Apr 092015

No fictional detective is as widely known or widely read (or viewed) as Sherlock Holmes. Since his first appearance in 1887, Holmes has fascinated mystery lovers. He continues to do so today, as a character in movies, television series, books, even plays. I don’t think there’s an opera version, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’m wrong.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I came to mysteries through Sherlock Holmes when I was just 10 years old. I was given a book containing all the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories about Holmes – all 4 novels and 56 short stories. I fell in love with those classic mysteries, and I’ve never looked back.

But who really was Sherlock Holmes? There’s an interesting new book by B. J. Rahn, a professor of English Literature at Hunter College, called The Real World of Sherlock which goes into that question in some detail. Professor Rahn looks at the literary influences that produced Holmes, particularly Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, and at some of the real-life people who obviously influenced Doyle, especially his medical mentor at Edinburgh University, Dr. Joseph Bell. But the main influence was Conan Doyle himself, and Professor Rahn shows us how much of Doyle may be found in Holmes.

The book also looks at some of the developments in the real world of criminal investigation during the years of the original Holmes stories. Ever think of Sherlock Holmes as one of the earliest forerunners of CSI? Well, maybe, in his intensive observation of crime scenes that figures so strongly in the stories.

It’s an interesting book, quite well researched, and – particularly for today’s newcomers to Sherlock Holmes who want to find out more about the world’s first scientific detective and his creator – it deserves a place on your mystery reference shelf.

UPDATED – I should have mentioned that the publisher – Amberley Publishing – provided me with a copy of the book for this review.

“The Flash” – Early Impressions

 Elementary, Gotham, Sherlock Holmes, The Flash, TV shows  Comments Off on “The Flash” – Early Impressions
Apr 042015

Scott D. Parker

Some of you might wonder why I use the term “early impressions” on a TV show that debuted last fall and is fast approaching the end of it’s freshman season. Well, that’s because I’m behind on The Flash and I’m racing to catch up before the season ends.

I’ve caught up on GOTHAM. I’m five episodes into The Flash now and I can pretty much see how this is going to go, at least in these early episodes: Barry and his team at S.T.A.R. Labs—Caitlin the doctor who helps make sure Barry doesn’t die while running; Cisco the tech genius who makes all the gadgets and names the villains of the week, and Dr. Harrison Wells, the brilliant scientist whose particle accelerator caused all the havoc in Central City—learn what Barry’s abilities are and helps him channel them while stopping all the bad-guy meta-humans who are also discovering their powers.

The central idea is that the particle accelerator malfunctioned on the night of a big storm. A lightening bolt struck Barry and turned him into the Flash. What I liked very much early on in the first episode is that we see Barry in his day job—CSI Tech—doing amazing observational things. Basically he had a super-power before he had a super-power. But this also establishes this show with the police procedural framework, not to the extent of Gotham, but taking a page from the X-Files. So far, all the other meta-humans are bad guys, a conceit I do hope they change in season 2. Each time, the bad meta-human can do odd things like control the weather or multiply himself. The team have to figure out a way for Barry do defeat them.

And I do mean ‘the team.’ Yes, Barry’s the one in the suit but he can’t do this super-hero thing by himself. He needs his support group.

The casting of Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is great. He brings an ebullient exuberance to the part, the job of being a good person who discovers that he’s got super powers. None of the overly angst stuff, just like “Wow, look what I can do.” I am really enjoying watching him be Barry Allen.

In a cool bit of stunt casting, John Wesley Shipp—The original Flash from the 1990 TV show—plays Barry’s dad, who is falsely accused of killing his wife 14 years before the show starts. Like all good shows like CASTLE or X-FILES, there’s a central mythology—the mom’s murder in a glowing yellow lightening storm in which young Barry saw a man—that needs to be solved while they deal with the villain of the week. It’s tried and true and I don’t have a problem with it. The scenes between Barry and his imprisoned father are heart-tugging.

I also really enjoy the foster father, Joe West, played by Jesse Martin, knows that Barry is the Flash, or the Blue or the Red Streak. (He’s not the Flash in name yet). The only thing that West asks of Barry is to keep his powers a secret from his daughter, Iris West, on whom Barry has a crush. Naturally, she starts being a reporter and starts a blog devoted to The Blur and, well, we know where this is going.

There are a few basic network TV tropes in play here, but the real joy is in the fact this show is just plain fun. No dark tales a la Gotham or Arrow although I’ve only seen the pilot. The DC Easter eggs (Grodd!) are also fun to pick out.

