, Carl Kolchak, Adelbert Gruner . . . Stuart Townsend has played some pretty wonderful characters, sometime in better productions than others. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for example, such promise, yet such a failure in the eyes of many. Not Townsend's fault. Queen of the Damned, a first quality vampire romp in its own right, yet forever a follow-up to Tom Cruise deciding he needed to play a vampire in a movie with all the big-budget trimmings wrapped around a badly-cast lead. And now, Stuart Townsend gets to follow in the footsteps of so many who talents get all the use of an actor in a second Star Wars trilogy.

Hold up, Lucy Liu is wearing a scarf and hat like the fourth Doctor going to a funeral in a mini-skirt.

Sorry, that was just weird. But as Kitty Winter prepares her acid, and Joan Watson is coming dangerously close to Del Gruner, one wonders where this will wind up going. The first half was rather uninspired, hence the musings upon Stuart Townsend above. Which means I'm not wondering from suspense, but just because I know the Canonical outcome of the Kitty Winter/Adelbert Gruner relationship, and wonder whether it will be echoed here. At half-time, I'm betting not, as they really haven't portrayed Gruner with enough loathsome detail to justify an acid-dousing catharsis. And they have to give Joan Watson a little more to do, just because it's Elementary. but I'm betting Mr. Elementary stops her in the end.

Well, Kitty got a little near facial disfigurement in with a branding iron, and guess who stopped her?

Still wondering why they showed the heroin packets during the "previously on" segment and trying to figure out what the Gruner/Kitty/Mr. Elementary torture and death possibilities have to do with . . . ah, I think meeting Kitty kept Mr. E. from doing heroin again back in London. And off he goes with that weird Jason Statham walk to let Kitty decide what to do with her once-tormentor.

And a couple of actual Canonical details later, Kitty Winter heads for the airport to depart Elementary, taking Olivia Lovibond with her and the hour of Elementary as well.

Good-bye, Miss Kitty. Guess we had to know you were just a temp. Good job at fulfilling your proper destiny, even if it was an unexpectedly sleepy time getting there.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Multiple media seeds planted in a junior high mind.

Early autumn 1970.

That is when I first encountered Sherlock Holmes. But unlike so many other Sherlockians who have a definite love-at-first-sight moment and subsequent tale to tell, mine has two first meetings, and to tell the truth, I'm not sure which came first. But they were both in early autumn of 1970.

One was reading my first Sherlock Holmes story in an eighth grade literature book. The story was "The Speckled Band" and it was crammed in there with tales by the likes of O. Henry, Guy de Maupassant, and D.H. Lawrence. Shoving so many literary styles into a pre-pubescent brain at a time when I was making my pleasure-read transition from books on UFOs and stage magic to the science fiction of Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov was a bit of a "pearls before swine" gesture. I didn't take to Conan Doyle's Victorian style at all, as much as I wanted to know more about the legendary Sherlock Holmes.

Around that same time, and possibly before, I was sitting in the dark of Fairfield, Illinois's Strand Theater with my dime Coke and fifteen-cent bag of popcorn when a preview for Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes came on the screen. (Side note: My ticket was still thirty-five cents, as I had not yet appeared in the junior high graduation photos the movie theater owners kept in the ticket booth to see who now needed to be paying full price.) As the great Miklos Rozsa score rampaged all over the sound system, the three minute preview built it's way to a climax featuring an attack by the Loch Ness Monster. Add in Christopher Lee's appearance, and it flipped a whole lot of my switches. (Hammer films, particularly Lee's Dracula movies, were the Strand's Saturday afternoon matinee bread and butter back then.)

Due to the fact I was a junior high kid with little control over my life in those days, I would not see that film until five years later, but a seed was planted. I'd get to the Canon in my later high school days and eventually a joyous reunion with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in college. But I've always wondered: Would I have gotten back to Conan Doyle without the seven-per-cent solution of Private Life that I had injected in that fall of 1970?

It's hard to separate the influence from the Sherlock Holmes of TV and films from that of the original literary Sherlock at this point. We cannot strip all of those adaptations and actors from our history and know what the Sherlockian world would look like now if Doyle alone was a solitary Atlas holding up our fan world. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar probably wouldn't be going for cocktails with the Baker Street Irregulars doing a Jonny Lee Miller impression, that's for sure.

Revisiting my Sherlockian origins this morning, I have to laugh at a certain line repeated twice in that Private Life preview, which now seem like a post-hypnotic suggestion, implanted in my young mind for a day when I would be blogging about Holmes and CBS would come out with a certain TV series. (Italics are added by me, but since the line was spoken, who knows if they were there in 1970?)

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was anything but Elementary!"

Yes, it was. Yes. It was.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Girls Gone Baker Street.

At what point does a written work move from having adaptations to having interpretations?

Whatever that point is, we're definitely there with our friend Sherlock Holmes.

As my personal struggles to deal with CBS's Elementary as anything Sherlockianly viable have evidenced, we don't all share the same vision of that creature with the label "Sherlock Holmes" attached to him, and given our increased ability to give those visions creative expression . . . well, interpretations are going to abound in the years ahead.

The new web series, Baker Street, featuring Jane Watson and her companion Sherlock Holmes is not just a "gender bent" version of Holmes and Watson -- it also has a certain sort of "fan bent" versioning to it as well. In the past couple of decades, we've seen the rise of an over-sympathetic attitude toward Dr. Watson and an almost antipathy toward Sherlock Holmes that seems to stem from a view of Watson as the long-suffering "girl" in their "couple," and Holmes as the rude, non-understanding "boy." And as the movie Without A Clue seemed to prophecy, the higher Watson gets raised up to someone special in his own right, the more Sherlock Holmes has to be lowered to that status I've characterized as "broken Holmes." Mix those two concepts, and you can see a bit of where Baker Street originates from in our cultural zeitgeist.

Baker Street is a well-made series, primarily a two-woman show, and will definitely make you ponder your own views of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in this day of interpretation over adaptation. Jane Watson is the main character, narrator, and troubled hero of the piece. Sherlock Holmes is her nerdy little room-mate whose place in this world is something both Jane, and the rest of us (even those who think they know Sherlock Holmes) are unsure of. Both actresses are well-cast, and their relationship is much more antagonistic than Holmes and Watson of the Canon . . . which one wonders is a part of the difference between a male pair of fellow lodgers and a female one.

Jane Watson's relationship with the professor she works with is a little creepy due to their age difference (and was there any doubt as to what his last name would be?), and her video explanation of working with Holmes while doing yoga in the third episode is extremely distracting to anyone with a traditional XY lifestyle. There is more of Gilmore Girls to the series than Starsky and Hutch (Anybody got a more current action buddy cop show reference? That's just sadly dated.) as the show is more dialogue based than fights-and-chases, but that seems to suit it just fine.

As all this may intimate, I'm not entirely comfortable with Sherlock Holmes and Watson as presented in Baker Street, due to whatever age/gender/taste issues I've gained over the years, but I'll be back to watch it if and when it returns. It's a very good effort and definitely worth trying out.

E3: 11. More Elementary than usual.

"The Problem of Thor Bridge" in four minutes -- hey, Elementary is doing the Canon! Or did back in November of 2013. This morning, as I went to the on-demand to catch up on this week's episode, I wound up watching an episode of Elementary that I apparently missed quite a while back. Maybe it was the Thanksgiving holiday of that year, or maybe it was the rampant disgust at what the show had done to Mycroft Holmes in that year, but what I found was that I had actually missed one of the better, more focused episodes of the show.

