Tag Archives: scion societies

Ten Questions with Darlene Cypser

Oh, the stories he could tell….

Darlene Cypser, author of the popular look at Sherlock Holmes’ beginnings, The Crack in the Lens,  and its sequel, University (part of the planned Consulting Detective Trilogy), has been an active participant in the Sherlockian world since her own youth. In addition to her two novels and short stories (see below), she is also an attorney, small press publisher, and film producer. As someone who can take two hours to do the dishes, I am quite impressed, and happy that she found the time to answer a few interview questions….

First, of course, the question I ask everyone: How did you first encounter Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson?

I was an omnivorous reader as a child, reading library books by the foot. I graduated to the “adult section” at an early age when I had read all the children’s books.  There, too, I would start with the A’s and read through a genre. So I am sure that I had read many of the stories just in passing and, of course, I had watched the Basil Rathbone movies many times. In my mid-teens I got on a mystery kick, reading my father’s old Ellery Queen books and buying others by mail from closeout book catalog and a used bookstore in Indiana.* (I lived in New York.) Some of those books are considered rare and valuable now. From there I went through Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books. Then one day at the local branch of the public library my hand came upon William S. Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. I was about 15 at the time but I do really remember the moment almost 40 years later. It wasn’t just a mystery story. It was a biography. I took it home and read through it quickly. It contained references in the back to the Baker Street Irregulars.** I remember telling my parents “These crazy people think Sherlock Holmes was a real person.” I was hooked. I had to go back and re-read the “Canon.” I bought my own copy of Baring-Gould’s book. My mother gave me the Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes for my birthday. I wrote to Julian Wolfe of BSI who sent me a sample copy of the Baker Street Journal and referred me to the local scion the Hudson Valley Sciontists. I attended some of their dinners as a teenager. (Recently I returned to NY for their 40th anniversary dinner.)

Which is your favorite story in the canon, and why? And if you have one you don’t like so well, tell us about that one, too.

I always hate this question.*** There are different ones I like for different reasons. Some are pure fun like “The Speckled Band” or “The Sign of the Four.” Others show insights into Holmes’ character or the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Those include “The Three Garridebs,” “The Reigate Squires” and “The Copper Beeches.”

Do you read any pastiche, or other non-Doylean works about Holmes? If so, do you have a favorite book, story, or author, and why do you like them?

I have read many, many pastiches. What I find most important in a pastiche is that they get Holmes and Watson and their relationship correct. Too many pastiche writers are basing them on TV or movies which mostly get them wrong. It is absolutely necessary to read the Canon over and over to understand the characters and be able to write them. Once you get that correct you can go off on your own theories successfully. Writers also should check their historical data, which is so easy to do these days. I still like The Seven Percent Solution. A couple of odd ball pastiches that I really enjoy are the science fiction Time Enough for Sherlock Holmes and Cay Van Ash’s Ten Years Beyond Baker Street — a Holmes/Fu Manchu cross-over. I think Lindsey Faye did a fine job on Dust & Shadow but The House of Silk was poorly written and edited.

You’ve been involved in scion societies for quite some time. How did that come about?

As I said, Julian Wolfe who was “Wiggins” of the Baker Street Irregulars at the time introduced me to my first scion in New York. I tried to connect with some others during college and law school but I didn’t always have transportation to where they were meeting. I had heard of “Dr Watson’s Neglected Patients” when I lived in Boulder but I was starting my law practice and raising my son. I didn’t have a chance to connect with them until 2005. Now I am the “Chief Surgeon” of the Neglected Patients. We are the only scion in Colorado. The east coast has a lot more scions close together. They are more sparse in the west. I visited with the Desert Prospectors, a new scion in Tucson, AZ, in December.  I have also been a member of the Hounds of the Internet, a scion that is a e-mail mailing list.

Your two novels aren’t your only foray  into writing about Holmes. Tell us about your other writing.

I have written many things about Sherlock Holmes which have not yet been published. If we only include those that have been published, the first were two “trifling monographs” which were published in the Baker Street Journal in the 1980s. “A Capital Mistake: An Apocryphal Rebuttal,” and “Barker, the Hated Rival.” The former is a response to another writer’s article about “The Lost Special” and “The Man with Watches,” two stories considered part of the Holmes apocrypha. The latter was linking Cecil Barker in The Valley of Fear with Barker in “The Retired Colourman.” Those were published while I was in law school.

