Category Archives: Kathleen Kaska

Ten Questions with Kathleen Kaska

Actually, I would never had thought of doing author interviews if it hadn’t been for Ms. Kaska; frankly, I would not have had the courage to approach anyone and ask! But when she e-mailed me to let me know that a revised, updated version of The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book  was in the works, she also offered herself for an interview, for which I’m very grateful, and I hope you are, too.

“It’s this ‘7 down,’ Watson. It should have been ‘aspidistra.’ ‘Ficustrees’ has put them all off.”

The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book was originally published in 2000, and has now been reissued by LL-Publications, along with its companions, The Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Books. It’s safe to assume, then, that you’re a mystery fan! What draws you to this particular genre? 

I’m an avid mystery fan. I began reading Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes when I was a child. I felt that I was not just reading a story, I was involved in solving a puzzle; what child doesn’t enjoy playing an adventurous game, trying to be the first to find the solution or the prize? I loved that Holmes had his magnifying glass and his very own laboratory set up in his flat on Baker Street. No wonder I pursued a career in science.

Why did you choose these particular mystery icons? 

These three creative geniuses have always been my favorites. I had the entire Christie and Holmes collection on my bookshelf, so it seemed like a great place to begin and I knew Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, would fit right in. I spent an entire summer watching his films in chronological order. Talk about an education; I saw how his talent evolved over his sixty-year career as a filmmaker. Studying these three icons helped immensely when I began writing my own mysteries.

Can you describe your first encounter with the Great Detective?

That’s an easy question to answer. It was when I read The Hound of the Baskervilles. I don’t remember how old I was, probably early teens, and I will never forget how the setting drew me in even before Holmes impressed me with his deductive reasoning. The eeriness of the moors and the terrifying idea that a bloodthirsty hound was stalking the Baskervilles seemed the most frightening thing I’d ever read.

Which is your favorite canon story, and why? Do you have a least favorite, and if so, why that story in particular?

Besides the Baskervilles, I really like “Silver Blaze,” which gave us the line about the “curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.” I’ll say no more as not to spoil the ending. “The Musgrave Ritual” is another favorite because of the riddle Holmes had to solve, and then of course, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” where the woman, Irene Adler, beats Holmes at this own game.

My least favorites are the two which were written in 3rd person and not narrated by Dr. Watson, “The Last Bow,” a spy story rather an a mystery, and “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone,” written from an adaptation of the stage play, “The Crown Diamond.” It’s not the same when dear Dr. Watson is not telling the story.

In one of your blog entries, you make a marvelous comparison between Holmes’ and Watson’s ways of dealing with the world that you call “show vs. tell,” which underlines Conan Doyle’s characterization skills. What do you like best about Doyle as a writer?

I used that comparison when I teach my writing class. We all know that showing rather than telling brings the reader into the story, puts them into the action, and paints a vivid picture. However, in Dr. Watson’s narratives, Conan Doyle so eloquently blends the two methods and gives us some of the best character descriptions I’ve ever read. For example, here’s a description of Violet Hunter in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches:”

She was plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover’s egg and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in the world.

In one simple sentence, we know Violet, what she looks like, we know she is a straightforward, levelheaded woman who is about to present Holmes with a challenging problem. I included several of these character descriptions in a quiz entitled “Characters According to Watson.”

“And my hair. Let’s not forget my hair.”

Do you read Sherlockian pastiche? If so, do you have a favorite author, book, or story, and why that one in particular?

I’ve read several and I enjoy the ones that stick close to the Conan Doyle traditional style of writing Holmes. Recently, I read one of the best ones ever. It is a short story written by a fellow Sherlockian Dan Andriacco. The title is “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden.” Had I not known its origin, I would have believed it was written by Conan Doyle.

I also enjoy Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series in which Holmes has retired to the country to keep bees. He meets a young woman whom he later marries. She’s the motivation he needs and they soon resume “the game.”

You also write your own mystery series, featuring reporter Sydney Lockhart. Would you like to tell us a little more about her and her adventures?