All in all, I plan to catch up on Flash by the time the season wraps so I can watch in real time.

Anyone else watching The Flash?


On ELEMENTARY on Thursday, there was a moment, late in the episode, where Sherlock had to explain his reasons why he could not, “in good conscience,” provide a sperm sample to a lover who wanted to have a child. It is brilliant. It is among the best examples I’ve ever seen of what it’s like to be imprisoned by his powers of observation. Johnny Lee Miller delivers the lines in an achingly melancholy way. This will go down as one of the best moments of the entire series. It’s at the 39:00 minute mark in this video. It’s the whole episode.

“New” Sherlock Holmes Story Discovered

 Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes  Comments Off on “New” Sherlock Holmes Story Discovered
Feb 212015

We’re beginning to wonder what on Earth could be next! First the To Kill a Mockingbird prequel was announced. Then a lost Dr. Seuss manuscript was uncovered. And now … a long-forgotten story by the master himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Whilst rifling through his attic not long ago, Scottish historian Walter Eliot discovered a short story written more than a century ago by the Sherlock Holmes creator, who was then a celebrity fresh from publishing The Hound of the Baskervilles. Titled “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, By Deduction, the Brig Bazaar,” this “unsigned, 1,300-word yarn is part of a pamphlet printed in 1903 to raise money to restore a bridge in the Scottish border town of Selkirk,” explains an article in yesterday’s Guardian. The Telegraph offers more information:

It is believed the story–about Holmes deducing Watson is going on a trip to Selkirk–is the first unseen Holmes story by Doyle since the last was published over 80 years ago.

Mr. Elliot, a great-grandfather, said: “In Selkirk, there was a wooden bridge that was put up some time before it was flooded in 1902.

“The town didn’t have the money to replace it so they decided to have a bazaar to replace the bridge in 1904. They had various people to come and do things and just about everyone in the town did something. …

“[Doyle] really must have thought enough of the town to come down and take part and contribute a story to the book. It’s a great little story.”

You can read the full text of that forgotten yarn here.

Feb 032015
By R.J. Harlick
“Sophie Hannah continued Poirot and Sebastian Faulks continued Bond. What character would you most like to write about, if the estate asked you?”
A tricky question. Like Meredith, I’m not a big fan of sequels written by someone other than the author whose characters have become almost like friends. I feel it verges on sacrilege for another author to take on the voice of characters created by someone else particularly when the original author likely had no say in the matter. I suppose that’s why it often doesn’t happen until the copyright has run out.
But let’s face it, it happens all the time when books are transformed into film and TV series and few get upset. Rarely does the author have any say in how their creations are portrayed after they pass them over to the scriptwriters and directors. While some avid fans won’t like the film versions, for the most part they capture a whole new coterie of fans, even if the characters bear little resemblance to those of the books.  At least these authors have the opportunity to agree to their characters taking on another life in someone else’s hands.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of fun and think of characters that I would like to see live again in a good book. Though I’d never presume to be that author. A good Sir Author Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes immediately comes to mind. There are now so many different film and TV versions of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that it’s difficult to remember the original characters. It would be fun to resurrect them as the characters Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created.
Yup, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane are two other characters I’d love to see live again, but I gather from Art it has already been done.  Though John D. MacDonald wrote over 21 novels starring Travis McGee, I wouldn’t say no to another visit with him on the Busted Flush and a chance to explore another Florida byway. By the way, guess where I got the idea to include a colour in the title of my Meg Harris series? My homage to John D.  But as much as I’d like to see Travis live on in another book, I am glad to read that John D’s heirs have refused to let another author try his or her hand with the salvage consultant.
I can’t forget Patrick O’Brian’s Captain Jack Aubry and Stephen Maturin. I’d love to set out on another voyage with him on a 19th century ship of the line to distant lands and distant seas. And while we are on historicals, the most intriguing character I have ever read is Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford of Lymond.  His antics through 16thcentury Europe and the Ottoman Empire were mind-boggling. Another adventure with him would be the icing on the cake. Dunnett’s Johnson Johnson mystery series was rather fun too.
A chilly morning in the wilds of Quebec today. -31C or -24F. A good day to stay inside.  But it follows a magical night. The full moon transformed the world outside my log cabin into a shimmering silvery cathedral.  It was also a good night to howl. The coyotes were braying full force when they woke me in the wee hours of the morning. I think I will keep my two dogs close to me today.  

Enjoy it, everyone.

