The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Crimes Club

Monday, June 30th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

CrimesClub_DoyleHoudini

Doyle with Harry Houdini

Violette Malan wrote a post about Isaac Asimov’s Black Widower mysteries. These were stories about a group of men, members of a private club, who met monthly and tried to solve a guest’s mystery.

The Black Widowers were based on a real-life group that Asimov was a member of, The Trap Door Spiders. Founded by science-fiction author Fletcher Pratt, I believe that the roots go even deeper and can be traced back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Name That Crime – In December of 1903, six men met for lunch at the Carlton Club in London. That meal was the genesis for the formation the following year of Our Society, better known as The Crimes Club. The founding members, including Doyle, met at London’s Grand Central Hotel on July 17, 1904 for a dinner.

The Crimes Club would meet three or four times annually on a Sunday evening. After dinner, a member and/or a guest would give a talk about a celebrated crime, recent or historical, and the members would discuss and debate it, likely over drinks and cigars. Often, lawyers who had been involved in the case would provide inside information.

Doyle was pleased with the opportunity to hear what had happened to persons in the famous cases, as well as to see trial exhibits and even handle actual evidence.

Such items included strychnine pills found on convicted poisoner Dr. Thomas Neill Cream when he was arrested and bones from the right arm of the Radcliffe Highway Murderer, John Williams.

Williams’s burial site had been dug up when a water main was being laid in 1910. Club member George Sims saw a unique opportunity and grabbed the bones!

And of course, they talked about Saucy Jack: Jack the Ripper!

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Vintage Treasures: The Science Fiction Book Club Original Anthologies

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Between Worlds-small Down these Dark Spaceways-small One Million AD Gardner Dozois-small Forbidden Planets Marvin Kaye-small

Last month I had a look back at one of my favorite Best of the Year series, Jonathan Strahan’s Best Short Novels, a delightful four-volume set collecting the best novellas of 2004-07 and published exclusively through the Science Fiction Book Club. SFBC did many exclusives, but that was the one that got me to excitedly rejoin the club for the first time in over a decade.

It was a great time to be a member. In addition to the Strahan volumes, Andrew Wheeler at SFBC also commissioned some of the top editors in the field, including Gardner Dozois, Mike Resnick, Marvin Kaye and Strahan, to produce eight original themed anthologies, each containing 6-7 new novellas by writers like Robert Silverberg, Peter F. Hamilton, Robert Reed, Nancy Kress, Greg Egan, Jack McDevitt, Alan Dean Foster, Julie E. Czerneda, Charles Stross, Stephen Baxter, Cory Doctorow, Walter Jon Williams, and many others. Each anthology was offered exclusively through the club, which means many fans never even knew they existed.

Each anthology was themed, like Gardner’s collection of far-future tales One Million A.D. Marvin Kaye’s Forbidden Planets looked at visits to strange and hostile worlds, Mike Resnick’s Down these Dark Spaceways and Alien Crimes contained science fiction mysteries, and Strahan’s Godlike Machines gathered tales of future eras where machines ruled. They were a lot of fun, and I snapped each one up as it arrived.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Austin’s Jack the Ripper

Monday, May 9th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

AustinKiller_XmasheadlineThis morning’s post would have been about Houdini and Doyle, the new TV series airing Monday nights on Fox. Except I missed the pilot: and contrary to much public opinion, I only write posts on subjects I know something about. Maybe not much, but… From what I can tell, it’s a buddy cop show in which the pair, one a believer in supernatural phenomena (Doyle), the other a skeptic (Houdini), investigates crimes. Brings to mind a poor man’s Mulder and Scully, but I’ll give it a chance.

And I’m about the last Black Gater you’re going to see a post from regarding the mess that is the Hugo Awards, so that’s not happening here. New fictional TV show aside, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was quite interested, and occasionally involved with, real-life crimes.

I wrote about the George Edalji case here (and even put the world’s first private consulting detective into the crime in Volume III of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories). I talked about his involvement with The Crimes Club in this post. And when time permits, I’m going to refresh my knowledge regarding the Oscar Slater case and write about that.

But my interest in Holmes and other Victorian mystery fiction, as well as hard-boiled mysteries, has resulted in reading about true crimes from those eras. Of course, there’s Jack the Ripper, various ‘trunks on trains’ murders, a plethora of poisonings (Florence Bravo is a particular interest area of mine) and more to delve into.

I lived in Austin, TX for a few years in the early 2000’s. While there, I read Steven Saylor’s A Twist at the End, and was fortunate enough to attend a lecture he gave on the killings. What killings, you say? Read on.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Looking at The Bruce Partington Plans

Monday, June 8th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BruceP_FDSSolar Pons is, of course, the next best thing to Sherlock Holmes (which you know because you read THIS post, right?). I’m a Pons fan and I run www.SolarPons.com, the only website dedicated to The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street.

Along with my two free, electronic newsletters (The Solar Pons Gazette and Baker Street Essays), the heart of the site is a collection of (non-spoiler) case commentaries for August Derleth’s stories. Some day, it will also host commentaries for the Basil Copper pastiches.

