Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Basil Rathbone’s Solar Pons Films

The following is an essay that I wrote which was originally published in The Baker Street Journal (Vol.63, No.4, Winter 2013). Over the past few years, whenever I've seen discussion about the modern settings of the Basil Rathbone films produced by Universal, I've referenced this essay, and then sent PDF's of it to those who showed an interest. After doing so again today, I realized that I could just as easily place it on my Irregular Blog, and then just post the link whenever the discussion resurfaces.

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As two new Sherlock Holmes television shows compete on either side of the Atlantic to determine which one presents the more successful modern version of our heroes, many traditional Sherlockians watch with enthusiastic interest, hoping for nods toward the original stories. Other viewers, however, grind their teeth at the painfully shocking way in which an updated Holmes and Watson are being treated. These current television shows are not the first occasions in which our heroes have been moved from their correct time period and shown instead in present-day settings. The most famous examples are the final twelve Basil Rathbone films, produced by Universal Studios in the 1940’s. However, it’s time to reveal that three of these Rathbone films aren’t even Holmes tales at all. They are about someone else.

When I read the original Holmes stories, as well as any traditional pastiche that I can get my hands on, I play The Game, thinking about how the events in the narrative relate to both The Canon and historical events. Several years ago, while re-watching the newly-restored Rathbone films on DVD, I found myself – as I often do with many pastiches – being forced to rationalize away various incorrect or anachronistic elements as something that had been grafted onto Watson’s original notes by an editor or film maker with his or her own agenda. In the last nine Universal films, the modernizing aspects are fairly benign and can generally be ignored. The actual events of these stories could just as easily have taken place in the years before, during, or following the First World War, instead of during World War II. Occasional updated comments and modern devices were dropped into the films by script writers in order to make the films seem as if they’re actually taking place in the 1940’s.

But the first three Universal films, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943), and Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943), all have such modernized specifics incorporated into the narratives – airplanes, radio signals, complex equipment for dropping bombs – that there is no way that these could be any of Holmes’s World War I investigations, reworked and updated with just a few added modern details inserted here and there for 1940’s audiences. Clearly, these cases actually did take place in World War II, and were being investigated by a different sleuth entirely.

Consider another heroic detective, so much like Holmes that he must have apprenticed to him, and who would have been involved in the events of World War II, fighting Nazis, listening to radio broadcasts, traveling to Washington and searching for secret microfilms. Who else could it be but Solar Pons, with the assistance of his friend and Boswell, Dr. Lyndon Parker?

As a long-time devotee of Solar Pons, I’ve realized that the first three Rathbone Universal films are not Holmes adventures at all. Rather, they are Solar Pons narratives, with Pons and Parker’s names changed to Holmes and Watson for easier familiarity to the 1940’s movie-going public.

In the early 1940’s, with U.S. film studios’ efforts turning toward war-related topics, film producers decided – in their ignorance - to make movies showing Holmes fighting Nazis. After all, who better to pick than England’s most shining knight? The studios’ research quickly revealed that Watson had been dead for over ten years, and Holmes was in his late eighties. However, there was a successor to Holmes, named Solar Pons, who had a close family relationship to Holmes (1) and who had no doubt rejoined British Intelligence in the summer of 1939, soon after the conclusion of the chronologically-last Pons story, “The Adventure of the Golden Bracelet”, occurring just before Britain was pulled into the war. After all, Pons was just fifty-nine years old at that time, and he would have certainly helped in the British war effort.

Therefore, the first three Rathbone films from Universal, The Voice of Terror, The Secret Weapon, and Sherlock Holmes in Washington, were actually Solar Pons cases, relating Pons’s efforts against the Nazis. In fact, these are the only films ever made that show Solar Pons in action, albeit under Holmes’s name. The public probably wouldn’t have been as enthused by Solar Pons and the Voice of Terror or Solar Pons in Washington. Nigel Bruce didn’t accurately portray Dr. Parker any better than he did Dr. Watson, but there was something comforting about his avuncular presence that served a valuable purpose for war-time audiences.

After realizing how three of Pons’s wartime adventures had obviously been taken and updated by film makers, I realized that several of Pons’s other post-World War II cases had also been altered in the same way by later editors of Dr. Parker’s notes, and pulled into more modern times. For example, the book Sherlock Holmes in Dallas, edited by Edmund Aubrey, has Holmes and Watson traveling to the United States in order to investigate the Kennedy Assassination. It’s an interesting idea, but obviously Holmes and Watson weren’t around to do that. However, Pons and Parker certainly would have been. Later, when the narrative was published, the editor decided to change Pons and Parker’s names to Holmes and Watson so that modern readers, who might not buy Solar Pons in Dallas, would recognize the more familiar names. Several other pastiches and collections, such as Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times, edited by Ira Bernard Dworkin, which also benefit from this same kind of updating, and provide additional Pons stories when they don’t work either logically or chronologically as Holmes stories.

Having concluded that some of these “modernized” Holmes cases are actually those of Solar Pons, I’m still at a loss to know just who is actually being portrayed in either the BBC’s Sherlock or CBS Television’s Elementary. It certainly isn’t Holmes, Watson, Pons or Parker. However, I am glad to finally be able to completely enjoy the first three “modernized” Rathbone Universal films, knowing that they’re actually about Pons. It’s time that Solar Pons had some more recognition.