Spinning off "Thor Bridge," the episode called "On the Line," builds a pretty good story on top of a Canonical inspiration and actually uses the oddness of NYPD allowing him to work with them as a part of its tale. And it's just Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson, working well together. No idiot version of Mycroft, no cute and cuddly version of Kitty WInter, no random trivia rolled in as plot points. Just a solid story, spinning off an actual Canonical tale and ending with a solution inspired by a totally different Sherlock Holmes story. If every episode of Elementary was like this one, my opinion of the show might have been slightly different. Why the on-demand service decided to serve up this little gem to me this week before the latest serial killer to cross Mr. Elementary's path, I'm not sure. But on to this week's episode "The Illustrious Client."

Canonical title, yes, but the "Previously on Elementary" starts with that ridiculous Kitty-Winter-versus-Joan-Watson singlestick fight and follows with all those details that makes one go, "Oh, yeah, this is how this show regularly goes." And we start with Joan's new job at an insurance company. But this is Kitty Winter's episode and Ophelia Lovibond immediately has me regretting the "no cute and cuddly version of Kitty Winter" comment earlier in this rant. The lady can definitely grab audience attention when she wants to.

And both that November show "On the Line" and this week's "The Illustrious Client" were written by Jason Tracey, who has proven himself the best of the Elementary writers since his first outing "Snow Angels." And both stories feature imprisoned women . . . only this time the release of those prisoners isn't the end of things. Kitty and Joan's work with a human trafficking victim start taking the show to a darker, more serious place, but then the bandying of the name "Simon DeMerville" takes a Sherlockian a bit out of the story for a moment. The standard Elementary use of a Canonical name ("DeMerville") with a character who has no similarity to the one in the original Sherlock Holmes story is more of a distraction than a help at moments like this.

And then, we get Joan in her new job with her new boss, Del Gruner, talking insurance, which takes one a little bit further from the women's tale. Unlike that 2013 episode, which started at the end of the Canon's "Thor Bridge" and grew from there, "Illustrious Client" and Gruner just have a Sherlockian sitting around waiting for the moment when they connect Gruner to the crimes that Kitty Winter was a victim of. Watching Kitty, Joan, Mr. Elementary, and the NYPD struggling to get to that connection adds a degree of frustration to the viewing, but having Kitty Winter rough up Violet DeMerville off-screen helps soothe that little issue.

Not that I'm in favor of woman-on-woman violence, mind you, but we all know how frustrating the Canonical Violet DeMerville was to Kitty Winter. A few whacks with the single-stick might have made for the stuff of a fun "Illustrious Client" fan-fic, so the implying of same here is not completely unwelcome.

When Kitty Winter finally recognizes Gruner's voice as that of her tormentor, Ophelia Lovibond delivers another great performance (both her scenes with Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller in this show always seem to elevate things just a bit). But at that point, the show is suddenly over, and one realizes this was all just set-up for going after Gruner full-on next week.

So, as this week's Elementary is just half a story, it's a little hard to render a verdict on it until then. The wikipedia episode guide says next week we get an entirely different writer . . . the show's creator Rob Dougherty. The guy who gave us idiot Mycroft, blew up the contents of 221B Baker Street, and generally . . . well, I will ere on the side of kindness and shut up now.

On it goes.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The unspecial "making of" special.

At this point in the march of my years, there are a good many things whose existence I remember the beginning of. Big things like cell phones and the world wide web, and little things like felt-tip pens and taco salads. One thing I definitely recall the popular rise of was the "making of" special.

The "making of" special may have had earlier versions in featurettes and promotional films, but it really didn't hit its stride until George Lucas created a sensational little movie called Star Wars. Between its enormous fan following and all the innovative special effects, there was enough material and ratings hopes for an hour-long TV special, and once Star Wars got the ball rolling, other big new movies with special effects like Jurassic Park made the "making of" special a part of their promotional toolbox.

And then came video tapes and DVDs, with that wonderful potential for the "DVD extra." Since DVDs had all that extra space, movie-makers had incentive to come up with all sorts of added material to help DVD sales, and the "making of" special was an easy thing to add there. (Now that we have streaming, all those added features are, sadly, going out of style again. Sometimes new tech takes away as well as gives.)

And all along the "making of" special timeline, I have avoided those bastards.

I love movies. I love the magic fictional worlds they create. I don't need such things of the dinosaurs or flying broomsticks of those magic fictions explained to me as having been done by robots and wires. I know that it's trickery, and I want to be tricked. I don't go into work the next day and go, "HOLY SHIT! THERE'S DINOSAURS ON THIS ISLAND AND THEY WANTED IT TO BE AN AMUSEMENT PARK, BUT THE DINOSAURS KILL PEOPLE!" but for a couple of hours, it's fun to exist in that world, and hold the memories for a little joy later on.

Seeing the robot guts of those lovely dinosaurs can ruin those much-loved memories, so I have always just left them alone. But time marches on, and things change. Boy, do they change . . . .

With the rise of our new internet connectivity, people have become very, very concerned about our newfound social taboo, the spoiler. "***SPOILER ALERT!***" warnings became de rigeur, and boy, would you hear about it if you dared give away a plot twist to a fan ahead of their viewing of some anticipated movie or TV show.  And yet, and yet, and yet, the rabid fan desire to get to new material ahead of anyone else has now given us #Setlock, the paparazzi of a single TV show.

We don't get to see the next installment of BBC Sherlock, the Christmas special, until a full twelve months from now, and yet we're getting a single-picture-by-single-picture "making of" special from that fan paparazzi as the special gets filmed, leaking into our Twitter, Facebook, etc.  feeds whether we like it or not. Back when Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were just filming random street scenes in London the last time out, they were easy to ignore. London streets are London streets, nothing distinctive, nothing giving things away.

But whatever is going on now, with some definitely distinctive costuming, would have been a wonderful treat had we gotten served said delicacy with all the presentation its creators intended. But after all the theory and speculation that fueled Sherlock fandom during the post-Reichenbach-Fall year, a fan activity seems to have taken hold that has carried over into the current hiatus. More speculation, more grabbing at these #Setlock clues. But do we really need it or care about it this time around?

I know it seems to be irritating some of the cast and crew a little more this time out. And I know that the pictures crossed a threshold with me this morning, as someone who has never enjoyed the "making of" special and avoided them all my life. Suddenly we're getting a very unspecial "making of" special produced and delivered real-time by amateurs, and that's just not cool.

Not cool at all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

And sometimes the magic doesn't strike . . .

Today I crossed Patton Oswalt off the list of potential Sherlockian celebrities.

The comedian/actor/writer has nerd cred of assorted types coming out his ears, but when it comes to Sherlock Holmes . . . nada.

I was reading his recent memoir, Silver Screen Fiend, and had made it to chapter six, "Overdosing," in which he describes a lost weekend at a Hammer film festival. Each chapter in the book if prefaced by a graphic of his calendar for the period in question, in at the beginning of chapter six, my eye was pulled to the tiny scribbles in the box for October 14, 1995 and the underlined words Hound of the Baskervilles.

It's a few days before the weekend of Hammer films he describes in the chapter, but the Hammer film festival seems to have been going days before (Hound of the Baskervilles was followed by Horror of Dracula, Stranglers of Bombay, and These are the Damned) and the fact they're also on his calendar, combined with his descriptions of his movie addiction at the time, tends to make on think he saw them.

Yes, no mention of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, or that redressed set for Baskerville Hall that also served as Castle Dracula in the movie following it on the bill. Not that the Hammer Hound is a stand-out among all the other more outre Hammer offerings.

Patton Oswalt is writing about his time as an absolute film junkie, and yet no mention of Sherlock Holmes. Which makes one wonder about just how key films are to the legend of Sherlock Holmes. We all know fans who came to Sherlock Holmes via Conan Doyle, Jeremy Brett, and Benedict Cumberbatch, in print and on television. And Rathbone had his day . . . though his movies probably gained more fans in television reruns, which makes them comparable to BBC Sherlock's small-screen output in quantity and duration. But on the big screen, in the theater? How many top movie moment in our lives came via Sherlock Holmes? (They don't count if you came to said movie as a fan already!)

