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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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: George Mann’s Holmes

Monday, January 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

holmes_associatesLast week I wrote about two Titan Books novels from James Lovegrove. I mentioned that there are two distinct lines of Holmes pastiches from Titan (actually, there are other books that don’t fall in either category, such as Kareem Abdul Jabaar’s Mycroft Holmes novel). The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes started as reprints and added new books into the mix and are generally more traditional stories.

The other features more elements of horror, steampunk and/or the supernatural and George Mann’s two novels are part of this line. He has also edited three anthologies for Titan, including a neat little book called The Associates of Sherlock Holmes.

Associates includes thirteen stories; all focusing on a character found in one of Doyle’s sixty original Holmes tales. It’s a neat idea and there are some interesting and creative stories in the mix. The aforementioned Lovegrove’s “Pure Swank” tells us the real story about Barker, Holmes’ ‘hated rival upon the Surrey shore,’ going back to when he was an Irregular.

Hugo Award winner Tim Pratt’s “Heavy Game of the Pacific Northwest” takes Colonel Sebastian Moran to the state of Washington in 1892 to hunt what seems to be Big Foot. It’s a good hunting story that paints quite a portrait of the amoral Moran.

Ian Edington’s “The Case of the Previous Tenant” brings the best of the official force, Surry’s Inspector Baynes, to London. A Viking sword and some borrowing from “The Devil’s Foot” make for a fun read.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Casebooks & Nightmares

Monday, December 26th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

lovegrove_shadwellIn the early 1900’s, Maurice Leblanc had his French detective, Arsene Lupin, face off with Herlock Sholmes. I think you know who he’s battling – spelling disregarded. 1965’s A Study in Terror sent Holmes after Jack the Ripper on movie screens and in 1988, and Sax Rohmer biographer Clay Van Ash brought Holmes and Fu Manchu together in Ten Years Beyond Baker Street. Crossovers have become more and more popular over the years. James Lovegrove currently has Holmes interacting with the Cthulhu mythos.

I don’t do a lot of book reviews here at The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes because I generally don’t like to reveal spoilers. And it can be tough to talk about the strong points of a book without giving away key elements. But sometimes, especially with older books, that’s part of the price of the post. So, I’ll try to limit revelations in this one, but be warned: There be spoilers here!

Lovegrove, who has written several non-Holmes books, is part of Titan’s stable of new Holmes authors. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first of a trilogy, with Sherlock Holmes & The Miskatonic Monstrosities due out in Fall of 2017 and Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea Devils to wrap things up in November of 2018.

The basic premise of the book (yea, 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.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: A Holmes Christmas Carol

Monday, December 19th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

A Holmes Christmas Carol – By Bob Byrne

christmastree_victorianIt is with a certain sense of misgiving that I relate the following tale, which took place during the Christmas season of 1902. I had moved out of our Baker Street lodgings earlier that year, having married only a few months before that most festive of holidays. I now had rooms in Queen Anne Street and was quite busy with my flourishing medical practice. A newly married man, I once again found myself as head of a household, with all of the duties thereof. I saw Holmes infrequently, but had found the time to visit him the day before Christmas. Certain that he would have no plans of any kind, I extended to him an invitation to join my wife and I for Christmas day.

Holmes rebuffed my attempts to have him share in the holiday spirit with us. “Watson, I have no use for the Christmas season. Is it rational to believe a man rose from the dead? And even if it were, do you not see the hypocrisy of it all? For one day, a man will give a beggar a farthing, because it is Christmas. He would pass by that beggar 364 other days and pay him no mind. That is Christmas?”

I could not recall Holmes being so churlish. When we had roomed together, he had not been an avid celebrator of Christmas, but he did accommodate my warm feelings towards the season. Now, left to his own devices, it seemed that his natural contrariness was shining through. I made one last effort to have him spend a pleasant dinner at the Watson household. It was to no avail.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Field Bazaar

Monday, December 12th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

field_doyleIn December of 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rather unceremoniously tossed Sherlock Holmes off of a ledge at the Reichenbach Falls, stunning (and angering) the great detective’s legion of fans. Doyle, who famously said that Holmes “kept him from better things” (meaning, the more important, much less popular works that Doyle really wanted to write), insisted that he was done with Holmes and that was that.

Of course, from August 1901 through September of 1902, The Strand Magazine serialized the most famous of all the Holmes tales, The Hound of the Baskervilles. But Doyle let fans know that this was a tale from before Reichenbach and the great detective was still D-E-A-D dead.

However, the temptation of big and easy money was too much for the author to resist and he was lured into writing the short stories that made up The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

However, most casual fans do not know that Doyle actually gave Holmes a return appearance in 1896: yes, five years before Watson travelled to Dartmoor with Sir Henry. Read on…

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cool and Lam are Back!!!!

Monday, December 5th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

coollam_heatErle Stanley Gardner is best known as the creator of Perry Mason. Mason, of course, was the famous lawyer portrayed almost three hundred times (!!!) by Raymond Burr, spanning three decades of television. But Gardner was a prolific pulpster who wrote far, far more than just Mason stories.

For example, his Ed Jenkins was one of the early hard boiled detectives appearing in Black Mask. And under the name of A.A. Fair, he wrote twenty-nine thoroughly entertaining novels about the mismatched PIs, Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. And that’s who we’re going to talk about today. Make sure you read to the end for some very cool news (No, don’t just jump ahead to there, please!).

Cool and Lam appeared in twenty-nine novels over thirty-one years, with the final tale coming out the same month Gardner passed away.

Bertha Cool, profane, massive, belligerent and bulldog, sat back of her desk, her diamonds flashing in the morning sunlight as she moved her hand over a pile of papers….

Bertha Cool said, “Now, don’t make any mistakes about Donald. He’s a go getter. God knows he hasn’t any brawn, but he has brains. He’s a half-pint runt and a good beating raises hell with him, but he knows his way around.

Donald can find her if anyone can. He isn’t as young as he looks. He got to be a lawyer, and they kicked him out when he showed a client hot to commit a perfectly legal murder. Donald thought he as explaining a technicality in the law, but the Bar Association didn’t like it. They said it as unethical. They also said it wouldn’t work…

‘Donald came to work for me, and the first case he had, damned if he didn’t show ‘em there was a loophole in the murder law through which a man could drive a horse and buggy. Now they’re trying to amend the law. That’s Donald for you!”

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