Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Blue Carbuncle Day: What are the reasons for this season?

 Here we are, Blue Carbuncle Day 2022.

December 27 is not only one of those rare days that Sherlockian chronologists all agree on (though not the year, of course), but also the day we know that John H. Watson chose to celebrate the holiday season with his friend Sherlock Holmes. We don't dig deep into that fact, choosing to celebrate the events that follow, the commissionaire, the pub, the goose dealer, and 221B Baker Street. Should we dig deeper?

John H. Watson has no kith or kin in England. Mary Morstan Watson has no relatives in England. Both of these facts are plainly stated in Watson's writings. Sherlock Holmes is an important figure in the lives of both members of the couple, and there seems like there is no obvious reason for the trio not to celebrate the holiday together . . . well, no obvious reason. But let's consider some less obvious reasons.

Possibility One: Sherlock Holmes hated Christmas and made it plain in the years Watson was living with him.

Possibility Two: Sherlock Holmes was out of town and back home with his country squire relations and Mycroft on Christmas itself.

Possibility Three: Mary's health was suffering in some way that Watson could not leave her side.

Possibility Four: Watson was ill on Christmas, but nothing so bad he didn't feel better two days later.

Possibility Five: Holmes and Watson were having a bit of a riff in their relationship.

Possibility Six: Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson were never really that close in the 1880s.

Possibility Seven: Dr. Watson was very occupied with patients due to something going around that winter.

Possibility Eight: The Watsons had a new baby at the time and were very occupied

Possibility Nine: There were an entirely unrelated series of events that was, actually, a very funny story that Watson has in a tin dispatch box somewhere.

Are there more possibilities? Of course there are. But we will surely never know what they are. All we have is "I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season." But that's enough for us to celebrate Blue Carbuncle Day with our Sherlockian friends, or just by ourselves.

So happy Blue Carbuncle Day! And compliments of the season! 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Keeping as warm as a carbuncle in a goose!

 It was negative four degrees outside in Peoria as the Sherlock Holmes Story Society gathered tonight. Due to some decent forethought on the good Carter's part, we got set up for a last minute Zoom gathering before the storm hit. Nine of our members, plus a special guest from our sister scion the Bovestrians of the Ragged Shaw -- Buncle the goose, avoided the snow and chill outside and settled in for some talk of that most classic of Christmas tales, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle."

The conversation began with cubic capacity of skulls, wandering to cooking a goose and all the fat that has to cook off. (Carbuncle the goose was very offended by this.) The topic of geese having no crops came up, but I pointed out that it might have been a typo for "crap" as the stone made its way to the intestine of the goose.

The carbuncle being "smaller than a bean" came up -- what size of bean?  Given the popularity of baked beans, we decided that the blue carbuncle was much smaller than we usually imagine. (And a whole lot smaller than the carbuncles that Steve the goose was coughing up at 221B Con last April.) It's forty grain weight puts it at over twelve carats, which is definitely bigger than a bean.

The mystery of when the barred-tail goose actually died started to perplex us -- one expects Breckenridge delivered the Alpha Inn its goose club geese in a formerly alive condition. How did the goose meet its fate? A wringing of the neck? Did it put up a fight? Was there a Covent Garden goose massacre that night? There are matters here that do not make for pleasant close inspection.

Luckily we were distracted by a story of the blue carbuncle decorations on Baker Street this time of year.

The good Carter decided she wanted to sing the opening number from the Blue Carbuncle All-Caroling Musical that was performed at the last meeting of the John H. Watson Society. She did a good job, and we left it at that, song-wise, and continued with our discussion.

Commissionaires were discussed, and how Peterson returned the stone to Holmes even though the theft of the gem was big news in the papers. We did consider that if Peterson had taken it to the police instead of Holmes, the police might have been going, "So how did you get this stolen gem?" and a reply of "My wife found it in a goose's crop!" would lead to "Geese don't have crops!" and Peterson's arrest.

