Oscillation on the Pavement….

For aren’t we all just a little bit in love with Sherlock Holmes?

I’ve written this blog post over a dozen times—in my head—and each time, it’s gone differently. In the end, I suppose I will have to accept that I won’t feel completely content with this decision, even if it is the most realistic. When I began this blog, back in January of 2012, I had just come off of a year-long binge of reading absolutely nothing but Sherlockian canon and pastiche, brought on when when I finished what was, in 2010, the entire run of Preston and Child’s Pendergast series. Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast was based on Holmes, everyone said, and since my attempts at reading Conan Doyle’s stories had fallen flat two times prior, I picked up a pastiche instead—Edward Hanna’s The Whitechapel Horror, which I’d read in the early 90’s. After that came Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow and then, the canon. By the time I’d finished “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” I was absolutely on fire, and longed to be able to share my excitement with others—except there weren’t any “others” in the small Indiana city where I lived. I could only find my fellow obsessives online, and they all seemed much more erudite, talented, and adult than I—even though I was 44 at the time. Jaime Mahoney’s “Better Holmes and Gardens,” a feminist-leaning blog (written by someone named Iris,maybe?), the long, continuing list of pastiche on “schoolandholmes”…those are the ones I remember most. I discovered the Baker Street Babes podcast and listened to it while I did housework, marveling at these bright young women who got to sit in a room together and talk about their passions the way I longed to do (yes, I did think they were all in the same room, the same way small children think people live in the radio). At some point that year, I stumbled onto Sherlockian.net and learned more about the BSI and scion societies. Finally, in the fall of 2011, I decided on my niche and decided to throw my own blog out into the Sherlockian world. My initial (and quite naïve) goal was to write reviews of all of the Holmesian pastiches—little did I know that, thanks to the RDJ movies and the BBC’s Sherlock, we were about to be engulfed in a flood of them! So it was that, on January 6, 2012, “The Well-Read Sherlockian” blog went live, urging any reader who happened to stumble upon it to “take a peek inside the tin dispatch box.”

I really knew nothing about blogging or book reviewing, and while I did know a bit about SEO, I didn’t care enough to make a point of that. I just wanted to write about Sherlock Holmes and books. But, as frequently happens when you pursue something you love, I caught the attention of some “kindred spirits” who appreciated my rather lengthy, in-depth reviews and, poised as I was on the cusp of the most recent pastiche boom, things took off rather quickly. I started to meet other Sherlockians in real life. I attended scion meetings, parties, book signings, conferences, and two BSI Weekends. I was given so many wonderful opportunities to contribute to the ever-growing body of Holmesian writing–by proofreading, editing, transcribing, reviewing, contributing to anthologies, and even writing an actual book (A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year With Sherlock Holmes, Wessex Press, 2016) with Jaime N. Mahoney. It wasn’t the prairie novel 11 year-old me had envisioned writing in 1978, but it was exciting, and it still seems so unreal to have my name on a book. I met so many wonderful people–and if a few turned out to be not so wonderful in the end, they only served to further illuminate the generous, the kind, the erudite, the witty and the true. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the lonely years of my forties, Sherlockians saved my sanity and gave me a sense of achievement and connection that many stay-at-home mothers with young children struggle to find. I dare say that you all kept me off Prozac for a little longer than would have happened otherwise.

But at the same time that I was taking pages of notes to make sure I got every detail and connection in every book I reviewed, or filling our kitchen and bookshelves with notebooks and files and books and books and books, the kids were growing up, my husband’s job was changing, and, well, I was, too. In 2016, we moved to a larger city several hours north, where we could have some stability and be nearer to our families. In 2018, the kids were old enough for me to go back to work (up to that time, childcare costs would have eaten up anything I could have earned), and I was able to find a job in the local library system. It was at this point that everything began to change.

In BBC’s Sherlock, there is a scene in which Sherlock and Mycroft discuss how they didn’t know they were different until they met other children. When my three were very little, I didn’t see anything unusual about them. Sure, they couldn’t stay quiet during a library story time or Kindermusik. My daughter preferred to run around rather than stand in line when we (briefly) tried ballet. But—they were little kids, right? And I was probably a subpar mother; I had always felt like there was some sort of women’s code for which everyone but me (and probably my own mother) had the key. When my daughter started school, I spent a fair amount of time going to special conferences, or silently seething when a Bible school teacher felt the need to discuss yet another behavior quirk one of my kids showed in class. “They’re so smart, but…,” became such a common refrain that I eventually stopped listening. In the meantime, I was forgetting to go through backpacks, fibbing my way through reading logs, and generally being “the late parent.” But all mothers were frazzled, right? They all forgot or lost permission slips. Other moms got their kids “gas station breakfast,” surely? And if I occasionally missed a bill or bounced a payment here or there, well, it wasn’t like I had never done it before and it was hardly fatal. When you have kids and a husband whose job demands all of his energy and most of his time, this is just how it is, right?

Not really.