The Many Faces of Sherlock

 Sherlock Holmes  Comments Off on The Many Faces of Sherlock
Jan 222015

Click on the image above to find a pretty cool graphic showing how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, has been presented–in print, as well as on stage screen–over the last 128 years. The illustration was prepared for The Doyle Collection of international hotels to celebrate the Museum of London’s Holmes exhibition, on display until April 12, 2015.

Bullet Points: Santa Week Edition

 Sherlock Holmes  Comments Off on Bullet Points: Santa Week Edition
Dec 232014

• Peter James’ 2014 thriller, Want You Deadhis 10th Brighton-based novel starring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace–has been crowed eBook of the Year by the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, reports Shotsmag Confidential.

• Well, this is certainly a surprise! It seems 20th Century Fox has finally released the 1976 TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York in DVD format. Somehow, I missed spotting this development in August, when the disc originally went on the market. If you are not familiar with the film, let me tell you that it starred Roger Moore (still early in his career playing James Bond) as Holmes, with the delightful Patrick Mcnee (formerly of The Avengers) appearing as Doctor John H. Watson and Charlotte Rampling (who back then was still recognized for her femme fatale turn in Farewell, My Lovely) cast as “the woman,” aka Irene Adler. The New York Times describes this flick’s plot thusly:

There is an affectionate bow to the master sleuth in this lavishly produced original that has Holmes rushing to New York City [in 1901] after discovering that his old nemesis, Moriarty, not only has kidnapped the son of his (Holmes’) long-time love, actress Irene Adler, but also has hatched a scheme to steal the world’s gold supply, squirreled away under Union Square in lower Manhattan.

Oh, I forgot to mention that director-actor John Huston fills the role here of Professor James Moriarty. If you would like to see the opening sequence from Sherlock Holmes in New York, I embedded it in this 2010 post. Needless to say, I have asked Santa for a copy of this picture. You can purchase your own right here.

• David J. Foster had more to say about Sherlock Holmes in New York in this 2012 post from his blog, Permission to Kill.

• While we’re on the subject of Holmes, note that Nick Cardillo has compiled a list of what he says are “The Top 10 Sherlock Holmes Pastiches (of All Time)” in The Consulting Detective. Part I includes Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (one of my own favorites), while Part II leads with Edward B. Hanna’s The Whitechapel Horrors (a Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper yarn that I found quite unsatisfying). To each his own, as they say …

• Actor Kiefer Sutherland doesn’t sound at all optimistic about the future of his 24 protagonist, Jack Bauer. “Then again,” observes blogger Tanner, “he’s got a history of being a bit of a downer on the subject.’ So who really knows?

• It’s nice to see Gary Phillips out with a brand-new prose collection of stories featuring Nate Hollis, a Los Angeles private eye born in Phillips Vertigo Comics mini-series.

• Being a longtime Alistair MacLean follower, I was very pleased to see Vintage Pop Fictions’ recent look back at that author’s 1971 novel, Bear Island, which the blog says “generally seems to be regarded as the last of his really top-notch thrillers. … [I]t also includes most of the characteristic MacLean signatures.”

• Novelist and film scholar Jake Hinkson has a nice piece in the latest edition of Mystery Scene about sometimes controversial TV producer Roy Huggins, but he also offers up a post in Criminal Element synopsizing seven “noir holiday films.” “I’m not sure why there are so many noirs set around the holidays,” Hinkson writes, “but maybe it has something to do with seasonal depression. We all know that this time of year can be especially hard on people, when our usual American propensity toward surface cheer becomes something of a national obligation. After all, we quite literally force each other to be–or to appear to be–‘merry’ (which, when you think about it, is a weirdly antiquated word that we never use in any other context) and to conform to our national religion of positive thinking. All that forced good cheer just gives some folks the winter blues.”

• Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose identity was leaked by the George W. Bush administration early in the last decade as part of retaliatory action against her ambassador husband, and has since re-created herself as a novelist (her latest book is Burned), complains to Salon that most of today’s fictional women spies are terrible. “I wanted to develop a strong female CIA character,” Plame says. “Because what’s out there is just insane. It’s just eye-rolling. They’re sexy. They’re eye candy. They’re good with guns. But it has nothing to do with how intelligence is realistically collected.”

• I’m sorry to see International Crime Authors Reality Check closing up shop after more than five years. Fortunately, the blog will remain extant as an accessible archive.

• I also can’t help but shed a tear at the news that legendary Mad magazine cartoonist Jack Davis has finally decided to retire … at age 90. My father was a huge fan of Davis’ work, and I’ve highlighted the cartoonists talents at least once in The Rap Sheet. More of his artistic efforts can be enjoyed here. (Hat tip to Illustration Art.)

