Monday, November 28, 2016

An Elementary rerun: A Study in Not Getting Sued.

After yesterday's trip through five seasons of two Sherlock Holmes TV adaptations and one procedural that uses the name, it seemed time for a new visit back to one of those Sherlock Holmes productions that makes you wish the "How Did This Get Made?" podcast did TV shows. Yes, I'm going to return to that old favorite topic of Sherlock Peoria readers . . . at least if you go by number of comments . . . CBS's Elementary. And specifically, Elementary's own version of A Study in Scarlet, the first meeting of "Sherlock Holmes" and "Dr. Watson."

As the DVD case implies with the headline "NEW HOLMES. NEW WATSON. NEW YORK." Elementary takes its own road for bringing a Holmes and Watson together, which seemed to be made necessary by the fact that CBS originally tried to get rights to do an American Sherlock, the BBC show which had used the original Doyle version as its base. Abandoning that thought, CBS was left with coming up with something so completely different that there would be no room for accusations of copying the British show with their own adaptation of Holmes in the modern day. And that point is where things start to get interesting when you compare Elementary to the original Doyle novel.

John H. Watson, M.D., was a recovering war veteran when we first meet him, weak and wounded. Joan Watson, M.D., was a healthy jogger who gets up at 7 A.M. for a run in the morning and is mildly psychic enough to stop jogging just before her cell phone rings. While one might be distracted by the gender swap, there is more than one contrast at work here.

John H. Watson was killing time in a bar when he runs into an old acquaintance. Joan Watson is called by a rehab center who tells her the patient she was hired as sober companion to has escaped. Like the illness/health contrast, the morning drink versus addiction treatment aspect adds another layer of difference.

While their morning contacts take both Watsons to meet Sherlock Holmes for the first time, the Sherlocks they meet are opposing elements as well. John gets some warning as to the person is is about to encounter, Joan does not. John is introduced to a man who has been hard at work in the lab on a ground-breaking discovery in forensic science. Joan must introduce herself to a man who just finished a paid sexual liaison and is stimulating himself with multiple television channels at once.

Interestingly, both Sherlocks start their conversation with a non sequitur that requires later explanation. John's Sherlock is a reasoned observation about his Watson's past. Joan's Sherlock is a misleading re-enactment of a soap opera romantic monologue. (Joan's Sherlock's first "deduction" comes much later, as he observes she doesn't use drugs or alcohol without saying why.)

John's Sherlock finishes explaining the experiment he's been working on and then starts telling John what the downsides to having him for a room-mate might be, to see if John finds them objectionable. Joan's Sherlock tells her to not get comfortable and leads her off into the city, explaining why he must accept Joan's presence and complains of his boredom, even though he's fresh off of dominatrix sex and watching at least six TV channels at once.

John's Sherlock sets up an appointment with him to look at the Baker Street rooms they'll share rent on the next day. Joan's Sherlock explains that the brownstone she has met him in is "the shoddiest and least renovated" of the five residences his father owns in New York, that he can only live in if he accepts Joan's company.

John's Sherlock lets John wonder about his profession for a week or so before telling him what it is, and lets John accompany him on a case that very day. Joan was told of her Sherlock's previous avocation by his father, and then finds herself at the police department learning from her Sherlock that he has resumed that past-time in New York.

John's Sherlock doesn't introduce John to Gregson when they arrive for their first case, as Gregson is eager to have Holmes on the case and just seems to accept anyone Holmes brought with him isn't a problem. Joan's Sherlock introduces Joan to Gregson as his "valet" and Gregson doesn't want to allow Joan on to the crime scene. (Perhaps a modern necessity, like the latex gloves that the later pair put on.)

John's Sherlock had "established a considerable, though not very lucrative, connection" with Scotland Yard when John first met him. Joan's Sherlock worked with Gregson alongside Scotland Yard ten years before in London, taking no pay.

The crime scene and crimes investigated differ quite a bit. We already saw bits of Joan's first crime being committed at the start of the show, as is the procedural's typical format, and know it involved a woman in something flimsy being chased about her apartment. John's first case with Sherlock is the original-original Canon of Sherlock Holmes, of course. Joan's first case with her Sherlock is a complete pastiche. Both Watsons find some horror in observing their first corpse, John with the comment that death was never more fearsome, even with his war experience, than what he saw at the crime scene, and Joan with a gasp and turning away when the blood-pooled corpse is revealed.

John's Sherlock won't be keeping bees until his retirement decades later. Joan's Sherlock is already keeping bees on the roof of their brownstone, and the hive somehow drips honey into the hall below.

John's Sherlock immediately takes John from the crime scene to his first witness interview. Joan's Sherlock tells her he has no use for her, takes the batteries out of her alarm clock so she doesn't wake up (ironic, given how many times he will later try to take the place of that alarm clock), and heads off to investigate the case without her.

John's Sherlock makes himself welcomed by their first witness interviewed together by playing with a gold coin the witness hopes to gain. Joan's Sherlock badgers their first witness interviewed together until Joan orders him out of the room, then claims it was a ploy to make the witness more cooperative, which Joan doesn't quite believe (and she's right).

John's Sherlock goes off to a Norman-Neruda violin concert by himself mid-way through the investigation, possibly because Watson is too worn out from the morning's business to attend. Joan purchases opera tickets to celebrate what she thinks is the finish of their case, as her Sherlock's father mentioned he liked opera, but Sherlock refuses to go and Watson goes alone, later to have Sherlock embarassingly barge into the performance to discuss the case.

John's Sherlock, at a later time, will make painful deductions about a death in Watson's life from a watch, the death of his brother who died an alcoholic. Joan's Sherlock, during their first case, will make painful deductions about a death in Watson's life from a parking ticket, the death of her last surgery patient who died at her hands.

A pill container winds up as the key clue in both cases, and a ring and a ring-box parallel each other at one point as well. One would ascribe both more to happenstance coincidence rather than cunning intent, given the lack of more direct parallels.

John and Sherlock meet at a hospital, Joan and Sherlock seem to have a very sudden break-up at a hospital.

John's first murderer crashes through the window at Baker Street. Joan's first murderer has his car crashed into by her Sherlock driving Joan's car.

John's Sherlock has his Baker Street Irregulars do a little work for him. Joan's Sherlock winds up with Joan doing a little work for him while he's in jail.

And the murderer is caught with Gregson present in both cases.

During the Elementary premiere's initial run, I found it repulsive enough to be unable to be completely objective about it, but the passing of the years have dulled that impact. Tonight's analysis, which I think was a little more unemotionally done, reveals part of what struck me so wrong during that initial viewing years ago: Point by point, Elementary seemed to be trying so hard to be different from an adaptation of A Study in Scarlet that it very nearly creates an anti-Canon of Sherlock Holmes.

That said, one can never deal with Sherlock Holmes without looking dead-on at the character of Sherlock Holmes himself. His whole world revolves around him like the sun, as many a pasticheur who has tried to write a non-Holmes story has learned. Sherlock Holmes is a character whose entire being I have enjoyed and was attracted to read more about, every step of the way. On the other hand,  Elementary's "Mr. Elementary" (as I took to calling him way back when, unable to reconcile this person on the screen with the Sherlock Holmes I knew) is an unlikeable, fairly awful human being whom I've wanted to avoid from the start. Even when trying hard not to be a hater, that guy just gets under my skin, especially during his early, pain-in-the-ass-to-Joan days.

But hey, if he's your guy, look at all the parallels above and enjoy the lining up . . . even if there is a touch of anti-Canon there. These days, that's Canon to fans as well.

Just not this one. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Sherlocks, four seasons -- quality, quantity, or quagmires?

For a lark this morning, I decided to just run through the later TV series adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories (sorry, Ronald Howard) and compare character usage. My little lark was spurred by the fact that CBS's Elementary has been down to using Shinwell Johnson as their major Canonical draw card this season, a minor character pushed up to being a featured player. We all know who the major face cards in dealing Sherlock Holmes stories are, so I was curious to see how TV producers played them.

What follows are the Granada, BBC, and CBS hands that were dealt.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Irene Adler, Mycroft, Moriarty. (690 minutes)
Sherlock, Season One: Mycroft, Moriarty. (266 minutes)
Elementary, Season One: Irene Adler, Moriarty, Milverton. (1038 minutes)

Granada comes strongest out of the gate, but then they were attempting to be somewhat Canonical. Their major move -- pushing Mycroft up into Adventures, when he was a Memoirs guy in the original tales. BBC teased that Mycroft was Moriarty at first but kept both, but CBS flat out made Irene be Moriarty, blowing a second usable character on a trick non-reading viewers wouldn't even get.