Funny how much over-thinking one can give four scribbled words in a very full book. But that's the blogosphere for you.

A textbook on becoming more like Sherlock Holmes.

There are books you read for pleasure and books you read for study, and it is an important distinction to make when approaching any book for the first time. The Sherlockian field is full of books of both types, leaning more toward the "entertainments" side, but make no mistake, there are serious studies to be made in the world of Sherlock Holmes . . . something you will quickly find out if you pick up How To Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes by Mark A. Williams, Sr.

The title may be a bit long and sound a little like a trendy business strategy book, but How To Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes is not that at all -- it's a textbook. A textbook on the methods of Sherlock Holmes, meant for the serious study of same. We all know that Sherlock Holmes himself proposed "to devote my declining years to the composition of a textbook which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume," and while we all would love to one day see that book, it is always a joy to me to see someone making an honest effort to recreate our hero's intended efforts. And Mark Williams has made a very good effort.

How To Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes is written like an instructional textbook, to be sure. It's not going to be something you read to wander off on the gaslit streets of Victorian London for the pure joy of it. But its weighty 384 pages contain an impressive amount of research, reference, and thought on what it takes to actually put together a Sherlock Holmes skillset, and will reward anyone who is seriously interested in the study of those. The author is definitely a Sherlockian who had done a thorough study of the Canon and looked closely as what tools Holmes uses in his cases.

In a world where a (relatively speaking) big-budget, widely popularized thing like CBS's Elementary exists with scant thought or research into how Sherlock Holmes actually worked, How To Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes falls at the exact opposite end of the spectrum: a deeply considered work on Sherlock Holmes that one has to admire for all the effort that went into it.

With at least five books currently existing on Holmes's methods, How To Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes is a worthwhile addition to the subject and a must-have for any Sherlockian with a special interest in that area, and one you'll want to have around for reference.  Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The distraction that is Sherlock Holmes.

What is it that we love about Sherlock Holmes?

That question has been asked in many ways, and answered in even more, over the last century. Holmes delights, he entertains, he shows us what a human being might be capable of, as so many other heroes of story and legend have, as long as our species had the capacity for communication. Looking back on my personal experience, and today of all days, he provides me with distraction.

Whether it's in a particularly well-written pastiche, pushing one's focus into the details of the original stories to do a little research, or the charming conversation of Sherlockian friends, there are so many times when Holmes gives me something to think about when I've got a little empty space to fill.

And apparently, as evidenced from the frequency of this blog of late, one might surmise I've had some waiting spaces to fill, needing distraction. I might have even trolled the "we're better than you" subclass of Sherlockian life forms, just for kicks. (Well, that, and the fact they might need a kick now and then.) Sherlock Holmes is a good companion for those points in our lives when we can do nothing but wait.

"Well, what are we to do now?" Inspector MacDonald once asked Sherlock Holmes.

"Possess our souls in patience, and make as little noise as possible," Holmes replied.

So today, I wait. And Sherlock Holmes waits along with me, distracting me every now and again, as he is apt to do.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King and the Baker Street Irregulars.

Today is the day we celebrate the life and works of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  This very American holiday has nothing to do with the world of Sherlock Holmes, our bookish little fandom really not having had too much to do with the struggles for racial equality. And yet . . .

Dr. King's struggles for justice and equality can be viewed as being about getting those things for one race and one people, or, as with all those words our country's founders put our original paperwork, about some ideals we should look toward for all people. Ideals one can apply to many a situation, in many a backyard.

In recent years, whenever I grumble about the arcane and outdated methods for getting an invitation or a membership in the Baker Street Irregulars of New York, I will get comments like "You should come to the annual dinner again this year and see how great it is now! You might change your mind!"  The implication is that the whole Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend is just such a good time these days that whatever is going on in the course of making it happen, it must be just fine.

And I'm sure it's all a very good time. It was a very good time last year. It was a very good time the year before. And the year before . . . and, etc., etc. etc.

When I first attended the B.S.I. dinner in 1987, women were both prohibited from attending or being members, and guess what? I had a very good time. I was troubled by the no-women policy before attending, and after attending, but hey, room full of Sherlockians . . . very good time, then as now. Having no women in the room didn't help make that good time, and when they were finally let in, it didn't destroy that good time, either.

Discriminating against people of a certain race, a certain gender, or a certain je ne sais quoi in the mind of whoever the current leader of the group is doesn't take away the taste of the food, the quality of the speakers, or the joy of speaking of things Sherlockian with the people at your table. It also doesn't add to it. Unless you truly believe that there are a few hundred superior Sherlock Holmes fans out there who need to be cloistered away at one dinner a year fot the good of . . . something.

This is the thing about the exclusive, "country club" nature of the invitation-only dinner for nearly two hundred souls. At that head count, you aren't really being that picky, and yet you're cutting somebody out for some very trivial reason. The word "discrimination" is still applicable, even if you aren't cutting out a whole race or a whole gender.

We hear all the time what great people Sherlock Holmes fans are, and if you've traveled around to even a few events, you know it to be true. We have our eccentrics, our socially awkward exuberants, and yet we still make that statement, time and again. And yet the walls put up by the B.S.I. management betray a certain fear of "the bad Sherlockian," some creature that can ruin an entire gathering just by finding his way inside. And let's not even get to the recent attempts to specify the exact qualities one should look for in an exemplary Sherlockian. Oh, was that an exemplary Baker Street Irregular, and not a Sherlockian? When did there get to be a difference?

We always hear from the people who get to go to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars, what a great time, etc., and we also don't hear much public complaint about folks not getting to go, so there must be none, right? We're all happy little Sherlockians, right? Except the way the current system is set up, anyone who does want to go, can't, and complains is assured of never getting to go as long as the powers that be associate them with said complaint. And lord help them if they "campaign" to get to go, or make any other attempt besides docile waiting for the call . . . any act that might detract from the absolute power of the invitation system is a big no-no.

The current system not only enables bias and prejudice, it also stifles open discussion. Once that discussion that wasn't being had affected an entire gender of Sherlock Holmes fans. These days it just affects individuals on a case-by-case basis. Entirely different, right? To some.

To some, it may seem a little silly and over-reaching to invoke the name of Martin Luther King over something as small as one dinner in January. But he said a few things that I always enjoy hearing, like, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," which sounds like it could have come from the mouth of Sherlock Holmes himself.

So happy Martin Luther King Day, Sherlockians of America, especially if you're one of those lucky souls who gets it off work.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sherlockian shelf porn . . . and that touch of madness.

Connecting with other human beings can be a very good thing. When Facebook first zoomed to popularity, and even now, we heard a lot of "Why should I care what Joey Jornson had for breakfast?" grumbling about the life trivia it poured into our browsers. But just like Sherlock Holmes's relationship with the agony columns of the London newspapers ("Bleat, Watson -- unmitigated bleat!") There are still amazing moments to be found there, where we connect with someone else's mindset just like Sherlock finally connected with the personal ad that led him to the solution of "The Red Circle."

Yesterday, my friend Vince Wright was posting photos of his plunder from Saturday book-shopping travels, as he often does, and a familiar face popped up . . . and by "face" I mean "cover," as books do get that "old friend" feel after a while. It was The Master's Violin by Myrtle Reed.

Now, if you've ever been an ardent Sherlockian book hound, sniffing the brick-and-mortar landscape for that elusive Sherlock Holmes rarity, you might know that title. And if you don't . . . well, Sherlockians have, since ancient times, called Holmes "the Master" and a violin is part of his iconography. The title just screams "SHERLOCK HOLMES" when your eye catches it on the shelf.

And even though its contents really have nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes proper, you just want to buy the thing. And sometimes you do. Vince did. And I had done the same, some years before.