1. As I related in “The Adventure of the Other Brother”, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes – Volume II (2011, 2013)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Happy 164th Birthday, Dr. John H. Watson!

IMPORTANT HISTORICAL EVENTS FOR August 7th, 1852 – The birth of Dr. John H. Watson

Happy 164th Birthday, Watson!

Although January 6th, 1854 has become the traditionally celebrated birthday for Sherlock Holmes, remembered ‘round the world, it sometimes happens that his Boswell’s birth anniversary tends to be forgotten. It does tend to sneak up on one, or get lost in the summer shuffle (if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere.) I know that I neglect it in far more years than I remember to celebrate it, which is unfortunate indeed. Some have argued that the Sherlock Holmes adventures are really the Dr. Watson adventures. Whether that’s true or not, and while it might be true, as Holmes said, that Watson may not himself be luminous, he is certainly a conductor of light, and he deserves to be honored today.

Some people may have celebrated Watson’s birthday already this year, on July 7th. One can see that date tossed around in various places. I believe that’s been used to mistakenly link the event to the death of the first Literary Agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which took place on the same date in 1930. (But maybe that’s counterweighted by the birth of Edward Hardwicke, one of the better portrayers of Watson, on August 7th, 1932.)

Some people have asked me why August 7th (or 7 August for British readers) was established as Watson’s birthday. I still haven’t tracked that one down. The first place that I ever saw that date mentioned was during my formative years, in the chronology section of William S. Baring-Gould’s biography, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. Having been converted to a large degree to Baring-Gouldism at an early age – approximately age ten or eleven years – I’ve always followed B-G’s choice of August 7th. However, in his The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Baring-Gould refutes July 7th, but doesn't propose August 7th.

I’m not sure, however, of where B-G came up with this August date, or what reasoning he had to support it. I’ll have to do some more research in some of B-G’s other documents. I have a Xeroxed copy of B-G’s original 8½” x 11” document, The Chronological Holmes (1955), wherein he constructed and elaborated upon his timeline, giving his thoughts and reasoning as well. It was based on his earlier chronological exploration that had first been published in a 1948 Baker Street Journal. Over two decades ago, I stood at a copy machine in a nearby university library for a couple hours, feeding dimes into the machine to copy Baring-Gould’s 1955 book, and it has been well worth it! B-G is not the last word on things, but he's usually a great resource. I don't agree with everything that B-G proposed, such as his choice of Watson’s birthplace in Hampshire - I favor Scotland (see below). In many cases, however, B-G is a good jumping-off place.

As mentioned, the July 7th Watson birthday seems to have been chosen because it was Doyle’s date of death in 1930, but that seems a little unlikely. In revisiting my copy of the very thin Watson biography, Doctor Watson: Prolegomena to the Study of a Biographical Problem (1931) by S.C. Roberts, I can find a reference to 1852 as the birth year, but nothing about a month. (Roberts also has a mistaken location for Watson's place of birth, and has his middle name as Henry, so some of his other earlier research, conducted just a year or so after Watson's death in 1929, is suspect.) In Michael Hardwick’s longer biography The Private Life of Dr. Watson, (1983) Hardwick uses the July 7th birthday. I agree with a lot of that book, such as nailing down Watson’s birthplace as Stranraer, Scotland, but I don’t agree with Hardwick’s choice of the July 7th birthdate, or his choice of Watson’s middle name – and mother’s maiden name – as Hudson?!? (John Hudson Watson!?! Good grief! That implication that Watson is a Hudson is too close to opening a speculative can of worms along the lines of when Watson courted Lucy Ferrier in the long suppressed play Angels of Darkness. Also, if we’re talking how Holmes met Mrs. Hudson – wherein she was NOT a possible relative of Watson’s or of Morse Hudson or any of the other theories out there – then I favor the explanation from the old television show Young Sherlock: The Manor House Mystery [1982], where Mrs. Hudson – before her marriage – is the housekeeper of Holmes’s distant family, and at the end she’s off to London with her new Hudson husband, so that Holmes was already acquainted with her when he found out that she had rooms to rent in Baker Street in very-late December 1880. But I digress.)

So in the great Bell Curve of opinion, 1852 is the accepted year of Watson's birth. (There are some outliers, such as Michael Harrison, who thought that Watson was actually much older, but 1852 makes the most sense for a number of reasons.) Some may still celebrate July 7th as the actual day, but as for me and my house, we will remember the Doctor with extra fondness on this day, August 7th.

A book could probably be written while simply trying to verify Watson’s birth date, and I’m too busy writing or editing other books, as well as working at that job which funds my life. Therefore, I leave it to other people, and instead, I’ll take a moment or several over the course of today, August 7th, to remember that conductor of light, that Boswell, that husband and doctor and soldier and writer and very best of friends, that “Good old Watson!

I hope that you’ll join me.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rereading The Ellery Queen Canon

A few weeks ago, I offered an entry on the way that I re-read the Nero Wolfe Corpus, as the collection of Wolfe novels, novellas, and related ephemera are known. It was an essay that I wrote a couple of years ago for The Gazette, the journal of the Wolfe Pack.

