The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes on the Range

Monday, September 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hockensmith_HoRCoverEDITEDThat’s right: The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes is back! Well, for one week, anyways. A (Black) Gat in the Hand will resume next Monday. There were quite a few topics I never got around to covering during TPLoSH’ 156-ish week run. (Wow!) And one was Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series. I recently got around to finishing the short story collection that I bought for my Nook back in 2011 (I’ve got a bit of a reading backlog, ok?!), and I decided I needed to finally write a post about it, before it got buried in the To Write list again. So, here we go!

There are a lot of ways to go about writing a Sherlock Holmes story. Some folks attempt to very carefully emulate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own style, and turn out a tale that feels as if it might have been done by the creator of the great detective himself. Of course, success varies greatly. Hugh Ashton and Denis O. Smith are the best I’ve found in this regard. You can find stories ranging from pretty good to not suitable for (digital) toilet paper. I’ve had three of my own stories published with ‘meh’ results.

Some folks write whatever the heck they want, often with the name of Holmes being the only similarity to the famed detective. It is possible to find good Holmes stories that sound nothing like Dr. Watson’s narrative style, of course. And Holmes has been placed in different eras, and even worlds.

There have been Holmes parodies around for over a hundred years. I’ve written a couple myself, and they were fun!

There are Holmes-like successors out there, of whom August Derleth’s Solar Pons is the best. Yes, I’m aware that’s a subjective judgement, but it’s mine, and I’m the one writing this essay, so it stands. I’ve written about Pons more than once (here’s a good overview), and even contributed introductions and pastiches to anthologies.

But today I’m going to talk about one of Sherlock Holmes’ contemporaries; albeit, quite different and far away. Steve Hockensmith had been writing short stories for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Christmas issue, and wanted to sell more to the venerably magazine. EQMM does an annual Sherlock Holmes issue, so he figured that was the way to go. But he wanted to write more than just another Holmes story.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Play Ball – The Mets in ‘Please Pass the Guilt’

Thursday, March 28th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

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Archie Goodwin was a fan of America’s national pastime, and the Wolfe Corpus is full of baseball references. One story is even shades of the 1919 Black Sox scandal! In 2020, you’re going to see a lot of Nero Wolfe Wolfe here at Black Gate (assuming I don’t get canned before then). Since today is Opening Day, here’s a little Archie and baseball. Play ball!

Since the Nero Wolfe tales were all essentially set in the year that Rex Stout wrote them, we can answer the question I’m about to posit simply by looking at the publication date. Except, as I’ll show, it couldn’t have been 1973. So that approach is out.

Baseball references can be found throughout the Corpus. Archie was a Giants fan – at least he was until Horace Stoneham abandoned Coogan’s Bluff for sunny San Francisco — while Saul preferred his games at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. There’s no indication of who Saul rooted for after Dem Bums relocated to Los Angeles, though it’s reasonable to assume that he, like Archie, followed the Mets, who played at the Polo Grounds until Shea Stadium was ready.

“This Won’t Kill You” took place at game seven of the World Series, with the Giants playing the Red Sox. All players were fictitious, however. In “Please Pass the Guilt” we get the real deal. Archie goes to visit a prospective client as the Mets are hosting the Pirates. Fortunately, she has the game on television, with Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner calling the action.

Over the course of a couple innings, Archie mentions the actions of several Met players. From his comments, we’re going to reconstruct the two missing pieces of the lineup that day. Which of course first requires us to identify the year. Which poses a few questions but is no problem for a seasoned baseball investigator.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone – 3 Good Reasons: Not Quite Dead Enough

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

NotDeadEnoughPBjpgI have written a LOT about Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons — some of it here at Black Gate. I even write newsletters about each one. And I had a pretty neat hardboiled/pulp column here. But my favorite mystery series, bar none, is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I’ve read and re-read each story multiple times and never tire of them. I even adapted one of the old Sidney Greenstreet radio shows into a pastiche (more of those are coming).

The genesis of Hither Came Conan (which I’m sure you’re following here at Black Gate) was actually an essay I wrote for my first (and so far only) Nero Wolfe Newsletter: 3 Good Things. Since I have far more writing projects (including a similar Robert E. Howard Newsletter) planned than, you know, actually written, issue two of The Brownstone of Nero Wolfe isn’t in the immediate future. So, as time allows, I’m going to write up some new 3 Good Reasons entries and post them here under the Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone moniker. I’d read and write REH and Wolfe just about all day, if I could. So, here we go…

Welcome to the first installment of 3 Reasons. With a goal of eventually tackling every tale of the Corpus, I’ll give three reasons why the particular story at hand is the best Nero Wolfe of them all. Since I’m writing over seventy ‘Best Story’ essays, the point isn’t actually to pick one – just to point out some of what is good in every adventure featuring Wolfe and Archie. And I’ll toss in one reason it’s not the best story. Now — These essays will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned!

The Story

It’s World War II and Archie is ‘Major Goodwin’, working for military intelligence. The Army wants Nero Wolfe to help with a particularly tricky issue, and the corpulent detective won’t talk to anyone. Archie is assigned back to the Brownstone to talk some sense into Wolfe. He finds the world’s most ordered household routine turned upside down and is dragged into a case brought to his attention by Lily Rowan.

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