Always felt a little foolish about that, even though I knowingly bought it. The act had a bit of that "mad collector gone too far" feel to brag about it to my Sherlockian friends. But now, with concepts like "shelf porn" and old books used for decor alone by the fashionistas, it doesn't quite seem so bad. The Master's Violin and my other recent purchase, Irene, now seem like the nucleus of a Sherlockian non-Sherlockian old book collection. Something beautiful to the eye of the Holmes fan, but void of true Holmes content.

I could feel much better about this concept, though, if there weren't a few non-Sherlock-evoking titles I had picked up along the way, just because they were old, pretty, and cheap . . .

But each of those, like the others, at least had the potential of something I would read at some point. The worst of my book-buying habits came along at the height of antique mall popularity, before eBay killed most of them. And that was not only buying books I wouldn't read, but already had copies of . . . many, many copies of . . . just because they had Holmes on the spine. Obviously I still even have a sort of perverse pride about this lot, or else I wouldn't be shoving a picture in front of your here like it's a favorite grandchild . . . .

Conan Doyle's Best Books: Stories of Sherlock Holmes -- that title being something Conan Doyle himself might have disagreed with. But there was a time when that book seemed to pop up everywhere I went in Illinois, with a three-to-five dollar price tag. So I gathered them up.

Been working for years on getting rid of such habits . . . the house is just too full! But Vince's Facebook post about The Master's Violin brought it all back today. And reminds me of another Sherlockian named Vincent who was quite a bibliomaniac in his own right: Vincent Starrett. There are entire books on that man's love of books. But that is another blog for another day.

For now, the best close to this ramble is just to wish you well if all this strikes a chord within you. I hope you have lots of luck, both in what you do find and what you make of what turns up when you don't find. Because the books are going to come home with you either way.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Becoming Sherlock Holmes x 5.

A long, long time ago, I wrote a book.

I was in my late twenties, and I wrote the book because I wanted to read that particular book, and said book did not exist prior to 1987, when my book finally saw publication. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who saw that gap, as the book made it on to John Bennett Shaw's list of the one hundred books he would place in a basic Sherlockian library, and I'm pretty sure it was the deciding factor in getting me into the Baker Street Irregulars at a much younger age than most of my friends.

All of the above might seem like bragging, but at this point, like many a thing from the past, my book . . . now not the easiest thing to find . . . seems pretty much obsolete. And in a way, I'm kind of happy about that, because I only wanted such a book to exist for me to read to begin with. And now I have five: Five books on Sherlock Holmes's methods an how to use them.

So here's the list:

The Elementary Methods of Sherlock Holmes by Brad Keefauver, 1987.  (Boy, is that title ironic now.)

The Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Ransom Riggs, 2009. (Already praised by me here.)

How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Daniel Smith, 2012. (A slim volume recently picked up off the remainder table at Barnes & Noble.)

Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova, 2013. (The best-publicized on the list, yet I never finished reading it, sad to say. Have to get back to that.)

How To Instantly Size-Up Strangers Like Sherlock Holmes by Mark A. Williams, Sr., 2014. (Not just the latest, but also the largest on this list.)

Had we a time machine, I would love to pick up all of these authors just after they finished their respective books and make them compete in a series of Sherlock Holmes tests: observation and deductions about a stranger, solving a mystery, etc. It would make a wonderful reality show for our limited Sherlockian audience, to be sure. At this point, however, when we all have the opportunity to read each other's books, that experiment would not be as free of confounding variables as one would like. (Mark Williams, for example, actually quotes my book, so I know he's read it -- and at this point, every single human being who has read that rare tome is a happy thought to me. It's not a big club!)

My goal in the week or so ahead, is not just to review the latest of these books, but to do a little comparison-contrast of this little library of the Sherlockian method we now have available to us. (More or less -- I should definitely do something about making that first one more available. I'm so lazy, which isn't aided by the fact that my hero Sherlock described himself as "the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather." But, hey, lazy people have to be smarter, just to find their maximum potential for not doing work!)

Let's see if I get there. If I don't, my next book will be entitled "How To Be Incurably Lazy Like Sherlock Holmes" . . .  and I think we can all succeed in attaining that set of skills.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

E3:10. Starting the clock on Kitty.

Somewhere some scholar of Elementary study is enumerating all of the ways Mr. Elementary has woken Joan Watson, which is getting to be a dependable part of the show's formula. This week's wake-up was the world's loudest blender, which I was certain was a leaf-blower until the source of the sound was revealed. What does this say about the show?

Well, that it exists in an unpleasant world all its own. Normal rules do not apply. And people tolerate some of the most ridiculous things, just because somebody, somewhere thinks that the name "Sherlock Holmes" is representative of a random-trivia-spouting pain-in-the-ass.

Mr. Elementary is hanging upside down like Michael Keaton's Batman, Joan is becoming an insurance investigator, which we are supposed to understand will turn his world upside down, and as always "upside down" for Elementary is kind of a laid back "Huh!" kind of thing.

Amazingly, Ophelia Lovibond somehow makes every scene that Kitty Winter is in just so easy to take. The lady has something. Looking her up in IMDB just to see if her talent carries over into other project, it turns out she was the Collector's slave girl Carina in the summer's surprise blockbuster The Guardians of the Galaxy. Carina was amazing. And so is Ophelia's Kitty Winter, for a CBS procedural. Except she's not really anything like the Kitty Winter created by Conan Doyle, which goes without saying on Elementary. But when she appears in a scene with Mr. Elementary, even he becomes just a bit more tolerable . . . even occasionally pleasant.

Somebody hand that girl an infinity gem and let her blow herself into a better project!

Of course, "Del" Gruner is coming, according to the show biz press, Mr. Elementary is telling Joan that he's going to make Kitty his new partner, and given the upside down theme of things, instead of Kitty Winter taking out Baron Adelbert Gruner, as happened in "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," I have a bad feeling that Elementary's Gruner may be the one that takes out its Kitty Winter. The Mr. Elementary/Joan Watson/Kitty Winter three-way detective team cannot last into the fourth season. Either Kitty goes or Joan goes, and I don't see them getting rid of Lucy Liu.

It's the end of the episode before we get the first glimmer that Gruner is in New York, in that odd sort of crime scene where an NYPD captain and British consultant are the only two people at the site of a serial killer's latest victim. Forensics team, anyone? Uniformed cops to secure the scene? Detective Bell?

I hope for Kitty's sake, they staff up soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The magic spell of an old book.

Just when you think you have the old addictions licked, that you have them under control, you find your car parked in front of the local bookshop upon returning to the car from a hurried trip to get your hair cut. And in any store full of old books, you know there has to be at least one Sherlock Holmes related treasure to be had . . . .

It's been years since I've found myself succumbing to must-add-to-the-collection syndrome. Years. But as with any addiction, it's a patient demon, lying in wait like a seventeen-year cicada, just biding its time.

Yes, there are plenty of good books out there about Sherlock Holmes. Rare and collectible books, that are actually about Sherlock Holmes. And then there's this sort of thing . . . .

I mean, it's a pretty enough book. And it's title is Irene. And that was all I needed to fork over the ten dollars the bookseller was asking. I shook my head at my own silliness, I mean, Irene, right? Like it's going to be about that Irene.

But I got home, and the book began to weave its spell.

It was, from the beautiful handwritten inscription, once the book of "Theo Harris From Ca. Ave Cong SS, Jan. 17, 1908." Using my Watson-like deductive skills, I immediately inferred that "SS" meant "Sunday School" and "Cong" was "Congregation," as the book was published by the Religious Tract Society of London. Ah, London. A book from Sherlock's home town!

Another page added simply "MORRISON AND GIBB, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH." Another significant town in the history of the great detective. Joe Bell's town.