At the same time that I initially produced that essay, I also wrote a companion piece, parallel in many ways, regarding how I return regularly to the world of Ellery Queen, and how I go about reading those stories as well. That essay was written for a specific website and webmaster that, in the end, did not follow through on certain promises, so I withdrew it, waiting for another opportunity to release it into the world.

Having recently started re-reading the Queen Canon again, and more specifically, having seen a blog entry by the most excellent Dan Andriacco that referred to one of the lesser known works of Mr. Queen, I decided to update my own little effort a little bit and put it out there. Besides referring to the main topic, EQ, there are also connections to Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe.

And so, here are my thoughts on:

Rereading The Ellery Queen Canon

I’m currently making my way through my latest rereading of the Ellery Queen canon, after realizing a month or so ago that it had been several years since I'd taken a literary trip to West 87th Street. Whenever I read about the lives of Ellery Queen and the Inspector, I like to approach the stories chronologically, as the events of their lives unfold, rather than following publication order. But I don't just read the established novels and short stories featuring Ellery and stop there, and I don’t actually start with The Roman Hat Mystery, the first published book. There are stories to read before that, are a lot of other stories to read afterwards as well.

Mr. Marcum Discovers Mr. Queen

I first encountered Ellery Queen in October 1975, when I was ten years old. However, it was several years later before I actually began to admire him. In 1975, I had recently started my lifelong frenzied fascination with the life of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and was just beginning to expand my interest from the Sleuth of Baker Street to some of the other Great Detectives. While reading the October 11, 1975 issue of TV Guide magazine, I came across an article by Rand Lee, providing details of the creation of Ellery Queen by both his father, Manfred Lee, and Manfred’s cousin, Frederic Dannay. Of course, at that time the great Queen show starring Jim Hutton was premiering on television, but I didn’t watch it then. (I’ve always been a reader first, and often while growing up I only discovered the media adaptations of my literary heroes at much later dates, after the character was already set in my imagination. For instance, I had read and re-read the James Bond books for years before I ever actually saw my first Bond movie, something for which I'm eternally grateful. But I digress . . . .)

For some reason, I tore the Rand Lee article out of the magazine and saved it. (I still have it.) At that time, the small town where I lived – and still live – was even smaller, but we did have an excellent little used bookstore, where my father would often take me on Saturday mornings. On our next trip there, I found a tattered paperback copy of The Vanishing Corpse, which stated on the cover in small print that its original title was Ellery Queen, Master Detective. I recalled that this title was the very book that had been used as an illustration on the first page of the TV Guide article, and I talked my dad into buying it for me. And then I read it. And I’m afraid . . . that I didn’t like it very much.

Of course, that might be because I was only ten years old, and wasn’t a very seasoned mystery reader at that point. Or possibly it was because that story wasn’t one of the better Queen books. After all, although it was vetted and approved by the cousins, Dannay and Lee, at the time it was written, it still was really a novelization of an old EQ movie, which itself had been lifted from the original Queen novel, The Door Between.

In any case, I abandoned Ellery at that point for a few more years. My next meeting with him was in 1978, by way of famed attorney Perry Mason. It was at that time that I encountered my first Perry Mason book, a meeting which eventually forced me to repeat algebra, since I spent most of that year reading Mason books in class instead of listening to the teacher, who didn’t care enough about teaching to make me pay attention. (I may have to take a little of the blame too.) At the time I starting reading about Perry Mason, I convinced my mother to take me to that same local used bookstore to find some additional Mason novels. While there, I came across more Ellery Queen books, and she agreed to buy me a few of those as well. (I recall being somewhat embarrassed as I asked her to pay for them, since those particular editions featured mostly-unclothed models posing on the covers. However, my mom laughed, and said that she knew that Ellery Queen books weren’t like that on the inside. Thanks, mom!)

And so I now owned some more Queen books, but even then I never quite got around to reading them. Over the years, I picked up a few more here and there, because somehow I sensed that I was going to want to read them someday, just not quite yet. It wasn’t until 1983 that I truly discovered what makes reading the Queen Canon so electrifying. At that time, I was working at my first job, in the college library where I would go on to achieve my first bachelor’s degree. It was the summer before my freshman year was due to start, and I was sitting at the main desk near the front door, trying to stay awake. Someone brought back a book, and it was my job to check it in. I picked it up and saw that it was the omnibus edition of The Wrightsville Murders. For some reason, probably because I was slightly acquainted with Ellery from earlier years, I flipped to the front of the book, and started reading. Little did I realize that I was starting with what I - and many others - still believe to be the best of all the Queen novels, Calamity Town. And to paraphrase Frederic Dannay, all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men couldn’t put David together again.

That, for me, began the magical year of Ellery Queen. I read the trilogy of books in that omnibus, and felt that in some ways I had never read anything better in my life. The library had one other Queen book, The Hollywood Murders omnibus, and I quickly read the three novels in that one as well. I read the few Queen novels that I had accumulated at home, and then I was out of luck. It turned out that many of the Queen titles that I had bought over the years (such as Blow Hot, Blow Cold, The Golden Goose, or The Four Johns,)didn’t actually feature Ellery at all, and in fact were those Queen books from the 1960’s that had nothing to do with the character of Ellery Queen. Rather, they were the non-Ellery titles that had been ghost-written by other authors, some about completely different characters, as Tim Corrigan or Mike McCall, and published under the house name of Ellery Queen. And I soon found out that there weren’t a lot of actual EQ books about Ellery and the Inspector to be found at the used bookstore anymore, either.