Whenever my kids—particularly my daughter—came to me with a problem, I tried to console them that “it’s like this for everybody.” And I truly believed that. It turns out, however, than when most other women talk about being behind on housework, they don’t….mean….what I do when I say that. No matter that everyone says that they’ve “cleaned up for company,” or for the online photo, their mess does not look like mine. Nor do their laundry piles. Or their floors. It doesn’t take them 20 minutes to get out the door every single morning because they cannot find their keys, badges, inhalers, whatever. They don’t rummage in cavernous bags for their debit cards or credit cards or library cards or licenses while the line behind them grows and grows and grows. I know this, because every day I watch as patron after patron reaches in a purse or wallet and magically pulls out the right card—without having to clutter the desk with CVS receipts, old bills and lint-covered cough drops.

For years I had assumed that all of this would improve as my kids got older and needed less hands-on attention. That did not happen. When your children become teenagers, they actually need more attention than they did at seven or eight. You’re no longer wiping noses and tying shoes, you’re guiding souls and mending hearts; mentally and emotionally, it’s demanding, it’s essential, and you can’t put your child off just because you had a long day at work and the carpet is full of dog hair and you need to write a blog post. At the same time, I took a position with more hours. We got a second dog. I taught Bible classes at church, chauffeured kids here and there, and began working on another book. And if life seemed more than a little overwhelming and out of control, well, I just had to work harder, right? “Just do it,” I told Katie when she told me she just couldn’t muster what it took to write a paper or finish a project. “Just get a grip and do it,” I told myself.

Then my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. From first grade on, teacher after teacher had “suggested” that we pursue this with her, but we chose not too. In the early 2000’s, I’d tutored a child who started ADHD meds while I was working with him; he went from a distractible but lively little boy who loved dinosaurs to a child who was all but unrecognizable to me. The available medications had side effects that worried me, while my husband was afraid that such a diagnosis would hold his bright little girl back and stigmatize her at school. Over time, I became convinced that, sure, perhaps there was something going on in that little head but, I told myself, she needed to learn how to work with the type of brain she had. For awhile, this was true, and she was able to develop coping and management strategies that enabled her to do well in school and not annoy her teachers too much. Her father and I felt vindicated.

ADHD/ADD has a nasty little tendency, however, to creep out between the gaps in whatever structures you’ve built to contain it. As the demands of life increase, it can become more difficult to hang onto whatever order you’ve be able to create, and you have to work even harder to do the most basic tasks, let alone things like schoolwork. At first, we thought that our daughter was dealing with anxiety and depression—heaven knows there’s a long and illustrious family history of both—and she was. What we didn’t realize right away was that the root cause of those was her struggle with ADHD, and it was while I was reading up on it, at her insistance, that I realized….

Whenever one of our children got a “needs improvement” in “Executive Function” on their report card, I would laugh and tell my husband that they came by it naturally. I was right. It happens so frequently that it starts to sound like a cliché, but most adult attention deficits are diagnosed when parents take their children to be evaluated and, due to the way it frequently presents in girls, ADD/ADHD is underdiagnosed in women. It was definitely not a thing when I was a kid in the1970’s. It also helped that I was bright, and that our family size (14 kids) meant that my parents had to focus on order and logistics. We were also very religious so, while I can see, looking back, that I was impulsive, it didn’t come out in teenage experimentation or brushes with the legal system, the way ADD experts say it can, and if I was disorganized, wasn’t always able to recognize or establish personal boundaries, and had persistent difficulty managing my finances or my time, well, those were character flaws I needed to work on. It never occurred to me, as I grew into an adult, that my brain chemistry might be making those changes more difficult to achieve than they might have been. It never dawned on me that the frankly obscene caffeine tolerance I’d developed was the result of self-medication, with every form of cola known to man replacing the dopamine and serotonin that I didn’t produce or process properly. Up until the time I went back to work, I was able to compensate just enough to avoid utter chaos. But after 2018, my coping strategies were inadequate, and every additional demand on them pushed my life further into a mess of neglected work, forgotten appointments, piles of clutter, unsent mail, and unfulfilled promises.

So here we are.

Last spring, I began taking Vyvanse, and it has helped immensely. I’ve spent the months since then trying to re-order my life and my work, and to set up routines and strategies that will repair the utter chaos that had gradually taken over. It’s not been easy; medication helps remove some mental and emotional obstacles, but it doesn’t last all day, and, like an antidepressant, it doesn’t “fix” anything; it just makes it easier for you to start fixing problems yourself. One thing ADD looooooves to tell you is that it is indeed possible for you to do EVERY SINGLE THING EVER, ALL AT THE SAME TIME–WHICH IS RIGHT NOW!!!! I’m sorry, but this is not true. Instead my former library boss (bless her crochety soul) was right when she told me, “You won’t be able to do all of that; you’ll have to choose.” And so I have been, getting rid of soooooo many books, and knick-knacks and projects I would get to “eventually.”

You know where this is going.

I love this blog. I love the Giveaway. I love all of you. But, as much as I hate to admit it, I will no longer be able to keep it up the way it should be done. For one thing, my ADD brain means that I do have to take an insane amount of notes to review a book; I can’t just read it and bash out a few paragraphs. It is a time-consuming process which takes away from, well, other time-consuming processes. And as much as I love Sherlock Holmes and just about everything to do with him, I also…like reading and writing about other things. Also, as you become more involved with the Sherlockian world, you begin to “know” everyone, and they know you. It’s really difficult to honestly review books written by people I chat with online and hang out with at conferences, nor can I manage the time to blog about everything that’s out there. It’s true that, when it comes to Holmes, “never has so much been written by so many for so few!” Up until just a couple of days ago, I figured I would just keep on, though; I didn’t want to stop being “The Well-Read Sherlockian.”