Another page reveals the book was written by "Mrs. Coote, author of 'Grace Trevelyan' . . ."  One starts to wonder if Mrs. Coote wasn't a Sherlock Holmes fan, combining the names of Grace Dunbar and Percy Trevelyan like that -- if Grace Dunbar wasn't from a story two decades later. Still, Trevelyan? Hmm.

The story's action starts with three characters: Irene, who is "five-and-twenty, her elderly aunt, and a gentleman of about forty named . . . get this . . . "Mr. Montague."

At this point, I'm going, "This can't have escaped the notice of every Sherlockian in the past hundred years." In fact, I'm almost certain I've read of Mrs. Coote's work somewhere in the last thirty years. Perusing my library and many an index was of no help. The trusty Google brought up a copy of a British publication called The Bookseller from July 5, 1893, which contained the following synopsis:

"Irene. By Mrs. Coote -- Irene Melville and Leonard Montague are two earnest and high-principled young people to whom Irene's brother, Donald, when he hears of their engagement, says, "There's no one in the world good enough for either of you except each other." The same Donald has at one time been something more than a scapegrace. At last he sinks so low as to forge Montague's name, but the latter destroys the cheque, and Donald is led by the man he has attempted to injure to see his sin, and after a serious illness repents and reforms. The short story is well told and point an unimpeachable moral."

While, indeed, there is no one in the world good enough for Sherlock Holmes or Irene Adler than each other (Eat it, Mary Russell!), and even though Irene Adler appeared in the public prints a full year before that synopsis of Mrs. Coote's book, Sherlock Holmes could not have been pseudonymed with a reference to his Montague Street days before May of 1893. So, alas, this magical book by Mrs. Coote cannot refer to our Irene and her "Mr. Montague."

Unless, of course, Mrs. Coote had some personal acquaintance with a man on who lived on Montague Street and a woman he would later become involved with in 1888. Hmmm.

Sometimes a Sherlockian's book-buying is a habit that seems like an addiction, and sometimes it's . . . as the old Queen song says . . . "a kind of magic."

"One dream, one soul, one prize, one goal . . . one golden glance at what should be . . ."

And with Sherlock Holmes, you never know when a golden glance is going to come along.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Following Jennifer Aniston wherever she might lead.

Okay, I could write about The Imitation Game, which finally found its way to Peoria this weekend. It's connection to Sherlock Holmes other than its star playing another smart guy besides our boy Sherlock may be a little bit tenuous. Rathbone Holmes fought Nazis with his brain, Alan Turing fought Nazis with his brain. Blah, blah, close enough. Good movie.

But once I saw Kelly Schremph's article on Bustle, "What a Sherlock Holmes & Rachel Green Spin-Off Would Look Like Because You Can Never Have Too Much Benedict Cumberbatch," well, I forgot all about poor old Alan Turing. Kelly, it seems, was inspired by an impromptu moment on the Golden Globes awards. And her idea is not too crazy . . . not too crazy at all.

Many years ago, Marvel Comics decided to re-envision many of its popular comic book titles, re-starting their stories in an alternate world, where each title was prefixed with a single word: ultimate. Ultimate Spiderman. Ultimate Avengers. Ultimate X-men. Whether or not any of those series were the ultimate in storytelling for its characters remains a judgement call, but Marvel did put the concept out there. They weren't just re-telling the story . . . they were pushing it to its ultimate level.

And I was immediately reminded of that Marvel Comics line the minute I saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Jennifer Aniston together in the Bustle article, as two words flashed to mind in great, marquee-style flashing letters:

Ultimate Elementary.

Everything that Elementary is, pushed to its ultimate level. Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. Aniston as Joan Watson. Dana Carvey as Clyde the turtle. Benicio Del Toro as Alfredo Llamosa. Woody Harrelson as Mycroft Holmes. Cate Blanchett as Jamie Moriarty. Harrison Ford as Captain Gregson. Cuba Gooding Jr. as Detective Bell. Get Quentin Tarantino to write and direct it, just to get it as over-the-top ultimate as possible, and there ya go . . .

Ultimate Elementary.

And I'd just sit here, being happy. Like I am now at the very thought.

The Fifty Per-Cent Off Solution.

While other devoted Sherlock Holmes fans wandered the streets of New York this weekend, shopping bookshop after bookshop and then dealer's room, packing their suitcases with the latest and greatest in commentary on the great detective, here's what I was picking up at the local mall:


"But, Brad," you say. (Or "But, Sherlock Peoria," you say, if you're used to thinking of me as this blog person-thing.) "You hate Elementary as no other internet blabbermouth! Your negative attitude toward America's home-grown Sherlock Holmes product has gone on so tiresomely long that buying such a thing is surely a sign of how gnarled your faculties have become in your Ahab-like obsession!" (Man, you can talk!)

Well, to quote my favorite drunken raccoon, "That is true!"

But I really, really liked the "50% Off" sticker. Never has a post-holiday sale been so eloquently expressive, so evocative. The artistry in that one simple, commercial touch just reached my soul in a way few of the great masters have. Taking the shrink-wrap off this thing would be like desecrating a Frederick Dorr Steele original. It's art, I tell you, ART!

Hey, being all Sherlockian in New York City (or now, it seems, Seattle) on a certain birthday weekend is easy. There are amazing collectibles practically paving the sidewalks, I'm sure. Here in Peoria, we gotta take what we can get, even if it's just sale stickers and madness.

Happy Monday morning after, everybody.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Season Three Conundrum.

After the results of a RadioTimes poll today ranking every single episode of BBC's Sherlock from worst to best, I got taken to task by Baker Street Queen among others, for my disbelief that all of the show's third season got ranked below the first season episode "The Blind Banker."

I had to puzzle over this for quite a while, as season three's "His Last Vow" actually won some awards. And, unlike previous seasons, I didn't feel a little disappointed after my first watch of any of season three's episodes, as I had during seasons one and two. (For the record, "The Blind Banker" in season one and "The Hounds of Baskerville" in season two.) And Mary Morstan just seems to get so much cosplay love . . . .

In forming an opinion about any movie or television show, our expectations can be such a tremendous factor. For me, the episodes before "The Blind Banker" and "The Hounds of Baskerville" were two of my personal favorites. "A Study in Pink," with it's amazing new modern Holmes and all that potential it set up for the future, and "A Scandal in Belgravia," with Mycroft Holmes and Irene Adler both in play, both quite amazing. After a favorite, after a peak, there's bound to be a little bit of a letdown.

And with the RadioTimes poll, the same pattern can be seen. The last episode of the second season, "The Reichenbach Fall" was the number one favorite, and as the article itself said, "the series' popularity soared after that jaw-dropping cliffhanger." And with that Reichenbachian peak, the show went away for a two year hiatus, leaving its worked-up fans to spend all that time building . . . among other things . . . expectations. It's no wonder the third season isn't getting any poll-love.

Which brings us to that Christmas special, now being filmed . . . and season four.

Jim Moriarty would seem to be back in some form or another, and he was a prominent feature in both of the top two of the RadioTimes list, as well as completely missing from season three. And if expectations are getting lowered after the season three business, the natural thought to follow would be that the next bunch might just do okay . . . but who knows, really.

There's never been anything quite like Sherlock, with its mix of century-old-character, fresh vision, two year hiatuses, rising star central players. So many expectations and factors are in play that who knows what the result will be . . . other than the fact that we'll all have a wide range of mixed opinions all over again. And that most of us will just keep watching.

E3:9. Trivial mattters.

Trivia time: Who is Alfredo Llamosa?

If you answered, "A character on CBS's Elementary who had an intriguing debut and then disappeared, notably missing for all of 2014," you would be correct. Alfredo Llamosa, Mr. Elementary's addiction recovery sponsor, appeared in his fourth episode this week, giving him one more show than the similarly afflicted Ms. Hudson.