I am so grateful to my father during this time for feeding my fledgling Queen addiction. He was a law enforcement agent who had been employed since the 1960’s for the state Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), responsible for an area covering several counties and helping assist local law enforcement officers as needed. (Sort of a Tennessee Scotland Yard Inspector.) While growing up, he had occasionally let me accompany him on investigations, and he had always let me read his files that he kept at our home, which also served as his office. As a child, I’d always had an interest in criminology, and I felt a special kinship with Ellery, the son of a police inspector. Since my dad traveled every day to many different towns, I asked if he would keep his eyes open for other used bookstores, and to carry a checklist of EQ books that I didn’t yet own with him. He agreed, and so for the rest of that school year, into the spring of 1984, every week or so he would surprise me with a few more EQ books.

Fortunately, several years earlier I had acquired Otto Penzler’s excellent book The Private Lives of Private Eyes, which contained a very informative chapter concerning Ellery Queen. From this book I had learned about the different ways that Ellery had been presented over the years, and the different phases of the Queen novels, including the early days with pince-nez and brain-busting puzzles, the Hollywood novels, the amazing middle-period books, especially concerning Wrightsville, and the later, more experimental tales. Therefore, even though my dad was bringing me the books in a very odd and out-of-order sequence, I was able to place them as I read them where they belonged in the big EQ picture.

Of all the books I read during that year, I remember saving The Finishing Stroke until I reached the end of my first extended visit to West 87th Street. I could tell that the story bracketed the whole Queen Canon as I understood it at that time, from approximately The Roman Hat Mystery to the end. And as usual, I wasn’t disappointed. Several years later, in the late 1980’s after I had graduated college and was married, I re-read the entire Queen narratives again, this time in order of publication. At that time, I believed that those stories were all that I would be able to find about Mr. Queen. Of course, I was mistaken. There were many other Ellery stories out there, in other formats, but they were going to be difficult to track down, especially in those dark days before the internet.

Playing “The Game” With Mr. Queen

Along with my admiration for Mr. Queen, I have always been a fanatical follower of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, both the original stories and the literally thousands of pastiches that have appeared over the years in the form of short stories, novels, radio and television shows, movies, scripts and comics. For those who are not aware, there is a school of thought when reading the Holmes stories that is called playing The Game, where Holmes and Dr. Watson are treated as real historical people, and their lives are examined as if their adventures took place in the real world. I truly enjoy playing The Game, and have since done so since I was a boy. And over the years, as I’ve read about some of the other Great Detectives, I have expanded The Game to include them too, including Ellery.

There are a number of chronologies that have been written over the years attempting to define exactly when this or that original Holmes story or event in Holmes’s life took place. Since the mid-1990’s, I have maintained my own Holmes Chronology that not only defines the dates of the original Holmes canon, but all of the thousands of pastiches that I have read and collected over the last forty-plus as well. This came about because in the mid-1990’s, I realized that I had collected a lot more Holmes pastiches than I had actually gotten around to reading. I seemed to keep rereading the original Holmes stories and a few of the same favorite pastiches over and over again. I decided to catch up on all those other stories that I had acquired but had never gotten around to reading, simply putting them on the shelf. I began to read every Holmes story that I had collected, in no certain order, trying to get ahead of what I had missed. As I did so, I kept a small binder with me, containing maps of England and other relevant facts that added to the experience. I made notes about each story that I read, and I started to jot down the date in which each story took place. When I finished, I found that I had a very rough chronology of the stories - all the stories – that I had read and how they related to the events in Holmes and Watson’s lives.

I’ve revised this overall chronology of Holmes and Watson’s lives several times since then, adding in all the new Holmes pastiches that are continually appearing and that I have acquired. During the intervening years, I’ve also reread the Queen Canon several times, as well as books relating to my other “book friends” (as my son used to call them when he was young,) including Nero Wolfe, Solar Pons, Hercule Poirot, and Perry Mason.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I enjoyed reading about the other characters’ lives in chronological order the same way that I did about Holmes’s life, so I started constructing chronologies for these other Great Detectives as well. Now, when I reread the Queen stories, I take them in a certain specific order that has nothing to do with their publication date. And along the way, I add in all the radio and television stories that I could find, as well as other pastiches that I’ve discovered over the years, at the chronologically correct location.

Rereading the Queen Canon – The Entire Queen Canon

When rereading the Ellery Queen stories, I don’t just read the novels and short story collections. I try to include all of the published and otherwise available radio scripts that I’ve been able to acquire as well. I listen to all the remaining Queen radio shows that I can find, and I also watch all the old Queen movies, and the remaining available episodes of the 1950’s television shows. Now the amazing Jim Hutton/David Wayne series from the mid-1970’s is finally available on DVD. I’ve also been able to read most of the surviving Ellery Queen comics. All of these stories, even though some are weaker than others, provide a more complete and well-rounded picture of the life of Ellery Queen.