But it’s time. I’m 54. There are still so many other things I want to do, and so many other things I should do, particularly for the people around me. I will keep writing about Sherlock Holmes; I still have an “Ask Mrs. Hudson Column” in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, an ongoing transcription/editing project with Mattias Böstrom and Mark Alberstadt, an unfinished short pastiche that needs, well, finishing, and at least 3 article ideas for the BSJ, or any publication that will have them. I’m paying our Clients dues this morning. I still have at least two prizes to mail out from the last Giveaway, and they will reach their recipients. But I’m also sliding into further into the background, confident that there are plenty of people better suited to “keep the memory green” in the large swaths I once aspired to. I will be over in my little corner, pruning and watering, and cheering you on.

Thank you all so much. You mean more to me than you can ever know.

Merry Christmas.

Leah Cummins Guinn,
The Well-Read Sherlockian.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Finale

First of all…

Congratulations to Resa Haile, winner of the Strand Magazine grand prize!!!

And once again, thank you all for sticking with me and playing along. Of everyone who’s ever played, I think I’ve met three in person, but after all this time, I kind of feel like I know you, and I love seeing you back every year. This year’s giveaway has been different. For one thing, I don’t usually write vignettes–non-fiction tends to be my area. But this time, it seemed right, it was quicker, and it was just fun! For the other, I had all of my giveaway prizes lined up by early summer…or so I thought. When it came time to actually do the Giveaway, I had so many other ideas, and probably two-thirds of the prizes are not what I had planned. That being said, my New Year’s resolution is, as always, to have everything pre-planned and scheduled, so that 2021’s event–the 10th!–will come off as smoothly as possible.

Well, we see what he thinks of that.

So, have a very Happy New Year!! I hope to see you all before next December!

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: The Birthday

Tonight, somewhere in Sussex, an oddly-young looking man, with his oddly-young-looking friends, is celebrating his 167th birthday. There will be good steaks, brandy, and cake–and whatever else Mrs. Hudson decides to prepare. Mycroft will grump about current affairs; Watson will administer vaccines. Lestrade will expound his latest Jack-the-Ripper theory, and Sherlock Holmes will call him (fondly) an idiot. There will be congratulatory phone calls and telegrams from far-off friends. And finally, in front of a roaring fire, they will toast the birthday boy–the man who, having never lived, will never die.

Some attribute Sherlock Holmes’ (and his friends’) longevity to royal jelly, carefully obtained from the bee hives at his Sussex cottage. But that seems a stretch; it even dishonors a man who would no doubt, if he had such a thing, share it with the world. No, the real answer lies in something much more wonderful. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson still live because of you–because of you, and every other person who, from 1887 until now, has read, watched, and believed in the reality of a man who can deduce the existence of Niagara from a single drop of water, and his best friend, a soldier-turned-author who chronicles their adventures.

I know that we’re all happy to see the back of 2020, and have high hopes for 2021’s possibilities, and there’s no question that last year was…a bit not good. But the fact is, that life is difficult–every year, and for every one, in many, many ways. Even–despite what the poem says–1895. Holmes and Watson did not hide away from the difficulties of life in 221B; they went out and did what they could to solve over 100 (counting the unrecorded cases). Given the number of writings still popping up in newly-found tin boxes every year, they’re still solving crimes today. But even the Great Detective and his Boswell took some down time–studying charters and playing billiards come to mind–and they would be gratified to know that following their adventures have helped so many deal with the problems and concerns of their own lives.

So if you find yourself in need of a distraction, something for the kids to do, or some way to bring that happy jolt of novelty into your life, here’s a Sherlockian Bingo Card to give you a few ideas. Pick one square, or fill them all. I know I have a pastiche sitting half-written on my computer; that will be mine.*

And now….

Today’s Question:

Have you learned anything new about Sherlock Holmes or his world–in any format this past year? What was it? Is there something you’d like to know?

And…..

The Grand Prize:

I love that you can find affordable bound Strands for sale; it is definitely my favorite prize to give! As you can see, this one has a nice cover. It’s from January to June, 1893, and contains six adventures: CARD, YELL, STOC, GLOR, MUSG, and REIG. The Paget illustrations are included, and are very nice. As you can see, the back hinge is damaged. If you decide to repair it, PLEASE use only the proper archival materials; DO NOT USE TAPE!!!!! I am also including a little scrap of paper on which a previous owner (possibly elderly, going by the handwriting) wrote several addresses on, just because it’s cool to find stuff like that in books.

As always, please send in your answers to the final problem (heh heh) via blog comment or message the FB Well-Read Sherlockian page. I am so very glad to see all of you old-timers, and several new faces. I hope to have the chance to provide some good content for you in the blog this year!

Footnote:

*Please make sure you attend virtual meetings (preferable) or wear a mask and social distance if you attend one in person!!!!!

Day 13 Winner!!!!!

Congratulations to Marie-Claire! She knew that we see Holmes and Watson (Rathbone and Bruce) fishing for salmon in Scotland in “The Spider Woman.” Which you can watch at the link….