In this week's Elementary, Alfredo stopped in to give Mr. Elementary a talking car alarm to try to crack for a cartoonish subplot. The car alarm's name is Odin, an electronic entity that really go on a date with Bella the artificial intelligence that Mr. Elementary also decided he had to battle earlier this season.

And, speaking of Bella, "Everyone" -- that weird Elementary version of Anonymous that Mr. Elementary begs for help every now and then -- has Mr. E. working on a treatise about Twilight for a public reading at a Twilight convention. His personal theory is that Bella should have been able to work out an arrangement where she got to keep both beaus, Jacob and Edward, a curious metaphor for Mr. Elementary continuing to work with both Joan and Kitty rather than choosing just one.

Hold up . . . really cute bartender . . . okay, back to the regularly scheduled show.

Apparently to raise Joan Watson up to Mr. Elementary's level as an equal, Kitty Winter had to be brought in as someone they could then both be better than, and an irritating scene where they both criticize her lockpicking lends credence to that thought, when the overall feel to the show this season has been that Kitty Winter is pretty much an equal to either of these supposed consulting detectives.

Did I mention that this week's case came via a nurse who worked with Joan Watson during her medical career? Not that it really goes anywhere, but a reference to Joan having anything to do with the medical field is always worth noting, just as a reminder of what she could be doing instead of this weird "how does she support herself in New York?" job she has currently.

Jonny Lee Miller delivers a pretty good speech about sobriety in this episode, one that actually makes one wonder why such a state was included as on ongoing plot device in the show. It doesn't really
go anywhere, and most likely won't. But lest we forget what show it is we're watching, the touching speech is followed up by a wacky "wake Watson up with a bugle" segment. Ah, well, Elementary has developed its own characteristic habits, and it certainly sticks to them.

At some point in this series's development, arguing that Mr. Elementary was not Sherlock Holmes, despite having that name, became a moot point. The character started quite different from his namesake, but now, midway through his third season, he's developed even further into a separate creation in his own right, like a failed cloning experiment who finds his own life . . . the sort that usually takes on a new name. (Hint, hint.)

I considered letting Elementary go in 2015, but the upcoming arrival of Stuart Townsend as "Del Gruner" has me curious as to what will happen to the show's Kitty Winter. Given Elementary's usual "names only" approach to characters from the Sherlockian Canon, literally anything could happen.

Except, probably, another appearance by Alfredo Llamosa. And given that said African-American only seems to show up to discuss stealing cars, I think that little bit of subtle racism is something easily done without.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Mason celebration.

This morning I woke up feeling a lot less cranky than usual. CBS's Elementary and the old-fashioned way members are chosen for the Baker Street Irregulars, my two primary Sherlockian irritants in life, seemed a little less so for the moment, as the prime Baker Babe got her due with the old club, a hope I had written of earlier.

But for some reason, @IHearOfSherlock was not on my Twitter feed this year, so I didn't get the rest of the honors list, which contained some other names of interest. And as I have been remiss in congratulating friends who were celebrated by that system I'm not all that fond of in previous years, there was one name popping up this year that I wanted to make sure and give a special note to: Bill Mason.

Bill is one of that fine group of Nashville Sherlockians, whose hospitality can be some of the best out there. During one particularly notable hiatus in my career, I got to spend a few days with the folks in Nashville, and were I to ever have to leave Peoria, it's one of the top three Sherlockian cities I would be picking from to call home, thanks to that visit.

We meet a lot of great people in Sherlockian life, but there are a handful of great friends I've come across in the course of this hobby who actually deserve the title "gentleman" which gets so casually bestowed upon crowds. And it's not just about knowing to behave one's self. A true gentleman has a kindness and a patience, as well as the ability to let it all go on occasion and just have some fun.

And Bill Mason is one of those I regard as a gentleman, because even though he's got all the same sort of quirks and tempers I find in myself, he behaves a helluva lot better. The B.S.I. are going to enjoy the hell out of having him among them. (The ladies of my family say I shouldn't say "hell" in front of children and I just used it twice in this paragraph, so I apologize to my child readership. See? Not so much a gentleman.) 

But here's what I also love about Bill Mason. He's also contains those rare alchemical qualities that are great to work with on a project, primarily being a.) talent, and b.) a sense of fun. The latter was surely evidence by the time that, having discovered we were both fans of that silly old syndicated musical comedy show Hee Haw, we decided to put on a Sherlockian tribute to it called Hee Haw Holmes during a Chattanooga Sherlockian weekend. It was ridiculous, it had some awful jokes (and some great ones), and it provided one of those memories that always reminds you that surely there can be surely no better hobby than being a Sherlock Holmes fan.

Back when I was publishing The Holmes & Watson Report, Bill was a favorite contributor and when some of that work made it into his book Pursuing Sherlock Holmes, I enjoyed it a second time between hardcovers. And that would be cool enough, but here's where Bill really stepped up:

He completely disagrees with me about CBS's Elementary. And yet he could still find it in him to be complimentary about my often-rude, overly-obsessive, rampages against the show. And he was completely willing to actually join this blog for a couple posts and debate me on the subject. And better still, I was willing to let him . . . which is a very high bar to clear. (We crazed bloggers can be very possessive of our little piece of web-space.)

So as delighted as I am in what Kristina Manente represents in getting into the hallowed halls of the Baker Street Irregulars this year, I'm also pretty thrilled that my friend Bill Mason cleared that hurdle as well. He'll be a lot better behaved than this particular Irregular and still bring a good chunk of talent in with him. Congrats, Bill.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Night of the Aged Gatekeeper.

Tonight, the Pope of American Sherlockiana ordains the newest set of priests to the First Predominate Church of Irregularity.

Don't cotton to that metaphor? Let's try another.

Tonight, the benevolent dictator of Irregularia pins medals on the chests of those members of the citizenry who have distinguished themselves in the Sherlockian arts and sciences.

Okay, one more just to round out the set.

Tonight, Santa Claus hands out golden tickets to the children who made the top of his naughty/nice list.

Defining what exactly happens the Yale Club tonight is very simple on the surface, yet deeply complicated if one wants to pull back the curtain and get to the whys and wherefores. Decades and decades of whys and wherefores. The much fresher Daintiest Bee Under Your Bonnet Charity Ball, held last night, is a lot simpler and more sense-making, just due to its relatively uncluttered newness on the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend scene. Or maybe I just fancy it because I've had a bee under my own bonnet for a very long time.

Too long, in fact. But the nice thing about our world is that we all grow old eventually, we all pass on eventually, and our out-moded mindsets, built for surviving in an early day, pass the reigns to another generation as well. Even in my fifties, I can see stuff rattling around my head that serves no good purpose in this time, and I can't imagine how bad things are in the brains of those elderly folks in jobs people never retire from: Congress, Supreme Court justices, Popes, Billionaire Sports Team Owners. Sometimes one of them flames out and we see a bit of that old wiring flaring up. Mostly they keep it quietly under their 1940s style hats.

Tonight, the single point of entry to the Baker Street Irregulars of New York has its night of power once more and announces a bunch of things. This may not make that much of a difference to most of the 2015 breed of Sherlockian, growing up on the internet instead of the local bookstore, and not having been schooled by Baring-Gould's Annotated that they're supposed to find the group of central importance to the fandom and finding their own centers, their own non-scionic connections. But to some of us old-timers, even though we're not supposed to care if we do not attend according to some, it still holds its accursed interest.

So, whatever you're doing tonight, enjoy it. And don't let the old guys, even this one, have any influence upon that enjoyment. It's always your choice and no one else's, even here on Planet Sherlock, no matter who is handing out the golden ticket-medals of the priesthood.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Kinky's back!