I’m still trying to locate some of the old radio scripts that were published in obscure magazines in the 1940’s, but my time and resources limit my ability to track them down. I know that there are some old radio shows available at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., but I haven’t been able to get up there to listen to them yet. Luckily, a little research still reveals the occasional new discovery now and then. For example, a couple of years ago I found a website, www.planetmegamall.com, that sells television and film scripts. They offer eight scripts from the 1975 EQ television show, including the pilot episode, as well as one for “The Grand Old Lady,” an episode which was never actually produced, but instead was later reworked without Ellery and the Inspector and filmed as an episode of the television show, Murder, She Wrote.

As I reread about Ellery’s adventures, I even include – believe it or not - the short-short tales from the old syndicated radio series, Ellery Queen’s Minute Mysteries, of which I now have several hundred episodes, but not all of them. Some EQ scholars would probably choose to ignore these stories, classifying them as something not part of the actual EQ Canon. However, if one is going to be immersed in the world of Ellery and be willing to read a lot of the legitimate quick-puzzle tales, such as those included in Queen’s Experiments in Detection, or the later Puzzle Club stories, then these minute-long radio adventures cannot be considered any less legitimate or important. If the reader is thinking chronologically, the Minute Mysteries can be separated into when they occurred during different decades or periods of Ellery’s life, and dropped in accordingly between the more accepted adventures.

Of course, there are a number of newer Queen pastiches that must not be forgotten, including “Open Letter To Survivors” by Francis M. Nevins, “The Wrightsville Carnival” and “The Circle of Ink” by Ed Hoch, “The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue” by Jon L. Breen, “The Mad Hatter’s Riddle” by Dale C. Andrews, and “The Book Case” by Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu. This last story is especially pleasing, since it confirms what I have long suspected, that Ellery and Nikki Porter at some point finally get married. I have even added a slight indirect pastiche to the mix as well. My own collection of Holmes pastiches, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, Vol's I and II, was published in 2011 and again in 2013. The postscript of Volume II contains a letter written by Dr. Watson in 1929, refering to a past case in which Holmes and Watson, while traveling in New York in 1927, were assisted by several famous detectives, including “the unlikely team of one of the New York Police inspectors and his brilliant son, Ellery, who shows every sign of being Holmes’s deductive rival.” (When I finally got around to arranging some of Watson’s notes for publication in this book, I was thrilled to see that Holmes and Ellery had worked together. More about that in a moment . . . . )

One EQ pastiche that I initially ignored but later included after further reflection was “Dan and the Fair Sabrina”, included in Julian Symon’s book The Great Detectives. In this volume, Symons theorizes that the reason Ellery seems to change so much between his early incarnations and later appearances is that there were actually two sons of Richard Queen, Ellery and Dan, and that Dan was the protagonist in the early novels. I don’t exactly agree with Symons theory, although I do agree that Richard had two sons, and that Dan, the older son, was the protagonist of “Dan and the Fair Sabrina.” However, I believe that Dan Queen was the son who married and moved to Italy, as mentioned in the early books. When Ellery began writing, he initially used parts of Dan’s biography in his description of himself in order to obfuscate details about his life in New York. Clearly, Ellery did have a brother, because in the two juvenile EQ novels, The Merry Magician and The Vanished Victim, Ellery’s nephew Gulliver is staying in New York with the Queen’s while Ellery’s brother, an engineer, is out of the country for a year. Certainly Dannay and Lee knew about and approved these juvenile books, and if they signed off on the fact that Ellery had a brother and a nephew, then it must be gospel.

And there are still other EQ stories out there waiting to be read. The appearance of several new Queen collections in the last decade or so has definitely been a cause for celebration. A few years ago, I was corresponding back and forth with Doug Greene of Crippen & Landru Publishers, praising his efforts at getting both The Tragedy of Errors and The Murdered Moths published. I was also asking him when the next book of “lost” Queen scripts would be published. At that time, Doug offered to pass along a fan letter from me to Richard Dannay, the son of Frederic Dannay, in which I could ask the same question.

After agonizing for several days over what to write, I finally sent the letter. I let Mr. Dannay know what a fan I was of Ellery Queen, and how much I had enjoyed the stories over the years. I also told him that it was somewhat bittersweet when I read in the introduction to The Murdered Moths that there were hundreds of remaining EQ radio scripts that had been read and evaluated in order to pick the best for The Murdered Moths, and that these other EQ adventures were otherwise inaccessible and likely to stay that way. I asked him to imagine what it would be like if a Sherlock Holmes devotee were to learn that there were literally hundreds of other Holmes stories, written by Doyle, and stored away somewhere. It wouldn’t matter that some were alternate versions of later-published stories, or possibly of lesser quality. These would be raw materials that had not been seen or heard of since their original appearance. Holmes fans would clamor for every scrap to be released and studied and savored, and that I felt the same way about these unattainable EQ treasures. I also stated that I wished that I lived in the New York area, so that I could come and sit on Dannay’s floor and read the old scripts right out of the box, as if the ten-year-old inside me were finding Ellery again for the first time.

Mr. Dannay responded almost immediately, and very graciously. He didn’t take me up on my offer to come to New York and read scripts while sitting on his floor, but he did state that the Dannay and Lee families were as eager as I was to see some sort of revival of interest in EQ, and that he hoped that Doug Greene would consider another book of radio scripts. As do I . . . . I'm very happy that I've been able to stay in touch with Mr. Dannay since then, and he's always been as gracious as he was in that first reply.

