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.

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.
Dec 232014
• Peter James’ 2014 thriller, Want You Dead--his 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.
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
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.
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
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
Apr 222014
Here’s a great example of not judging a book by its title. Turns out The Kentish Manor Murders (1988) is not at all a country house detective novel. It’s the title of a manuscript that is supposedly the work of Arthur Conan Doyle -- his last Sherlock Holmes novel, in fact, and written in the author's own hand. The manuscript has turned up in the hands of a private collector who is looking for authentication before offering the manuscript up for sale. Sheridan Haynes (who previously appeared in Symons’ novel A Three-Pipe Problem), renowned for his TV portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, is approached about helping to authenticate the manuscript. But complications ensue as Haynes makes his way to Copenhagen where he will be performing one of his famous readings from the Canon to The Silver Blazes, a Danish group of Holmes enthusiasts.

This has all the makings for an intriguing bibliomystery. But Symons adds a series of subplots early on in the book that unnecessarily complicate the story. We start in Castle Baskerville, the heavily secured isolated estate of millionaire eccentric, hypochrondiac, and celebrated Sherlockian Warren Waymark. He wants Haynes to perform one of his Conan Doyle reader's theater performance pieces for a private audience of one. Haynes is not up to the task as he is getting ready for his Copenhagen visit for a much larger audience in a real theater. Haynes is also immediately suspicious that Waymark might be an impostor. The millionaire is kept in a dimly lit room, he wears sunglasses indoors claiming to be sensitive to all light, and he speaks in a gravelly indistinct voice. His meeting with Waymark seems to be carefully orchestrated and Waymark does seem to know his Canon very well, but the interview feels completely wrong to Haynes.

We think Haynes is going to start checking into the possibility that Waymark was done away with and his invitation to the Castle is linked to the discovery of the manuscript. But no sooner are we invested in this plot hook thinking we are in the hands of a master concocting a devious Sherlockian pastiche, Symons pulls the rug out from under us and sends us in another direction -- literally and figuratively. Suddenly we are off to Denmark and then the Netherlands for a series of random incidents. Bombarded with plot twists and new characters that seem unrelated to the introductory story of Haynes and Waymark the reader is frustrated and confused and eager to return to the more interesting puzzles first presented at Castle Baskerville.

Like all thrillers of this era with an international flavor we also get subplots galore. And they of course include drug dealing, black market activities, and a variety of shifty underworld characters in a variety of seedy bars and nightclubs. There will be a signifying event (already hinted at in the very Edgar Wallace style “Prologue”) that ties the subplots to the main plot but these complications seemed burdensome and padded. Several extraneous incidents could have been dispensed with as they had nothing to do with the real story.

A superior distasteful tone pervades the book, too. Homophobic remarks, xenophobic comments bordering on bigotry, whiny intolerance for the “march of time” expressed in Haynes’ disdain for the proliferation of fast food restaurants and tourist traps that have ruined Amsterdam. I guess this passes for humor with some people. I found it snobbish and patronizing and not a little prejudicial. The book is set in 1988 and yet there is not one mention of the brown cafes where marijuana is legally sold but there is ample talk of sinister, underhanded drug dealing. For someone who is trying to paint a "seedy" portrait of Amsterdam I wonder why Symons skips over the Zeedijk and Warmoesstraat and all the sex trade those areas are known for. It didn’t ring true at all as 1980s Amsterdam.

Overall, this book has a schizoid identity: one third bibliomystery, one third international thriller, one third detective novel with a murder mystery crammed into the last 40 pages. It's not a bad book by any means, but for my tastes it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. The story becomes overcrowded with plot complexities that seemed arbitrary. I preferred the first book with Sheridan Haynes -- A Three-Pipe Problem (1975), more focused, livelier and wittier -- than this second jumbled affair.

*   *   *

Reading Challenge update: Silver Age Bingo Card, space R2 - "Book with a place in the title"
 Posted by at 5:19 pm
Apr 072014

Amazing_Stories 27-08As we learned in our April 4th post, “Origins of Science Fiction,” magazines began to reach a much wider audience as Europe and America became more industrialized. Increasingly urban and literate societies required cheap, entertaining, and easily accessible entertainment to escape the drudgery of the mills and offices. Since magazines could be produced cheaply and in a timely fashion, the last quarter of the nineteenth century became “The Age of the Storytellers.” Beginning around 1880, when Robert Louis Stevenson started to publish his first works of fiction, the world would witness the birth of the popular fiction magazine as well as the pulp magazine.

Strand 1891-07Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” first serialized in 1881-82, helped to provide the spark for other authors to try their hand at similar fiction. Works such as H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885), “She” (1886), and “Allan Quatermain” (1887), as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” (1887) demonstrated the need for an inexpensive, popular fiction magazine to be published on a regular basis. Shortly after Christmas in 1890, the first of these—The Strand Magazine—was launched by George Newnes. Filled with illustrations, the periodical really took off during the summer of 1891 with the start of Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” introducing one of the most successful continuing character series of all time.

With the success of The Strand Magazine came a host of imitators, among them Pearson’s Magazine. It debuted in late 1895 and soon became one of the leading publishers of magazine science fiction, featuring the future war stories of George Griffith and the scientific romances of Herbert George Wells. “The War of the Worlds” and “The Invisible Man,” both originally published in Pearson’s in 1897, are still enjoyed today, over a century after their initial appearances. Educated in the sciences as well as a literary genius, Wells’ mastery of both science and fiction was readily apparent. His later science fiction, including “The First Men in the Moon” (1900-1901) and “The Country of the Blind “1904), would run in The Strand.

In our next installment, we’ll turn our attention across the pond where an American entrepreneur named Frank A. Munsey was busy turning a struggling magazine into the first American all-fiction magazine.

War of the Worlds

To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.