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 13

The Boscombe Valley Mystery, with its twists and turns, blackmail, secret marriages, and sin come home to roost, had been quite wearing on Sherlock Holmes. Watson could not but wonder at his exclamation, “There, but for the grace of God goes Sherlock Holmes!” after the culprit made his confession. What connection could Holmes possibly see between his life and what seemed to Watson to be a sorry mess caused by the extremely poor choices made by just about everyone involved. Holmes was truly a great man to feel such compassion, his friend thought. He, himself, had had to resist the urge to wring a few necks and shout, “What were you thinking?” It was truly odd, and Watson thought he would keep his eyes open to more hints of the detective’s past.

He had thought they would go straight home to London, but instead they were in a hired hack, on their way to Ross-on-Wye, Lestrade with them.

“Is there a new case, Holmes? Did you receive a telegram?”

“No, no case, Watson.”

“Then why–?” Lestrade began. “You know the Yard is expecting me back, Holmes. I am sure I have a desk full of work waiting for me.”

“Which you will fumble, then pass along to me,” Holmes said. “So I do not see the hurry.”

Watson thought for a minute, then groaned. “Is this for one of your monographs, Holmes? I do not think I can bear collecting more grave soil samples. We’ll be shot one of these days.”

“Grave soil samples? Gentlemen, I cannot possibly participate in–” Lestrade began.

Holmes rolled his eyes. “Of course, not Watson! You were so spooked that night in Highgate that I have resolved never to take you again. I had wanted this to be a nice surprise, but I see I have no choice but to tell you of my plans.”

“Please do,” Watson and Lestrade said in unison. They were still nervous.

“I have decided to undertake a small experiment to settle a controversial matter.”

“Nooo!”

“Good lord, Holmes, what–“

“I wish to see which is better for trout fishing: the wet or the dry fly.”

Today’s Question:

Which Rathbone/Bruce film features a scene of Holmes and Watson fishing, and where are theY?

Today’s Prize:

This is an earlier biography of Conan Doyle, published in 1983. It’s a nice copy, with some shelf-wear and smudges on the bottom edges of the pages. I’ve not read it, but would be happy to know what you think about it!

As always, for your chance to win, send in your answers via blog comment, or message the Well-read Sherlockian FB page!

Congratulations!!!!!!

Congratulations to our Day 12 winner, Shalom Bresticker! He knew that, according to FINA, Moriarty complained about being “incommoded” by Holmes on January 23, 1891

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 12 (ish).

“Did you get them?”

“Of course, brother.”

“Then give them to me.”

“Oh, come now, Mycroft, don’t you want to hear–“

“I said, give them to me!”

Sherlock Holmes complied. After all, it was an order from the British Government.

“And you are sure no one saw you?”

“Of course not! You know I am–“

“Good. And you must tell no one of this. Not even Dr. Watson.”

“You have my word.”

“Thank you, Holmes. Because of you, the Marquis of Salisbury’s return to Parliament will be a safe one. We shall have the would-be assassins rounded up by nightfall.”

“All except one.”

“Just a little longer, brother. Just a little longer.”

“I still do not see why you–“

“There are many things I cannot tell you, my boy. But I do plan to call on you when it is time.”

“Then I’ll be content with that. I’ll show myself out.”

Walking home from the Diogenes Club, Sherlock Holmes chuckled to himself as he thought of what would meet James Moriarty that afternoon, when he returned to his room at the Langham Hotel. First of all, of course, his plans for assassinating the Prime Minister would be gone, vanished from their hiding place behind the water-closet tank. Secondly….well, plumber William Escott had, perhaps, not done the best job with the pipes in the professor’s room. Hopefully, his adversary had stuck to a simple diet today…or he would be seriously “incommoded” indeed!

One day, he would tell Watson!

I have never been to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London, but apparently, this is the lavatory at 221B

Today’s Question:

Given what you know from the Canon, on what date did this decidedly extra-canonical “adventure” occur?

And today’s prize–something Watson would appreciate:

As always, send your answer for the drawing in via blog comment, or message the Well-Read Sherlockian FB page!

Congratulations!!!!!

Congratulations to James McArthur!!! He knew (as did quite a few other people), that the German woman knew to warn Mr. Hatherley to flee because she’d seen what had happened to the engineer who had been hired before him, Jeremiah Hayley.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 11

Watson was still not entirely sure how Holmes had pulled it off. Holmes said it was because he read the papers, every word, every day, and was able to deduce who had placed the ad. Watson thought it had more to do with the same sort of alchemy that enabled his friend to summon cabs at will.

It had begun on an inauspicious, cloudy afternoon in November of 1889. The day had been a quiet one, and Watson was more than happy to abandon his office in response to one of Holmes’s cryptic telegrams. “Watson. Tying up two loose ends. Need your help. SH”

Two loose ends. What cases could those be? Perhaps something with “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.” Watson had always thought that case had ended too conveniently. Or perhaps the Agra treasure had been fished out of the Thames. That would be a pleasant surprise. He didn’t think Mary would object to a little bump-up in their address now. Perhaps he could start his own pharmacy…..