The Return of Sherlock HolmesMycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Hound. (450 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Two: Irene Adler, Mycroft, Moriarty, Hound. (265 minutes)
Elementary, Season Two: Mycroft, Moriarty. (1031 minutes)

Both Granada and BBC seem to see that Mycroft is worth keeping around, while CBS brings in a strangely pale in-name-only Mycroft for season two. The Hound of the Baskervilles is also a definite second-season go-to for both British incarnations once Sherlock is established, while CBS decides to hold that card. Moriarty, however, is going strong in second seasons. (Note: I included Moriarty whenever his or her face actually appeared. Video or flashbacks count. Letters don't.)

The Case-book of Sherlock HolmesMilverton, Kitty Winter, Shinwell Johnson. (390 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Three: Mycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Milver-nussen. (262 minutes)
Elementary, Season Three: Kitty Winter. (1017 minutes.)

Once you've exhausted Moriarty, Milverton is definitely your next play. If you've exhausted Milverton . . . well, player's choice. CBS decided on Gruner, but he was mainly backstory for Kitty Winter being promoted to a major role. BBC was still hanging tightly on to Mycroft and promoting Mary Morstan to a major role, even before her Canonical case comes up.

The Memoirs of Sherlock HolmesMycroft, Culverton Smith. (303 minutes?)
Sherlock, Christmas Special: Mycroft, Mary Morstan, Ricoletti's abominable wife. (90 minutes.)
Elementary, Season Four: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Morland. (1032-ish.)

Third seasons definitely seem to be where the wheels come off the Hansom cab. Granada had Mycroft starring in an episode (due to a Sherlock star illness) and pastiched things up a bit to stretch the stories, BBC could only pull a Christmas special fantasy based on a Canonically untold tale, and CBS made up a Moriarty-ish father for Sherlock to make up for losing their Moriarty star to a major HBO series . . . and finally got to the Hound.

The Unmade Episodes of Sherlock HolmesNobody. (0 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Four: Mycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Culverton Smith. (265-ish?)
Elementary, Season Five: Shinwell Johnson. (1032-ish?)

And then comes the fifth season. (And yes, I counted that Christmas special as a season, because a case could well be made.) Fifth seasons are the uncharted country of TV Sherlocks. In the 1950s, Ronald Howard only made it to one season. In the 1980s, Jeremy Brett made it to four. CBS, keeping to their standard procedural format, has now showed that they could keep going indefinitely, if they promote one Canonical character per year as they did with Shinwell Johnson. And BBC looks to make the Sherlock-John-Mycroft-Mary soap opera their driver, with previews featuring Mrs. Hudson calling Mycroft a reptile spelling ominous things for the happy family dog-walking stills we've seen all over the web.

Charting uses of Scotland Yard officers, Mrs. (or Ms.) Hudson, Watson's career path, and drug use in the assorted shows could also be an interesting run -- the fact that we now have three television story cycles to compare makes for available Holmes fan discussion points like never before. And since like inspires like (and I've ignored non-US/UK shows), there's sure to be more on the horizon to add to that discussion. (Even now, I'm dying to find a way to break the Rathbone movies into seasons to see how they line up with the ones above.)

So much entertainment value in Sherlock Holmes, though, no matter how you deal the cards.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Bacon" my way to Sherlock Holmes.

More than one Sherlockian I know likes to play "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" with Sherlock Holmes, a parlor game where you connect any given actor to an actor that has played Sherlock Holmes via their movie co-stars.

Here's an example from Don Hobbs's yearly attempt to connect Oscar nominees to Holmes from 2006: "Heath Ledger is up for Brokeback Mountain. In the film A Knight's Tale, that also starred Mr. Ledger, James Purefoy portrays Sir Thomas Colville/Edward, the Black Prince of Wales and he was James McCarthy in the Granada series Boscombe Valley Mystery."

This year, however, my love of comic books has taken that little game an entirely different direction, as I found myself connected to Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself in many degrees less than six.

It all starts with a couple of pictures.

Over the course of the past twelve months, I somehow managed to see magicians Penn and Teller on three separate occasions. And since those generous fellows always kindly do a meet-and-greet at the end of every show, I had the chance to get my picture taken with them. Simple enough.

And then came the eleventh issue of a comic book called Spiderman/Deadpool, in which Penn and Teller switch partners with Spiderman and Deadpool. "AH-HA!" I thought.

Teller teams up with Spiderman, who teamed up with Batman in a 1995 comic book mini-series called Spiderman and Batman: Disordered Minds. Batman and Sherlock Holmes have teamed up a few times in comics, and even had a rap battle on YouTube. So with a few simple comic books, I now could connect myself to Sherlock Holmes himself with only a couple degrees of separation.

That number shrank even further when I then remembered Deadpool Killustrated issue number 4, in which Deadpool tried to kill Sherlock Holmes. Since Penn Jillette teamed up with Deadpool in the same Spiderman/Deadpool issue, and I had met Penn on a couple of occasions now, the Sherlock/Deadpool/Penn/Keefauver chain eliminated on extra link.

With both comic books and magicians about anything is possible, so it shouldn't have surprised me that putting the two together would create a cosmic connection to our old friend Sherlock Holmes. And as great as it is that an actor can be connected to another actor who played Sherlock, I think I'd rather just link up to the real thing.

Black Friday and some easy Sherlock Holmes deals.

"As to money, well, so far as a fiver, or even a tenner, goes, you can always look to me."
-- Godfrey Staunton's skinflint uncle

The topic of money comes up a lot in the Sherlock Holmes stories. While love or vengeance may be much sexier motivations and stir the blood more, the ebb and flow of money motivates more action in the tales than possibly anything else. Even the love stories of the Canon, be it John Watson and Mary Morstan or Mary Sutherland and Hosmer Angel, all have a strong influence of financial status to them. But I don't think we've ever seen the subject of money come up in casual Sherlockian dealings quite so much as we do these days . . . not just to buy the more expensive collectible, but just to take a chunk of your money and give it to someone or something for Sherlockian reasons.

As it's Black Friday, the ridiculous day of consumer money-moving anyway, it seemed like the perfect spot to review where you might pour some cash if you don't feel like spending it on what will inevitably be someone's garage sale items a summer or two down the line.

First, the oldest of Sherlockian spots to donate to, given a GoFundMe makeover this year, the John H. Watson Fund. Established by the Baker Street Irregulars some decades ago to help club members anonymously help fellow Sherlockians whose attendance at the annual Sherlock Holmes birthday dinner in New York was impaired by cash flow issues. Since that time, the fund annually expends itself to help all it can, and needs replenished, as the costs of meeting other Sherlockians in the largest city in America are not cheap. 'Tis a fine sort of blind camaraderie which inspires this one.

Second, and also on GoFundMe, is the newest item on this list -- a benefit to help Sherlock Seattle settle its bills from last year's con. An unexpectedly large drop in attendance for a con that has tried to go all out to make a great weekend for its attendees hit them hard last year, and Sherlock Seattle still has great potential as an ongoing center for annual Sherlock fan fun in the years ahead. There is a measure of both appreciation and hope for the future to this one.

Third, just because it's an old favorite of mine, is the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota. The U of M Libraries has created perhaps the finest non-private repository of Sherlock Holmes history and artifacts on Earth, and I am not being hyperbolic in the slightest. If you ever get the chance to attend one of their conferences, or just arrange a visit to the collection, you can encounter Sherlock Holmes in a way you will nowhere else, and the possibilities for research abound. There is no more solid investment in our Sherlockian future than the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at U of M.

Fourth, since we're on the topic of university collections, is the Baker Street Irregulars Trust. Geared more specifically toward America's oldest Sherlock Holmes fan club's history and the documentation of its historic membership and doings, this Harvard archive has already made a good number of the Baker Street Irregulars' documents available online, and has Irregulars working toward adding to the paper parts with oral histories. The Trust keeps a window open to a very special part of our Sherlockian past, and offers the opportunity to help that cause.

Fifth, there are specific Sherlockian services one can support these days, as in podcasts! "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" is on Patreon. The Baker Street Babes take direct PayPal donations. The Three Patch Podcast has a Paypal "Donate" button as well. While you can listen to any number of podcasts for free these days, with hosts happy just to have your listening, microphones and such still cost money and showing artists (because truly, podcasters are recording artists) you appreciate them with a few bucks on a regular basis can be a real "feel good" way of literally giving back to someone who gives you something you enjoy.

Sixth, and not to be forgotten, is the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection who support the Toronto Public Library. If I wasn't ballyhooing the University of Minnesota collection as I did above, I'd be writing about this one first. The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Public Library is just as much a North American pilgrimage site for a diehard Sherlockian as the Minneapolis one. You never know what amazing thing you'll see there, and their years of solid Sherlockian work makes them a solid investment in the future of Sherlockiana, as I said about their American cousin.

There are so many places one can be a Sherlockian angel to that I'm sure to be missing some very important ones here, and new ones spring up all the time. Support your favorite journals, writers, artists, etc. by picking up their output, of course, but when you want to just put some goodwill out there for Sherlockian culture itself with no personal return, we have some great places to do just that.

