56 Stories in 56 Days

As part of the lead up to the Great Sherlock Holmes Debate, Charlotte Anne Walters, author of Barefoot on Baker Streethas reviewed each of the 56 short stories.

The reviews are quite short but neatly sum up each story and Walters gives each one a score out of ten. It is interesting to compare these scores with dear Arthur’s own twelve of the best.

According to Walters, Charles Augustus Milverton and The Six Napoleons come out tops followed by Silver Blaze, The Mugrave Ritual, The Norwood Builder, The Dancing Men, The Bruce-Partington Plans, The Dying Detective, The Illustrious Client, The Three Garridebs, The Problem of Thor Bridge, Shoscombe Old Place and The Retired Colourman. That’s thirteen against Arthur’s twelve and there are quite a few differences.

Here are the links to each one of her reviews with her scores.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (average 6.7 out of 10)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (average 6.8 out of 10)

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (average 7.5 out of 10)

His Last Bow (average 7.4 out of 10)

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (average 7.7 out of 10)

10 out of 10

  • RETU: Charles Augustus Milverton, The Six Napoleons

9 out of 10

  • MEMO: Silver Blaze, The Mugrave Ritual
  • RETU: The Norwood Builder, The Dancing Men
  • LAST: The Bruce-Partington Plans, The Dying Detective
  • CASE: The Illustrious Client, The Three Garridebs, The Problem of Thor Bridge, Shoscombe Old Place, The Retired Colourman

8.5 out of 10

  • MEMO: The Final Problem

8 out of 10

  • ADVE: The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Blue Carbuncle, The Noble Bachelor
  • MEMO: The Yellow Face, The Crooked Man, The Resident Patient, The Greek Interpreter
  • RETU: The Second Stain
  • LAST: The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, The Devil’s Foot
  • CASE: The Creeping Man, The Lion’s Mane

7 out of 10

  • ADVE: The Red-Headed League, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Engineer’s Thumb, The Beryl Coronet
  • RETU: The Empty House, The Priory School, Black Peter, The Missing Three-Quarter, The Abbey Grange
  • LAST: The Cardboard Box, The Red Circle, His Last Bow
  • CASE: The Blanched Soldier, The Three Gables

6 out of 10

  • ADVE: A Case of Identity, The Speckled Band, The Copper Beeches
  • MEMO: The Stockbroker’s Clerk, The Reigate Squire
  • RETU: The Solitary Cyclist, The Three Students, The Golden Pince-Nez
  • CASE: The Mazarin Stone, The Sussex Vampire

5 out of 10

  • ADVE: A Scandal in Bohemia, The Five Orange Pips
  • MEMO: The Gloria Scott, The Naval Treaty
  • CASE: The Veiled Lodger

4 out of 10

  • LAST: Wisteria Lodge


Eliminate the Impossible

Eliminate the Impossible” is the first of two books by Alistair Duncan on Holmes. His second Holmes book, “Close to Holmes” in which he looks at the historical connections between London, Holmes and my literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, will be the subject of another review at a later date.

Alistair has also written a book about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Norwood Author“, which I have already reviewed. Currently, he is writing another Doylean book about Undershaw, the house that Sir Arthur had built at Hindhead which remains under threat from developers. This book is not due to be published until next year, by which time the fate of Undershaw will almost certainly have been decided.

Eliminate the Impossible” runs to 244 pages of which the first three-quarters cover Holmes on the page and the last quarter looks at Holmes on the screen.

I note that he prefers to the term “Sherlockian” which is usually reserved for Holmes fans abroad whilst “Holmesian” is supposedly the term used in the UK. I have always found “Holmesian” a bit cumbersome – “Sherlockian” leaves no-one in doubt who you’re talking about and in the BBC Sherlock series we’re on first name terms with the main protagonists for the first time!

May I also raise a point about our address. It was 221B Baker Street – note the capital “B” after 221. Flats are designated with a capital letter not a lower case letter. So where “221b” has been used “221B” should be used instead.  Even the Dummies Guide gets this wrong! But congratulations to the BBC Sherlock props department for getting this right and commiserations to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street for getting it wrong on their unofficial blue plaque.

Part One – Holmes on the page

This covers the origins of the stories, Holmes’s influence on crime fiction, his appearance and character before dealing with the “Heroes  and Villains” as Alistair calls them, beginning with me (I assume I am a hero?) His selection is interesting. It includes two women and I will leave you to guess who they are!