One of the many projects on my ‘To Do’ list (which might as well be Wish list) is to write case commentaries for the sixty Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve done one (woohoo!!!). First, if you haven’t done so, you really, really, really (I mean, really) need to read “The Bruce Partington Plans.” It’s a short story; won’t take long. And the rest of this post will actually mean something to you.

Each case commentary includes a non-spoiler preview of the story, some notable quotes, and a plethora of miscellaneous observations and comments. I’m probably in the minority, but I think there is some good stuff below and you’ll know a bit more about the story after you read it. So, come, the game is afoot!

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: An Index (So Far)

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Index_Holmes

An awesome print by Tom Richmond of Holmes on screen over the years. I own print #7 of 450

Surprisingly, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has now made it to thirty posts. While I’m sure the dedicated reader types ‘Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ in the search field to call up all the posts in the series, I said to myself (I talk to myself a lot),  “Bob, there’s got to be an easier way for someone to bask in the entirety of your writings so far.”

And there is! Below is an index with links to all the posts, followed by some topics likely to come.

 

Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – Introduction to the column (rather unoriginal title, eh?)

Lord of Misrule – Christopher Lee as the great detective

The Case of the Short Lived Sherlock – One of my favorite Holmes’, Ian Richardson

Creation to Death and Back – A good intro to Holmes, focusing on Doyle’s love-hate (minus the love) relationship with his most famous creation

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew Salmon Remembers Frederick C. Davis

Monday, November 12th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Salmon_DavisAcesEditedA (Black) Gat in the Hand continues on with quality guest posts (something’s got to make this column work, and it sure as heck isn’t my writing!) this week, as Andrew Salmon holds forth on pulpster Frederick C. Davis. I knew I wasn’t qualified to write about Davis (though I did hold my own on Norbert Davis!). And since Andrew, author of the excellent Sherlock Holmes Fight Club novels, wrote the introductions to Altus’ Press’ Moon Man collections, I knew he was the guy. So, read on! 


You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” — Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Any good pulp author from the glory days of Classic Pulp had to be very good at two things: he or she had to be fast and versatile. And, of course, said pulpsmith had to have some modicum of talent thrown into the mix.

Frederick C. Davis (1902-1977) has all of these – in spades. Known today as the author of the first 20 Operator #5 adventures, one doesn’t hear his name come up when Max Brand, Erle Stanley Gardner, Lester Dent, Walter Gibson, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are being discussed. And yet, you could pick an old pulp at random today and most likely find a Davis story within its crumbling yellow pages.

He wrote hundreds of pulp stories and a lot of them are really, really good. In addition to those Operator #5 yarns, he also created the Moon Man, cranking out 38 tales of the globed gladiator. Throw in Mark Hazard and Ravenwood and his versatility begins to show through.

The Moon Man, long out of print and never collected until recently, had a much more profound effect on comics than the pulp world of yesteryear. It’s long been established that Superman sprang, partially, from Doc Savage and Batman owes much to the Shadow. But few know how much Spider-Man owes to the Moon Man. Not the classic pulp character, the Spider – the Moon Man. Huh? Stay with me.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Parker’s ‘Pulp Repurposed – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Monday, October 15th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_RobinsonCoverClassicFellow Black Gater Thomas Parker and I have been exchanging our thoughts on the various topics covered here in this column. I mentioned Horace McCoy’s Jerry Frost, head of Hell’s Stepsons, sort of a Seals team for the Air Texas Rangers (also fictional). McCoy is, of course, best-known for his novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. Which I’ve never read. Nor have I seen the movie. So, I asked Thomas. if he’d like to write a guest post on that book. And boy, did he! Read on.


“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” — Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

A while back our own Hardboiled Bob Byrne gave us a run-down of the May, 1934 issue of Black Mask, which featured a story by Horace McCoy, a writer whose fame rests solely on his 1935 novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which probably more people know from the fine 1969 film version starring Jane Fonda than from actually having read. McCoy’s novel is an ambitious piece of work, and with it he was clearly seeking to extend himself beyond the boundaries of commercial pulp – and yet, the mark of Black Mask and its ten and fifteen cent brethren is everywhere in the book. In They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, pulp atmosphere and pulp devices are deployed, but with a deadlier intent than any found in the pages of Dime Detective. Call it pulp repurposed.

In what amounts to a manifesto for the American pulp style, Raymond Chandler famously declared (in his 1944 essay, “The Simple Art of Murder”), that Dashiell Hammett had started the ball rolling because he

gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily use for these purposes.

In other words, Hammett and those who followed him were realists, in both style and substance – at least as compared with proponents of the unbearably artificial (in Chandler’s estimation, anyway) English school like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and the American S.S. Van Dine, the creator of amateur sleuth Philo Vance, dismissed by Chandler as “the most asinine character in detective fiction.”

