Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes - Post 9

Likely the first edition
Just as Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a distinct subgenre of Holmes literature, the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes is another distinct and multifaceted subgenre. A glance down this post should illustrate my point.  There have been at least 5 volumes assembled by different men for different publishers [sadly no women editors of RIVALS OF HOLMES that I am aware of. If someone knows differently, please let me know].

Then, of course, there are the many follow-ons both by Greene and some of the other editors.

The first thing I want to know when I pick up two or more of these books is if there is any commonality among the books. Unfortunately I do not have access to my complete collection, thus a sampling must do for now.

Alan K. Russell
The first and primary volume was edited by Hugh Greene, once a British journalist and a television executive, namely, Director-General of the BBC. Here are the contents of his first book in his Rivals series, published by The Bodley Head of the UK in hardcover in 1970, and quickly followed by the same book being published in the U.S. by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House. Some of the stories were subsequently adapted for a BBC [one wonders how much Greene was involved] television series of the same name, broadcast in 1971-73.

Author                          Story                                                               
Max Pemberton             The Ripening Rubies                                    

Arthur Morrison            The Case of Laker, Absconded 
Guy Boothby                 The Duchess of Wiltshire's Diamonds   
Arthur Morrison             The Affair of the 'Avanlanche Bicycle and Tyre Co. Ltd,'

Clifford Ashdown           The Assyrian Rejuvenator            

L. T. Meade and

Robert Eustace                Madame Sara            

Clifford Ashdown           The Submarine Boat            

William Le Queux          The Secret of the Fox Hunter            

Baroness Orczy               The Mysterious Death on the                                                                           Underground Railway                 

R. Austin Freeman          The Moabite Cipher            

Baroness Orczy               The Woman in the Big Hat

William Hope

Hodgson                          The Horse of the Invisible

Ernest Bramah                The Game Played in the Dark

The next big Rivals book was published by Barnes and Noble/Castle Books  in 1978 and was edited by Alan K. Russell. It contains 40 stories, while Greene included 13 in his volume.  As far as I can tell, "Madame Sara" by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace is the only story in both volumes. Russell brought out RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES 2 two years later also from Barnes and Noble/Castle Books.

My intention here is merely to bring attention to the RIVALS series subgenre, in the event that some fans run out of deductive reading.

Greene eventually came out with at least three more follow-ons: The Crooked Counties, Cosmopolitan Crimes, and The American Rivals.

In the interim BBC broadcast its TV  version of the books [available in two DVD sets] with much success.

Eventually, 2013, Barnes and Noble released a new Rivals through its Fall River Publishing subsidiary edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz. 

There is yet another edited by Nick Rennison [2016] and still another edited by Graeme Davis. [2019].

I have read many of the stories included in most of these volumes, and they are delightful.  Conan Doyle not only created Holmes; in effect, he was responsible for the myriad exciting detectives that followed by diverse hands.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of The Name of the Rose—Post 8

I own three copies of The Name of the Rose.
The trade paperback pictured above includes
the author's Postscript, which is most
enlightening. In the middle of this post is the
fine hardcover Everyman’s Library edition.
And at the end of the post is the first version
that I read in the 1980s, the first massmarket
The question is often asked, “Why did Umberto Eco chose the title ‘The Name of the Rose’ for his first novel?” The answer to this question may be of especial interest because the only substantive reference to a rose in the entire 560-page book is in the last sentence: “It is cold in the scriptorium, my thumb aches. I leave this manuscript, I do not know for whom; I no longer know what it is about: stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.” (“Yesterday’s rose endures in its name, we hold empty names.”)

Eco’s own explanation in his ‘Postscript to The Name of the Rose’ does little to lift the veil from this enigma. Despite saying many things that frustratingly circle round and round a concrete answer, the most that Eco is willing to say is that the concept of “rose” has bifurcated so many times that it really doesn’t mean anything at all any more. In his words: "The idea of calling my book “The Name of the Rose” came to me... because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left..."

On another track, as long as “The Name of the Rose” has been available in English, I’ve been a bit annoyed that I’ve encountered through all these thirty-eight years since publication, little or no credence of the simplest of facts: “The Name of the Rose” is first and foremost a Sherlock Holmes pastiche—right up there with “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution”, “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula”, and “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”. Indeed, my library includes a number of books by Eco and about Eco, and any such clear declaration has successfully avoided my earnest attention. Yes, of course, most professional reviewers, throughout these almost four decades, mention that the novel is a mystery set in 1327, and most mention Eco's debt to Arthur Conan Doyle…but most such reviewers seem obligated to muddy the waters by referencing in the same breath Bacon, St. Augustine, Aquinas, and Aristotle. It’s as if they either cannot admit, or admit in public, that the novel is at heart obviously and principally a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes. 