Following this is a short discussion about the “timeline” of the stories which has always, and continues to be, a subject of much discussion (and many books)! Alistair picks out D Martin Dakin’s and Leslie Klinger’s chronologies and sets them against the dates found on the Internet. The order of the stories as listed here puts the last three stories from The Case-Book in the order in which they are now usually published (VEIL, SHOS, RETI) rather than the order in which they originally appeared in The Case-Book (RETI, VEIL, SHOS).

For each of the sixty stories, he then gives the date of publication (in The Strand except for the first two stories which were first published elsewhere), the date the story was set in (just the year) and the identity of the client. Following a brief synopsis he then presents some notes about the story, usually about the dates involved, but sometimes about the real identities of the people involved, and some of the puzzles and inconsistencies.

His own inconsistencies are that he leaves “The Adventure of” off all the stories in The Memoirs and again changes the order of the last three stories – this time to SHOS, RETI and VEIL. I think he has the date of publication of SHOS in The Strand incorrectly as January 1927 when it should be April 1927 making it the last to be published.

In the general introduction to the stories he sensibly suggests that you read the story first before reading his notes and doing it the other way round is likely to confuse matters.

Part Two – Holmes on the screen

This looks at Holmes portrayal in film and on television by looking at a selection of actors who have portrayed my good friend. Alistair attempts to classify them as either “good” or “bad” and “remembered” or “forgotten” making the point that some portrayals (“good” or “bad”) might only be remembered by Sherlockians rather than the general public.

He has left out all the comic portrayals presumably on the grounds that they are universally viewed as “bad” and “best forgotten”.

Rathbone and Brett come out best in this analysis with perhaps Douglas Wilmer coming in third. Alistair puts Brett just out in front and probably the favourite for those who would see the Rathbone films as largely set in their own time rather than the time of the original stories.

Alistair recommends David Stuart Davies book, “Starring Sherlock Holmes“, for more detail about Holmes on film and television (and stage and radio for that matter!)

As Alistair’s book was written in 2008, it predates the Robert Downey Jr film “Sherlock Holmes” and more importantly the BBC Sherlock series. It will be interesting to speculate where these two very different portrayals would be in the “good”, “bad”, “remembered” and “forgotten” categories. Cumberbatch’s Holmes has a good chance of being in the category “good and remembered” if they can maintain the standard of the first series (mostly ignoring The Blind Banker) whereas Robert Downey Jr may end up in “bad but remembered” if they cannot raise their game!

Nevertheless, Alistair Duncan succeeds, as he sets out in his introduction, “to bring a fresh perspective” to some of the puzzles concerning “the anomalies in the stories and the films”. Whilst he “conceived it as an introduction to the canon” it does, as he hoped, “appeal to long-standing fans as well as novice Sherlockians”.

This book, like its successor “Close to Holmes“, is available on the Kindle although Amazon have not linked the two versions properly on their website so you will need to go to the Kindle store to find it.

A criminal mastermind – the answers

The answers to the Mastermind questions are as follows:

  1. Beeton’s Christmas Annual
  2. Vandaleur
  3. Altamont
  4. Diogenes
  5. Warsaw
  6. RACHE
  7. Scowrers
  8. Sylvesters
  9. Binomial Theorem
  10. Victor Trevor
  11. “Roaring” Jack Woodley
  12. Ventilator
  13. Silver Blaze
  14. First volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica

Stephen Fry answered 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13 and 14 correctly and passed on Question 3.

How well did you do?

A criminal mastermind?

In 2004, there was a celebrity edition of Mastermind.

Stephen Fry was faced with 14 questions in the available time on his chosen specialist subject – Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

Here are the 14 questions. How well would you have done?

  1. In which publication did the first Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet” first appear in 1887?
  2. In “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, by what name did Jack Stapleton head a school in Yorkshire and establish a reputation in entomology?
  3. What name did Holmes adopt in his guise as an Irish-American spy?
  4. Mycroft Holmes was a founding member of which club of the most unsociable and unclubable men in town?
  5. Irene Adler, always known as “the woman” by Holmes, was the prima donna of which opera company when she met the King of Bohemia?
  6. In “A Study in Scarlet”, what 5-letter word is scrawled in blood on the wall in a dark corner of the room?
  7. In “The Valley of Fear”, what was the local name for the members of Lodge 341 of the Ancient Order of Freemen in the Vermissa Valley?
  8. In “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax”, with which London banking firm did Lady Frances have her account?
  9. On which theorem did Professor Moriarty write a treatise that won him the mathematical chair at a small English university?
  10. When relating his very first case, “Gloria Scott”, whom does Holmes describe as “the only friend I made during the two years that I was at college”?
  11. In “The Solitary Cyclist”, what was the nickname of “the greatest brute and bully in South Africa” who conspired with Bob Carruthers to get Violet Smith’s fortune?
  12. In “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, how did Dr Roylott get the poisonous snake into the room of his step-daughters, killing Julia?
  13. In which story did Holmes make his celebrated reference to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” – the curious incident being that the dog didn’t bark?
  14. What did the red-headed London pawnbroker Jabez Wilson have to copy out when he was duped by John Clay into accepting a position with the spurious “Red-Headed League”?