Interaction with the Other Great Detectives

Several years ago, I came across an EQ pastiche of sorts in The Baker Street Journal (September 1982, Vol. 32, No.3), “The Adventure of the Logical Successor.” In the story, a young Ellery is visiting England during his college summer break in the mid-1920’s, and he seeks out Sherlock Holmes and Watson at Holmes’s retirement cottage in Sussex. Of course, Ellery had already encountered Holmes, although indirectly, in the novelization of A Study in Terror, but that doesn't take place chronologically until much later. However, “The Logical Successor” is an actual meeting between the two great detectives, and it first started me thinking that if one plays The Game – and I do – then Ellery and Holmes probably had other interactions as well.

In the story, Holmes tells Watson that he actually met Ellery years before, when Holmes was traveling in the United States. Holmes states that he met Richard Queen during that time, when Richard was a young policeman in New York. Holmes was there to look into a trifling matter involving a bowler hat, a hollow walking-stick, and a political scandal – I would love to read that story! Holmes states that “Richard Queen not only penetrated my disguise, but saved my life. On a later occasion, when I was traveling under the name of Altamont, I was able to render him some assistance. Young Ellery was but a child at the time, but even then somewhat precocious, with a decided bent for deductive reasoning. Someday I suppose I should tell him about the incident. He has not connected me with the bearded gentleman who visited their flat in Manhattan.”

Reading this story led me to ponder about where Ellery’s adventures might overlap with some of the other Great Detectives. One of the most likely places would be some sort of interaction with that other great American detective, Nero Wolfe, and his right-hand man Archie Goodwin. For those who haven’t read the Wolfe books, or are basing their understanding of Wolfe solely upon the poorly-made television show from 1981, Wolfe is a sedentary detective who lives in a Brownstone on W.35th Street in New York, and refuses to leave his house, solving all his mysteries from his armchair. The narrator of the stories, Archie Goodwin, goes out into the world and collects facts for Wolfe to evaluate, and people for Wolfe to question. Archie’s breezy narration is one of the greatest of mystery treats of all time. At the end of each investigation, Wolfe usually assembles all of the suspects and reveals the murderer.

In my chronology of Ellery Queen, which plays The Game with Ellery’s life, Ellery is friends with Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee in the late 1920’s. They were all born in the same year of 1905, Dannay first met Ellery during some of the events later fictionalized in Dannay's book The Golden Summer, and Dannay and Lee were the ones who initially convinced Ellery to write up the events of The Roman Hat Mystery. Later, throughout the busy 1940’s and 1950’s, Dannay and Lee handled the day-to-day operations for Ellery, such as coordinating the scripting for the radio and television shows, as well as operation of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Throughout that time, they served as Ellery’s literary agents, much like Conan Doyle did for Dr. Watson. And in the early 1930’s, they, along with Ellery, were also instrumental in introducing Archie Goodwin to Rex Stout, a man in his late-forties who was interested in being a literary agent himself.

I believe that Ellery and Archie Goodwin, who was just a few years younger than Ellery, were good friends. Archie, a Manhattan licensed private detective with literary hobbies must certainly have known Ellery Queen, a Manhattan writer with detective hobbies. When Dannay and Lee heard about Stout’s desire to be a literary agent, they surely arranged for him to have an introduction to Archie. I can just imagine when the five of them, the cousins, Ellery, Archie, and Stout, sat down together for the first time.

I’ve read and reread the Wolfe books as often as I’ve read about Ellery, and the more I do, the more I see places where there could be interaction between the two series. Both Wolfe and the Queens live in west-side Brownstones, although they are fifty-two blocks apart. Inspector Queen certainly has interaction with Inspector Cramer, who is the policeman who usually has dealings with Wolfe. And in the Nero Wolfe books, there are a few places where Ellery’s presence was certainly felt, even if he didn’t actually appear.

For example, in the Nero Wolfe story "Disguise For Murder," set in March 1949, a woman in strangled in Wolfe’s office. It is learned that the deceased was friends with another woman, Doris Hatten, who had been strangled the previous fall. Inspector Cramer seems especially offensive and overwrought during the investigation, to the point that he seems to unnecessarily antagonize Wolfe by sealing the door to Wolfe’s office as a crime scene. Perhaps Cramer's over-reaction becomes understandable when one considers that The Cat Murders, a series of serial-killer strangulations, had just taken place during the previous summer and fall of 1948 (as recorded in Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails) and Doris Hatten's strangulation the previous October had occurred during some of the worst of New York's terror related to the Cat Murders. No wonder Cramer was sensitive, thinking that some part of the Cat Murders, as investigated by his old peer Inspector Queen, was beginning again.