I just published in the Neglected Patients’ “Medical Bulletin” a week ago another essay called “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Courtroom” which I actually wrote about 6 years ago.

I have written 3 short stories. Two have been published as e-books: “The Adventure of the Apprentice’s Coin” and “The Mystery of the Ghostly Bells.”†

Many people who write about Sherlock Holmes choose to write about him as an adult. They choose a case from the dispatch box,  or match him up with a contemporary  figure or event. Why did you decided to delve into his early years, about which we know almost nothing?

Because we know so little. Like everyone else I’ve speculated over the “untold tales” but the truth is that ground has been gone over so many times that it is not interesting. What interested me first was how did Holmes get the way he is? I don’t agree with those who claim he was always that way. No one springs “full formed” like Venus. We are all influenced by everything that happens to us.

You used Baring-Gould’s biography of Holmes as one source. Where else has your research led you?

I consulted many, many references. Most of the research for The Crack in the Lens was done in public libraries and college libraries across the country. I didn’t always have enough money for photocopies. So I have pages and pages of hand transcribed notes from books.†† I used some fairly modern books like James Herriot’s and many books written by Sherlockians about the world of Sherlock Holmes. But I also hunt down books written in the Victorian era, both fiction and non-fiction. They help me recreate the world in which the characters move. This is a lot easier now that I can download such books from Google Books or Archive.org. I do consult the “Higher Criticism” by Sherlockians on matters such as which college Sherlock Holmes attended.

Whenever I write a male character, I always worry that I won’t get it “right.” Have you found it challenging to get into the mind of a young man in his late teens/early twenties?

It is a challenge, but I think it is more of a challenge to get in the mind of someone who lived 150 years ago. A young man of today has many different thoughts and concerns than a young man of that time.

Whether I get it “right” or not is hard to say, unless Holmes is willing to confirm it. 😉

One of your books’ strongest points is their gradual depiction of Holmes’ development. Do you chart this out in some way, or does it happen more organically?

I don’t have a chart that says Holmes changes in this way at this time. I know where I start and I know where I have to end up — that is with the Sherlock Holmes whom Watson meets in The Study in Scarlet. I look at the surroundings and who and what would have been there then for Holmes to interact with. I look at the Canon for elements of Holmes’ character, knowledge and experience that might match with those. Once I have my cast of characters I let them play out the scenes in my head. They tell me their stories. Some take on greater roles than I anticipated. Jonathan was one of those.

The book Sherlock Holmes consults in his efforts to salvage a fellow student’s reputation, written by his friend and physician.

You based the character of Dr. MacKenzie on Dr. George Mackenzie Bacon, an actual person. How did you encounter him, and why did you decide to use him as a character?

Dr. Mackenzie was another character who took on a much greater role than I anticipated.

When I was studying Cambridge of that time period, especially the medical facilities at that time, I encountered records mentioning Dr. Bacon. He was the medical superintendent at the Cambridgeshire Asylum near Fulbourne outside of Cambridge. From everything I read he was a very intelligent and sympathetic man. I literally fell in love with the man. I read about his whole family, who were prominent printers/publishers and supporters of the arts, especially music, in Norfolk.  Another Sherlockian helped me track down all his publications that I could find references to. That helped me rebuild his character. I changed the name in part because I was doing a reconstruction. I hope some day I can do a biography of the real man. That would take a lot more research.

When I met Dr. Bacon it clearly struck me that this was the man that Holmes needed to meet to really recover from what happened to him in the earlier book. Holmes needed to understand what was going on inside his own head in order to deal with it. For that I reconstructed the character of Dr. Mackenzie from Dr. Bacon.

Dr. Mackenzie will make a brief cameo in Part II of The Consulting Detective Trilogy. It will deal in large part with an issue that was only briefly touched up on Part I: Holmes’ interactions with women and feelings towards them. It is much different from their encounters in Part I. It is almost as if Holmes cycles through the entire emotional and psychological journey of Part I in the space of a few hours. He then makes a conscious decision. The fact that he can do so is a testament to how much more in command of himself he is at that point. We will again be exploring his strengths and his weaknesses, and the choices and sacrifices he makes to become the great detective.

What happened to Professor Hastings?†††

You will have to wait a while for the answer to that one. Holmes himself does not find out the answer until late in his career. I’m not going to tell how he solves that out of context.