In fact, when you're making out your list of Christmas gifts to give this year, putting a few (or all) of the above on that list, if you've got the free cash to donate, is some giving that is about as stress-free as you can make it. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Pilgrims of the Canon . . . the choice!

One of the best things about the American art of Thanksgiving is that the requirements are very few. Cook a meal, eat a meal. Some overly sentimental sort might ask for everyone to state something they're thankful for to put some kind of seriousness to the event, but therein lies a dangerous path to the fact we're celebrating a kindly act from indigenous peoples who later got seriously screwed over. Better to just cook the food and eat the food.

But if you want to go with pilgrims and are truly Sherlockian, you've got one of two ways to go . . .

"Pale-faced, meek-looking women; strong, laughing chidren; and anxious, earnest-eyed men" -- the great Mormon pilgrimage that crossed John Ferrier's path in his time of need, shouting "Forward! On, on to Zion!"

Or . . .

"A cargo of Malay pilgrims . . . a rum crowd" who Jonathan Small and Tonga settled in with on the way to Jiddah, a Saudi Arabian port on the red sea. "They had one very good quality; they let you alone and asked no questions."

So as you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can go one of two ways as a devout Sherlockian who lives their life by Canonical example: Religious fervor on the topic of your choice or just leave everyone alone and ask no questions.

Two completely opposite approaches, but you'll note in those passages from the first two Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, both groups of pilgrims are inclusive and take in a pair of mismatched travelers for the journey ahead. And that is the best lesson to take away. No matter what the eventual outcome of your relationship with those you make your passage of the holiday with today, being a true pilgrim is accepting the travelers who are with you on your journey.

Because a happy (?) Black Friday awaits us all tomorrow in any case. Sales on Black Peter. Black Giorgiano, a Blackheath rugby player, the Black Swan Hotel . . . or maybe those just start later this afternoon. But for now, as wacky ol' John Wayne would say, have a good day, pilgrims.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Two winter's nights with a story from Sherlock Holmes.

It's the 1880s. Nothing is on television, because television doesn't exist. No smartphone, no laptop, no endless internet of divertissement.

On a cold winter's night, you sit beside the fireplace with the rest of the household, doing whatever small task the lighting and your skillset allows.

If you're Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, such a night could mean one thing: story time.

There are two little biographical sketches in Watson's writings about Sherlock Holmes that have nothing at all to do with a case at hand, and we find them in the opening paragraphs of "The Gloria Scott" and "The Musgrave Ritual." Both are set on a winter's night at Baker Street, and one can easily surmise that the scene in "Musgrave Ritual" comes first.

Sherlock Holmes has finished pasting clippings into his commonplace book of compiled data for future reference on cases, and John has suggested that Sherlock start cleaning up all the loose papers that are stacked about the room. Holmes then drags out a large tin box to start putting the documents into and discovers the souvenirs that lead him to a reminiscence about the Musgraves and their ritual.

It is easy to see this clean-up going into a second evening, when Sherlock Holmes stops to tell John H. Watson about a second set of papers he has come across, going to a drawer to pull out a souvenir whose importance is special enough that it's not kept in the tin box with the Musgrave trinkets. And thus begins the tale of the secret survivors of the sinking of the Gloria Scott.

When did this evenings take place?

Before Holmes goes missing in 1891, to be sure. Before Watson moved out in 1889, also a pretty definite deduction. Watson has already made a start to collecting his own write-ups of Holmes's cases, as evidenced by Holmes's wrap-up of "Gloria Scott" with the words "Those are the facts of the case, Doctor, and if they are of any use to your collection, I am sure that they are very heartily at your service," as well as Watson's reference to "these incoherent memoirs" in "Musgrave."

If Watson still considers his memoirs "incoherent," he plainly hasn't had the validation of a literary agent or publication yet, which puts the winter in question prior to 1887. And yet both Watson and Holmes seem to be pretty invested in the idea of Watson as biographer, like he's been taking a lot of notes. And Watson's mention that Holmes files his documents "only once in every year or two," if taken similarly as a thought of that period, means he had been with Holmes a few years.

Thus the winter of 1886 seems, perhaps, the most likely time for both "The Gloria Scott" and "The Musgrave Ritual" to be an evening's entertainment for Holmes to occupy Watson with. They are fascinating stories in that neither of them is actually told by Watson . . . he just writes the stories of Sherlock Holmes telling him the stories. One could almost imagine Watson intending to do an entire volume of tales Sherlock Holmes related to him over several winter nights in Baker Street, only to have real investigations come along that were much more engaging.

But it is those two stories that really give The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes its title, and give us a window into a completely different sort of Canon that might have been. For as much as we talk about finding Watson's tin dispatch box for entertainment value, that larger tin box that Sherlock Holmes drags out of his bedroom in the opening of "Musgrave Ritual" would be the true treasure trove for the Sherlockian scholar.

And if you also had Sherlock Holmes to narrate the tales of what was in it, as Watson did on cold winter nights by the fire . . . what Sherlockian could ask for anything more?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Seventeen years, just like the seventeen steps to 221B Baker Street.

Revisiting the entire Canon of Sherlock Holmes, as one does reading the appreciative essays of About Sixty, one gets reminded of some pretty wonderful passages of the Watsonian narrative. And one key piece lies at the beginning of the little tale called "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger":

"When one considers that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to co-operate with him and keep notes of his doings . . ."

A very interesting passage in many ways.

First, seventeen years of Holmes and Watson working together.

Of January 1903, Holmes writes in "Blanched Soldier" that, "The good Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife . . . " which follows Watson's statement that "Creeping Man" in September of 1902 was "one of the very last cases handled by Holmes before his retirement from practice."

So we know from Holmes's return in "Empty House" and the following tales that 1894 through 1902 were eight of the years that Holmes and Watson worked together. The nine that remain?

Well, we know the first run definitely came to a close in May of 1891. And we've got nine years left to play with. A straight calculation would put May of 1882 as the time the Holmes started allowing Watson to keep notes of his cases. And that fits in with the bulk of Watson's case writings, that, for the most part, are dated 1887 forward, with one set in 1883.

That one, which is definitely included in "my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes," as Watson writes in its opening, is "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." He also writes that it occurred "early in April in the year '83."

So we are left with an eight year span between 1883 and 1891, where Watson took notes of seventy-odd cases . . . leaving us to assume there was one year when Watson was not allowed to "keep notes of his doings" as mentioned in "Veiled Lodger," but still "studied the methods," as stated in "Speckled Band."

But just because Watson wasn't specifically keeping notes of Holmes's doings during that period does not meant that notes weren't being kept. Recall the subtitle of A Study in Scarlet which reads "Being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D." Pre-1893, Watson was just keeping notes for his own auto-biography.

June of 1889 through May of 1891 could be the two missing years. as Watson is married and in private practice, and the one case that definitely takes place in that period is "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," in which Watson is only stopping by Baker Street and actually tells Holmes he'll wait in the next room until Holmes is done with the client.

So the seventeen years of prime Holmes and Watson partnership roughly 1882 to 1891 and 1894 to 1902 . . . and then four years of Holmes operating solo before that, indicating an 1878 start on Montague Street.

It's a fun little mental exercise to work through, stumbling through a few bad calculations and the occasional little side-jaunt into other bits of Watson's writings. So many Sherlockians have worked through the above since the 1930s, but it doesn't take away from the fun of doing it yourself, if you're of that sort of mind. Hope I didn't spoil it for you with this little walk-through, but this, of course, is just the start . . . as anyone with a true mind for chronology knows.

And anyone with that sort of mind, well, they're already picking this essay apart in any case. The only problem is, once you start focusing on the numbers, you start skipping the rest of it -- I was actually intending to write this blog about that weird phrase "allowed to co-operate" and what it said about the relationship between Holmes and Watson. What about the years Watson wasn't allowed to cooperate? What was going on there?

Well, since I wasted all this time on numbers . . . whoops.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

About Sixty: Why THIS Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best!

On the third track on side one of the soundtrack to Rocky, there is a piece called "Going the Distance" composed and orchestrated by Bill Conti. It is a theme the Rocky movies come back to again and again, and has been used by sports television whenever possible. Perfect for a montage of battle, and even though attaching music to a web page is rarely a good thing, I'm going to mentally tag that piece for tonight's blog. I'm even playing it now. Because this is it, the grand finale to the Battle Royale reading of About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best.

Things are getting rough here, and only the most determined and most talented opponents have lasted this long. "The Problem of Thor Bridge" comes in fresh, with David Marcum cheering its merits, but the story shoots itself in the head for a number of reasons. Then comes that rampaging ape of a tale, "The Adventure of the Creeping Man," and Barbara Rusch trying to tame its wildness using every intellectual discipline at her disposal. But we didn't come here for a monkey fight.