An additional intersection between the Wolfe Corpus (as it is referred to by Wolfe fans) and the Queen Canon occurs in the summer of 1950. This is when the Wolfe novel, In the Best Families, takes place. In this book, Wolfe battles his own personal Professor Moriarty, Arnold Zeck, and is forced to leave his beloved Brownstone on W.35th Street and go into hiding under the name of Pete Roeder. Wolfe disappears without even telling Archie where he is going, much like when Sherlock Holmes disappeared for three years after the events at Reichenbach Falls, allowing Watson to believe that he had died. At the time Wolfe is in hiding, preparing for his battle with Zeck, Ellery is also in Los Angeles, for reasons never adequately or convincingly explained, during the events of his own adventure, The Origin of Evil. It is my belief that he is there at the personal request of Wolfe, who needed Ellery’s help while establishing his identity there as Roeder. I’m not certain what Ellery's role was in Wolfe's master plan, but I am sure that when Wolfe called, Ellery answered. Ellery's subsequent involvement in the events of The Origin of Evil was simply something else that happened to him while he was already in Los Angeles - as things like that always seem to happen in the lives of the Great Detectives.

I can also point to a couple of times during Ellery's L.A. visits when he likely encountered Perry Mason, but that's for another time . . . .

Playing the Game: Determining Mr. Queen’s Address

As a young man, I read the novelization of "The Last Man Club", taken from the Queen radio script that was first broadcast on February 18, 1940. The story states that Ellery's address, as given by The Great Man himself, is 212-A W.87th Street. It was only when I was older that I realized that this might be a wink and nod to Sherlock Holmes’s famous residence at 221B Baker Street. Later, when I read the actual script of "The Last Man Club", as published in The Murdered Moths, the address was again confirmed as 212-A. This seemed definitive, and I wondered why it hadn't really been noticed before.

I mentioned this in an email to Kurt Sercu, founder of the amazing Ellery Queen, A Website on Deduction, and he replied that his opinion was that this address is generally discounted, simply because of the Holmes reference. I replied to him that I had to believe that 212-A was in fact the correct address, for several reasons. First, the original script was certainly written by Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, and they specifically named that exact address. Even if the scripts were ghosted by someone else – which seems unlikely, way back in the nineteen-forties - Lee and Dannay still would have had editorial control over them, the same control that they would have later had over the novelization of "The Last Man Club". Therefore, they would have known of AND approved the idea that Ellery's address was 212-A W.87th Street. Even though “The Last Man Club,” which affirms the 212-A address, is considered by some to be lesser Queen because of its provenance, it is still something that was legitimately approved by Dannay and Lee. At other places in the Queen canon, it is stated that Ellery's brownstone is between Broadway and Amsterdam, so that part fits. In addition, just because Dannay and Lee might have been cleverly playing around with Ellery's address by using Sherlockian references in our world does not negate its legitimacy in Ellery's world. After all, there really wasn't a 221B Baker Street (even though I hate to admit it) but Holmes fanatics like myself don't question its legitimacy.

Other characters have also had addresses which contain references to the 221B Holmes address, and their addresses aren't discounted simply because they are similar to 221B. For example, one of Lord Peter Wimsey's addresses in London is 110A Piccadilly, clearly a play on 221B. Also, television character Dr. Gregory House, of the show House, M.D., has a street address of 221B. This character was specifically created with a nod to Sherlock Holmes, but his address isn't ignored within the context of the show simply because it is a reference to Holmes.

So in conclusion, I must argue that Ellery's definitive address is 212-A, even if it is with a wink and a nod toward Holmes. Having decided that the real address for Ellery’s brownstone had been determined, based on something specifically written by Dannay and Lee, I felt that the time had come to mount a plaque at the real 212-A W.87th Street. This wasn’t without precedent. The site of Sherlock Holmes’s residence at 221b Baker Street in London has been established for years, initially at the bank which occupied that address and received Holmes’s mail, and more recently at the Sherlock Holmes Museum. In the United States, the Wolfe Pack, a group of Nero Wolfe aficionados much like the Baker Street Irregulars, placed a plaque several years ago on W.35th Street, at the site roughly identified as the former home of Nero Wolfe. Since I don't live in New York, and only get there about once every decade or so, I've been unable spearhead the noble cause to commemorate Ellery’s brownstone on W.87th Street.. However, I did try to interest some New Yorkers there on the ground, hoping that something might be accomplished.

Over the last year or so I’ve communicated a few times with Richard Dannay, letting him know that I think it would be a good idea to place the plaque at 212-A W.87th Street. Of course, the last time I was able to visit there and actually walk that block of W.87th Street, now over ten years ago, it was fairly difficult to find where the brownstone might actually have stood. I asked Otto Penzler, owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, if he could help, but very nicely let me know that he is far too busy. Finally, I tried to interest members of The Wolfe Pack in the project, since they had been successful in placing a plaque on W.35th Street for Nero Wolfe. Sadly, they informed me that they are unaware of any New York-based Ellery Queen fans within their ranks - unbelievable! - and in any case, they were only able to place their plaque on W.35th Street because one of their members happened to own a building at the approximately correct location.

So the quest continues. I invite anyone else who, like me, feels that Ellery Queen’s residence should be commemorated, preferably at the location named specifically by Dannay and Lee, to help take up the challenge.

And Now, I'm Re-reading . . . .