What was it about the cut of Breckenridge's whiskers that showed he was a betting man? We tend to focus on the Pink 'Un, but those whiskers seem to be key to Holmes's deduction as well. None of the annotateds have anything on those whiskers. It's a bit of a puzzler.

We wandered through the story, but eventually it came time to listen to Starrett's "221B" and be on our way. The arctic winds are literally howling outside, and I hope that all the furnaces in all the homes can keep up with the wind chill. But for a goodly hour or so, we got to wander London on a night that had to be warmer than this, to be sure.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Sympathy for the Ryder

 After tormenting the John H. Watson Society with my vocals on Saturday, I found there was a song I just couldn't get out of my head. Not your normal pop song, but a version of "Winter Wonderland" where James Ryder from "Blue Carbuncle" is singing for his life to Sherlock Holmes, which had lyrics adapted from his Canonical pleas, "He cries, 'Oh, my mother! Oh, my father! I will leave the country, please don't tell!"

The actual dialogue goes, "Think of my father! Of my mother! It would break their hears. I never went wrong before! I never will again. I'll swear it on a Bible. . . . I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir."

Nobody pleads for Holmes's mercy like James Ryder, who's family called him "Jem." 

It's easy to get James Ryder's exit from Baker Street mixed up with James Windibank, who also ran out the door. Holmes opened the door to the sitting room in both cases, but with Windibank, he also reached for his hunting crop after stating that Windibank needed a whipping. With Ryder, all it took was a simple "Get out!" repeated one time. Both were running away down Baker Street, but in Windibank's case, Holmes was certain more crime was in the man's future. With Ryder, the detective had the opposite reaction: "This fellow will no go wrong again."

So why did poor Jem Ryder go wrong this time?

He's working as an upper-attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan, a place whose clientele is probably regular moneyed folks. Temptations were probably there often enough. But Ryder is a younger man, his parents still holding a great influence in his life. Small, rat-faced, nervous -- this is not a fellow with great confidence or charm. And his voice cracks when he says one name: Catherine Cusack.

Jem never blames her. Never points a finger. But Holmes calls her out as "your confederate." He knows the real story.

We don't get the full Watson description of the Countess's maid, but to get that sort of position she had to have some bit of charm. I mean "Catherine Cusack?" We know very little of her, but I'm pretty sure if I was an underpaid upper-attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan and actress Joan Cusack smiled and suggested to me that swiping some countess's gem might not only make me rich and get me in her good graces . . . well, I'm not saying my moral fiber is surely up to that tensile strength.

Us non-alpha males are pretty suggestible when a pretty face turns out way, to be sure.

And poor Jem Ryder -- even if his plan had worked, his "friend" Maudsley, who was surely connected up to the Moriarty web at that time if he was up on fencing stolen goods, was probably not to be trusted. Had he simply taken the stone from Jem, Ryder wasn't the sort of man who could have gotten it back. And he probably would have been beaten or killed for trying.

Sherlock Holmes saw enough innocence in Jem Ryder to let him go free, one of the earliest instances we've seen of Sherlock Holmes risking his own reputation, freedom, or relations with the police to play judge and jury. And you know Sherlock Holmes -- he was a pretty keen observer of the human condition. None of us can say what Holmes's full reasoning for letting Ryder get away with his life-destroying mistake, but it might not have just been his observation of the man they have caught at Covent Garden.

We don't know just how (or if) Holmes returned the blue carbuncle to the Countess. Did he also tip her off that maybe her maid wasn't to be trusted? This was not all that long after his infamous line "Women are never to be entirely trusted -- not the best of them," but then that might have meant he also didn't think the Countess could be trusted with that little morsel of truth. And in his non-trust-of-women phase, Holmes might have seen Jem Ryder as a victim of a woman's scheme to get another woman's prize. 

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" would be a fascinating case to hear from the point of view of the women in the tale. The Countess of Morcar, Catherine Cusack, Mrs. Baker, Mrs. Peterson, Mrs. Hudson, and Maggie Ryder-Oakshott. Three of them were primarily involved in preparing birds for dinner for three very different men under three very different sets of circumstances, but, still, the side-stories on this one would be a wonderful thing. 