And "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" tries to wrap its tentacles around the audience when Jacquelynn Morris brings it in, and she uses Sherlock Holmes's own brain to illuminate its motions, but I've noticed a strong tendency to favor the more human competition in this tournament . . . which I guess Holmes's brain is . . . technically.

"The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" brings a more human face to things, hidden behind that veil as it may be, and Jaime N. Mahoney is not frightened by that face. But that veil is the only mystery to solve for this competitor, and all the rare and special qualities Jaime puts forth in promoting the tale don't quite make up for seeing Sherlock Holmes do what he's supposed to do.

Bob Coghill rolls "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" into the ring where the battle for the title of "Best Sherlock Holmes Story" is going on, then immediately admits "Shoscombe" has no place there. But he pays a nice, loving tribute to the old duffer before ushering it back to the locker room.

And when "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman" makes it to the ring, its promoter Elizabeth Bardawill seems to know from the start that a lot of the audience is going to boo the story. Declaring "Colourman" a loser and then going on to declare that's what makes it great is a good gimmick, but in the end, this tale is still a loser and accidentally gets knocked out of the ring because The Sign of Four backed into it while maneuvering to get a grip on "Silver Blaze." Yes, Sign still somehow stayed in the ring when I had thought "Silver Blaze" knocked it out earlier.

Yes, I may have forgotten to mention the champions still in the ring for a while.

Focusing on the promise and attractions of each new Sherlock Holmes story to come into this Battle Royale might have made us momentarily ignore what was going on behind the latest and greatest entrance to the tournament, but the strongest stories have always been there, whittling away at the competition. Most of the sixty are gone now, sent back to the locker room, beaten and bruised. Who is still here? After sixteen days of constant battle, who is holding on?

Well, The Sign of Four and "Silver Blaze," as I mentioned. A Study in Scarlet, that original Sherlockian sinner. "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" is still here. It fights dirty and somehow can disappear from one book and appear in another, just to keep itself in play. "The Final Problem" couldn't leave the ring if it tried. And as long as "Final" is here, bitter rival The Hound of the Baskervilles isn't allowing itself to be thrown out. "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" seems to have been cycling around the ring fast enough to stay in, though I don't hold much hope for it once it gets off the bike. Badasses like "Black Peter" and "Charles Augustus Milverton" did leave their bloodstains on the canvas, but those don't really count.

When the tournament took its final rounds to Las Vegas, things got a little fuzzy for this ring announcer at first, and the influences of that gambling capital began to show on the proceedings. Vegas oddsmakers might have swayed the crowd as bets were placed on old favorites.

"Dying Detective" and "Illustrious Client" got a few wagers placed on them, but as this is a battle of for the best of the best of the best, they inevitably fell, as so many before them did. And even though a certain ring announcer kept pushing "Three Gables" back in, it could not hold on either.

In the final moments of About Sixty, one realizes that no matter how hard each of the promoters worked to put their story over, the major responsibility for winning or losing this tournament comes down to the competitor itself. It's skills, it's strengths, and what it has to show us when everything it has is on the canvas. And left to themselves, certain inevitabilities start to take place.

"Final Problem" does take down The Hound of the Baskervilles. And seeing such a strong novel put out of the ring, the brothers A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four team up to push all the short stories out of the fight. And then, well, then the elder brother is . . . well, the elder brother.

The About Sixty Battle Royale has come full circle and A Study in Scarlet takes the championship belt. Its ability to capture and hold that fresh spirit of Sherlock Holmes before any of his moves became expected, its original spark that gave life to all that came after . . . one has to wonder if Susan Smith-Josephy happened to be standing right next to him when Christopher Redmond first went, "Hey, I want to organize a collection to argue why each Sherlock Holmes story is the best!" just so she could jump in and go, "Give me that one!"

I don't know how many Sherlockians read A Study in Scarlet first. For me, my first was "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" in an eighth grade English class. And, as much as I hate to say it, I didn't fall in love with Sherlock in that story. It wasn't until I got that slow introduction to him alongside Dr. Watson in A Study in Scarlet that I truly became a fan. And as much as I may favor this story or that, or go along with the very convincing arguments of the sixty non-me authors of About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The BestA Study in Scarlet will always be the champion of all Sherlock Holmes stories, for just that reason. Like Irene Adler was the woman, A Study in Scarlet can be nothing but the Sherlock Holmes story for me.

Did you see a result from experiencing About Sixty that was different from mine? Will you, if you haven't picked up the book yet? (And why not, it's that rare modern "must have" for a Sherlockian collection.) Let me know . . . or better yet, let Christopher Redmond know in case he decides to put together Sixty More Besides Yourselves: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is Better Still (or something like that) one day. 

Because I don't think Sherlockians will ever get done telling the world about their favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

About Sixty: Bring it!

Get ready. The best Sherlock Holmes story ever is finally about to enter the Battle Royale.

About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best has been a real chance to see Sherlock Holmes's cases put up against the ropes and forced to show us what they're really made of. We've seen some outstanding talent pushed to even greater heights by some skilled and knowledgeable promoters. We have seen massive works of fiction challenged by child-sized portions of literary entertainment. We have seen murderers opposed by domestics, and the familiar favorites versus the rare oddities. But what have we yet to see in this arena? What could still shock and amaze?

Well, no sooner than I ask that question, "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" limps down to the ring, accompanied by Dr. Richard J. Sveum. And I know what you're thinking -- we all thought that. "Oh, here's a story with a medical theme and a specialist in that field going to give us an in-depth analysis of skin disease!" BUT, NO! Dick has re-trained "Blanched Soldier" to play up it's secret super-power -- being the one Sherlock Holmes story written by Sherlock Holmes while still working as a detective. And then he tag-teams Holmes and Watson with Dodd and Emsworth, giving the story more strength than I've ever see this "just a medical matter" tale ever have before. Even without Watson present, Dick has managed to his friendship with Sherlock Holmes the key to this tale, and as a result, make this tale more important than any other in the Canon.

BOOM goes the "Blanched Soldier," shaking up this tournament of champions, and surely putting the fear of Holmes into the next case about to enter the ring.

That case, "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone," had to be the lowest odds-to-win entry in this contest. But Jack Arthur Winn makes it dangerous from the start, and has that old favorite, Billy the page-boy, do a run-in, which none before him tried. Billy is a bit of a Hornswoggle, for those of you familiar with WWE wrestlers, and always adds some fun to the match. The tale is a tiny one, Jack Winn admits, but well deserving of its place among the sixty . . . and that should be good enough for any story.

But is it good enough, for "The Adventure of the Three Gables," charging into the ring being egged on by yours truly? Yes, "Three Gables" is my dog in this fight, and I'm not holding back anything tonight, as much as I might respect or admire any of my fellow promoters. "Three Gables" is simply the best story in this tournament, and will finish out on top! I mean, look a how Watson is taking a hit for the story early in the essay, sacrificing himself to get past the unsavory hurdle of Steve Dixie's portrayal. And Isadora Klein tags in, a woman who could pop off Irene Adler with one delicate hand behind her back on a bad day. Oh, it's just too good, this story! I mean . . .

HEY! WAIT! "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" shouldn't be coming in so soon! What's Carlina De La Cova think she's doing, pushing that vampire into the ring before I'm done? And she's even citing another book by Chris Redmond, the guy who organized this tournament! No fair! Watson being all athletic? CLIVE BARKER?!?

I fear I may have over-excited myself with that last one, like a South American lady who may or may not be a vampire. (Is there anything hotter than that, I ask you? Whoa!)

I need to calm down with a Garrideb, and fortunately, "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" is next up on the program. Tamara R. Bower escorts "Garridebs" to the ring, but far from letting pleasant old Nathan Garrideb set the tone for this next part, Tamara has this tale throwing off its robes in a dramatic flair and revealing it as a shipping extravaganza! Yes, fans, we made it through ninety percent of this tournament before the shipping card got played quite so hard, or maybe just my XY chromosomes are limiting my retention of previous incidences of that thread. In any case, turning "Three Garridebs" into a love story totally throws off the massive testosterone build-up in this battle for the best, and once again, it's a whole new ball game.

And with the end of it all coming soon, who knows what this will mean for our eventual winner?


Those whom the Wiggins deems worthy.

"Most, or all, Irregulars can be adjudged somewhat eccentric by virtue of our worship of a person who never lived, and yet who, in our eyes and many others worldwide, will live forever. However, some people are just not a good fit for this society. Perhaps it’s a matter of habitually putting themselves first (narcissistic, highly entitled), or unfortunately having limited funds with which to participate in BSI events."
  -- From this year's recommendation guideline for suggesting invitees
to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York

For the most part, I try to leave the Baker Street Irregulars alone in these pages. But if one is writing on Sherlock Holmes fandom in America, that topic has to come around occasionally, and the exclusive country club nature of our oldest Holmes fan club cannot go overlooked.