If the American pulp style praised by Chandler consists of realistic characters with realistic motives using realistic means to commit crimes in contemporary urban settings, then They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? must be considered a prime example of the form, even more so than Chandler’s own Philip Marlowe stories, with their stainless hero and romantic patina.

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Sadistic Vengeance and Grotesque Death — Still Only 20 Cents!

Thursday, August 16th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Adventure Comics 431-small

Just about anything goes in comics today; in terms of sex, violence, subject matter, and language, there aren’t many restraints remaining. That’s not a curmudgeonly complaint but rather a simple statement of fact, and whether the medium has become a free fire zone because of the general disappearance of boundaries in all areas of our culture, or simply because comic creators know that the overwhelming majority of their readers are adults doesn’t much matter. Whatever the cause, it’s easy to pinpoint when comics began to change (for better and worse) from what they were to what they are; the epicenter of that tectonic shift was the so-called Bronze Age, from 1970 to 1985, a period that began with a still-benign Batman polishing his giant penny and ended with Green Arrow’s kid sidekick, Speedy, shooting smack.

So many comic book barriers have come down since those far off days that it’s hard to remember when there were such barriers, and just as hard to remember the earthquake-like impact that resulted when one of those Comics Code Authority-enforced walls was breached. (One unintended but inevitable consequence of the eradication of limits is the loss of the ability to be shocked, or even to recall what being shocked felt like.)

One of the key temblors of that revolutionary Bronze Age era was DC’s Adventure Comics 431, January-February 1974. It featured a character we had learned not to expect too much from — the Spectre, who had last presided over his own title for ten issues from 1967 to 1969. The twelve cent Silver Age Spectre was a comic book of unsurpassed dullness, but those of us privileged to pluck Adventure 431 off the drug store spinner rack knew very quickly that this time our two dimes had bought us something really different.

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Birthday Reviews: Kim Newman’s “Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in ‘The Case of the French Spy'”

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Picacio

Cover by John Picacio

Kim Newman was born on July 31, 1959.

Newman won the Bram Stoker Award for his books Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books, both written with Stephen Jones. He won the British Fantasy Award for his collection Where the Bodies Are Buried and the British SF Association Award for his short story “The Original Mr. Shade.” His novel Anno Dracula won the Prix Ozone, the Lord Ruthven Award, and the International Horror Guild Award, with its sequel, The Blood Red Baron also winning the Prix Ozone and the short story “Coppola’s Dracula” winning the IHG Award. He has been nominated for the Sidewise Award five times, twice for works in his Anno Dracula series, twice for works co-written with Eugene Byrne in their Back in the U.S.S.R. series of stories, and once, with Paul McAuley, for their script for the Prix Victor Hugo, given at Intersection, the 53rd World Science Fiction Convention held in Glasgow.

“Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in ‘The Case of the French Spy’” was originally published in volume one of the anthology Adventure, edited by Chris Roberson in 2005 (there was no volume 2). Stephen Jones reprinted it in Summer Chills: Tales of Vacation Horror. Newman included it in his collection The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, a series to which the story is loosely connected. Jones reprinted the story a second time in the anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth.

Dick, Violet, and Ernest are three kids growing up in Victorian England. To keep themselves occupied, Dick has formed the Richard Riddle Detective Agency, in which he solves minor crimes using Violet’s inquisitiveness and education and Ernest’s muscle. How real the crimes are is a matter of conjecture, and the kids admit that the majority of the “crimes” they solve were committed by their nemesis, Tarquin “Tiger” Bristow. The story is a tribute to the sort of boys adventure stories which flourished from the late nineteenth into the twentieth century.

The Case of the French Spy focuses on a fundamentalist minister, Daniel Sellwood, who comes to the kids’ attention when he destroys a large ammonite that Violet has found. Violet’s current interest is paleontology, but the anti-Darwinian Sellwood views fossils as being planted by the Devil to lead people astray, and therefore only fit for destruction. The members of the Detective Agency soon decide that Sellwood is either a smuggler or a spy and break into a tower that belongs to him, only to discover that his villainy goes much deeper than they had suspected.

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A Neglected Master: The Best of Henry Kuttner

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 | Posted by James McGlothlin

the-best-of-henry-kuttner-del-rey-small the-best-of-henry-kuttner-del-rey-back-small

In Henry Kuttner’s short story “The Voice of the Lobster,” a character who is trying to escape some enemies muses to himself that he wishes he were a Cerean. In a footnote Kuttner includes the following: “The inhabitants of Ceres were long supposed to be invisible. Lately it has been discovered that Ceres has no inhabitants.” (p. 135).

Such is the typical humor of The Best of Henry Kuttner (1975), the fourth installment in Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. The previous volumes in this series all had insightful afterwords by the featured author, but Kuttner’s book does not contain one. Primarily, I take it, because Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) had already been dead for over a decade and a half by the time of publication. A shame though, given how the previous author afterwords in this series shed much light upon the subtext of their stories.

The introduction for this volume was done by the late and legendary Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). As with the previous three volumes, the cover art was by the amazing Dean Ellis (1920-2009).

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