On the fourth day of the New Year [FIVE]

As we enter 2011, I thought I would share with you my plans for the coming year.

I have several books to review. These include Mr Holmes and Dr Watson – Their Strangest Cases by Edith Meiser, The Official Papers Into The Matter Known As The Hound of the Baskervilles (DCC/1435/89 refers) by Kieron Freeburn, The Lost Stories of Sherlock Holmes edited by Tony Reynolds, a series of books by Molly Carr including The Sign of Fear, A Study In Crimson and In Search of Doctor Watson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Devon, a tour guide by Brian Pugh, Paul Spiring and Sadru Bhanji. There is also the audiobook, The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries by John Taylor read by Benedict Cumberbatch that I have yet to review.

New books expected this year include Watson’s Afghan Adventure – How Sherlock Holmes’ Dr.Watson Became an Army Doctor due January 24th, Reasoning Backwards: Sherlock Holmes’ Guide to Effective Problem Solving due March 1st, The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence: The Manly Art of Bartitsu: as Used Against Professor Moriarty, due April 27th, and The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes due any day now.

Finally, in the books section, I will be looking at a series of children’s reading books based on the Sherlock Holmes stories from Lerner Books.

I have also received  a DVD of Robert Stephens in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The BBC Sherlock Holmes Collection (which includes Peter Cushing in A Study in Scarlet, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four and the Blue Carbuncle, Richard Roxburgh in another version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Rupert Everett in The Case of the Silk Stocking, and Douglas Henshall in The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle) and Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes.

I plan to follow up the popular articles about Holmes on the radio (in the UK, parts 1 and 2, and in the USA, parts 1 and 2) with Holmes on television and on film.

We can expect a new series of BBC Sherlock in the autumn and a new Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes film at the end of the year.

So, all in all, it looks like a busy year for all those who admire the best and wisest man whom I have ever known.

Close to Holmes

This is Alistair Duncan’s second Sherlockian (or Holmesian if you prefer) book and it is my favourite so far of all the books Alistair has written (mainly because I am, by nature, more interested in Holmes than I am in Conan Doyle).

Close to Holmes, as Roger Johnson of  The Sherlock Holmes Society of London says in the foreword, is one of the three books on Holmes’ London that he would recommend. The other two  being Hot on the Scent (which is now difficult to find) and Finding Sherlock’s London (a new edition of which was published last year).

Throughout the book, Alistair’s research has thrown up some interesting and intriguing facts. To whet your appetite here are a few puzzles for you to solve as you read the book.

  1. Which of Professor Moriarty’s businesses was put out of action by London Transport?
  2. In which street, connecting Harley Street with Wimpole Street,  did I once have my medical practices?
  3. The Sherlock Holmes Memorabilia Company occupied which canonical premises across from 221B?
  4. Why is the picture of Holmes and I following Stapleton’s cab down Regent Street in The Hound of the Baskervilles usually shown the wrong way round?
  5. When I bumped into Stamford in the Criterion Bar in 1881, which famous London landmark nearby had not yet been erected?
  6. Where could you find a meal named after one of Holmes’ adventures?
  7. Which of my favourite restaurants in still in business on The Strand?
  8. Which theatre was burnt down twice, was where William Gillette played Holmes for the first time in London,and was where Holmes and I accompanied my future wife on our way to meet Thaddeus Sholto?
  9. How is the word “bedlam” historically related to Liverpool Street Station?
  10. The first recorded performance of a Punch and Judy Show in England occurred where?
  11. William Wallace (Braveheart) was executed near the site of which hospital?
  12. Which musical legends lived (at different times) in the same street as The Resident Patient?

I hope you will get from this set of questions an idea, literally, of how much ground this book covers and the amount of detail.

Even if you were not interested in Holmes or Conan Doyle (I believe that such people exist) then this is an amazing guide to London and some of the changes that have occured over the last hundred and thirty years. For me this is summed up in the three pictures of Euston Station, two before what Alistair describes as “an act of historical and architectural vandalism” reduced it to what we see in the third picture, complete with sculptures that look like something out of one of my friend, HG Wells’ novels.  Fortunately, some have now come to their senses and restored St Pancras Station to more or less its former glory (despite having no documented Holmesian connection).

As usual, Alistair Duncan has been careful and painstaking in his research and his photographs of the old and the new will help you explore London and recognise the Sherlockian and Doylean landmarks.

I found myself picking up my maps of London and the surrounding districts as I was reading this book. I suspect that someone who does not know London as well as I do would struggle to understand where are the places mentioned are in relation to each other.  A good A-Z of London or possibly access to Google Maps would help you find your way around.