What combination of being centered in New York City and bestowing Irregular shillings like knighthoods eventually led America's first Holmes fandom to this place is hard to say. The slow shift of Irregular menswear from suit-and-tie to tuxedo was an indicator, and one can't help but see a focus that tended to gaze overlong on the club itself rather than Sherlock Holmes at times entering into the equation. And becoming a bucket-list destination for the Sherlock Holmes fans of the Baby Boom definitely brought the laws of supply and demand into play.

Such is life, one might say, and you don't get a selfie with Benedict Cumberbatch without paying the convention corporation's price. Money talks.

But it was rather unsettling to see that factor placed into the guidelines for suggesting who gets invited to the annual dinner. How would you feel if an Irregular took that note, and deemed you too poor to suggest to the B.S.I.'s doorman when an invitation might have motivated you to come up with the cash for the trip? (Admittedly, you're not going to get enough warning to save up for more than a month . . . but still, heroic efforts can be made.) Fandom folk tend to be highly motivated to get to events that attract them, and do get there, more often than not.

There are plenty of more affordable options for Sherlock Holmes fans out there these days, from the Scintillation of Scions to 221B Con, so one can live a very happy Sherlockian life without ever setting foot inside the annual Irregular dinner. And that's pretty cool.

But this ongoing tone of selecting star-bellied sneetches for the Caddyshack country club of Sherlockiana . . . maybe the B.S.I. should check into a public relations guy. So not cool.

The annual written lecture from the B.S.I.'s Wiggins on who is appropriate and who is not appropriate (and, heaven forbid, NO CAMPAIGNS!) to show up to his "private" dinner party is going to be an interesting piece of current Sherlockian culture for some future historian to peruse in the B.S.I.'s Harvard archives, especially as one watches it evolve over the years. They might even enjoy speculating on what incident or person inspired each new specific suggestion. (Let's name names on the narcissistic and highly entitled! Yeah, I know . . . .) But each year, I get these letters, and each year I find myself less motivated to gather up my own travel budget and choose New York in January over some more welcoming climate.

Perhaps eventually that Baby Boom demand is going to peter out and perhaps the next head of the Irregulars will decide to try being a little sweeter in his invitation to participate, just to get a few more folks to come. Or just build a wall around the dinner . . . that is apparently a popular option these days, too.

Time will tell.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

About Sixty: Battle Internationale.

Sixty stories enter. One story leaves.

About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best has been a book at war with itself. Not as in "Civil War," which generally just has two sides. No, About Sixty has so many competitors coming at each other, from so many angles, to prove each of the sixty Sherlock Holmes tales deserves to stand atop the heap of its defeated fifty-nine foes.

And by the time we get to "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax," Thierry Saint-Joanis is bringing the entire country of France into the battle for story superiority. It is the first story in About Sixty with an actual anthem, written to the tune of the Marseillaise, to play as it enters the fray. And what is the French way to say "The game is afoot!" -- well, even that is included, and if the final battles of this tournament were being held in Paris instead of Las Vegas, Thierry might just get "Carfax" the title belt just on national pride alone.

But a dark cloud is descending upon the arena, and with it, Diane Gilbert Madsen conjuring the power of "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" to stamp out its competition. But the tale's Sherlock Holmes is in a weakened state, and that definitely lowers the case's chances to last long against healthier foes.

"His Last Bow: The War Service of Sherlock Holmes" would promise to be one of the healthiest of those, but Thomas Drucker gets "Last Bow" to take a more cerebral attack. A Euclidean something is brought to bear here, but the little gray cells of this wrestling fan are far too low in census counts to fully digest. About the time I'm starting to get it, Socrates and Plato are invoked, and my brain, simple with weariness, starts to wander and my eyes look to the program . . . will some bruiser come in next to toss this egghead?

The opponent Leah Guinn introduces is not a muscle-bound hulk, however, but the dangerous power of an unwise choice of lover. And that means "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" has come to toy with our affections. Leah makes it personal from the get-go, and there is advantage in that. And "Illustrious Client" was always a stand-out among the scuffling sixty, with a problem for Holmes that touches the heart of anyone who has seen someone they care about fall under a malefactor's power. It makes this tale a top contender -- it's motivated!

With "Illustrious Client," the tournament has slipped into its final phase -- The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes combatants. And the heart of so many of these competitors is really starting to show. Some have exhibited great staying power, even in the face of fresh new entrants.

Eleven stories left to enter the ring . . . and one is my personal favorite. Get ready for a rumble of a weekend!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Spanking the Irregulars.

Oh, yes, the Baker Street Irregulars of New York are still out there.

For those of you who are new to the Sherlock scene, the Baker Street Irregulars of New York are considered one of the oldest and most respected Sherlock Holmes clubs in the world. Its primary function is holding one dinner a year on the weekend closest to Sherlock Holmes's birthday, though their website would seem to indicate their primary functions are putting out a journal and maintaining an archive. The B.S.I. is a great example of something that starts as a fun, carefree little club and eventually becomes a serious, important institution over the course of eighty years.

How serious? How important?

Well, the sovereign of the group seems to have actually considered confiscating cell phones from the membership at the annual dinner this year, for the duration of the program. And, yes, these are full-grown adults he was considering this with. Why?

Well, apparently some of the older generation of Irregulars find it offensive that some attendees are paying more attention to their phones than said older attendees. I'm very familiar with this sort of disagreement, as my loyal companion Carter and I have long had little debates as to whether or not looking at a phone is rude behavior. Among the younger people I socialize with, however, it's perfectly common and acceptable to listen to someone while looking at your phone. Multi-tasking, as our demanding workplaces call it, a part of everyday American life. But a lot of older folks, entering the "get off my lawn" phase of life, find it quite abhorrent.

The thing I've noticed about this smartphone issue is simple: If you're interesting enough, you can have anyone's complete attention, phone or no. Smartphones are only rude if you can't accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, you aren't holding someone's attention. Social Darwinism at work.

Smartphones are a part of modern culture. Sharing one's life in real-time is a part of it as well. For a group leader who purposefully avoided the internet itself with an overly proud anti-tech boast for as long as humanly possible to treat his group's membership as an unruly class of school kids for being part of the modern world . . . well, it's just a little bit silly. And not helpful in moving the club forward into the world it actually exists in. People not at the BSI dinner would be much more excited about it if they could share in the festivities via those attendees kind enough to stay in touch with social media during the happenings there. It can also enhance the experience for those attending, believe it or not, as they share their feelings with people even just on the other side of the room.

What amuses me the most about this little situation is that after all the fuss made over the selection of just the correct Sherlockians for inclusion in the exclusive society, after the careful screening of those who just want an invitation to the party, the group's "benevolent" dictator feels the need to chastise his chosen few about their phone manners. So much for all that careful selection.

But as said leader states during the close of his cell phone chastisement in this year's invitation letter, "The BSI is a private society," which roughly translates to "I'm the boss. Deal."

And he is, and that's that, proud Luddite attitudes or no. But like I said, if you're interesting enough, you can get someone to quit looking at their phone. So if you're looking for me this January, rest assured, I'll be here in Peoria . . .

. . . looking at my phone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

About Sixty: The Las Vegas finale begins!

Little did I realize, when I started pitting Sherlock Holmes story against Sherlock Holmes story with About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best as the arena, that said venue would eventually be moving to Las Vegas, a city known for its spectacular prize fights.  Of course, given the lack of a laptop and the non-lack of copious diversions, the transfer of my commentary from a pen-on-paper handwritten Moleskin notebook to the web also had to wait until I returned home. So, with that brief explanation, let the Battle Royale resume!

When the overlong intermission began, we had just finished seeing what the stories of The Return of Sherlock Holmes could do, and The Valley of Fear, the last of the novel competitors in this tournament, had just thrown its bulk into the fight. And while The Valley of Fear may have impressed some of the audience with it's one-two-part punch, the next tale coming to the ring has a one-two-part move as well!

"The Adventure of the Wisteria Lodge" gets first introduction in the last leg of the About Sixty Battle Royale with Mark Hanson doing the honors. "Wisteria" comes in ready to fight with that previously mentioned one-two of story chapters, and an actual detective dual between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Baynes. Holmes gives it up early in this one, though, which doesn't help "Wisteria's" cause.

Were the stories of the previous book, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, a bit more of the "same old, same old" than the stories of His Last Bow? David Lewis inspires that thought as he brings "The Adventure of the Red Circle" down to the ring like a champ. When the first words of his announcement are "Beware, beware, beware, DANGER!" in both Italian and English, you know he's about to let "Red Circle" go for the throat.

David basically compliments you for being a true fan if you get "Red Circle," and you go, "Sure! I get 'Red Circle!'" He is probably the first story promoter to make me go, "I need to re-read this story NOW!" But did I bring a copy of the Canon to Las Vegas? No! About Sixty competitors must stand and fall on their champion's efforts in this arena.