Kinky Friedman has always been a highlight in the world of celebrity Sherlock Holmes fans. Anyone with a novel entitled Spanking Watson is definitely going to add a little fun to our Sherlockian world. And Wednesday, Kinky reminded us that it's not just young ladies of the Sherlock generation who sometimes fancy that Holmes and Watson were a couple, as he took to ESPN with the lovely quote:

"Jerry Jones and Chris Christie are probably the most important latent homosexual relationship since Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson . . . they both desperately want to be loved . . . ."

ESPN's folks are apologizing for the Kinkster's bit of silliness, but I'm not sure exactly to whom. At this point in his career, anyone who bring's Kinky on should know what they're getting . . . which may, happily, include a little Holmes and Watson.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My hope.

I hope that this year, the Baker Street Irregulars of New York does the right thing and makes Kristina Manente a member.

At this point the certificates are all made up, the script has been written, and the 2015 slate of inductees is surely in place, so I'm doubt this little diatribe will have no ill effect on said lady's chances. Because, ya know, I'm getting a little tired of keeping my mouth shut just for fear of hurting anyone's chances of getting that shilling that so many find important. I'm sure I'm not the only Irregular who has felt anyone they might favor was subtly held hostage to said Irregular behaving along party lines over the years.

The grand pooh-bah of the B.S.I. ran a peculiar little list this year of the sort of folk he was looking for the be suggested for the ranks of the group this year, and the people he hoped for looked like this:

  • promote and nurture Grand Game scholarship
  • diverse, exceptional membership, not elitist
  • kind, welcoming clubbability
  • altruistic volunteerism--giving more than you receive, "society above self"
  • joyful, whimsical environment (see last January's annual dinner)
  • aspirational, not reactionary
  • inherent modesty vs. taking ourselves too seriously
  • extremely high standards--never intentionally settle for less
  • fiscally responsible--sufficient funds maintained to accomplish most, if not all, objectives
  • societal and member Sherlockian charitable generosity 
Now it might be argued that the list itself is taking things a little too seriously. Some of its bits are obvious reactions to schisms that have occurred in recent years. And "fiscally responsible" is just kind of weird, given that we're talking about a people who spend a whole lot of money based on their love of one fictional character. How does that list affect Kristina's chances?

I don't know, and I don't really care. What I do know is this: One can say, with no hyperbole, that Kristina Manente is pretty much the Christopher Morley of a new era of Sherlockiana . . . well, if one is actually paying attention to the modern world of Sherlock Holmes. Inducting Kristina isn't just about bringing one person into an exclusive club, with all its waiting lists, pooh-bah eccentricities, etc. It's about acknowledging, and embracing, a generation of Sherlock Holmes fans that are our future . . . and that the internet exists.

I remember a time when the key thing about being a Baker Street Irregular, official or unofficial, was just a love of Sherlock Holmes, and there weren't so many Sherlock Holmes fans in the world that the group was all that picky. That's changed of late, but I'd hope the Irregular management is still clever enough to grab up someone who could be very good for the organization, like Kristina. 

At least that is my hope. I guess we'll see what happens Friday night.

Editor's note: This is the version of the blog post that does not contain several sentences that began "Fuck the . . ." and peppered "bullshit" and "bastards" lovingly throughout. They're still in my heart, though.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Highlander Sherlock keeps it coming.

ABC's Forever picked up again tonight, and a hiding place under the floorboards, under a carpet, may not have had a second stain, but it still gave an echo of Sherlock Holmes, as that show has pleasantly done since it began this year.

Henry Morgan, the show's immortal Sherlock who doesn't go by the name "Sherlock," is still dealing with his Moriarty, known only as "Adam." His Watson is Abe, his now-aged adopted son, and his Lestrade is a detective named Jo Martinez . . . though they're actually a sort of two-part Watson.

What is it about this show that gives it a Sherlockian feel that some other attempts lack?

The aspects set in the past, the investigation style, that accent . . . not every British accent is a proper Sherlock accent. (A study of accents to find which is the optimal one for a Holmes would be a very interesting things.) The lead actor, whose name I can never spell without looking it up, might be a little too good-looking for Sherlock Holmes, but that seems to be an evolving concept. I have a feeling that future Sherlocks are going to be a lot more handsome than those past. (And younger, too.)

Every new Sherlock gives us a little more insight into the larger picture. Some in a more palatable form than others, of course, and Forever remains a pretty pleasant little confection.

Monday, January 5, 2015

When a Sherlock is in need of repair.

I like my Sherlocks to be in good working order.

There has been much debate over that "high-functioning sociopath" line from BBC's Sherlock, but sociopath or no, if he's "high-functioning" who cares what his personal issues are? He's a Sherlock that works and works well.

At lunch today I was pondering those occasions when Sherlocks weren't in good working order, as some creators seem to have a fondness for breaking pretty things. Nicol Williamson's Sherlock from The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, for example, is a Sherlock completely built on disfunction . . . **SPOILER ALERT** . . . his Moriarty isn't even a real Moriarty. Peter Cook's Sherlock from the comedic version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is just painfully, painfully wrong, but it's done, at least theoretically, to be funny. Building a great Sherlock Holmes is so hard that a creator might be forgiven for giving him bad working parts, just so they don't have to risk not measuring up to the legend.

A truly stupid Holmes would definitely be a dysfunctional Sherlock, but I find myself letting Michael Caine's Sherlock from Without A Clue off the hook -- his Watson is so high-functioning as a detective that his character almost has to be an idiot. And we're still getting a Sherlock in good working order in that tale -- his name is just spelled "W-A-T-S-O-N."

Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock from Elementary was actually assigned his Watson because he was dysfunctional. His Moriarty wasn't imaginary, like Nicol Williamson's, just . . . another **SPOILER ALERT** . . . the girlfriend he was sleeping with who faked her own murder, which is was so messed up that not only could he not solve it, he didn't even know he was being intimate with a criminal mastermind of the highest order. The Moriarty test would seem to be a good measurement of the functionality of a given Sherlock Holmes. A functional Sherlock battles a solid Moriarty and wins. Not without a cost, but, definitely, wins.

Perhaps the most dysfunctional Sherlock of all, especially with the Moriarty test, would be the one from Michael Dibdin's book The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (not yet done for the screen), but that tale's impact (and perhaps I should have thrown another "**SPOILER ALERT**" in here already) lies largely in the fact that you think you're reading about a fully functional Sherlock all along, only to find out otherwise in one horrific moment.

Broken Sherlock, however, is a character than cannot exist without fully functional Sherlock having drawn in the fans and the popularity sometime earlier. Had Conan Doyle originally created a broken Sherlock, nothing of what we know of as Sherlockiana would exist today, and we'd probably be reading some other writer who took a look at Doyle, like he did Poe, and went, "I think I can improve upon that sort of detective story."

A broken Sherlock will often get repaired in the course of his storyline, but one might as well be watching another detective who, over the course of his adventures, rises to the level of Holmes. That, at least, does not have the initial disappointment of not getting the marquee-advertised Sherlock Holmes that one expected.

Because really, a Sherlock in good working order is what we all want at some point, isn't it?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Your powers of observation. YOUR powers of observation.

Pay attention!

Not to me . . . well, wait, pay attention to what I'm writing here, this time, but later . . . pay attention to what's going on around you. Seriously.

Yeah, Sherlock Holmes did that horrible "Know how many steps in the staircase out front there are?" crap on Watson, which was kind of discouraging. No reason for Watson to know that. No reason to care. Sherlock Holmes probably only counted them to pull his trick on Watson and prove his observational superstardom. So don't just go, "Oh, Sherlock Holmes was special, and the rest of us can't observe anything of importance." It really doesn't matter how many steps are on your staircase.

Well, Sherlock Holmes observed and deduced what was important to him because it was important to him. And what was important to him might not be important to you. Do you care about the difference between the thumbs of a movie director and a snow cone vendor? Well, if you want a snow cone and the vendor doesn't have his cart full of shaved ice in sight, spotting his occupation really isn't going to help you out. To most of us, that cart with the ice and flavorings is the key component to recognize, and spotting that will get the job done.