Stephen managed to get eight right.  I will post the answers at a later date.

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!

I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret writings [DANC]

Some of you may have been perplexed by the four character references that I usually put at the end of quotations from “the Canon”.

“The Canon”, by the way, is the term used to refer to the collection of sixty cases published on my behalf by Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1911, the Reverend Ronald A Knox, an Anglican priest, published an essay entitled “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes”. The article was a parody of a school of German Biblical criticism. He subjected my stories about Holmes to the same kind of “form criticism” as German theologians used on the Bible. He was the first to call the stories the “Canon” or “Sacred Writings” and the article is considered the beginning of the scholarship related to the sixty stories.

There are sixty works in all – four novels and fifty-six short stories. The fifty six short stories, after their serialisation in The Strand Magazine, were published in collections, namely:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes
  • His Last Bow
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

Just for completeness, the novels are:

  • A Study In Scarlet
  • The Sign of Four
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • The Valley of Fear

Jay Finley Christ devised a set of four-character abbreviations to conveniently refer to each of the sixty stories. Jay Finley Christ was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, an organisation of enthusiasts considered the pre-eminent Sherlockian group in the United States.

Here is a full list of these abbreviations:

ABBE Abbey Grange
BERY Beryl Coronet
BLAC Black Pete
BLAN Blanched Soldier
BLUE Blue Carbuncle
BOSC Boscombe Valley Mystery
BRUC Bruce-Partington Plans
CARD Cardboard Box
CHAS Charles Augustus Milverton
COPP Copper Beeches
CREE Creeping Man
CROO Crooked Man
DANC Dancing Men
DEVI Devil's Foot
DYIN Dying Detective
EMPT Empty House
ENGR Engineer's Thumb
FINA Final Problem
FIVE Five Orange Pips
GLOR Gloria Scot
GOLD Golden Pince-Nez
GREE Greek Interpreter
HOUN Hound of the Baskervilles
IDEN Case of Identity
ILLU Illustrious Client
LADY Lady Frances Carfax
LAST His Last Bow
LION Lion's Mane
MAZA Mazarin Stone
MISS Missing Three-Quarter
MUSG Musgrave Ritual
NAVA Naval Treaty
NOBL Noble Bachelor
NORW Norwood Builder
PRIO Priory School
REDC Red Circle
REDH Red-Headed League
REIG Reigate Squires (Puzzle)
RESI Resident Patient
RETI Retired Colourman
SCAN Scandal in Bohemia
SECO Second Stain
SHOS Shoscombe Old Place
SIGN Sign of the Four
SILV Silver Blaze
SIXN Six Napoleons
SOLI Solitary Cyclist
SPEC Speckled Band
STOC Stockbroker's Clerk
STUD Study In Scarlet
SUSS Sussex Vampire
THOR Thor Bridge
3GAB Three Gables
3GAR Three Garridebs
3STU Three Students
TWIS Man with the Twisted Lip
VALL Valley of Fear
VEIL Veiled Lodger
WIST Wisteria Lodge
YELL Yellow Face

Michael Hardwick

Occasionally I will refer to books from my own library and to particular authors who have furthered the cause that is so dear to me.

In a career that produced over a hundred books, scripts and plays, Michael Hardwick (1924-1991) was drawn many times into the world of Holmes.

It all began when he wrote all the scripts for the classic BBC Radio versions of the stories, starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as my good self. Recordings of many of these stories are available on the web and occasionally some are broadcast on BBC Radio 7. There is a boxed set available soon.

Michael, and his wife Mollie (of Upstairs, Downstairs fame), wrote what some regard as the “bible” of matters concerning Holmes, The Sherlock Holmes Companion.

Michael and his wife advised the BBC during the Peter Cushing and Nigel Stock series and wrote some of the scripts.

Michael’s more fanciful books include The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, based on the film of the same name, Sherlock Holmes: My Life and Crimes. Perhaps the most entertaining, for me at least, is his The Private Life of Dr Watson!

Few of the above, apart from the film, are still available so you may need to scour the second-hand bookshops or maybe try your local library.

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