• Finally, The Huffington Post’s list of 23 classic books that are so short “you have no excuse not to read them” includes Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Phew! Been there, done those.

The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 Sherlock Holmes  Comments Off on The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sep 292014
Loosely based on the real-life exploits of the Molly Maguires 
and Pinkerton agent James McParland.
Sherlock Holmes decodes a cipher warning from Moriarty’s organization for Douglas in Birlstone, but a corpse is already in place. When Mr. Douglas blows the head off his American assassin, he dresses the body as himself and hides to throw off the chase for good. Holmes guesses the missing dumbbell weighted down the killer’s clothes in the moat. The calling card left, VV341, is the Vermissa Valley Lodge 341. Decades ago a Pinkerton, he went months undercover, first with Freemen in Chicago, then west to desolate mountain coal mine area, to take down corrupt murderers who ran the Valley Freemen Lodge, but criminals had pursued. Holmes warns Douglas, when acquitted, to flee England. But Moriarty prevails. Two months later, Mrs. Douglas telegrams from South Africa. Her husband was lost en route overboard in a gale. Holmes had warned them to flee England, and blames Moriarty.
Printing History
Written by Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
Strand Magazine 
September 1914 to May 1915
George H. Doran Company 
February 1915
The Films
Starring H.A. Saintsbury and Booth Conway
  as The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes
Starring Arthur Wontner as Holmes and Ian Fleming as Watson
 Posted by at 3:21 pm

Feel Free to Handle Holmes

 Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes  Comments Off on Feel Free to Handle Holmes
Jun 182014

We can only wait to see the legal repercussions of this ruling:

A federal judge has rejected a copyright appeal brought by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, opening the way for writers, filmmakers and other creators to make free use of Sherlock Holmes, his sidekick Watson and any elements of their story that appeared in Conan Doyle works published prior to Jan. 1, 1923.

The ruling, issued by Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, affirmed a district court ruling, last December, that the characters were no longer protected by American copyright, and so could be used without paying any permission fees.

In a ruling that cited “Star Wars” as well as Shakespeare, Judge Posner also rejected the estate’s claim that Holmes was a “complex” character, who in contrast to “flat” characters like Amos and Andy, was not fully fleshed out until Conan Doyle laid down his pen, and so remained under protection until the last copyright on the 10 Holmes stories published after 1922 expires.

“What this has to do with copyright law eludes us,” Judge Posner wrote tartly.

You can read more on this decision here and here.

Doyle’s Kids Quiz Results

 book giveaways, Chicago life, Found Bound, Sherlock Holmes  Comments Off on Doyle’s Kids Quiz Results
Jun 072014

Below are the answers to the Literary IQ quiz “Children in Sherlock Holmes Stories”posted a few days ago.

According to the rules a perfect score is 96 and required naming the characters (2 pts each) as well as the stories (10 pts).

Lucky winners are:  Noah Stewart (96) and Neer (94).  Sorry, Neeru you got the character’s last name wrong for #8 and I couldn’t give you the extra points.  Emails with the prize list of books are going out later today.  Thanks for playing!

I’m off to the Printer’s Row Book Fest in an hour.  I’ll have a post of my finds/purchases tomorrow.

 Posted by at 4:00 pm

FOUND BOUND: Sherlockians Take Note

 book giveaways, Found Bound, Sherlock Holmes  Comments Off on FOUND BOUND: Sherlockians Take Note
Jun 042014

While researching an obscure book and the opinions it received at the time of its original publication I serendipitously discovered the following quiz in a 1951 issue of The Saturday Review. If you truly know your Sherlock Holmes according to Doyle then dare to take the literary quiz below.

The story of how the quiz was created and how the editors received it is almost better than the quiz itself!

I cannot resist making this a true contest. CONTEST NOW CLOSED.

The Great Detective by illustrator Frank Wiles

I will confess that this is one type of mystery quiz I will never pass. I never bothered to learn the Holmes stories inside and out. I knew the answer to exactly one. Sad, isn’t it? (It was #6, by the way, which I think everyone will know.) I know there is at least one brilliant reader of the Canon who knows not only the character names but the stories themselves. Go on and prove me right. I know you’re out there.

Answers will be posted on Saturday, June 7. First three people with the highest scores will be named winners. A prize list of vintage paperbacks and review copies of new books I recently reviewed will be sent to each winner and they can pick what they want. This contest is open to all regardless of where you live.

Good luck!

 Posted by at 3:48 am