But you have to at least be alert enough to see the snow cone cart.

While Sherlock Holmes was the great and powerful Sherlock Holmes, every single one of us has powers of observation, and that is something we should never forget.

I've been lucky enough to observe a couple things lately that turned out to be pretty important, so if you wonder why I'm blathering on about this particular subject, well, that's basically why. (And I apologize for the lack of further details at present.)

Disquiet on the Midwestern front.

With the new year usually comes the happy anticipation of the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in New York, for one and all. Even those who can't attend can get buoyed up by those who are, and those who go regularly are in hog heaven. (Not sure what "hog heaven" is, but it's an expression that's been with me all my life, thanks to my farming forebears.) But this year, I'm finding myself a little nervous about the whole business.

Perhaps it's the non-Sherlockian issues going on in my life at present, perhaps it's regretful aftershocks of some disagreements that were had on the subject of the Irregulars last spring . . . I could write it off as having several causes. But things have gotten just a little weird lately with the old Sherlockian establishment, and I wonder where it's all headed.

There's been a bit of a Baker Street Irregular civil war going on during the weekend for years now, yes, though it's easy to dismiss with the ready influx of Sherlockians happy to fill any void that might occur in those ranks. "Hey, how can anything be wrong? People keep showing up!" And they will continue to show up, just as the crowds come to Times Square on New Year's Eve, as it's New York and one of those "bucket list" traditions that people want to hit at least once, just like the Times Square turn of the year. All kinds of wonderful people to meet and spend a few moments with . . . good times!

And yet . . . and yet . . .

I don't know. Sometimes all the helpful advice on behavior at the events and idealistic suggestions for B.S.I. membership almost make it seem, from a distance, like . . . ah, but it's that "from a distance" thing, isn't it? Surely, if one saved one's pennies and made the trip, all doubts would pass. But I don't see that happening soon, for assorted reasons, so doubts remain.

Perhaps I shall just have to find someone to tell me merry stories about the whole New York weekend once the event has passed . . . and then, maybe on some distant January, if rising ocean levels haven't moved the event further inland by then . . . well, we shall see.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A new book on an old Irregular. And then some.

Yesterday, I had good things to say about an unexpected treat in the Sherlockian book department.

Today, I'm going to promote another Sherlockian book that's been brought to my attention, but don't run off yet, you charmingly insightful person, you, who actually reads this blog, 2015 isn't the start of a new hearts-and-flowers, sweetness-and-light Sherlock Peoria. Oh, no. Wheels have been set in motion that might make this the most brutally honest and painfully judgmental year of Sherlockian blogging on the planet, for better or worse.

But back to the book in question . . .

The Baker Street Irregulars publishing arm (don't ask me to explain how that whole business works, their "de-centralization" still not that long ago) has apparently started a new BSI Biography Series to complement their BSI Manuscript Series and BSI International Series. The first book in this new line is going to be Prince of the Realm: The Most Irregular James Bliss Austin by Sonia Fetherson, a Sherlockian who should be well-known to any follower of the pre-BBC-Sherlock Holmes fan web pathways. The book will debut January 10 during the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in New York, and will probably be available during the Saturday morning vendor time at whatever venue holds that these days. (And later from the BSJ book site.)

If you've got the spare cash and have any interest in the Sherlockians of earlier eras, I would encourage you to buy a copy, as it will probably be a great book. Haven't seen a copy, so I don't know much more than that. Go, buy the book, enjoy! Well, I guess you can't just yet, as its debut is still a week away. But when it gets here, it will have a bunch of new material on a Sherlockian most may not know. A bunch. But no spoilers here, so let me tell you what I know about Bliss Austin.

From 1953 to 1981, Austin printed up an annual collection of his considerations and discoveries upon the topic of Sherlock Holmes and entitled it "A Baker Street Christmas Stocking," which then was distributed among the table favors at the annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner. These were all gathered up and reprinted in a hardbound volume by Magico Magazine in 1986, a great service Magico was doing for the Sherlockian world with all sorts of old rarities in those days. That collection was called Austin's Sherlockian Studies: The Collected Annuals by Bliss Austin, B.S.I.

And that, sad to say, is all I have. So this new book is definitely going to fill a gap in our published records of Sherlockians of yester-year, and maybe gain him a few fans. (Keep your fandom around long enough, and fans of fans will always develop!)

Now, back to our regularly scheduled crankiness . . . .

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The "shoes" part worried me at first . . . a rare Sherlock Peoria review.

Sherlock Holmes really is an impossible character.

His own creator couldn't deal with him on a continuing basis. And lesser wordsmiths? Sherlock Holmes is like one of those mountains notorious for killing everyone who attempts to climb them. A character whose prime was in short stories, loose in a world that demands novels. A personality so deeply and richly drawn in his original cycle that most can just capture a shadow, a ghost of that original image.

Which is why I don't usually review pastiches. They can be such drudgery to read, like doing some routine calisthenics that are just motions you put yourself through for some purpose other than pleasure . . . exactly like that. Paying your dues to the cause of Sherlock, instead of that "fun" thing that originally attracted to you to the Game of Sherlockiana.

But, today, I'm reviewing a novel that revolves around Sherlock Holmes. Why?

Because it was fun.

Fans of the web video series, No Place Like Holmes, were in for a treat a couple of weeks ago when Ross K. Foad came out with Of Shoes and Sherlock: The Diary of Miss Christine Blake. Now, having been a dabbler in the web series and its spin-off The Mary Morstan Mysteries, I've admired the grand labors of love that Ross has been filling YouTube with, but, being a denizen of another era, have not quite figured out the place of such media in my entertainment diet. (It's kind of like sushi that way.) But books, I get. Books, I know how to process. And Of Shoes and Sherlock is definitely a book. You can get it made of paper and everything.

And it's a good book. Not for everyone, of course, because few things that go so far out on a limb are . . . but if you're the sort of cat that likes that sort of limb . . . lovely work. So what is Of Shoes and Sherlock?

It's, like the title says, the diary of Christine Blake, the housekeeper to a Sherlock Holmes who was magically transported to modern day England. She's quite the charming little airhead, strongly reminiscent of a younger, prettier Nigel Bruce in her printed page incarnation. Easily distracted, not a poseur of Watsonian prosery, Blake is her own woman despite having Sherlock Holmes to clean up after, and while she writes of Sherlock Holmes, her diary tells us much more of herself. And that's just fine.

There's a lot of fun to be had in Of Shoes and Sherlock, but it's the sort of book one can't come in and make demands of, plowing through it with a singular drive to be entertained. It's light comedy, best read in idle moment when one's mind is free of other encumbrances. It won't draw you into its world like a thriller, but will let you peep into Christine Blake's mind for a few smiles before you screw the lid back onto her roomy skull and go back about your business.

For a book plainly intended to be added fun for viewers of No Place Like Holmes, I've found it having the opposite effect: after enjoying the misadventures of Holmes's modern housekeeper so much, I'm going to go back and start watching NPLH from the start, end-to-end, to catch all of Miss Blake's outside-of-the-book adventures.

And because this is Sherlock Peoria, and I can't go a whole blog post without mentioning a certain hated network show, I must add this note: Had CBS hired Ross K. Foad to produce Elementary instead of that other fellow, I suspect I would be having a much better time of it, three seasons in. But I digress . . . .

Of Shoes and Sherlock: The Diary of Miss Christine Blake, by Ross K. Foad, is a happy addition to our Sherlockian treasure horde and something unique to add to any collection -- the first novel spun off a Sherlock Holmes web series. It's like picking up a flyer for a William Gillette performance when he was breaking new ground with Sherlock Holmes on stage. Getting in on the ground floor of history is hardly ever this much fun, though, so . . . bonus!