Darlene Cypser is the author of The Crack in the Lens (reviewed here 2/25/12), and The Consulting Detective Trilogy, Part I: University (reviewed here 7/11/12). She has also written two well-received short stories about Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Apprentice’s Coin,” and “The Mystery of the Ghostly Bells.” All are available on Amazon, and the books may also be found at these retailers: http://www.thecrackinthelens.com/buy.html. Each book has a comprehensive website: http://www.theconsultingdetective.com, and, of course, http://www.thecrackinthelens.com, as well as a Facebook fan page and a Twitter feed.


* “Proving, once again, there is more than corn in Indiana.” (Shout out for my fellow Hoosiers!)

** The organization, not the street urchins. It’s kind of a big deal. Membership is by invitation only, but you can subscribe to their publication here: http://www.bakerstreetjournal.com/


†Both of these short stories are available on Amazon, and both are quite enjoyable. In “The Adventure of the Apprentice’s Coin,” Ms. Cypser takes the unique tack of telling the story twice, using two different points of view.

††Oh, I have so been there!

†††Ok, that’s eleven questions, but I had to try, didn’t I?


Filed under Darlene Cypser, Interview

10 Questions with Dan Andriacco

Mild-mannered communications director (for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati) by day, mystery writer by night, Dan Andriacco discusses Sherlock Holmes, the mystery genre, and his own Sebastian McCabe/Jeff Cody series. Deftly planned puzzles solved by engaging characters, and written with a light touch, the McCabe/Cody (or Cody/McCabe) books track the adventures of two brothers-in-law  who find themselves–through absolutely no fault of their own–drawn into solving mysteries with a Sherlockian connection. Dr. Andriacco’s newest book, Holmes Sweet Holmes,  officially releases today.

No Vatican cameos here. Perhaps I should consult Dr.Dan….

How did you first meet Sherlock Holmes? 

I write about this in the first chapter of Baker Street Beat. Briefly, a boyhood friend told me about Sherlock Holmes and we used to act out the stories before I ever read them. I think I was about nine when I read The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes. I was in the seventh grade when I bought my own copy of the Doubleday Complete. My image of Holmes was set in my mind long before I saw the old Basil Rathbone movies, which was my first screen image of Holmes.

So many Sherlockians who write about Sherlock Holmes choose to write pastiche. Your mystery series, while it references different aspects of Holmes and his fans, features original characters who aren’t opening a tin dispatch box found in the rubble of Cox and Co. Why did you choose a more non-traditional route? 

From a very young age I wanted to be a mystery writer. I never said to myself that I wanted to be a Sherlock Holmes writer. But being steeped in Holmes, it was natural to me that when I started writing mystery novels my main characters would be Sherlockians as well.

Your main characters, Sebastian McCabe, Jeff Cody, and Lynda Teal are very well-drawn. Did you base any of them on actual people? 

I’ve never based any main character entirely on a real person, but I think all three of them either embody some aspect of me or of my ideal self. I would love to work magic tricks and speak five languages like Sebastian McCabe. Lynda and I share the same favorite brand of bourbon and a few other traits. I thought Jeff was a comic exaggeration of me, but my wife said, “No, you’re just like that!” None of them physically resembles anybody I know.

You’ve also written some well-received traditional pastiches. Did writing, say, “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden” differ from writing with your own characters? How? 

Writing a pastiche that aims to imitate the voice of the original writer is very different from finding one’s own voice. In writing “Harden,” I tried to replicate the voice of Dr. Watson that we know so well, but also the feel of the Canonical stories in a broader sense. That’s not so easy. In fact, I think many Sherlockians would agree with me that some of the Canonical stories don’t even read like Canonical stories!

Do you read much Sherlock Holmes pastiche? If not, why not. If so, do you have any favorite books, stories, authors, or themes? Any you tend to avoid? 

I don’t read a lot of pastiches these days because there are just too many to keep up with. In general, the closer a writer comes to the Watson voice and the feel of the original stories (see above) the better I like it. And yet, paradoxically, I very much enjoyed the Tracy Revels books and Amy Thomas’s The Detective and the Woman, both of which don’t fit that pattern.

And, since you’ve written traditional mysteries, and have reviewed them for the Cincinnati Post, which are some of your favorite authors and/or books? 

I’m always reading a book and it’s almost always a mystery, so it’s hard for me to name just a few. I love the writers of what’s been called the Golden Age of detective stories – Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, John Dickson Carr, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers, Erle Stanley Gardner, etc. I’ve been re-reading some of them lately. A lot of really good writers have died in the last year or two, including Stuart B. Kaminsky. I especially liked his Russian novels. Among writers still at work, I enjoy John Grisham, Elizabeth Peters, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Martin Cruz Smith, Michael Connelly, and Kathleen Kaska. Those are just a few.