And "The Adventure of the Red Circle" is standing proud!

Now, I want to be honest for a second. When I saw "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" on the program nest, I immediately starting booing. The story simply bores me. Julie McKuras, however, starts her spiel by giving the story a sort of "Miss Congeniality" award with "top of the 'high diplomacy and intrigue category," but I start booing that category. Julies's attempts to get "Bruce-Partington" to have the eye of the tiger is a noble one, but as the case brings out the failings of not one, but two Holmes brothers in their respective fields, no silk purse is happening here. Love ya, Julie, and all your other efforts, but "Bruce-Partington" exits the arena with me booing as loud as when it came in.

Maybe I'm just in a "morning-after" Vegas mood and the Advil hasn't kicked in yet.

Did you know that "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" takes place on my birthday? Well, few do, and Nancy Stott Jones is not among them. But her intro to "Dying Detective" still has me cheering as it enters the ring. Media bias seems to be in full swing on this particular morning of the About Sixty Battle Royale, but even with that said, Nancy's dressing Holmes up as Hamlet for this fight is a genius move.

The key to About Sixty success, I'm finding, often isn't warming our hearts with what we already know, it's showing us a new move from an old champion. We know "Dying Detective," but did we know how close to Hamlet this story was? Not me, and this "Dying Detective" isn't laying down during this fight.

Myself, on the other hand, is showing more wear and tear in Las Vegas and needing some rest before the next competitor is announced. Will this city of gamblers change the odds on how this tournament comes out? Will Nevada give A Study in Scarlet the needed edge as it's the only story that Nevada appears in?

Stay tuned!

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Sherlockian at Scoopfest.

Since I usually focus my Twitter feed on matters relating to Sherlock Holmes and the fans thereof, my tweets of the last few days might have been a little bit cryptic to many a Sherlockian. Since I didn't take a laptop like I do to 221B Con, I now have a little catching up to do on what was going on in Las Vegas . . . which includes the finale of the About Sixty Battle Royale for Sherlock story supremacy. And I'll get to that, tomorrow, probably. But for now, let me say this:

I love fans. I truly do.

And this weekend, I was deeply and madly in love with a group of fans that weren't Sherlock Holmes fans . . . not confessing fan-dultery here, as I have always been admittedly poly-fan-orous, going back to those Trek conventions in the early eighties and . . . well, my Marvel fanboying long before that. One cannot confine true geekery to a single love.

So this weekend, I headed off to Vegas to see how my newest fandom community was coming together . . . the devoted listeners of a little podcast called "Matt and Mattingley's Ice Cream Social." Their first ever Scoopfest was held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and both the size of the weekend event and the distances travelled reminded me of many a Sherlock Holmes fan weekend, as did the camaraderie, the side trips to nearby watering holes, and the surprises. But, the combination of Las Vegas and first-time excitement had the energy level turned up a lot higher for this particular weekend than a more established event.

You never know how a first-time attempt at any event like this is going to turn out. I'd already seen this sort of magic happen a few years ago with the first 221B Con, but this was a bit beyond that.

Imagine you went to the first ever Sherlock Holmes weekend and Arthur Conan Doyle, Sidney Paget, and William Gillette were organizing it and in the thick of things with the fans. (Or to be more modern, Moffat, Gatiss, and Cumberbatch.) And they were modest folk, expecting about fifty people to show up, and got a couple of hundred . . . a rise in attendance that, once they realized it was coming, just inspired them and their friends to do more and provide more.

That was where I was this weekend. Now, you may consider me a bit hyperbolic in comparing a modern comedy podcast by a couple of fun improv talents to a classic work of literature, but as I've seen over many years and many fandoms, fans tend to be fans. And when they come together, they are truly good people at their best -- a shared common joy brings strangers from all backgrounds together in a beautiful fashion.

At a time like this past week, when it seems like divisions might tear America apart in the days ahead, it is more important than ever to remember . . . and remember hard . . . those things that draw us together and make us better people. Whether it's Sherlock Holmes or an Ice Cream Social, as long as the source is a positive and joyous one, we can take that energy and maybe use it to help matters outside whatever group of like-minded folk we find ourselves in.

I went to Las Vegas, had only one drink and only gambled away ten whole dollars, but still had one of the best weekends of my life. Something that would not have been possible without the energy a group of fans can serve to buoy up true talents.

So, like I said, I love fans. Being one. Being around them.

And with that, back to Sherlock Holmes and his kickass legions of same!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sooooo . . . that new season of Sherlock . . . yeah . . .

Well, this January, we get a new season of BBC's Sherlock.

Yeah . . .

I know the last season of that show upset a lot of its most ardent fans with what it did, and the little teases of this new one promise new threats and putting our heroes through some real heartbreak . . . things could get worse.

And, right now, those possibilities almost seem a little mean. Some days, I feel really badly for Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat,because, whatever happens this January, they lose with somebody . . .

Mary Watson turns out to be evil and dies, they lose.

Mary Watson turns out to be good, has a baby, and lives happily ever after, they lose.

Sherlock Holmes has serious drug problems, they lose.

Sherlock Holmes has no mental issues at all and is a healthy genius-level intellect, they lose.

It feels like series four of Sherlock is that famed Star Trek test, the Kobayashi Maru, in which a young Star Fleet cadet is put in a scenario where they must rescue a distressed vessel, the Kobayashi Maru, and there is supposed to be no way they can win. No way. The test's very purpose is to see how a cadet reacts when there is a "no-win scenario."

Only one cadet . . . one very distinctive cadet . . . beats it, because as he states it, "I don't believe in the no-win scenario." But in a way, he's just putting off facing that test by playing it as a false scenario, a game one can cheat at. For as one man who is called the test's designer explains, "The purpose is to experience fear. Fear in the face of certain death. To accept that fear, and maintain control of oneself and one's crew. This is a quality expected in every Starfleet captain." And that test's creator, according to at least one version of the tale, is a certain descendant of Sherlock Holmes.

Series four of Sherlock may be the Kobayashi Maru, in a lot of ways, to its fandom . . . a really painful test to take.

And yet, this morning, I think we're all going to be ready for it, being a little experienced with a test a little like the Kobayashi Maru right now.

Good luck facing the no-win scenario today, my friends. This is the time we work out, we get a little stronger, a little more determined, and after January, show what Sherlockians we truly are.

Monday, November 7, 2016

About Sixty: Many roads to the championship belt.

Putting a Sherlock Holmes story into the incredibly large tournament of champions that is reading About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best takes some motivation. A lot of this fight's promoters came to the big show like public defenders assigned a wayward misdemeanor culprit. But there were those who came to champion a lifelong favorite, to pick the kid in the class they thought could win this game. Both stances have pluses and minuses, as I saw in tonight's bouts.

Alexian Gregory seems to have looked up at "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez" when he was seven years old like it was Hulk Hogan waving an American Flag while "I Am A Real American" plays as the Hulkster charges into the ring. And while Alexian highlights his competitor's serious and study-worthy skills, I can't lose that image of a seven-year-old boy perhaps being overly impressed with a "Golden" star who might be a little less than super.

Author Dan Andriacco favors "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" because of all the character it shows, making it a four-man tag-team of character all by its lonesome. Yet as none of those four is Sherlock Holmes, it looks like the ref is calling this one on a disqualification. Not a popular call with the crowd, to be sure, but, hey, the ref is the ref!

Meghashyam Chirravoori cheers on "The Adventure of Abbey Grange" in a way completely new to this Battle Royale: Sherlock Holmes is so cool in every other story that "Abbey Grange" gets its energy from Holmes coming off as more of a regular guy. But since Chirravoori awards "Abbey Grange" with a trophy all his own at the essay's end, I don't think this story is going to stick around for the final bell when it's already a winner.

And then Mary Loving brings a stack of references along when her client, "The Adventure of the Second Stain" comes striding in. They're good references, they're solid references, but the story is called "The Adventure of the Second Stain." Yeah, I may be just getting tired here, but do you want to hear, "Look what's left in the ring now that the tournament is over . . . the Second Staaaaaaainnnn!"


And then, the largest competitor we've seen in a while gets wrangled into the ring by Jennifer Liang: The Valley of Fear. And the more I see of The Valley of Fear, the more I realize that this one . . . this mammoth beast of a Sherlock Holmes story, with its bifurcated bulk . . . this one is perhaps the biggest stranger to me in this entire competition. Fewer discussions get based around novels of its length, and it's not the first one, nor the second, nor the Holmes-is-dead-memorial novel. It's not often the tale one picks up on a foggy autumn evening out of a Canon of tales to choose from. But it comports itself admirably under Jen's championing of it, and the strengths of its two larger-than-life villains (one of whom is Moriarty himself) make its space in the ring a dominant one.