For this year, though, I'm just going to have a little sympathy for that poor hotel attendant whose sister saved him a goose for Christmas that his mother probably cooked for him. Unlike Henry Baker, whose wife had apparently ceased to love him, Jem Ryder seems to have been still hoping to get a wife that would start to love him. Maybe his next Christmas? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Twenty-three days until Sherlock Holmes's birthday party!

 It's not often we get to gather on Sherlock Holmes's birthday to wish the old fellow well, but in twenty three short days, his friends will be gathering in one major city and also on one major online meeting app to celebrate however the heck old he is. (Every time he met a young woman on the Sussex Downs, he seemed to knock some years off his age.)

If you aren't leaving the house, or are otherwise settle enough on Friday, January 6th, in a time zone compatible with North America, we've got our second annual Pub Night at the Dangling Prussian to light the candles on Sherlock's cake. (There has to be cake!)

So, what's in store? How do you register?

6:00 PM Eastern/5:00 PM Central -- Happy Hour, Welcomes, and Ice Breakers

7:00 PM Eastern/6:00 PM Central-- The Old-Timey Sherlockian Rememberin' Hour! Remember the '70s and '80s? This is the hour to tell your tales, if you can get your fellow oldsters to quit jabberin' about their own old-timey stories long enough to get yours in!

8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central -- The Official Annual Meeting of the Montague Street Incorrigibles! Sherlock Holmes's Birthday will be celebrated! New members will be inducted! (All you have to do is show up!) Toasts! Party games! Nonsense!

9:00 PM Eastern/8:00 PM Central -- Open Mike Spotlight Hour! Recitations, poetry, song, declamations, stand-up, commemorations, salutations, abbreviations, and anything else you care to hold forth on in three to five minutes.

10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central  -- The Sherlockian Underground Reports! Our spies risk it all to report things they might not be supposed to, and we're totally there for it!

Here's the registration link:


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

All of the above is subject to change, but basically, there will be a five hour Zoom hangout for any Sherlockians without fancier things to do that night, and feel like dropping in for any given part of the thing. (Though if the program is going strong, you might be in the waiting room for a few minutes.) 

It's coming up quickly, but the only deadline for reserving a spot at this party is the actual time it happens! 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Watson gets high on Radix Pedis Diaboli again!

 Yesterday's lively discussion of "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" at the Parallel Case of St. Louis's irregular Zoom reminded me of a silly little novelette I did a few years back about Watson's full drug trip during his ingestion of certain vapors in that tale. In 2019, I had been playing with old paperback covers in Photoshop to make silly parody covers, and one hippy-dippy thing from the sixties wound up with the title Radix Pedis Diaboliday. My friend Paul Thomas Miller actually had a moment of belief that it was a real book, so when National Novel Writing Month came around, I decided to make his belief be a true thing. I had twenty-five copies of that book printed using 24 Hour Books, and sent him one as a surprise.

Some other friends got "Compliments of the Season" gifts of the book that year, and I only published it as a Kindle e-book to let the friends with print copies keep the rarity of their gift. Since it wasn't much promoted (and who really needs one more silly pastiche these days), not too many people knew of it anyway.

Well, the Parallel Case meeting not only reminded me, but made me think, "Well, it's been three years, I probably could put that out there for those who missed the first round." And, since Amazon makes publishing things fairly easy, I did. Here's the link:


But here's the thing. I was in such a rush, I based the new cover off of the original 25 print run cover art and not the Kindle cover art, which I like better. So I want to change it. And I'm going to. But not until January first at the earliest.

So for those of you that read these silly blogs, I'm giving you a head start. Not going to promote the thing (like I ever promote anything) until the cover change. But with the new year, the version being sold on Amazon will change at some point, making for a third print version of the same book. Will the second become a rare collectable, like the first? Well, probably not, unless I take to serial killing or find unlikely Hollywood stardom, but I just like fiddling with things and messing with obsessive collectors.