The main character’s name is “William of Baskerville,” and it’s unlikely many would miss the Baskerville reference to Holmes’ most renowned novel; but, likewise, it is just as unlikely that most readers would know the source of “William”. The late Holmesian scholar William Baring-Gould, who imaginatively "filled out" Sherlock Holmes's life and who was so respected for his efforts that his extrapolations were considered very nearly Canon by many of his generation, tells us in his biography of the sleuth—“Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street”—that Holmes's parents had three boys, Sherrinford in 1845, Mycroft in 1847, and Sherlock seven years later. Holmes' father wished to name their third-born son after the 17th century theologian William Sherlock, but his mother preferred naming the child after her favorite author, Sir Walter Scott. "At last," says Baring-Gould, "a compromise was arrived at. The boy was baptized William Sherlock Scott Holmes." Of course, Umberto Eco, polymath and erudite scholar that he was, would have known this. Thus, William of Baskerville, is without doubt a 14th century version of Sherlock Holmes, period. Bacon, Aquinas, St. Augustine, and Aristotle are window dressing in my view.

Thus, this week, while focusing on a Sherlock Holmes project, and of course always being fully aware of the mystery surrounding Eco’s title, I began to wonder if the book title “The Name of the Rose” might have something directly to do with Sherlock Holmes. I pulled out my reference books, opened up my search engines, always looking for a literary point where Holmes and “The Name of the Rose” crossed paths. In due course, I felt my research hit pay dirt! “The Story of the Bald-Headed Man,” the fourth chapter of Doyle’s novel “The Sign of the Four” includes an enigmatic aside spoken by one Mr. Thaddeus Sholto. By way of explaining his nontraditional surroundings Sholto says, ‘I have a natural shrinking from all forms of rough materialism…. I live, as you see, with some little atmosphere of elegance around me. I may call myself a patron of the arts. It is my weakness. The landscape [on that wall] is a genuine Corot, and, though a connoisseur might perhaps throw a doubt upon that Salvator Rosa, there cannot be the least question about the Bouguereau. I am partial to the modern French school."

Salvator Rosa’s “Allegory of Fortune” (1658-59)

The reference to “Salvator Rosa” would be to an unspecified painting in Sholto’s possession by the seventeenth-century Neapolitan painter, Salvator Rosa. It occurred to me that the “Rose” in the title “The Name of the Rose”, might be intentionally misleading.  

Perhaps the “Rose” in the title was intended to be read as “Rosa” (the word as it appeared in the original title, “Il nome della rosa”), and thus a reference to the painter much in the manner we would talk about a Rembrant or a Picasso. In other words, “The Name of the Rose” could be “The Name of the Rosa” referring to some specific Rosa painting. After all, the semilogist who wrote such an amazing novel so full of symbolism and signs, could well have titled it just so, so as to add one last layer of literary mystery.

Playing this hunch and using the Internet I quickly found the perfect candidate for the Rosa, if a Rosa was being referred to: it would be the painting housed at the Getty Museum that is called “Allegory of Fortune,” which would be a perfectly reasonable title for Eco’s novel. But what cinched it for me is the brief description of the painting that is posted on the Getty site ( ):

“A personification of Fortune bestows symbols of wealth, status, and power on dumb animals who neither need nor deserve them…. The beasts, portrayed with stark realism, trample the attributes of art and learning, including books and a palette. Draped in the cardinal red of the Catholic Church, an ass shields an owl, the symbol for wisdom, from the light. Bitter over his exclusion from papal patronage, Rosa included personal references: a book bearing his monogram and a pig stepping on a rose, which alludes to his name. As a satire of Pope Alexander VII's nepotistic artistic patronage, this painting nearly sent Rosa to prison. After showing it privately in his studio, he flagrantly disregarded all advice and exhibited it publicly in the Pantheon in 1659. Allegory of Fortune aroused such a furor that only intervention by the pope's brother saved him…. Fortune is usually represented with a blindfold, but Salvator Rosa showed her fully aware of her favors. Similarly, the cornucopia is usually shown facing upward; by depicting it overturned, Rosa expressed reckless extravagance”
Thus, it may be that for Eco, the name of the Rosa was “Allegory of Fortune.” 