But just as The Valley of Fear's bulk starts forcing some of the more recent competitors out of the ring, out from the back curtain comes the fellow running this tournament, Christopher Redmond himself, to talk about the prefaces. While not considered stories in their own right, the two short essays, one by Watson and one by his literary agent, have a very stealthy place in the Canon, almost behind the scenes, and it's nice of Chris to bring them out for a bow.

It's almost like the perfect intermission, a little light refreshment before we get into some of the most dirty-fighting, no-holds-barred parts of the Canon from His Last Bow and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Even the official fighters of the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. are going to be showing up soon.

I have a feeling that this intermission may last a little while, but hold on to your seats! As the announcer at the beginning of the second part of every Batman TV two-parter used to say, "The worst is yet to come!"

About Sixty: The names show up.

At any pay-per-view wrestling event, the fans wait for one thing: the big names to show up. And it's no different with About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best.

Because if you're going to pit Sherlock Holmes stories against each other in a cage fight, you know the crowd is going to be ready for a competitor named "Black Peter" to come in and do some damage. So when Carla Coupe leads "The Adventure of Black Peter" into the ring with both the word "perfect" and a description of how horrific Black Peter himself is, well, you know you've got some 'rasslin' about to go down.

The best competitors in this sixty-story Battle Royale make you start cheering them on as their promoter regales you with their attributes. And by that I mean "coming up with your own reasons why they're the best." For "Black Peter" I immediately thought, "easily recognizable cosplay," remembering a 221B Con attendee as bloody Holmes with harpoon. "Black Peter" tends  to stand out in any crowd, and a Battle Royale is no different.

You'd almost feel sorry for the story to come into the ring after "Black Peter," if it wasn't the only other story with the name of a villain in its title. I mean, how bad-ass do you have to be to rate John Watson putting your name in the title? And so enters "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" being managed by Beth Gallego.

"Charles Augustus Milverton," like "Black Peter," is a heel beyond heels. Unlike "Black Peter," Charles Augusts Milverton actually shows up in Baker Street and creeps Sherlock Holmes out, a move Beth does not hesitate to have her combatant bring to the table early. But does a superior villain beat out all other qualities that we love in a Holmes story?

Well, no, but "Charles Augustus Milverton" doesn't just depend on its villain, and Beth has the tale using a Watson finishing move that gives her tale the lead in the post-Reichenbach side of this tournament.

How do you attempt to take down "Milverton?" Well, when "Six Napoleons" suddenly charge into the ring promoted by Regina Stinson, you have your answer. Numbers!

"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" comes in to literally bust heads, and Regina doesn't hesitate to use that. She reminds us how good Lestrade can be at ringside and brings in elements of a classic like "Speckled Band" without mentioning "Speckled Band" to distract from her own contestant. It's great to see how a skilled manager and a tale with all the right moves can make you forget even a show-stopper like Milverton.

I love it when a story's promoter seems to have looked at their competition and figured out their story's best move against what came before, and Rachel Kellogg has done exactly that with "The Adventure of the Three Students." "Three Students," right? Not seeming much of a threat, right?

Rachel reframes the competition as quickly as she can to give "Three Students" its best fighting chance -- this is the story to win over anyone in the audience who just walked into the arena. Going for the new reader, pushing "Three Students" as not just a good story, but the best first story, is a tactic I really liked, and it has helped turn what looked like a bad-guy blowout into a real horse race.

There are just so many good stories in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes. And when you've got good in the middle of a crowd of good, you can forget just how good "good" is. This About Sixty tournament is going to be down to the wire, I think, to switch sporting metaphors.

And that wire is still a long ways away . . . .

Sunday, November 6, 2016

About Sixty: The Comeback Trail.

Act two. The sequel. The return.

Getting back into my front row seat for About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best after a climactic bout between "The Final Problem" and The Hound of the Baskervilles is slow going. This tournament of Canonical champions has been going on for a while now, the popcorn in the arena is getting a bit stale, and . . . there's still half of the Canon to go? Holy crap. One is almost tempted to leave Holmes dead at the bottom of Reichenbach falls this late on a Sunday eve. But I see some friends up ahead, so I get back to business.

Was everything after Reichenbach just one big serial sequel for Sherlock Holmes? Team 1800s Canon had a pretty solid performance in the ring, and Team 1900s Canon already seems to have spent their best contender. What is "The Adventure of the Empty House" going to bring?

Well, if you listen to William Walsh, everything that came after. "Empty House" comes to play as the hero that brought every remaining contender to the dance. But like it's villain, Sebastian Moran, "Empty" comes off as a champion whose glories we've heard second hand, and when all the talk of what happened off-stage is done, the actual fight "Empty House" puts up isn't winning me over. Still, you've got to give it credit for getting this Battle Royale back on track.

Vince Wright runs "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" into the ring to hit his predecessor with a clever trick we haven't see yet: tag-teaming it to A Study in Scarlet with Baring-Gould's blessing! But Vincent W. Wright does not have the prevarication skills of Vincent K. McMahon, and eventually admits he might not be as enthused about his contestant as he could be. Which gives Randall Stock a leg up on calling in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" right after.

Randall runs the stats down on "Dancing Men" and gives it the authentic Conan Doyle quote "strong bloody story" bounce. Ah, but "Dancing Men" always comes down to that cipher, doesn't it? Either you're into that particular dance, or you're not. And when a Sherlock Holmes story is fighting for dominance amongst its brethren, code-breaking skills may make you a special lad, but they ain't gonna keep you in the ring long.

This battle is getting rougher on the participants all the time. Hate to think what it'll be like by the time my guy gets here.

But things are about to get really Violet . . . "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" is ushered in by Lisa Burscheidt. And if you think I was just making a pun on "violent" with that "Violet," well, I was and I wasn't . . . "Solitary Cyclist" has both a great Violet and some enjoyable violence, and Lisa has her competitor showing off both those attributes, making it the strongest contender since Sherlock Holmes's comeback. And for a story about a girl on a bike, this one is a brawler. A Holmes-in-a-bar-room brawler.

With "Solitary Cyclist," things are finding their stride again with these stories all vying to be judged "the best." Where does it go from here?

More of the best, I'm guessing.

About Sixty: The match that could finish this thing.

It's not just happenstance that I've been throwing myself so wholeheartedly into making a tournament of champions out of About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best on this weekend in particular. The book has been out for a little while now. So why pick it up and focus so intently on it now?

Because in stress-filled times, a Sherlockian will turn to Sherlock Holmes. For diversion, yes. But not just to wander into some Victorian fantasy land and ride hansom cabs around our mind-London. No, because Sherlock Holmes is a torch in dark places. He represents something. He reminds us of who we are and who we should be when we're at our best.

When I laid About Sixty down earlier this morning, I had just finished "The Final Problem." The darkest moment in any good Sherlock Holmes story cycle, whether it's The Complete Sherlock Holmes or BBC Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes dies.

I've said before that I really like the order Christopher Redmond used for the essays in About Sixty, and it is never more true than following the devastation of "Final Problem." In order of the tales' publication, which is how the essays are presented here, we don't bounce back from "Final" with the resurrection of "Empty House." No, we follow up Holmes's death with The Hound of the Baskervilles, a novel that memorializes Sherlock Holmes to readers who still thought him dead.

Anastasia Klimchynskaya (whom I immediately love because she has a "K" last name more complex than "Keefauver") comes to About Sixty with the thing that gives The Hound of the Baskervilles its greatest power: Reason versus the irrational. Science versus the supernatural. Facts versus legends.

Anastasia let Hound make short work of Professor Moriarty and "Final Problem," almost with a casual wave of the hand. Moriarty isn't Sherlock's true arch-nemesis, as they both spring from the same well. Both are men of intelligence and logic, they can finish each other's sentences. Their aims are different, just like America's Republican and Democratican parties, but also like the politicians of those parties, they're really working the same side. Put Moriarty on the moor where the hound from hell reigns and he is going to de-mythologize that bastard just like Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes is not just Sherlock Holmes, as Anastasia points out, he represents so much that rose up in Victorian culture. Newspapers, books, encyclopaedias. The mail system. The railroad system. Mankind using his head to better himself, rather than gathering around a hearthfire telling stories of the demon-dogs that might be running around in the dark.

Now, as newspapers fail and people start huddling around their Facebook feeds like it was the cottage hearthfire, the thing Holmes goes up against in The Hound of the Baskervilles faces America on a cultural level. False beliefs. A lack of examined evidence. A dog with phosphorous on its face that so many people across the countryside think is something much more powerful than it is.

"The Final Problem" may have killed Sherlock Holmes, but The Hound of the Baskervilles is where he truly rises, like Obiwan Kenobi, more powerful than he ever was before. Not as a man, but as a true inspiration for generations to come.