In any case, if you're really curious as to Watson's full drug trip during his spring 1897 vacation with Sherlock Holmes, the novelette is as cheap as a lot of comic books at $4.99. (Yeah, comic books are not cheap these days.)

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Notable Contemporary Sherlockians

Working in the fields of Sherlockian chronology, the good Bruce Harris brought up the subject of calendars this week, and it took me back to the 1980s again and Frank Hoffman's annual Sherlockian calendar, which he produced for a number of years.

The 1985 edition featured the birthdays of "Notable Contemporary Sherlockians" in addition to dates of the sixty Sherlock Holmes cases, picked from a few different chronologies with a few interesting un-sourceable choices. And the most obvious sign it was a different time when this was made?

Many a Sherlockian of that time's full birthdate appears. A goodly number of ladies (and a gentleman or three) held back on giving Frank Hoffman their birth year (probably still passing for 29 at the time), but most of the birthdays in the calendar are full disclosure. The youngest person that can be found in the calendar was born in 1959, making them only twenty-six hears old at the time. Most of the "Notables" were a decade or three older.

What the calendar really called out to me was that in 1985, Frank Hoffman had about ten or twelve "Notable Contemporary Sherlockians" in each month of the calendar, so the grand total has to be well under two hundred names. That seems like a lot, now that I actually do the math, but I can't help but think that a modern version of such a calendar would have a whole lot more people in it. Heck, I bet if you did a calendar of "people who have published a pastiche in the last five years" you would pass that number.

And in 1985, the US, England, and Canada were the whole Sherlockian world for someone like Hoffman compiling his calendar. In 2022, the whole world is the Sherlockian world if we were going to start listing notable living Sherlockians. We're all aware of so many more Sherlockians now than we would have been in the 1980s -- well, at least those of us who venture past our local doings.

In 1985, being thought of as a "Notable" was pretty amazing. These days? I can think of so many notable contemporary Sherlockians that it seems like just being a Sherlockian is notable. And it probably is.

Do we need a calendar to celebrate that? It's a more private world now, so maybe not. But we can surely imagine who would be in it, if there was such a thing, and I bet you can count yourself among them.

(Truly. You have to be a Sherlockian of a certain level of dedication, obsession, energy, etc. to be reading these trivial posts of mine! You keep being such a great Sherlockian!)

Friday, December 2, 2022

"Watson -- the matches!"

 Looking into something else last week I got intrigued by a little interaction between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, where Holmes was asking his friend for a match. Like those instances where the detective had the doctor read things for him, it immediately makes the curious Sherlockian go, "Did Sherlock Holmes not carry matches? Was Watson his match-boy?"

The most energetic version of this happens in "The Red Circle," when Holmes gets permission from Mrs. Warren to smoke and Holmes immediately exclaims, "Watson -- the matches!" with all the energy of "The game is afoot!"

One would expect that the need for a smoke, be it cigarette, pipe, or cigar to mean match supplies were a fluid situation in Baker Street, but in "Norwood Builder," when Holmes wants to set a bale of straw on fire, he says, "I believe you have some matches in your pocket, Watson." It sounds a little like Watson is his walking utility belt there, but in "Speckled Band," Sherlock produces a box of matches and a candle in Helen Stoner's bedroom without asking Watson.

Sherlock Holmes does suddenly strike a match for dramatic effect on occasion without prefacing it by asking Watson. And as "Altamont" his years working alone in America seem to have gotten Holmes practiced at carrying his own matches.

Yet "Might I trouble you for a match?" he politely asks Watson in "Final Problem," when he's evading Moriarty's minions and stops at Watson's house. And he asks Watson to "just hold a match" in "Golden Pince-nez." And Watson is quick to light Gregson's lantern in the darkened room in the aforementioned "Red Circle."

After studying upon the issue for a bit, it seems that the Holmes/Watson relationship was the same with matches as it was for so many things: Watson, the steady and reliable man who thought to keep matches on his person, and Holmes the unpredictable, ever-changing spirit whose inner fires, like his match supplies, rose and fell.

Even the little things are interesting with these guys.