You’ve taught classes in mystery writing. What do you think beginning writers should pay the most attention to? 

The beginning and the end. Mickey Spillane once said, “The first chapter sells this book, the last chapter sells the next one.” I think that’s great advice.

“You see, Holmes, Dr. Andriacco teaches writing, and he says absolutely nothing about ‘cutting the poetry.'”

What, for you, is the most difficult part of writing a mystery? 

Plotting drives me nuts. Sometimes I have to give up on a great idea because it’s just too unrealistic for anybody to suspend disbelief. Unfortunately, many writers don’t seem to do that. When it comes to the actual writing, the first sentence, paragraph, and page are usually the hardest for me. I think (and hope) my endings have all been rather strong. I seem to pick up momentum and write faster and maybe better at the end.

You’re a member of the Tankerville Club, the Cincinnati scion society.  What are some of the benefits people might  experience should they join a society in their area? 

It’s always good to gather with other people over a shared interest. I think it increases the pleasure of whatever that interest is. You may disagree on politics, religion, and your favorite sports with other members, but that’s trivial compared to your common love of Holmes.

And, of course, everyone wants to know about your future writing plans… 

 The world’s greatest publisher, Steve Emecz of MX Publishing, thinks that two books a year would be a good pace. I can easily do that. My third McCabe-Cody book, The 1895 Murder, is already written for Nov. 1 publication. I’ve also written a short story from Lynda’s point of view and no McCabe in sight. That will be a kind of bonus at the end of 1895.  I’m two-thirds of the way through a novella for a contest sponsored by the Wolfe Pack, the association for Nero Wolfe fans. The fourth McCabe-Cody novel will take place in London and we’re going there in October. I also know in detail what the fifth and sixth McCabe-Cody books will be and I have more general ideas for several more. I can’t wait to write them!

Dan Andriacco is the author of Sebastian McCabe/Jeff Cody mysteries No Police Like Holmes (reviewed in this blog 3/27/2012), and Holmes Sweet Holmes, released May 1, 2012. He’s also the author of a collection of essays, fiction, and plays, Baker Street Beat. One of his pastiches, “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden,” is available separately as an e-pub. You can buy Dr. Andriacco’s books from the MX Publishing website, the Baker Street Babes online bookstore, or any major online bookseller. Dan Andriacco is active on FaceBook, Twitter, and keeps a regular blog at http://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com/


Filed under Dan Andriacco, Holmes-related fiction, Interview, Jeff Cody and Sebastian McCabe, MX Publishing, Uncategorized

Andriacco, Dan. No Police Like Holmes. London: MX, 2011

Sherlock Holmes has a sense of humor. Of course he does. He even trots it out on occasion, such as when he slips the Mazarin Stone into Lord Cantlemere’s pocket, or finds the ridiculous in a client’s situation. One might argue that once, he even laughed at himself, when Watson scored “a distinct touch” on his friend’s vanity in “The Valley of Fear.” But, in general, Sherlock Holmes takes himself very, very seriously, so we do, too.

Watson didn’t really find this amusing.

Thomas Jefferson Cody, public relations director for the Cincinnati-area* St. Benignus College, and the actual hero of Dan Andriacco’s new mystery series,**  also takes himself rather seriously.  Unfortunately for him, however, readers probably won’t.  And who can blame them? The recently-single Cody is neurotic, envious, a bit of a nag, slightly judgemental, and a trifle immature. He’s easily annoyed by others’ foibles, is sure his (as yet unpublished) detective novels are better than those  of his (published) brother-in-law, has a wandering eye, and  checks his ex-girlfriend’s  relationship status on Facebook regularly.

In other words, he’s a lot like us and, because he’s so relatable, he’s funny.

Jeff Cody lives in the shadow of his flamboyant, more successful brother-in-law,*** Sebastian McCabe–literally, since he has an apartment in the carriage house on the man’s property. However, it’s this association which catapults Jeff’s life from covering campus events, media relations, and handling his difficult boss into a weekend of mystery, danger, and (maybe) romance.