Perhaps Anastasia Klimchynskaya and The Hound of the Baskervilles got lucky that the About Sixty Battle Royale happened to come about this weekend, and perhaps this was always the strongest message we get from any Sherlock Holmes story. I'm not even to the halfway mark yet, and once again am looking at the contender who looks like they'll take it all. But we have been there before, haven't we.

(And not to be overly political here, folks, but be your best Sherlock this week. We sure as shooting need some rationality right now.)

About Sixty . . . Battling into the night and a hard morning after.

There was this long intermission in the About Sixty tournament last night that involved a bunch of actors and a "cuuch" . . . luckily, Sherlockians are used to tales "for which the world is not yet prepared," so I don't have to go into detail. And then there was Benedict Cumberbatch on Saturday Night Live. And when it was all said and done, your commentator was left in a rather shabby shape to commentate.

Ashley Polasek had "The Adventure of the Reigate Squires" charging into the ring with the strength of four stories instead of one. Peggy Perdue brought out "The Adventure of the Crooked Man" like she was a generous billionaire tossing valuable Sherlock trinkets to the audience. But all of those merits of those tales' performance in this literary kumite (pronounced "koo-mitt-ay" for those of you who don't follow Jean Claude Van Damme films) were lost on my benumbed brain, and I wasn't even sure who was winning any more at the point I passed out.

When morning broke, I found Margot Robbie . . . er, Northcott . . . sorry, still shaking off the sleep . . . had somehow gotten "The Adventure of the Resident Patient" into the Battle Royale and was trying to make do with a contestant she admittedly knew wasn't up for this, having a transplant from another entry and a general medical weakness. But she provides a few laughs, so her efforts redeem "Resident" somewhat.

This tournament has taken a dire turn this morning, as About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best starts to approach its literal Reichenbach. "Final Problem" is coming, and Bill Mason is well aware of it as he promotes "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter." It has some moves -- the "Mycroft" being a real humdinger (Whoa . . . "humdinger?" Twenty-three skiddoo, that's dated.) -- the words "nothing remarkable" from its proponent make one realize "Greek" just isn't going to win this.

When "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" shows up, I think it's a little drunk, as Bonnie MacBird has made a cocktail of it that hulk of a story. There is some philosophizing by "Naval Treaty," as one often gets from someone who's been at the bar a little too long, and, while good company in this fashion, the tale just doesn't seem to want to battle for supremacy, which is what we're here for. I suspect it started drinking because it knew "Final Problem" was coming.

And here comes "The Final Problem." Even just the name says this one is going to be trouble for the other contestants in our bookish Battle Royale, and I'm interested to see what tactics Jim Hawkins (not the one from Treasure Island) will have "Final" using. And he has it hitting the ring with its full impact, the "adventure to end the adventures." This story has a "4-D" move that no other tale did, and Jim has "Final" getting down to that move quickly.

The best battles in the About Sixty tournament have always been, I'm sad to say, the most one-sided. Some of these stories just show up and obliterate the competition, and tossing Sherlock Holmes to his death is a move that just destroys. Destroys the audience, destroys all the stories that came before, destroys hope and light and our belief int he goodness of the universe. (Much like a certain political campaign at present.) "The Final Problem" has come in this morning and turned the About Sixty wrestling ring into a smoking crater.

I need to go have some breakfast and recover.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

About Sixty . . . THAT story shows up!

There's always a warm spot in my heart for the outcast, the orphan, "Heath, the outsider who fought for recogntion . . ." Yes, people younger than me, you can have your Jon Snow, but I've still got promo commercials for westerns like The Big Valley echoing through my brain. So when I returned to About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best, after the flat-out dominance of "Silver Blaze" when I left it, the next contestant came as a happy surprise.

Christopher Redmond, who put this whole thing together, did it right, as should be no surprise to anyone who knows his work. He put "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" in next. Where it belongs.

And Resa Halle, tasked with promoting "Cardboard Box" in this tournament of the best of the best, picked up that ball and ran with it. She casts "Cardboard Box" as not only the unwanted step-child in this Battle Royale, but something of a monster. A monster who eats murder ponies? I'm not quite sure when I finish the essay, but "Silver Blaze" sure has lost its brag-and-bounce with a real, self-confessed multiple-murderer in the ring.

Amy Thomas brings "The Yellow Face" into this match with a scholarly gothic reading. The gothic angle has some great potential, but I am far too familiar with "Yellow Face," and I know that at it's heart, it's a little, lovable child, too sweet to be fighting in this wrestling ring I've set up for the weekend. I just want to get this story away from the murderer than preceded it.

I love the way Michael Duke pushes "The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk" into this tournament with a cry from Holmes of "Nothing could be better!" And then he proceeds to get the story's downside out of the way first, which is an excellent stratagem. And he follows it with some mental jabs and uppercuts that counter your first thought of "Oh, no, not boring old Stockbroker's Clerk!" Pulling Jack the Ripper, among other devils, into discussing a story about a clerk's job woes brings some spirited competition from a tale I was not expecting to have it.

My old friend Bill Cochran delivers "The Adventure of the 'Gloria Scott'" to the ring next to face all of these foes, and unlike many an About Sixty competitor doesn't lead with the story so much as the elements of a young Sherlock Holmes's character revealed in the narrative. And who here doesn't love Sherlock Holmes? I do, and I like what I see here. But still, young Holmes versus all that comes after? "Gloria Scott," in the end, needs to come back when it's more grown-up if it's going to truly vie for the title of "best Sherlock Holmes story." Sorry, Bill.

Can "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," the other "young Holmes" adventure fare any better? Susan Bailey certainly thinks so, teasing a personal twist as she comes down the ramp with this one. (The "ramp" being a part of my mental image of this competition as a WWE arena event.) Evoking Jeremy Brett is almost always a good move, and I don't remember seeing it used much at all at this point. Susan sets up "Musgrave Ritual" as a strong and solid ("indispensable") part of the Canon, but lets her fighter show a touch of weakness in the last paragraph . . . a point of vulnerability a lot of the entrants in this weekend's tournament have displayed.

T'would have been a different match had all of the About Sixty writers known that a reader was going to do a "combat read" of the book, but perhaps when the sequel is being written, twenty years from now, things might be different . . . especially if it's title is About Sixty 2: Desert Island Story or Death! 

Next up: Ashley Polasek, who is known for bringing a sword to a Sherlock-fight. Can't wait to see what happens there!

About Sixty . . .settling in for the long haul.

I am now a quarter of the way through About Sixty:Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is the Best

At this point it's apparent that, like some WWE Battle Royale wrestling match, where contestant after contestant enters the ring one at a time as wrestlers are also being thrown out, this thing is going to go on for a while. 

Patterns are starting to emerge. The things that a champion of one story puts forth about their story become the same elements the champion of the next story puts forth about that story as well. You start to wonder if our favorite Sherlock Holmes story is just the one we're holding in our hands and reading right now. But every sport has those things about it that its fans enjoy most -- the double play or the grand slam home run are welcome sights in any baseball game.

But you also see people coming at Sherlock Holmes from so many angles. Monica Schmidt brings in childhood memories. John Sherwood goes scholarly. Tamar Zeffren focuses on the client. Derrick Belanger talks up some other stories before getting down to business on "Noble Bachelor." All of these things are excellent material for the reader who has not turned this book into a game of Mortal Kombat, as I'm doing this weekend, but, as often happens here in Sherlock Peoria, I've made it weird.

And if you're looking for a scrapper to come into the About Sixty arena, the first Australian story promoter to push his tale into battle is definitely a guy to watch. Christopher Sequeira on "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" starts off his argument by immediately setting down a premise that eliminates his strongest opposition: The tales that impact Holmes and Watson's lives. It's a great maneuver, and helps him clear the ring to present his case without the shadow of that pesky Sign of Four looming over him. I had great hopes for Christopher until his final point did what we've already seen happen in this tournament . . . giving the reader a fatal flaw in the story as the last point. Defended against, yes, but a story can't be recovering from a wound when another tale is about to enter the ring at any moment. Sorry, "Beryl Coronet."

Debbie Clark brings "Copper Beeches" in with all its strengths, and "Copper Beeches" is not a story with much weakness at all. It's a fine closer to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Debbie reminds us of this. But then we start The Memoirs, and, holy shit, it's Elinor Gray with "Silver Blaze."

If you're staging About Sixty as a combat arena, having a story's promoter walk in and announce that "the Murder Pony" is about to enter just sets the arena ablaze. 

And it's fockin' "Silver Blaze." Elinor just kind of strolls out and goes, "Hey, it's Silver Blaze, remember?" And I go, "HELL, YEAH, I REMEMBER!"

"Silver Blaze." Wow. Sorry, The Sign of Four, I think you may have just been in the ring too long at this point, got too tired, and a short story finally took you out. But a great short story. A real champion.

Now, the Battle Royale is seriously on. I can't wait to see who's going to knock out the Murder Pony.