Holmes Christmas List 2010

As happened last year, with the case of the Blue Carbuncle just chronologically around the corner again and people beginning to think about gifts, Holmes has compiled his Christmas list.

He did not get everything that was on last year’s list but this year’s list is completely new. I have provided links to amazon.co.uk and amazon.com where possible.

1. Top of the list this year is the DVD of the BBC Sherlockwith a contemporary take on the classic stories set in present-day London. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as me, his loyal friend. We couldn’t be more different, but Sherlock’s inspired leaps of intellect coupled with my pragmatism forges an unbreakable alliance.

Across three, 90-minute, thrilling, scary, action-packed and highly entertaining television movies, Sherlock and I navigate a maze of cryptic clues and lethal killers to get at the truth. Holmes has come out of the fog. With sparkling scripts and unforgettable performances from the two leads, this is Sherlock for a new generation. The DVD contains all 3 episodes and the original Pilot.

Amazon UK: Sherlock [DVD] and Sherlock [Blu-ray] , Amazon USA: Sherlock [DVD] and Sherlock [Blu-ray]

2. Linked to the BBC Sherlock is this neat, compact magnifying glass that every modern Sherlock needs. Watch Sherlock in A Study In Pink to see how he uses it. All you now need is the scarf, the coat and his endearing manner with all those about him and you’re set to go sleuthing this Christmas!

Amazon UK: Eschenbach Magnifying Glass

3. The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries, which I mentioned in Part 2 of Holmes on British Radio , has just been released. These are four new Holmes stories with a railway theme written by John  Taylor who wrote The Undiscovered Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. These new stories are “An Inscrutable Masquerade”, “The Conundrum of Coach 13”, “The Trinity Vicarage Larceny” and “The 10.59 Assassin”.

According to Taylor, in a drawer in my desk, I have a locked cedarwood chest containing notes referring to some of Holmes’ cases that, for one reason or another, never saw the light of day. Now, for the first time, I have decided to reveal the truth to the world. In these four thrilling stories, Holmes experiments with the science of ballistics, locates some missing gold bullion, investigates the theft of a large amount of money and solves the baffling mystery of the Stovey murder.

If all that wasn’t enough then the stories are read by the newest Sherlock – Benedict Cumberbatch. Just one question then. Why is Sherlock (Cumberbatch) reading these stories rather than me (Martin Freeman)?

Amazon UK: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries, Amazon USA: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries (sorry but not available in the USA in time for Christmas but you could try The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes instead).

4. I have already reviewed this digitally-restored collection of the 14 films with Basil Rathbone as Holmes.

The multi-million pound restoration is discussed in a 5 minute featurette with Robert Gitt, Head Preservation Officer at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Along with the beautifully restored films are audio commentaries by Sherlock Holmes Expert David Stuart Davies (author of numerous books on Holmes and Rathbone) on The Scarlet Claw, The Woman In Green, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death and The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is also an audio commentary by another Holmes Expert Richard Valley (acclaimed author and publisher of Scarlet Street Mystery Magazine who in Amazon’s review is said to be currently penning a book on Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes although he sadly died in 2007) on The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Richard Valley has also provided production notes and the films are accompanied by photo galleries, movie posters and theatrical trailers.

Amazon UK: Sherlock Holmes – The Definitive Collection, Amazon USA: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection (different packaging in the USA)

5. Again I have already reviewed Sherlock Holmes for Dummies and despite its American bias and a couple of errors (my wife becoming Mary Marston instead of Morstan and mistaking the blue plaque above the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street for a legitimate historical plaque) it is still a handy guide to the stories, Britain as it was at that time, the characters in the stories, our portrayals in films, on television and on the stage, etc.

Amazon UK: Sherlock Holmes for Dummies (paperback), Sherlock Holmes for Dummies (Kindle edition), Amazon USA: Sherlock Holmes for Dummies (paperback), Sherlock Holmes for Dummies (Kindle edition)

6. Continuing with the guides, I have now reviewed Close to Holmes – Alistair Duncan’s popular guide to Holmes and Conan Doyle’s London.

I have already reviewed his two other books, Eliminate the Impossible and The Norwood Author.

Close to Holmes is a handy guide that will just about fit in your pocket as you explore London as it is today and how it looked in the late nineteenth century to us and to my literary agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Alistair Duncan’s research is carefully done, as usual, and he treats us to pictures of many of the locations as they were and as they are now.

Amazon UK: Close to Holmes (paperback), Close to Holmes (Kindle edition), Amazon USA: Close to Holmes (paperback), Close to Holmes (Kindle edition)

7. The second edition of Christopher Redmond’s Sherlock Holmes Handbook sums up this Canadian scholar’s lifetime expertise about Holmes. The first edition appeared in 1993 and this new edition catches up on new films and books and the advent of the Internet.