Sebastian McCabe, in addition to holding an endowed chair and being a successful author, is an avid Sherlockian, and he’s used his influence and powerful persuasive skills to convince wealthy businessman Woolcott Chalmers to donate his sizable collection of Sherlockiana to St. Benignus’ library. This is no mean acquisition: the Chalmers Collection includes a copy of Beetons’ 1887 Christmas Annual, 100 manuscript pages of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Bertram Fletcher-Robinson’s personal first edition of HOUN, inscribed by Sir Arthur himself. To celebrate this amazing coup, McCabe organizes a weekend colloquium, to give Sherlockians a chance to hear speakers, mingle, visit the dealers’ room, view the collection in its new home

…and steal…

…and murder….

When the collection’s crown jewels are stolen before the conference has a chance to begin, and a prominent Cincinnati attorney (and Sherlockian collector) is killed not twenty-four hours later, some colloquium attendees find the mystery irresistible. So do McCabe, Cody, and Cody’s ex-girlfriend, reporter Lynda Teal, although their motivations are a little more personal. McCabe, after all, brought the collection to the college in the first place, and Cody needs to end the public relations nightmare as soon as possible. And then there’s the troubling fact that, as far as he knows, Lynda was the last person to see the dead man alive.

And that’s as far as I can go, although I’d love to tell you more. Andriacco gives readers an engaging problem and familiar characters to solve it. If you don’t see yourself in one of them, you’ll see someone you know, and that makes their foibles and triumphs that much more enjoyable. I have yet to attend a Sherlockian conference myself, but I’ve spent enough time in academia (and around geeky obsessives) to appreciate Cody’s world and his slightly jaundiced view of it. Andriacco avoids the temptation to make his two heroes “Holmes” and “Watson.”  Sure, McCabe quotes Holmes and applies his methods, but he’s as far from the aesthetic, unclubbable, moody (and really thin) Holmes as it’s possible to be, while Cody is not the hero-worshipping and completely loyal Watson. In fact, he’d be ecstatic if his attempts to use his fictional detective’s methods won out over McCabe’s. And if he did do quite a bit (ok, most) of the legwork, and ended up writing it all down, well, like Watson in HOUN, he’s the one who saw the most action, now, wasn’t he?

“Why must you always insist on wearing a deerstalker to conferences, Holmes?”

Andriacco does cram a lot of action into that Sherlockian weekend. By providing two crimes, which may or not be related, and several characters with enough plausible motivation to commit either or both, he presents the reader with a nicely tangled knot. I will say that while I did figure out the answer(s),✝ there were enough twists and turns at the end to make me doubt my intuition and fear for my favorite character. And, as with any good mystery, suspecting the ending didn’t make getting there any less entertaining.

I have to say, however, that Jeff Cody has one stylistic quirk that I found troublesome. Because he writes in first person, and does it well, the reader stays firmly inside his head. Unfortunately, that makes one privy to some thoughts that seem a bit misplaced. For instance, when,  after a harrowing experience, Lynda seeks comfort in Cody’s arms and says she needs a drink, our hero, intoxicated by the danger, her nearness, and her perfume, also sees fit to tell us about one of her favorite websites. This, and similar asides elsewhere, tends to ruin the moment. Jeff, buddy, let us keep the tension.  You can share those little details later!

If you’re like me, you read a lot of dark, serious books about dark, serious people doing dark, serious things. Possibly while listening to dark, serious songs. But it’s springtime and sometimes you just need to rip off the dark✝✝  glasses and step out into fresh air and sunshine. Of course there’s nothing at all amusing about theft and murder, but Andriacco’s characters and their lives are so very normal and untormented, his writing style so light, and his observations so witty that No Police Like Holmes is an enjoyable, palate-cleansing romp of a mystery with a little Sherlockian education thrown in. Take it with you to the park or the beach and see if you can catch the culprit first!

No Police Like Holmes is available through the Baker Street Babes website, the MX publishing site, and your regular online bookseller, in both print and e-book form.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5   “Well worth your time and money”


*As someone who lives in the Midwest, I found this very appealing. Not everything in the US has to happen in LA, New York, or Boston.

**It’s billed as a “Sebastian McCabe mystery,” but Cody seems to be the primary character, and steals the show.

***Unless you call a flame-red 1959 Chevy Convertible, marching around campus in a kilt, playing bagpipes, regular use of sleight-of-hand and 19th century speech patterns understated.

✝I rarely do, in mysteries, so I felt the need to brag. Sorry.

✝✝And serious

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Filed under Dan Andriacco, Four-star reviews, Holmes-related fiction, Jeff Cody and Sebastian McCabe, MX Publishing