I have so much fun with Sydney. She does and says things I would never have the nerve to say or do. She’s a tall redhead with a sassy mouth. This series, set in the early 1950s, has often been called the “hotel murder mystery” series because each one takes place in a different historic hotel. Sydney’s a reporter who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. The stories are light and humorous, but with a noir feel to them. Think of Janet Evanovich meets Raymond Chandler.

Birds are another of your passions, and you have a book coming out this fall with the Univ. of Florida Press about Robert Porter Allen’s work to save the whooping crane (called, well, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane). How did writing non-fiction differ from your fiction work? Do you prefer one over the other?

The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story was the most difficult book I’d ever written, but it was a labor of love. My passion for this glorious, but severely endangered bird, and learning of Bob Allen’s tireless efforts to save the species from extinction, inspired me to turn a couple of articles on the subject into a book. The reason it was so difficult is because I was writing about a real person whom I’d never met. I wanted to paint an accurate picture, not just of an ornithologist, but of a husband and a father, too. Fortunately, during my research, I located his only daughter and she was wealth of information. Bob Allen’s life full of adventures, successes, failures, but his tenacity and determination never faltered. Few people knew of his accomplishments and contributions to saving birds. I felt his story deserved to be told.

I really love the trivia bits in your book. What was the most surprising fact you uncovered? The most interesting?

The most interesting fact was a link between Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. It involved her disappearance in 1926 when she drove off one evening and vanished. Her car was found abandoned in a ditch with the motor running. The entire country was on the lookout for the missing writer. Conan Doyle was called in on the case as a consultant. He visited a medium who told him that Christie was alive and would surface the following Wednesday. The prediction came true. The odd thing was that the Christie case was similar to a Sherlock Holmes story, Conan Doyle had written a few years earlier. All that was lacking was a Hitchcock movie about this odd Christie/Conan Doyle connection.

Was it difficult to come up with all of the questions in the Sherlock Holmes quizzes? Did your background in teaching science to middle-schoolers come in handy? Speaking of which…were your tests hard?

My Sherlock Holmes trivia book was my third one and by this time, I knew how I wanted to structure and organize the book, so it wasn’t that difficult. As I reread the stories, I jotted down questions in a notebook. When I finished the quizzes, I researched information about Conan Doyle’s writing of each story so I could get a clearer understanding of the inspiration behind them. This was how I discovered many of the trivia bits you mention.

I wouldn’t use the word difficult; my science tests were challenging. With many different learning levels in one classroom, I had to design questions for all the various leaning styles and levels. My GT students knew what I expect of them. They had additional questions, many were essay, and they knew that a few words would not be enough to get them a good grade. I love this grade level. If you give them expectations, make them accountable, give them phrase and encouragement, they will shine.

Kathleen Kaska is the author of The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book, (reviewed in this blog on 6/23/12), as well as its companion volumes, featuring Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock. Her books area available in both print and e-pub editions from your favorite booksellers. You can find her blog (which features a special Friday section on small presses) at


Filed under Interview, Kathleen Kaska, Non-fiction

Kaska, Kathleen. The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book, 2nd edition. Hurlford: LL Publications, 2012

“Really, old fellow, you need to accept that you are just not the type who can do them in ink.”

When I first started writing book reviews, lo these hardly-any-months ago, I thought it would be as simple as deciding whether or not I liked a book, babbling on about why or why not, checking off some stars, and hitting “publish.” It didn’t take me long to realize that it’s not that simple.*

Why? Because a reviewer isn’t just writing a book report. He or she is communicating with people who don’t care whether or not a reviewer liked the book, as much as they do whether or not they will like it. So I’m very aware, every time I pull up WordPress, that I owe you the information you need to make an informed decision. That way, if you don’t like Holmes/Dracula crossovers in which Holmes gets married, Watson is a puppy who dies in the end, no less than eighty Actual Historical Personages make cameos, and Mrs. Hudson is The Ripper, you’ll feel duly warned…or ecstatic.  And still I worry that I’ll get it wrong.

Not this time.

Kathleen Kaska’s The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book is that rare book which really delivers on the promise “something for everyone.”   Originally published in 2000, it’s been revised, updated, and provided with a more attractive cover and vastly more legible layout.