It is still one of my favourite guides providing a summary of each story in the Canon, the characters in the stories, the cases I chose not to publish, our rooms at 221B, Holmes’s methods and so on. In the section on Crime and Punishment, as well as a summary of British law (and law enforcement) as it was then, there is a summary of other detectives’ work before, during and after Holmes’ career.

Amazon UK: Sherlock Holmes Handbook, Amazon USA: Sherlock Holmes Handbook

8. The exhaustively annotated, ten-volume edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Edgar Award winner Leslie S. Klinger ends with The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes.

As is well known, Holmes’ adventures have inspired a vast body of literature. Since the 1920s these “writings about The Writings” have contributed fascinating new insights into the stories, enhancing the pleasure of reading them.

This final volume of The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library covers more “adventures” of Sherlock Holmes than those that are contained in the sixty tales. This deposit of extra-Canonical material is known by Sherlockian scholars as The Apocrypha.

Amazon UK: This volume is not yet listed by amazon.co.uk, Amazon USA: The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes

9. Until Benedict Cumberbatch came along most people hailed Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes as the best ever.

Bending the Willow, David Stuart Davies wonderful tribute to Jeremy who said that he wanted his interpretation of Holmes to “bend the willow, but not break it.”

Apparently a second edition of this fascinating and perceptive study is available but I have not yet seen it. The second hand copies listed on Amazon are quite expensive so it may be worth contacting the publishers direct.

Amazon UK: Bending the Willow, Amazon USA: Bending the Willow

10. Finally the Sherlock Holmes film. This was originally top of the list but I am now undecided about this as my initial enthusiasm for it has dissipated in the wake of the BBC Sherlock. I now wonder if anyone will really be able to capture what Holmes and I were up to in Victorian times. Some of the liberties taken with the Canon now begin to jar – such as Holmes appearing never to have met my future wife when in reality we both met her at the same time in 221B at the start of The Sign of The Four. Still, it is a very enjoyable film and the new one in production has Leslie Klinger advising them and with the addition of Stephen Fry as Mycroft this should help to ensure greater fidelity.

Amazon UK: Sherlock Holmes [DVD], Sherlock Holmes [Blu-ray], Amazon USA: Sherlock Holmes [DVD], Sherlock Holmes [Blu-ray]

This was, as I predicted, a bumper year of Holmes books and other paraphernalia following the Sherlock Holmes film and Sherlock TV series and with follow-ups to both in production yet another bumper year may be soon upon us.

Sherlock Holmes – The Last Act

I  was invited to see Roger Llewellyn in David Stuart Davies’ play “Sherlock Holmes – The Last Act“. This was a somewhat daunting prospect for me. The play is set in 1916 and Holmes has come back to our Baker Street rooms from his cottage is Sussex following his two years of retirement.

What has brought him back? My funeral!

Roger Llewellyn is the only person in this play though through his marvellous virtuoso performance we get to meet me (my middle name is apparently Horatio and I speak with a Scottish accent), Mrs Hudson (first name Martha and sounds like Janet from Dr Finlay’s Casebook) plus Lestrade and many others. He changes accent and persona quickly and with ease and there is much humour from David Stuart Davies skill with the Canon. The second half is somewhat darker, delving, with much conjecture into Holmes’ early life. Mysteriously, The Hound of the Baskervilles appears in the play after references to The Final Problem and The Empty House when it should be earlier but it suits the mood of the second half. I will not spoil your enjoyment by telling you how it ends but I hope you will be moved – I was!

David Stuart Davies wrote this play after seeing Roger Llewellyn’s first theatrical encounter with Holmes in an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He wrote this solo drama specially for Llewellyn and the show premiered at The Salisbury Playhouse in 1999, won five stars at Edinburgh, was selected as one of The Top Ten Fringe Plays, and has toured world-wide ever since with over 550 performances so far!

The play explores the mind of the real man – not the thinking machine. An unexpectedly passionate and secretive man, with a cutting sense of humour (as I know all too well!)

Stripping away the infamous clinical façade, Holmes reveals fears, weaknesses, and the devastating consequences of the dramas of his formative years. The whole being ‘deduced’ from the ‘clues’ in the Canon.

Following the success of this play, Davies wrote a second Sherlockian venture “Sherlock Holmes – The Death and Lifewhich was premiered at Guildford in March 2008. This play deals with Arthur Conan Doyle tiring of what he sees as the intolerably arrogant Sherlock Holmes, and suggests that he created the malevolent Professor Moriarty to dispose of him. But the author’s dangerous strategy, combined with his passion for raising the spirits of the dead, has rather more bizarre and dramatic consequences than he bargained for!