Watson spent so much time “spending” in his imagination that he walked past 221 and only realized his mistake when he found himself at the entrance to Regent’s Park. Retracing his steps, he wondered if Mary would want her pearls set, or if they could pay for a coach. Much nicer for housecalls on dark, rainy nights, that would be. So it was that he was actually a bit disappointed to enter the parlor of 221B and not find a heap of gold and shiny baubles on the deal table. Instead, he saw, waiting in the basket chair, none other but Mary Sutherland, dressed–overdressed, rather–in what she must assume was the height of fashion for the season. Watson tried not to shudder a bit when he took her hand in greeting. He knew he was being unfair, but his mother had been a dressmaker, and he noticed things. She had a large satchel with her. Watson hoped her parents were not being difficult again.

“Ah, Watson!” Holmes said, rising from his own chair,”How good of you to come! Miss Sutherland has just arrived in response to my summons. I believe she can be of some assistance in solving a problem for a former client.”

“I’m sure I don’t know how, Mr. Holmes,” Mary said “Lord knows I’ve got no detective skills,” she laughed, a little ruefully.

That’s for certain, Watson thought. Although Holmes’s later deduction that the woman might actually be suffering from prosopagnosia made sense in the light of her case.*

“Oh, I have no doubt that you have just the skills our client is looking for,” Holmes reassured her. “In fact, I hear him on the stair now.”

At this point, Watson was hoping Latimer and Kemp had indeed conveniently perished in Budapest. He did not think Mary Sutherland would be much help in another battle with those two. He was relieved, if puzzled, to see that the former client was Victor Hatherly, he of the missing thumb. Watson stole a quick glance at the man’s hand; he was pleased to see that all had healed nicely.

Holmes was making introductions. “Miss Sutherland, I would like you to meet Victor Hatherly, a gifted hydraulic engineer with offices in Victoria street. Mr. Hatherly, may I present Mary Sutherland, one of the finest typists in the city.”

“Why, I am in need of a typist, Mr. Holmes!” Hatherly exclaimed.

Miss Sutherland smiled at him brightly and patted her satchel. “As it turns out, I have some samples of my work with me, Mr. Hatherly.”

“Splendid!” Holmes said, clapping his hands together. “Then you might wish to interview Miss Sutherland here in our parlor, Mr. Hatherly. Watson and I will just step out to see if Mrs. Hudson can provide us with some tea.”

Mrs. Hudson fairly burst out of her sitting room, tray of tea and biscuits in hand. “D’ye think it will work, Mr. Holmes,” she said eagerly.

“Time will tell, Mrs. Hudson. Time will tell.”

“If what will work, Holmes?” Watson was missing something, he was sure of it. “Did you really call the two of them to Baker street because Hatherly needs a typist?”

Mrs. Hudson hmmph‘d at this.

“Oh, Watson!” Holmes laughed, “And to think I’ve accused you of being a romantic!”

Now it was the day after Christmas, and he and Mary were getting dressed for a wedding, to be held at St. Patrick’s this morning; St. Patrick was the patron saint of engineers, after all.

“To think that the worst moments of their lives ended up bringing them together,” Mary said, reaching up to straighten his cravat. “Just like us, my love.”

Watson bent down to give her a kiss. “Not the worst moments my love,” he said, “but the best friend.”

And today’s question?

How did the German woman who warned Hatherly to leave know that he was in danger?

The prize–

I was actually surprised to find that I had another one of these on my shelf. I think that Mary Sutherland would appreciate it, don’t you?

As always, to enter, submit your answer to today’s question via blog comment or by messaging the Well Read Sherlockian FB page! Thanks so much for playing!

Footnote:

*Prosopagnosia is the inability to recognise faces, also known as “face blindness.” If Mary Sutherland suffered from even a mild form of this, it would not have been very difficult for “Hosmer Angel” to fool her.

Congratulations!!!!

Congratulations to Kristin Franseen! She knew that Shinwell Johnson, once a “very dangerous villain” used his reputation to gain entrée into all of the night-clubs, etc. of London, to spy for Sherlock Holmes. However, Watson says, because none of the cases Holmes used him in actually ended up with the perpetrator in court, none of his sources were the wiser as to what he was up to.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 10

Image from Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia; Collier’s Magazine

The room was dark, but his face still shone white in the moonlight shining through the window. Sweat glistened on his forehead and his breathing became more labored as the clock on the mantel of their marital bedroom measured out the last few minutes of his life.

“Violet,” he whispered, “come here, please.”

She rose from her chair on the other side of the room and walked a few steps closer to the bed, but no more.

“Please,” he tried again.

“Oh, Adelbert, I would, but the doctor said you are still contagious. I am taking a great chance just by being in the same room with you.”

“I need…I need some water, please.”

“I will call nurse.” But she made no move towards the bell.

“Does it hurt so very much, my love?” she asked him.

He didn’t answer, just stared at her hatefully with those dark eyes she had once found irresistibly beautiful.

“Good.” she said.

Five minutes passed. She returned to her chair, could still feel those eyes on her.

“Would you like some morphine? Doctor said I could give you some for the pain.”

“Don’t…bother,” he hissed.

Of course, she could do it anyway. He was hardly in a state to put up a fight. Morphine. Chloroform. A pillow. She could cut this short any way she wished. Except she did not.