By Thomas Kent Miller
(copyright © 2018 Thomas Kent Miller)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Book of the Dead by Robert Richardson (1989)—Post 7

The 1989 hardcover from St. Martin's Press
Thirty years ago I belonged to some Doubleday book clubs—mystery and science-fiction among them.  (The clubs are still around, but now they are owned by Book Span, a division of Random House, which also swallowed up Doubleday long ago.) In 1990, through the Mystery Guild Book Club, I acquired The Book of the Dead by Robert Richardson. I bought it because it was described as a book within a book, a mystery within a mystery—and the secondary book was a Sherlock Holmes novella to boot!  Well, books within books make my heart sing. I looked forward to reading it.
The protagonist, that is to say, the wannabe detective is a playwright and novelist named Augustus Maltravers. The Book of the Dead is the third novel featuring Maltravers, the first two being An Act of Evil and Skeleton Key.  Maltravers turns up in a series of six novels, the final three being The Dying of the Light, Murder in Waiting, and The Lazarus Tree. In 2014 and 2015, Endeavour Press reissued all six books as Kindle e-books, and they seem to be selling quite well.

Now, despite all my excellent intentions and my fondness on many levels for the book’s subjects and structure, for good or ill, it went unread these last 28 years, but I determined I would finally crack it open, read it, and comment upon it for this, my “Ruminations” blog.

Of course, since there are two books in one, something should be said about both of them. I’ll begin with the Sherlock Holmes story.  Its title is "The Attwater Firewitch" and it constitutes 47 pages of this 183-page hardcover novel. Since 1974, Holmes pastiches have been streaming endlessly from a bottomless well, books and stories numbering into the thousands. And most of them follow the traditional Conan Doyle model of having Watson sit down and craft a narrative version of a Holmes adventure. I have not read but a smattering of these; and those that I have read, usually do a fair-to-great job of approximating Watson’s vocabulary, cadence, tone, and so forth. Those pieces that cannot meet these criteria jarred me out of my pleasant suspension of disbelief.  Well, in point of fact, Richardson’s attempt at crafting a story as though he was Watson is not especially successful, at least to my “ear.” His Watson simply sounds too modern.

Then, there is the story, or plot, of this pastiche. It is mainly a new take on The Hound of the Baskervilles and offers little least in 2018; it may have "played" better in 1989. Its inclusion in a contemporary mystery novel, though, implies that this Holmes story must contain some element that helps Maltravers solve the contemporary mystery...and indeed it does, but in such a minor, almost insignificant manner, that I felt the author, Richardson, was stretching, and that he really ought to have tried harder.
The Endeavour Press e-book

As to the Maltravers mystery, it’s adequate. The novel is a by-the-numbers novel of manners set in a large and ancient manor house. To my taste the solution to the murder is a bit of a deus ex machina, while Booklist says it is a thoroughly English mystery. Frankly I’ve not read many modern English mysteries. Nevertheless I get the impression that such works are expected to harbor as a matter of course some dryness, some OCD tendencies, servants, and some obligatory scenes of elegant dining, either breakfast or dinner, with many people sitting around the table.

I suppose the $64,000 question at this point is, Was it worth it?—the book being on hold for 28 years? Of course I could say that I’m mainly dissatisfied with the book, as I expected more from the book-within-a-book device, especially after frequently thinking about the book for 28 years; but who am I to judge given that a glance at customer reviews shows that lots of people love the book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Dining with Sherlock Holmes (1976) Rosenblatt & Sonnenschmidt - Post 6

My Post No. 1 pointed out that the modern era of Sherlock Holmes fandom began—gaining overnight an unprecedented popularity—when Nicholas Meyer and Dutton Publishers brought out The Seven-Per-Cent Solution in 1974. Of course, for decades before then, many Sherlockian organizations existed with local branches all over the world. Yet these Baker Street Irregulars, as they were sometimes called, in whole or in part, had an underground existence with members from all walks of life, which members consistently wrote, according to the authors of Dining with Sherlock Holmes, "volumes about the experiences and habits of the Great Detective of Baker Street. The literature of the field known as the Writings on the Writings or the Higher Criticism has spawned endless discourse over the most minute details of Holmes' life and 'death.'"

Throughout the year, both then and now, in the USA and overseas, regular celebrations and parties and tributes and gatherings were held to honor Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and their noted agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Restaurants were sometimes dressed to recreate the famous rooms at 221B Baker Street. From more pipes and cigars than any ordinary person would ever encounter in one place, wafted vast columns and volumes of noxious smoke, for the attendees of these functions cherished and emulated Holmes' use of tobacco. The irony is that these attendees more often than not were professionals, including all kinds of doctors of medicine.

