The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Crimes Club

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


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, 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


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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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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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Mysteries at Hallmark

Monday, June 13th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

My wife and I enjoy watching murder mystery movies on Hallmark. More accurately, the Hallmark Movies and Mystery Channel (HMMC). Many of them had previously run on the Hallmark Channel that most folks are more familiar with. My previous cable provider didn’t provide HMMC at the tier I purchased, and many of my friends don’t have it either. It’s out there, but it’s not a low-tier feature in many systems.

Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of viewing for mystery fans. They air reruns of shows such as Hart to Hart, Matlock, Diagnosis Murder, Murder She Wrote and Perry Mason. And a staple of the schedule is Columbo. I haven’t seen every episode, but I’ve seen many of them several times and I never get tired of watching Peter Falk do his thing. “Uh, say, just one more thing…”

I also like a couple of old Hallmark franchises that have come to rest at HMMC.

Most folks knew Kellie Martin first as cute little Beckie (Becca) Thatcher in Life Goes On (a poignant, well done series) and later on as nurse Lucy Knight in ER. But from 2003 through 2007, she made eleven Mystery Woman movies for Hallmark. She played bookstore owner Samantha Kinsey, who constantly found herself involved in murders (that’s going to be a common theme in this post).


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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Navajo Sherlock Holmes – Joe Leaphorn

Monday, April 25th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Wes Studi (Leaphorn) with Adam Beach (Chee)

Last week, we had something of an introduction to Tony Hillerman and his Navajo Tribal Police novels. A quick read before continuing on here might serve you well. Or, you can throw caution to the wind and keep going!

In July of 1945, Hillerman was was on a sixty day convalescent furlough from World War II, with a patch over a damaged eye and a cane to assist his gimpy leg. He had been wounded near the German village of Niefern. Carrying a stretcher under fire, he  had stepped on a mine. Now being carried himself on a stretcher, the man holding the front stepped on a mine and Hillerman was on the ground again. Someone picked him up in a fireman’s carry, dropped him in a creek, got him to a jeep and laid him across the hood. Hillerman made it out, alive (He would receive the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart for his service).

Now temporarily back in the States, he had gotten a job driving pipe from Oklahoma City to an oil well drilling site on the Navajo checkerboard reservation. He stopped as a stick carrier’s camp crossed the road in front of him. They were making the ritual delivery of a scalp to the camp of a Navajo serviceman receiving an Enemy Way ceremonial. That’s a bit different than a deer crossing the road!

Hillerman’s first novel, some twenty years later, heavily involved an Enemy Way (that was his choice for the title. His publisher selected a completely unrelated ceremonial, The Blessing Way).

Tony Hillerman had been a reporter for many years and had also written nonfiction when he decided to write his first novel. As influences, he has cited Ross MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, George V. Higgins, Ernest Hemingway (“when he was still young enough to care about it”), Graham Greene and Eric Ambler (a master of suspense who has become unfairly forgotten over the years).

A less familiar name is that of Arthur Upfield, who wrote about the Australian Aborigine, Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. Hillerman frequently cited Upfield’s ability to make the setting seem real. That same descriptive ability is at the core of the Leaphorn and Chee books.

And speaking of those books…

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