Wish it, that is.

Sherlock Holmes had been right about her, Baroness Violet von Gruner, née de Merville, knew. She was the sort of woman who would martyr herself for the man she loved. Illustrious clients and the newspaper article calling off their engagement notwithstanding, she had eloped with him. He would be her Mr. Rochester, she had imagined, blinded by his misdeeds, but hers to redeem with pure love.

It hadn’t worked out that way. Just because the man couldn’t see didn’t mean he couldn’t do. His cruelty and infidelity became intolerable; yet she wrote letters home claiming such happiness that they fairly glowed through their envelopes, and when her dear father had come to visit them in Switzerland, the year before his death, they had both kept up appearances so well that, for a moment, she thought perhaps everything would be better.

Of course it wasn’t, but she was both too embarrassed and too afraid to leave him. He’d made it very clear what had happened to his first wife, and that he’d no compunction against doing something similar to her. That was after she’d broken one of his stupid Ming saucers to punish him for having an opera singer in their bed. She’d been nothing but demure and accepting and obedient after that. When she’d become pregnant, she thought again that he would begin to see her differently; after all what Baron doesn’t want an heir?

Von Gruner, apparently. She’d imagined he’d made her tisanes out of concern for her morning sickness, until she’d begun bleeding. The doctor who came to tend her through her miscarriage had been solicitous, and his visits continued, long past the time she should have recovered. When she found the pennyroyal oil in the study liquor cabinet, tucked back behind the fine single malts Adelbert favored, she’d called Dr. Cadot at once, and it was he who figured out how she could be free of the evil man who had killed her child–forever.

She’d suggested arsenic. Antimony. Strychnine. By why use a poison, he asked, when natural causes would do just as well? Dr. Cadot tended the complaints of the wealthy so he could spend most of his efforts on the illnesses of the poor, and it was a simple enough thing to introduce typhoid-tainted water into the Count’s gasogene.

“It won’t work, you know,” he hissed at her from the bed.

“I think it already has.”

“Typhoid. I’m not some beggar in the gutter.”

“Everyone is aware of your less-than-savory habits, Adelbert. No one is the least surprised.”

“I’ve told the nurse.”

“I know. Delirious ravings, she said. Make your peace with God, husband.You shall be meeting Him soon.”

“You’re no better than I. Murderess!” He spat the last word.

“I know.” She would be sorry, one day. Perhaps. She’d deal with that when it happened. Now, she clenched her fists, resisting the urge to pick up the pillow and end this dreadful watch. She walked to the window, stared out at the black night until a strangling noise from the bed caught her attention. She didn’t turn. Didn’t look. Eventually, it stopped.

She opened the bedroom windows to clear the smell of the sickroom, to let Death go, and as she did, she heard the village church bells ring out.

It was Christmas Day.

Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold

And today’s question?

Why, according to Watson, did working with Sherlock Holmes keep Shinwell Johnson from usual fate of “snitches?”

Today’s prize?

A year’s subscription to the Baker Street Journal has been a mainstay of this blog since the very first Giveaway. I’m pleased to be able to offer it again. As always, please send your answers for the drawing in via blog comment or the Well Read Sherlockian FB page. And if you ever have a piece published in the BSJ, LET US KNOW!!!!!!!

Congratulations!!!!!

Congratulations to Lauren Cercone! She knew that Jerome K. Jerome, Conan Doyle’s friend, and also a writer, was born in Walsall.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 9-ish

“Are you ready, Violet?”

“Just a moment! I’m coming!” Violet Hunter checked her reflection in the mirror and once again adjusted a comb in her long copper-colored hair. She grabbed her winter wrap and muff from the bed, then turned once more to look at her dormitory room. Who could have imagined that this would be her life now? She certainly couldn’t, and she’d been living it for four months! Just this spring, she was a struggling governess, tempted into accepting an offer which seemed too good to be true. Sherlock Holmes himself had advised her against it. But, headstrong as usual, she’d gone and taken it anyway, and fallen into the clutches of the most wicked family since the Penges.*

After Holmes and Dr. Watson had rescued her, she thought to find another governess position, but found that every situation she was offered sounded creepier than the last. She had almost given up on the idea of being a teacher of any kind when she received a letter from Alice Rucastle Fowler. Enclosed was a large cheque, to be used for her further education. Now she was a student at Girton–a woman’s college in Cambridge, and she had every intention of making her dreams come true! But that was after a holiday at the country home of her new friend, Isobel St. Simon. It had been such a surprise to find that Isobel’s family had its own Sherlock Holmes story to tell! They would surely be comparing notes at Christmas dinner.

The porter had already taken her trunk, and Isobel was calling again. Before she locked her dormitory room for the final time that year, Violet spared a wish for the man who had made her new, wonderful life possible.

“Merry Christmas, Sherlock Holmes.”

Girton College, Cambridge, some time after Violet Hunter attended. Via Archive.org

Today’s question—

It can be entertaining to try to figure out why Sir Arthur mentions particular towns in his stories. Why, when it came time to pick a place, did that one come to mind? So it is with “Walsall,” a large market town in Staffordshire. With a little digging, I was able to come up with at least one reason–one of Conan Doyle’s friends (also a writer) was born there. Who was it?