Ms. Kaska divides the book into two parts. First, of course, come the actual quizzes and bits of trivia. Here, the author’s twenty-five years as a teacher come into play.  Unlike some quiz masters, whose primary aim is to pick the most esoteric bits of information imaginable in order to stump as many people as possible and impress us all with their cleverness, she chooses questions that lead you through the major points of the story–checking both your eye for detail, and your comprehension. And like any good teacher, she uses different types of questions, probably to weed out those of us who are experts in the art of “using the test to take a test.”  There are multiple choice questions**, true/false, and then, the bane of all who have not studied–short answer.  Each story gets ten questions, and each novel receives thirty. Ms. Kaska also covers Holmes in television (updated for Sherlock), movies, radio, pastiche, and includes a special section on Arthur Conan Doyle. My favorite quizzes, however, are those built around quotes. Readers are asked to identify the sources for opening lines, coded messages, and Holmes’ views on everything from religion to women. Most revealing are the two quizzes in which we must guess whom the Great Detective and his Boswell are describing. Holmes’ quiz, 15 questions, takes up one page, front and back, including the introduction; Watson’s, on the other hand, is 3/4 of a page longer, presumably because he is incapable of  cutting “the poetry.”† Finally, for those who don’t feel sufficiently challenged, there are five crossword puzzles. I would advise copying them before you start working…or at least that you use a pencil. The answers? They’re all in the back, in the second section. You get full explanations, and don’t forget to keep score because, at the end of each chapter, you can use your tally to determine your rank, from “Deductive Genius” to “Moriarty’s Victim.”

“Come now, Holmes, you can’t be a “Deductive Genius” every time.”

Come for the quizzes and puzzles–stay for the information! At the beginning of each chapter, and at the start of each quiz, Ms. Kaska provides well-written background material, both on the story/subject matter, and occasionally on what may have inspired it. Before trying our hand at “The Five Orange Pips,” for example, we learn that it may have been inspired by a terrible incident in New Orleans in  which eleven Italians were hung by a mob in the throes of anti-Mafia hysteria. The trivia included in each section is also well-chosen. You may already know one or two, but chances are excellent you won’t have heard them all. One of my favorites involves the Cairo police.†† Finally, after you’ve either emerged triumphant or gone over the Falls, you can look through the useful appendices (covering chronologies, “lists,” and scion societies, among other topics), a brief reading list, and a shopping list–er, bibliography.

The day you opened a book (or turned on the television) and woke up to find yourself on Baker Street, you entered a world where, sure, people discuss the “big” questions–the origin of human evil, the nature of true justice, how much Canon matters, and what happened during the Great Hiatus. However, it’s also a place where  they care very deeply about which hand Holmes used to write that letter to Watson, the fate of dogs in the Canon, why a Stradivarius could be bought so cheaply, and whether it was April or October. Quotes fly fast and furious between friends like secret handshakes, and virtually every scion society meeting includes a quiz. We care about the philosophy but, let’s face it, we’re in love with trifles. We cannot make too much of them.  Which is why I can say, with certainty, that The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book  will definitely fill up that gap on your second shelf.

The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book  is available from major online booksellers, and can also be purchased in e-format for both Kindle and Nook. Kathleen Kaska is also the author of two other trivia/quiz books (Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie), as well as a mystery series set in the 1950’s featuring reporter/amateur sleuth Sydney Lockhart. Her next book, published by the Univ. of Florida Press, is a nonfiction work on Robert Porter Allen’s efforts to save the whooping crane from extinction. You can catch up with her on

Star Rating: 5 out of 5– “This is a wonderful book which gets it right.”


*One reason for that being that I cannot figure out how to make actual “stars.”

**All of the choices are plausible, too. Unlike, say, those on the tests the really hot student teacher gave us in sophomore World History, back before you were born.

† From “The Retired Colourman.”

†† Nope. Not telling. You’ll have to look it up.

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Filed under Five-star reviews, Holmes in Film, Kathleen Kaska, Non-fiction, Real Historical Personages