Further, these get-togethers  usually included elaborate illustrated formal presentations wherein the presenters gave dead-serious analysis of why Holmes was tall and angular, or why Watson couldn't remember where his war wound was located, or, for that matter, why it was that he sometimes lost track of his various marriages.

Similarly, from this environment issued countless volumes of specialized reasoning, published in small batches destined for the confreres of this esoteric order.

Yet, as busy and as devoted as this widespread clique of fans were, their activities were known mainly to themselves. Yes, of course, there were countless Holmes movies that kept the character's flame alive.  Nevertheless, the more serious-minded tended to look disdainfully at these celluloid outings. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution changed all that. Overnight, Holmes became big business and a household word. A torrent of books, novels, and story anthologies quickly issued from the publishing industry, and I must admit that when I picked up this cookbook and saw that it was published in 1976, a mere two years after The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, I naturally believed it was yet another volume to hop on the Sherlock Holmes bandwagon. Yet as I investigated the book, the more I realized that it was more likely that this book was in the process of development long before 1974 and that it was, in fact, meant to be one of those specialized volumes for the Irregular community, but was deemed complete enough and singular enough that it was granted a broader distribution and became a part of the post-Seven-Per-Cent Solution wave in any case.

The purpose of this book is to provide recipes for the many meals that Mrs Hudson cooked for her illustrious boarders, as well as for dozens of other meals that appear in the Canon. Some examples:  stuffed lemon piquant, spinach tarts, roast chicken Lestrade, English dill loaf, cold woodcock, bread pudding, white wine sherbet, glazed turnips, and, my personal favorite beefsteak and kidney pie, and 220 pages of such delights.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (1978) "edited" by Loren D. Estleman—The Second Part—5b

With Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, Loren D. Estleman, who by the way now has an excellent reputation as a contemporary mystery novelist, fashioned a traditional (i.e., ordinary) Holmes pastiche, despite the dramatic inclusion of the king of Counts. Whether this new story idea was originally Estleman's or his agent's, or even his publisher's, who can say?

Watson performs his scribe role admirably, but at the end of the adventure, Holmes indicates that publishing such a tale would be inadvisable, as long as there were surviving participants. Thus Watson sequestered his notes on the subject and paid them little mind for a number of years, but there came a day when Holmes sent a message, the gist of which was, "Write it up and publish it now." Holmes' dearest friend obliged (but then, Holmes changed his mind and Watson's record of that adventure remained unpublished until the ms. fell into into the hands of Estleman resulting in the manuscript finally coming to life.)

Riding his success in this new-for-him style of writing, Estleman embarked on a similar thriller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes. It too enjoyed some success, but then the author-cum-"editor" put his deerstalker, magnifying glass, and blue pencil in the bottom drawer of his bedroom press and returned to the maze-like mysteries of our modern world; though an occasional short story from Watson by way of Estleman would later be found in the occasional anthology.

Years later, the Quality Book Club issued a nice trade paperback that contained both from Dr. Watson's hand. It's a handsome, sturdy volume. It's fun to have both of these novels bound together, as there is so much that binds them together.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (1978) "edited" by Loren D. Estleman—Post 5a

Before I begin my comments on Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, I want to apologize.  I had no sooner started this “Ruminations” book review blog in early December than I suffered two separate health emergencies. I posted my last review on December 27, 2018 and today is February 4, which means I lost 39 days while recovering. I also came to the understanding that it’s unrealistic for me to read one Sherlock Holmes book a week and post a review. Therefore, I will post new reviews only as I am able, or somewhat irregularly. Thank you for your continued interest.

So far in this column I've reviewed books that are historically important and/or not necessarily traditional Holmes. I view Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula by Loren D. Estleman to be untraditional—at least in its own day, having special significance today for at least three reasons:

(1)   The American paperback publisher of SHvD in 1978-1979 was Penguin Books, a company with big international connections. It appears that Penguin had a mystery line, if advertisements in the back pages for Georges Simenon, Graham Greene, Geoffrey Household, and Lionel Davidson are any indication. Nevertheless, the company's editorial focus for decades seemed to be mainly on public domain classics, for example Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Jack London, and Wilkie Collins.