Today’s prize–

Sherlockiana might be the publishing-est fandom ever. Ever since the Strand published “A Scandal in Bohemia,” there has been no shortage of magazines looking to print Holmesian material. The latest in that number is The Sherlock Holmes Magazine. Not to be confused with the older, now defunct periodical of the same name, this one is a glossy from the UK and covers all aspects of the Sherlockian world. Today’s prize is a year’s subscription–three issues. Here are the first three issues, so you can get an idea of what you’d be getting in the mail.

And speaking of mail, be sure to send your answer to the above question to me via blog entry, or message me on the Well-Read Sherlockian Facebook page!

Congratulations!!!!!

Congratulations to Jim Bennett, winner of the Day 8 prize. Violet Smith’s ill-fated music post was near Farnham, in Surrey; coincidentally, the first person to play Holmes in a screen adaptation of “The Solitary Cyclist” was Eille Norwood, who would live, and eventually be buried in, Farnham.

*The Penge murder(s) occurred in 1877, when infant Thomas Staunton and his mother, Harriet Richardson, died of malnutrition and neglect after being imprisoned in a house in Kent. Harriet eventually died in a house in Penge, hence the name for the crime. Louis Staunton, Patrick Staunton, Elizabeth Staunton and Alice Rhodes were tried for Harriet’s murder in the fall of that year; all were found guilty and sentenced to hang. After a letter-writing campaign led by physicians who believed that the medical evidence left room for reasonable doubt, Alice Rhodes was pardoned. The other three saw their sentences commuted to life in prison, although only Patrick Staunton would die there. Elizabeth Staunton was released in 1883, and Louis Staunton was released in 1897; he emigrated to Australia. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Harriet_Staunton.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 8-ish

“She’s finally asleep,” Violet Morton, née Smith, whispered to her husband, Cyril, as she entered their little parlour. They were fortunate that Cyril’s salary as an electrical engineer was sufficient to allow them to employ a nurse for little Penelope, but they had given Lydia the Christmas holidays off, and Penelope was not a toddler who welcomed bedtime.

Cyril patted the space beside him on the settee, and Violet went over to join him. “Look,” he said, pointing to the corner furthest from the fire.

“You’ve lit up the Christmas tree,” she said, gazing at the candlelight as it flickered over the glass bulbs hung on their little tree. There were now electric Christmas light bulbs, Cyril had informed her, as they’d set up the tree last night, but they were very expensive and hard to find. A regular little Coventry family like theirs could not hope to afford them.

“Not I,” Cyril was saying. “I stepped out for a smoke and they were lit when I came back in. I think Father Christmas has been here already.”

Violet giggled. “Has he really?”

“Yes, and he’s left something for you, I think.”

“And not for you?”

“Well, I haven’t been a very good boy this year, have I?” He leaned over and gave her a kiss and she giggled again.

“Positively rotten!”

“Well, now, angel”–he used his pet name for her–“Shall I bring in your present?”

“What? It’s not under the tree?”

“Too big for that.” He got up and went into the kitchen. She heard the back door open, then close.

“You said something about wanting to get out more, get more exercise, nature, that sort of thing,” She heard his voice in the kitchen, growing closer as he approached the parlour. She saw the wheel before she saw him.

“Oh, Cyril, no! Not that! What would make you think that–” The words were out before she could stop them.

Her husband stood still in the doorway. “Darling–” he began.

“Not a bicycle, Cyril! I can’t possibly ride one again! Not–not after–” Tears began to stream down her cheeks. She had worked so hard to forget that horrible time in Surrey. If Sherlock Holmes had not been there–

“Violet, love, I haven’t–darling, don’t cry–just–just–here, just look, please!”

She lifted her head, sniffling. He was standing in the middle of the parlour now, with the dreadful thing. She didn’t want to see it, she didn’t. She never wanted to see a–

A bicycle built for two.

“I will be with you, Violet. You’ll never ride alone again.”

There were richer men. Cleverer men. Even handsomer men. But there would never be a better man than her Cyril.

And now, today’s question–a bit more difficult than the others have been, I think.

Who played Sherlock Holmes in the first film version of “The Solitary Cyclist”? And with what locality in England does this person share a connection with Violet Smith?

For today’s winner–

Again, here is another book I have not yet read. I would love to know what you think of it! And as always, for your chance to win, please send in your entry via blog comment or FB message at the Well-Read Sherlockian Facebook page!

Congratulations!!!!!
Congratulations to Jacquelyn Applegate, winner of the Day 7 prize! She posted that Briarbrae, the Phelps’s home in NAVA, combines “Briar” refers to a prickly shrub, and that “brae” means “hillside.” She also went the extra mile to include that Briarbrae has been identified as Inchcape House (in Woking) by Jennifer Chorley, and as Woodham Hall near Horsell Common (also in Woking) by Michael Harrison.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 7(ish)

It isn’t easy being Mycroft Holmes. Although his younger brother might occasionally resent that he truly is “the smart one.” Although his colleagues in Whitehall might envy his ability to create his own position, immune from the comings and goings of various prime ministers and their governments. Although Her Majesty might wish that she, too, could indulge her love of good food without having to subject herself to the restrictions of a corset. Although various world leaders would find themselves effortlessly outmaneuvered by him again and again.

