The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Casebooks (Vol 2) & The Thinking Engine

Monday, December 11th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Lovegrove_MiskatonicLast December I wrote about Sherlock Holmes & the Shadwell Shadows, volume one of James Lovegrove’s Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy. And this December, it’s on to book two, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities. I wasn’t quite as fond of the second installment, though not because it’s a bad book.

As I wrote in that first review:

The basic premise of the… trilogy is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.

The darkness exists because Holmes, with Watsons’s assistance, waged a career-long war with the otherworld beings of the Cthulhu mythos.

Somewhere in another Black Gate post, I calculated the percentage that Holmes is absent in each of the four novellas which Doyle wrote featuring the great detective. Lovegrove chose to use that novella model and it’s my biggest complaint about the book. Holmes and Watson find a journal and read it. It reminds me of the Mormon interlude in A Study in Scarlet and it takes up thirty-five percent of the book.

Fully one-third of this novel has nothing to do with Holmes or Watson. It provides background to the mystery, but it could be a standalone story and it would have no more tie-in to Holmes than an account of my going out to lunch yesterday.

The flashback takes place in Arkham and it is essentially a Cthulhu short novella. Lovegrove got to write a Lovecraft pastiche within a Holmes pastiche. Of course, these three books are aimed at fans of the Cthulhu stories, so it’s not totally out there. I’ve read stories by Lovecraft, Derleth and others. I don’t mind them, but I’m not a particularly big fan. So, I’m not the target audience for the trilogy.

Those who are avid Holmes and Cthulhu fans are likely to enjoy this second book more than I did. But the fact is that this was a third of the book with no Holmes and/or Watson.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Murder on the Orient Express

Monday, November 13th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

OrientExpressTrainWhile I have read a lot of mysteries by a lot of different authors, I’ve never cared for Agatha Christie. When I began watching David Suchet’s masterful performance as Hercule Poirot (which I’m SURE you read about here at Black Gate), I had never finished a Christie novel. I just didn’t like her stories and there was way too much out there that I’d rather read. However, because Suchet was simply amazing, I became a Poirot fan and I read all of the short stories. By picturing the actors and settings from the television show while I read, it worked for me.

My frame of reference for Poirot is episodes of the Suchet television show, not Christie’s original stories. Unlike Doyle, Stout, James Lee Burke, Tony Hillerman, Frederic Nebel and many others whose work I admire, I still am not interested in Christie’s writings. So, I like Poirot, but not Christie.

I wasn’t sure what to think of the new big screen Murder on the Orient Express, which I saw at 10:50 AM on opening day. On the one hand, I thought that Kenneth Branagh’s moustache was completely ludicrous and a huge strike against the move right out of the gate (I mean, who in the world thought that was a good move? Did Mark Gatiss have a hand in this?). On the other hand, it was Branagh’s amazing Shakespeare films that made me a fan of the Bard. He is a wonderfully talented actor. And this film, which he produced, directed and starred in, was his labor of love.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons – The Complete Basil Copper

Monday, August 28th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

I’ve posted a few times about Solar Pons, whom Vincent Starrett called, “The best substitute to Sherlock Holmes known.” Since I created and founded The Solar Pons Gazette, it’s fair to say I’m a big fan of the ˜Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street.’

Erikson-Lees cov copy

August Derleth wrote seventy-something stories about his creation before passing away in 1971. Derleth’s Arkham House publishing company had printed some works by British horror author Basil Copper and Arkham editor James Turner, in response to a Pons-related letter from Copper, suggested that the British writer compile the entire Pons collection into a two-volume Omnibus. Copper did so, making some 2,000 edits to Derleth’s originals to ‘correct errors.’ Copper referred to this Omnibus as “a veritable feast for Pontine enthusiasts.”

Sure. Except that there was a major outcry from said enthusiasts at Copper’s hubris in rewriting the master’s work (reminds me of L. Sprague de Camp ‘revising’ Robert E. Howard’s original Conan writings). It seems to me that the split was never healed. Meanwhile, Turner asked Copper to continue the Pons saga. Copper wrote four collections of stories and one partially completed novel over the next few years (he would go on to release two more collections of originals and complete the novel).

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Post

Monday, March 20th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Me and my little superhero

The plan was to put up a linked index of all three years of The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes posts today, but I didn’t get it finished. Hopefully, the powers that be at Black Gate will let me post an irregular PLoSH column now and then and I’ll get that up. As well as the ‘Sherlock Holmes: A to Z’ post that never quite got written.