Audio versions of both plays are available (see the links above).

David Stuart Davies has written extensively about Sherlock Holmes. His non-fiction books include:

His fiction books include:

  1. Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair (1991)
  2. The Tangled Skein (1995)
  3. The Scroll of the Dead (1998)
  4. Shadow of the Rat (1999)
  5. The Veiled Detective (2004). Explores the relationship between Holmes, myself and Professor Moriarty
  6. The Games Afoot (2008)

He is the editor of several collections for Wordsworth & Collectors Library including:

He has written and narrated commentaries for the digitally re-mastered Basil Rathbone Holmes films.

If you get the chance to see it, please do. You will laugh and you may cry but you will not be disappointed!

It is my business to know what other people don’t know [BLUE]

If you think that you do not know much about Sherlock Holmes then you are wrong. You know that he is a detective and possibly the most famous detective of all. You know that he’s English and maybe you think you know what he looks like. But if that is the extent of your knowledge then here is a book that may help to answer any questions about the singular gifts by which my friend Sherlock Holmes was distinguished.

For the moment I will have to concentrate on the version being released on Monday March 22nd in the USA.

Here in the UK we have to wait until April 2nd but by then I hope that the parts of the book that concentrate on North America will have been replaced by something more helpful to those based here! I hope to extend this review once I have a copy to hand.

The book follows the normal Dummies format. Each chapter is concentrates on a particular are of interest including:

  • the stories, their plots and characters
  • the influence of Holmes
  • films, television, pastiche and parody

Unlike other reference books produced over the years this book is organised to make it easy to find what you are looking for with a comprehensive index.

Of particular interest is a chapter on a “typical Sherlock Holmes story” which attempts to analyse the style of my writing into some sort of formula! There are also ten unsolved mysteries including “what colour was Holmes’s dressing gown?” and ten places to visit only one of which is in the USA!

While you’re waiting (in the UK) for the book, here’s a handy cheat sheet to help you remember the Canon.

There is a whole section on “The Good Doctor” which of course I will be carefully scrutinising!

Mary Russell

charles-dana-gibson51-154x300I rarely stray outside the Canon but one series of adventures that I thoroughly enjoy reading, again and again, are those of Mary Russell.

Mary (or Russell as Holmes always refers to her) was 15 when she first stumbled across Holmes in 1915 in Sussex. Holmes was in his fifties (my literary agent had exaggerated his age somewhat). The Valley of Fear was being serialised in The Strand at the time, and I seem to remember Russell asking Holmes how it ended. He denied all knowledge of how it ended, suggesting I made more out of his cases than was necessary!

You can read Holmes view of his encounter with the young lady in Beekeeping for Beginners and Russell’s version of what followed in The Marriage of Mary Russell.

Russell and I met a few months later – September I think it was. Since that day, she has referred to the “sweet bumbly man” (as she described me in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) as “Uncle John”.

When not engaged with Holmes on some case or other she divides her time between his place in Sussex and her place in Oxford.

So far, fourteen volumes of her memoirs have been published. Her literary agent, Laurie M King, has published them in the following order although chronologically, O Jerusalem should be second in the series.

