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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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Not Impressed With “The Mazarin Stone”

Monday, January 30th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Mazarin_StickCurrent writers of Sherlock Holmes stories (such stories are known as ‘pastiches’) are held to the standard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals. And rightfully so. But that’s not to say that all sixty of Doyle’s tales featuring his famous detective are of the same quality. Followers of the great detective debate the merits of various stories. I myself am less than thrilled with “The Dying Detective,” since Holmes doesn’t do much of anything in it. He’s less mobile than Nero Wolfe in that one.

But I can’t think of too many fellow Sherlockians (and I don’t mean followers of the BBC television show) who are enamored with “The Mazarin Stone.” I definitely am not and consider it one of the weakest in the entire Canon. Of course, if you haven’t read it, you probably should do so before continuing. You’re back? Good.

The Play’s the Thing

Jack Tracy’s The Published Apocrypha contains the full text of the play The Crown Diamond, as well as an informative essay. “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and The Crown Diamond are pretty much the same story and share much dialogue, differing only in a few minor details.

One of those details worth noting is that Colonel Sebastian Moran is the villain in play, whereas it is Count Negreto Sylvius in the story. Using Moran makes sense, since playgoers likely would know the character, based on his feature role in “The Empty House.” Both men like air guns and are big game hunters, so the real difference is negligible.

Dennis Neilson Terry starred as Holmes in the stage production of The Crown Diamond.  It’s nowhere near as good as Doyle’s play, The Speckled Band, which I wrote about in this post.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – A New Solar Pons Omnibus

Monday, January 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Copper_OmnibusIf you want to read my thoughts on the season four (and hopefully series) finale of BBC’s Sherlock, click on over and read it at my blog. Because today The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes is going to talk about Solar Pons.

August Derleth, the creator of Solar Pons, passed away in 1971. Derleth’s final collection, The Chronicles of Solar Pons, a mix of previously released stories and ones never published, came out in 1973. Surprisingly, Pons would be back within a decade! In 1979, Basil Copper would release three collections of tales: The Dossier of Solar Pons, The Further Adventures of Solar Pons and The Secret Files of Solar Pons. There would be three more collections, as well as a novella. Copper had written horror books for Derleth’s Arkham House imprint and he seemed like a good choice for continuing the stories.

Unfortunately, Copper’s Pons connection did not have a happy ending. He helped Arkham House editor Don Turner compile an omnibus edition of all of Derleth’s released Pons stories. However, Copper chose to do some ‘corrective editing’ of the originals, which caused a furor among the Pontine faithful. You can read Jon Lellenberg’s essay on this topic in The Solar Pons Gazette (page 45). Peter Ruber also wrote an excellent account, but I don’t have permission to reprint that.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Let’s Talk About The Dying Detective

Monday, January 16th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Dying_ConreyLast week I wrote about the season four opener of BBC’s Sherlock, which was an improvement on season three and the abysmal Abominable Bride. But the second episode was yet another huge disappointment, so I’m not going to bother with a negative post about it. However, I’m going to talk about the Canonical story it was based on.

It’s no huge surprise that The Lying Detective was based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale, “The Dying Detective.” As far as that goes, The Lying Detective was actually a decent adaptation of the original story. That’s damning with faint praise, however, as I consider “The Dying Detective” to be one of the weakest stories in the Canon.

Appearing in December of 1913, it was the forty-sixth Holmes story to be published. It was one of just eight stories included in His Last Bow.


SPOILERS – I’m going to talk about a story that’s been out there for over one hundred years. And it features the most popular fictional character of all time. If you REALLY don’t want to be tipped off, jump over here and spend fifteen minutes reading it. You have been warned!

Holmes starves himself, looks ghastly, lays in bed, insults Watson, the villain comes over, helpfully confesses, is arrested and Holmes reveals that the was faking it. Yep, that’s the whole thing. Holmes lies in bed for all but a few seconds of the story (he jumps up to lock Watson in the room). No deducing, no finding clues, no nothing. His work in trying to pin a murder on Culverton Smith all happens beforehand.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock is Back With “The Six Thatchers”

Monday, January 9th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

thatchers_babySeason three of BBC’s Sherlock was an absolute train wreck, destroying what had been a great show. Then The Abominable Bride took the long-awaited Victorian-Era Cumberbatch/Freeman episode and turned it into some stupid psychological modern day shlock involving the dead, giggling Moriarty.

So, season four finally arrived, just shy of three years since season three ended. And you know what? The Six Thatchers wasn’t a disaster. It wasn’t up to the standards of the first two seasons, but it was better than season three.

In a recent interview, Steven Moffat said, “Mark Gatiss and I do not have the delusion that we know better than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That’s how the show works and always will. We reset to the most traditional and famous version of the format.”

And it was exactly when those two thought they knew better than Doyle: when they wrote episodes that alternately pandered to new generation fans and saying ‘look at how smart and clever we are’ (I’m talking about you, season three) that a great show turned to crap. Season three was all about the creators patting themselves on the back and showing how much they didn’t need Doyle to make a Sherlock show. And they lost a huge part of the original fan base in doing so.

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