When I started this column three years ago, the BBC’s immensely popular Sherlock had just finished the divisive season three, from which it never recovered, and CBS’ Elementary was in season two. Sherlock seems to be done after four episodes in the past three years and the fans are still in opposing camps (love/hate). Elementary is finishing up season five with ratings way down and may well not be back for another year, though it will have run for over 100 episodes and made it to syndication.

Robert Downey Jr., who revived the onscreen life of Holmes with his 2009 movie (and a 2011 sequel) is in the early stages of a third Holmes big screen effort. If Sherlock and Elementary truly are done, then the Downey Jr. movie may jumpstart Holmes in the public culture, though many fans don’t like his action hero portrayal.

The Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sued, and lost, to have Holmes declared under copyright. He and Watson, and the stories before The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, remain in the public domain.

A Holmes short story, supposedly written by Doyle, was discovered. Its provenance remains doubtful. Quite.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Talking About Poirot

Monday, March 13th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Poirot_OneI mentioned last week (which you know, enlightened reader, because you love this column. You probably bookmarked the link as a memoriam to me. Anyhoo…) that I discovered the Nero Wolfe books through the A&E television series starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton. I’d just never read any of the books, even though the series had been around for decades. And now it’s my favorite mystery series of them all (sorry Holmes and Pons).

Well, some thirty-ish years ago (maybe a little more), I read a couple of Agatha Christie books. I remember that one was definitely a Poirot. I didn’t care for them and that was that. So, while Christie (alongside The Bard) is reckoned to be the best-selling fiction author of all time, she was absent from my not inconsiderable mystery library.

Then, a few years ago, I began watching the Hercule Poirot television series starring David Suchet (here’s a trailer). And I really, really liked it. From 1989 through 2013, Suchet filmed 70 Poirot stories! So, I decided to give Christie’s writings a chance again. Well, Poirot, anyways: I’m not sure you could pay me to read Miss Marple. Thus, I bought Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories and had at it. As I write this, I’m on story 19 of 51.

First thing I noticed is how short these things are. Yes, I know they’re called ‘short stories,’ but while I haven’t tried counting words, most of them are between 8 and 16 pages long. And that’s on big ol’ 6” x 9” paper. Also, she was really cranking these out. A new Poirot was appearing almost weekly in The Sketch magazine.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: A Nero Wolfe Mystery

Monday, March 6th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Wolfe_ChaykinHutton2We’re in to March and The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has made it to three years here at Black Gate. Every Monday morning, I’ve written about a thousand words about some topic I hoped would be interesting, without missing a deadline. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this column and very thankful that Black Gate was willing to let me ramble on about a wide range of topics. For I certainly did that!

But I’m having trouble keeping up with the demands of weekly blogging (I know it appears I just slap these things together, but I actually do a lot of reading and research) and there are a couple of writing projects I want to tackle in 2017, and for me as it is for most folks, time is a scarce commodity. So, I’ll be wrapping up The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes with the March 20th post. I convinced the powers that be here not to put a restraining order on me at Black Gate World Headquarters (in large part by signing over all future post royalties…) and I’ll be allowed to post something once in a while. And I’m going to continue contributing to the Modular column. This is a great blog to write for and I’m pleased to still be part of the family. If still the odd cousin that doesn’t get talked about at the reunions.

One of my two major writing projects for the year involves my favorite mystery series, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.

In early 2000, A&E aired a one-off movie, The Golden Spiders. It starred Canadian Maury Chaykin as Rex Stout’s famous detective, Nero Wolfe, and Timothy Hutton as his man Friday, Archie Goodwin. Reviews were positive and a year later, the first of an eleven-episode series aired, The Doorbell Rang.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Erle Stanley Gardner on Mysteries

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ESGMystery Grand Master Erle Stanley Gardner, best known for his Perry Mason books, was a prolific letter writer. He was also an emotional letter writer and when he was unhappy about something, he would dash off a no-holds barred missive to his agent, Bob Hardy, or William and Morrow President Thayer Hobson, like the one below. They were the equivalent of today’s Facebook rants. A book collecting Gardner’s letters would be great reading.