  1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – The adventures begin in 1915 as young Russell meets Holmes and becomes his apprentice.
  2. A Monstrous Regiment of Women – Russell is introduced to the leader of “The New Temple of God” a sect that appears to be involved in something sinister. Then several members are murdered, and Russell faces her greatest danger yet.
  3. A Letter of Mary – An amateur archaeologist brings Russell and Holmes a box containing a papyrus and then is murdered the next day. The scroll, apparently written by Mary Magdalene, could be a clue.
  4. The Moor – Russell and Holmes revisit the scene of one of the most celebrated of his cases. An old friend is troubled by sightings of a ghostly carriage and a dog on the moor. Has the Hound of the Baskervilles returned?
  5. O Jerusalem – Fleeing from England in 1918, Russell and Holmes enter Palestine with help from Mycroft to solve a series of murders that threaten the uneasy peace between the Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
  6. Justice Hall – Shortly after solving the riddle on The Moor, Russell and Holmes arrive at Justice Hall in England, but soon they are involved in a mystery leading them to Paris and the New World.
  7. The Game – Mycroft is gravely ill but has received a package containing the papers of the missing spy Kimball O’Hara (who was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”). They go to India in search of the missing Kim, and the game is very much afoot!
  8. Locked Rooms – Russell and Holmes are in San Francisco, and Russell’s past is catching up with her. A mysterious stranger is waiting for them who may have the key to the locked rooms that are haunting Russell’s dreams.
  9. The Language of Bees – The first part of an adventure which starts back in Sussex and an entire colony of bees has disappeared from one of Holmes’ hives. A bitter memory from Holmes’ past threatens their peace and Russell ends up on the trail of a killer that Holmes may be protecting. In
  10. The God of the Hive, the second part of the adventure, Russell, Holmes, and those they are protecting are scattered to the winds and Scotland Yard is after them on one side and a shadowy faction of the government from the other.
  11. Pirate King – When Mary is called upon to investigate the criminal activities that surround England’s silent-film supremo Randolph Fflytte, she finds herself travelling undercover to Morocco, as chaperone to the stars of his latest extravaganza, Pirate King, based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s masterful The Pirates of Penzance. Nothing seems amiss until the cameras start to roll and Mary feels a storm of trouble brewing…a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance – and where is her husband, Sherlock Holmes? As film fiction becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout...
  12. Garment of Shadows – In a strange room in Morocco, Mary is trying to solve a pressing mystery: Who am I? She has awakened with shadows in her mind, blood on her hands, and soldiers pounding on the door. She is clothed like a man, and armed only with her wits and a scrap of paper showing a mysterious symbol. Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north. Meanwhile, Holmes is pulled into the growing war between France, Spain, and the Rif Revolt. He badly wants the wisdom and courage of his wife, whom he discovers, to his horror, has gone missing. As Holmes searches for her, and Russell searches for herself, each tries to crack deadly parallel puzzles before it’s too late for them, for Africa, and for the peace of Europe.
  13. Dreaming Spies – In 1924, Russell & Holmes are on their way from India to California when they are swept into a case for Japan’s Prince Regent, involving blackmail, Imperial secrets, and delicate international relations. The case takes them from one spring to the next, across two oceans and into the Bodleian Library, where the secrets are just beginning.The
  14. Murder of Mary Russell – The following year, Russell is looking into the barrel of a loaded revolver. A short while later, Mrs. Hudson returns to find a pool of blood and a smell of gunpowder. There is death here, and murder. Nothing will ever be the same.

Russell’s literary agent has also drawn my attention to a story about Kate Martinelli, the San Francisco homicide detective, who encounters what appears to be a complete replica of our sitting-room in Baker Street. The owner of the house has been murdered and amongst his collection of memorabilia is a manuscript written by Holmes. Not quite the textbook that Holmes said, in The Abbey Grange, would be the focus of his declining years, but The Art of Detection is a thrilling adventure nevertheless!

King, Russell’s literary agent, has produced a helpful guide to Russell’s world as The Mary Russell Companion, and there is more information in this supplement.

You can contact Laurie King here.

I must admit, Watson, that you have some power of selection [ABBE]

In 1927, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was asked to select what he regarded as his favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.

His list, in descending order of merit, was:

  1. The Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Dancing Men
  4. The Final Problem
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Empty House
  7. The Five Orange Pips
  8. The Second Stain
  9. The Devil’s Foot
  10. The Priory School
  11. The Musgrave Ritual
  12. The Reigate Squires

Later, he considered the stories he wrote after 1927 and added seven more stories, again in descending order of merit:

  1. Silver Blaze
  2. The Bruce-Partington Plans
  3. The Crooked Man
  4. The Man with the Twisted Lip
  5. The Greek Interpreter
  6. The Resident Patient
  7. The Naval Treaty

The Strand Magazine challenged its readers to guess which of his Sherlock Holmes stories Sir Arthur rated as his very best. He said that when this competition was first mooted, he went into it in a most light-hearted way, thinking that it would be the easiest thing in the world to pick out the twelve best of the Holmes stories. But in practice he found that it was much more serious a task.

A Mr R. T. Newman of Spring Hill, Wellingborough, won £100 for successfully guessing ten of the twelve stories correctly.

Sir Arthur revealed his choice and, in his own inimitable way, explained his reasoning in an article for the magazine which has been published, along with the twelve stories, together for the first time in The Favourite Sherlock Holmes Stories.

This book, with Case Notes by Professor Robert Giddings of Bournemouth University and the twelve stories listed above, is a useful introduction covering Holmes’s cases. There appears to be a misprint in the reproduction of Conan Doyle’s explanation of “How I Made My List” as it refers to the first six of the list being republished in “The Grand Magazine” when it should be “The Strand Magazine”.

The Case Notes by Professor Giddings are bang up to date, covering the latest incarnation of Holmes and myself on the silver screen portrayed by Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law. I think I am more flattered by my portrayal than Holmes!

Perhaps I should consider what my favourite Holmes stories would be?

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