Then in 1979, Penguin published the American mass-market paperback of Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula. This no doubt raised a few eyebrows for the reasons that (a) it was probably the company's first foray (if not THE first, then amongst the first) into uncharted new popular fiction by a contemporary author, (b) nevertheless, its design staff seemed to have been intransient regarding modernizing the company's decades-old cover design. Thus SHvD was released appearing no different from the company's titles for Poe, James, Twaine, London, ad infinitum. Still this may have been deliberate, as I will show in the second reason.

(2)  All the above notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that once Penguin committed to publishing SHvD, they provided at least one giant-sized wink to both players of the Holmes "Great Game" as well as to ordinary Sherlock Holmes fans who happened to be observant. Frankly this wink I find immensely pleasurable!

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. But a bit of preface is advisable first. Ordinarily the very first page of a book is called the "half title" page which merely presents the book title without reference to the author.  Hardcover books and trade paperbacks usually comply to this standard; however, the publishers of most mass-market paperbacks, long ago eschewed this practice, preferring to place countless glowing critics' reviews on the first pages. Penguin books has also consistently ignored common practice by—more staidly—dedicating the first page of its books, a practice continuing into the present, to thumbnail authors' biographical information.

Thus, for example, the first page of a book by M.R. James would display a note on James' life condensed down to 50 or 150 words. For instance, here is the real first page from a James' book:

As I said, co-oping the "half title" to display functional yet scholarly mini-biographies, has been a Penguin practice for decades. Thus when the time came to use in a functional manner that sacrosanct first "half title" page for its new acquisition, Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula, by John H, Watson as edited by Loren Estleman, Penguin's editors, rather unstaid-like, placed their tongues firmly in their cheeks, and produced the classic mini-biographies that follow:

(3)    Further, it may well be that SHvD may be the first post-Seven-Percent pastiche to centrally feature another writer's fictional characters—if not the first, then certainly amongst the first, and, in any case, proving to be far more influential than not.

  To be continued and concluded in Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula by Loren D. Estleman—Post 5b.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Ken Greenwald (1989) - Post 4

by Ken Greenwald, based on the original radio plays 
by Denis Green and Anthony Boucher.

In the 1930s and 40s, before television, individuals and families clustered around the radio much as they do with the TV these days. They listened intently to the plethora of variety shows, the news, serious drama, and adventures. The radio networks were filled with radio plays, many based on properties that existed long before radio became popular, shows like SUPERMAN and THE LONE RANGER. One such show was THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In 1946, Rathbone left the show, passing the baton to perhaps half a dozen actors. The show remained popular for four more years.

Regarding why I consider this to be a landmark Sherlockian book, here is the backstory: Rathbone and Bruce were in the first 220 half-hour radio episodes of THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, which aired from 1939 to 1950. Apparently audio recordings of the whole series existed and were available for 40-odd years—except 1945. The recordings for all of 1945 were considered lost. But in the 1980s, a vintage radio club that included Ken Greenwald located the lost recordings. They produced at least one LP with the recordings, and then somebody had the idea to write short stories based on the recovered 1945 shows. Greenwald took up the challenge and by 1988 he brought into the world 13 new Sherlock Holmes short stories in a book titled THE LOST ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.

Greenwald was obviously tuned into the Holmes pastiche culture of that era, which is something I conclude because THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION started the tsunami of Holmes pastiches only about a decade earlier, assuming Greenwald began writing in the early or mid-1980s. For example, the book includes an excellent framing device at the start and a clever Introduction by Dr. John H. Watson explaining how the fortunes of this, his last volume of Holmes stories, was less than stellar due to all of England preparing for The Great War (aka World War I) in 1914. The few copies that were printed eventually faded away and the entire book was forgotten.

To my taste, all 13 stories are well-crafted and enjoyable. In his Foreword, Greenwald admits having trepidations about his writing style, concerned that the stories may seem “off key” because Doyle/Watson was not the true author. In my view the stories, which are told from Watson’s point of view, which is only right and proper, succeed in wonderfully evoking Dr. Watson page after page.

The titles of the stories are “The Adventure of the Second Generation,” “The April Fools’ Adventure,” “The Case of the Amateur Mendicants,” “The Adventure of the Out-of-Date Murder,” “The Case of Demon Barber,” “Murder Beyond the Mountains,”  “The Case of the Uneasy Easy Chair,” “The Case of the Baconian Cipher,” “The Adventure of a Headless Monk,”  “The Case of the Camberwell Poisoners,” “The Adventure of the Iron Box,” “The Case of the Girl with the Gazelle,” and “The Adventure of the Notorious Canary Trainer.”