From 1924 through 1926, Gardner sold over three dozen stories to various magazines. That hectic pace continued and in 1933, after a few rewrites, his first Perry Mason book, The Case of the Velvet Claws, came out. He was constantly writing short stories, novels and even nonfiction books for the rest of his life.

But in the thirties, he was having trouble placing stories in the usual magazines and his struggle to break into the higher paying, glossy ‘slicks’ continued. Some of this was due to the behind-the-scenes work of his former agent.

Bob Hardy had died of cancer and his wife Jane had taken over the company. She and Gardner butted heads until he terminated their relationship. As he feared, she badmouthed him throughout the industry and it hurt his sales.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Mister Bean as Simeonon’s Maigret?

Monday, February 20th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Maigret_AtkinsonGeorges Simenon wrote seventy-six novels and twenty-eight short stories about French police commissionaire Jules Maigret (May-gray) between 1932 and 1973. Maigret’s career paralleled that of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, who appeared in thirty-three novels and thirty-three novellas/short stories from 1934 to 1975.

There have been many film and television adaptations of Maigret in various countries over the decades. Rupert Davies starred in a popular British television series in the sixties and Michael Gambon played the policeman in a Granada series in the eighties. Now, I’ve never read a Maigret story or seen any of the films or television shows, except for the two I’m going to talk about in this post. So, I don’t have a frame of reference for the two new films, other than the actual movies themselves. They may be nothing like the original character, in the vein of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes; or they could be spot on: though that seems unlikely.

A British company cast Rowan Atkinson as Maigret and filmed a pair of television movies that were aired in 2016: Maigret Sets a Trap and Maigret’s Dead Man.  Two more are on the way: Night at the Crossroads and Maigret in Montmarte.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Nero Wolfe – Stamped for Murder

Monday, February 13th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Nero Wolfe TrainThe New Adventures of Nero Wolfe radio show aired in 1950 and 1951, starring Sidney Greenstreet. I mentioned it in a prior post. I’ve taken one of the episodes, Stamped for Murder, and turned it into an 11,000 word story. I kept most of the dialogue and the original scenes, since I wanted to adapt the show. I’ve tried to make it more Stout-like, as I don’t think that the series was very true to the original stories. So, some liberties here and there. But hopefully you’ll enjoy a “new” Wolfe pastiche!


Nero Wolfe had just settled his seventh of a ton into the only chair that really fit him. Made of Brazilian Mauro wood, it was in this room, the office: as opposed to the dining room, kitchen or the front room because he spent about nine hours a day here. You read that right: nine hours. More on that later.

Down from his two hours in the plant rooms on the roof, he had greeted me with the standard “Good morning” and placed a spray of Miltonia Charlesworthi in the vase on his desk. After going through the usual ritual, which includes drinking beer, brought by our chef, housekeeper and doorman, Fritz, going through the morning mail and checking his pen (which I’ve already done), he looked up at me.

“Your notebook please, Archie.”

It was there on my desk, ready for use. I took a pen from the middle drawer and swiveled my chair, not made of Mauro wood but under much less pressure, to face him.

“Inform Mister Salzenzbach that the recent Long Island pea fowl he provided was most unsatisfactory. Pea fowl’s breast flesh is not sweet and tender unless it is well protected from all alarms. Especially from the air, to prevent nervousness. Long island is full of airplanes.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Thoughts on The Sussex Vampire

Monday, February 6th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Sussex_PagetIt seems somewhat curious that we find three references to Sumatra in the Canon. Two of those are to unrecorded cases, which makes matters even more intriguing. Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world and a part of Indonesia.  Indonesia was ruled by the Dutch for over three hundred years, including the entirety of Sherlock Holmes’ career (Japan occupied Indonesia during World War II and the country gained autonomy after that). I have visited Indonesia twice, as my wife was born and raised there.

In “The Sussex Vampire,” Holmes mentions the Matilda Briggs, “a ship associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” In “The Dying Detective,” Culverton Smith was a planter who lived in Sumatra. We are also told at the beginning of “The Reigate Squires” that Holmes was on the verge of collapse after foiling the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis, which involved the Netherland-Sumatra company.

Three references to people or things with Sumatran ties. Could tea somehow be related? Indonesia was one of the world’s leading tea producers until World War II. The region of Sumatra was the second-largest tea producing region in Indonesia. Was the death of Culverton Smith’s nephew somehow associated with the activities of Baron Maupertius, for whom Culverton Smith worked or was otherwise associated?

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