It still isn’t easy being Mycroft Holmes.

Not that he would trade his lot for any other in the world. He can’t. He is, after all, the British Government. More religious than his younger sibling (the weight of responsibility and the awareness of how chaotic the world really is can do that to one), he harbors in his soul the belief that God has placed him where he is for His divine purposes. He runs on his rails because he is called to do so, not necessarily because he wants to.

Unlike Dr. Watson, Mycroft can’t find an Anstruther to take over for him, and unlike Sherlock, there is never a day when he doesn’t have a “case” or 12 that needs unravelling. But occasionally, on Christmas, things quiet down enough for him to stay in his comfortable Pall Mall flat and indulge in his favorite form of relaxation: sitting in front of the fire with a nice cup of tea, petit-fours, and Anthony Trollope.

Not the actual Anthony Trollope, of course. Although Mycroft had the pleasure of once meeting him in 1878 (the author passed on in 1882). But his novels. After averting war with Germany, or keeping his hand in in Ireland, he finds it relaxing to read about the small domestic problems of Barsetshire. Unlike Sherlock, he adores being shut up in his flat. He finds it cosy.

All he needs is a cat.

A cat to gambol at his feet, to feed bits of pheasant to, to weave a welcome around his legs when he returns after a tiresome meeting with the Foreign Secretary, and to sit comfortable and warm in his ample lap while he reads Doctor Thorne for the sixth time. A cat to shed on the settee, to give his housekeeper something to do (unlike his brother, Mycroft is exceptionally neat, not only in his person, but in all things).

I think we’ve found one….

He’s so cute, Mycroft doesn’t even mind the paw prints on his copy of the Naval Treaty.

And now, for today’s question–

Since we’ve mentioned the Naval Treaty (in the caption above), what was the name of the Phelps’s house? What does it refer to? (Besides the house, all of you wiseacres!)

And the prize–

I’ll admit right now–I haven’t read this book. But these endorsements from Bonnie MacBird and Roger Johnson (taken from the book’s Amazon page) lead me to believe that you’ll enjoy it. Trust me, these are reviewers you want if you’ve written a Holmesian book!

“Maureen Whittaker’s ‘Playing a Part’ presents a remarkable and highly readable compendium of the professional career of the scintillating actor Jeremy Brett – who thrilled audiences for four decades onscreen and onstage in roles ranging from Orlando to Dracula, William Pitt the Younger, and Freddie Eynsford Hill – culminating, in his creation of what what is widely regarded as the definitive performance of Sherlock Holmes in Granada’s legendary series. As a deep Sherlockian and fan of Jeremy, I loved this book – it is a thrill ride and a suitable way to honour the remarkable career of a courageous, gifted gentleman. Twinkle on, Jeremy.”

Bonnie MacBird, BSI, SHSL, Emmy winning producer, playwright, screenwriter (TRON) and author of ‘The Sherlock Holmes Adventure Series’), HarperCollins.

A quarter-century after his death, the name of Jeremy Brett is known and honoured world-wide – because in the early 1980s Michael Cox chose him to play Sherlock Holmes in a landmark television series. That one rôle made him an international star and ensured his lasting fame, but it has, regrettably, overshadowed the rest of his career. The reason why Jeremy Brett was a great Sherlock Holmes (many would say the greatest) is that he was one of our finest actors. Yet his work pre-Holmes is little known, as his most notable performances were in the theatre or on television; no recordings exist of his work at the Old Vic, the National Theatre or the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and only a few are available from such small-screen productions as Love’s Labours LostThe Merchant of Venice and An Ideal Husband. Maureen Whitaker’s splendid book – “the fruit of pensive nights and laborious days”* – redresses the balance, and does justice to Jeremy Brett’s whole remarkable career.

Roger Johnson, BSI, ASH, SHSL

Editor, The Sherlock Holmes Journal

As always, to enter the prize drawing, please send your answers to me via blog comment or FB message. And while I am kind of pretending this is December 30th, let me wish you a wonderful New Year’s Day!

Image: British Library blog

Congratulations!!!!!!!

The Day 6 prize goes to Resa Haile. Resa is always so thorough, that I am going to share her entire answer here:

“This is what has come to be called “The Martha Myth,” possibly first posited by Vincent Starrett, who opined that Mrs. Hudson, the elderly housekeeper in Holmes’ retirement, and the Martha who worked undercover as Von Bork’s housekeeper in “His Last Bow” were all the same woman. (It does not seem to me that “Martha” would have been the operative’s real name anyway.)

“I don’t think we know that Mrs. Hudson is a Scotswoman. Holmes says “she has as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotch-woman,” which, to me, suggests the opposite. For instance, if someone is described as knowing as much about filmmaking as Alfred Hitchcock, I would wager the someone is not Hitchcock. I believe the line is changed in some adaptations to ‘any Scotchwoman’ (and Mrs. Hudson is presumably Scottish in those).”

By the way, I love all the answers that essentially said, “Because Vincent Starrett said so.” Although we all have our own Sherlock Holmes facts that we pick and choose from (I like the January 6th birthdate, for example), the notion that some Sherlockians’ theories take precedence over others which are just as well reasoned can be a little silly.

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