And so, as I revisit the Brownstone at W.87th Street once again, I didn't start with my favorite Queen book, and I didn’t immediately pull down The Roman Hat Mystery just because it was the first one published. Instead, I reread The Golden Summer, which – to me – tells about an amalgamation of memories of both Frederic Danny and Ellery Queen, and the summer that they met as children in 1915. Then I read the essay "Who Shall Ever Forget" telling about how Ellery (and not Frederic Dannay, I’m afraid) first discovered Sherlock Holmes when he was twelve. Then I proceeded to “The Logical Successor,” followed by “The Glass Domed Clock”, set in 1926, and clearly the earliest of the recorded EQ Canonical tales. Next I read “Dan and the Fair Sabrina”. After that, I started on the novels. Chronologically, I first read The Greek Coffin Mystery, The French Powder Mystery, and The Dutch Shoe Mystery, since they all occur earlier than some of the other books. Only then did I pull down my autographed and numbered copy of The Roman Hat Mystery, because it occurred after the previously mentioned narratives, even if it was the first published. From there, I'm working my way through Ellery’s life, fitting in all the other stories as they occur - novels, short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, and comics - while also bearing in mind interacting events from the lives of other Great Detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, and Solar Pons. And hopefully I’ll be around in a few years to read it all again, with even more newly-discovered material to include in the journey.

So in conclusion, I would recommend that anyone deciding to reread the Queen Canon, already encompassing numerous novels and short stories, be willing to add all the other appearances in order to see the complete picture. It is well worth it, I assure you!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Still Waiting . . . . (Some unpublished or lost pastiches that are out there . . . somewhere)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. To me they’re as important as the Canon, because if they’re done right – set in the correct time period, and presented so that Holmes isn’t some drug-addicted sloppy barely-functioning murdering sociopath who can’t crawl out the door without Watson propping him up – then they add wonderfully to the World of Holmes in incredible ways. There are literally thousands of these correct pastiches in my collection, all of various lengths, and they all go together to form The Great Holmes Tapestry, in which the Canon makes up the main – but not the only – threads.

But some of these stories that I’ve read and collected over the last 41 years ended with the promise of additional and forthcoming narratives to be presented by that particular “editor” of Watson’s notes, and so far these next tales haven’t appeared. I’m still waiting, with the hope that they will someday show up, and I thought I’d take a few minutes to list a few of them, in the hopes that the people mentioned herein will see this and know that there is someone out here in the heartland that is still looking forward to reading their next effort. If you know these people or their families, let them know that I, along with other people, are indeed interested, and if you know anything about the status of any of these promised works, please let me know that too.

Some Eventually Fulfilled Promises

I’ll start with a couple of examples of works that I had hoped to read for years, and after waiting for a long time was finally able to. The first of these relates to some of the earlier works of author Michael Kurland. Some of the earliest pastiches I ever found were the first two in Kurland’s series about Professor Moriarty, The Infernal Device (1978) and Death by Gaslight (1982). Where I grew up in Eastern Tennessee, especially in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s following my initial discovery of Holmes, finding pastiches wasn’t always the easiest thing. I uncovered these on paperback racks at a local drugstore. Kurland’s Moriarty books are truly excellent, and over the years there have been a number of them. But back in 1982 there were only two, and in the introduction to the second, Death by Gaslight, Kurland wrote: “There will be a third book next year, entitled The Murder Trust.

I spent literally years keeping my eye out for The Murder Trust. Back in those pre-internet days, one couldn’t really determine anything too well about what did and didn’t and might at some point exist in the world of books. Perhaps some of you might recall a big volume called Books in Print that was printed quarterly. It was kept behind the counter at bookstores and in some libraries, and I would scour it regularly, not only for other forthcoming titles and authors that I wanted to know about, but also looking for that pesky next Kurland book about his version of The Professor.

Finally, in December 2001, Kurland wrote The Great Game, and I was able to reach him by email, the start of an on-and-off correspondence over the years. At that point, he finally let me off the hook by telling me that The Murder Trust, for which I’d been looking nearly twenty years, was – in fact – The Great Game. Hallelujah! He’s gone on to write several more Moriarty novels and short stories since that time, and I hope that he continues.

Another example of waiting a long time for eventual fulfillment was also in relation to Professor Moriarty – this time, John Gardner’s eventual trilogy. He wrote the first two titles, The Return of Moriarty and The Revenge of Moriarty, in 1974 and 1975, respectively. And then there was a dispute with the publisher, and the third book, simply Moriarty (2008), wasn’t released until shortly after Gardner’s death. But at least it was released – finally. I don’t agree with everything about his interpretation of the Professor, but they are incredible books and highly recommended.

Still Waiting . . . .

Those success stories are outnumbered by the titles and volumes that I’m still looking for. Here are some of them . . . .

Gerard William’s Dr. Mortimer Books

I have the two available volumes in this series, Dr. Mortimer and the Aldgate Mystery (2000) and Dr. Mortimer and the Barking Man Mystery (2001), although I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever get the third. While not strictly Holmes and Watson tales, these books are part of that universe, relating some of the adventures of Dr. Mortimer (of The Hound of the Baskervilles fame), after he is widowed in the late 1880’s, remarries, and then moves to London, where he opens a clinic with his second wife, who is also a physician. In 2003, a third book, Dr. Mortimer and the Carved Head Mystery, was announced, and I pre-ordered it, but it never was actually published. Eventually I contacted the publisher, and they told me that Gerard Williams had died, and that his family had withdrawn the book. So it’s still out there, somewhere, and I’m still looking for it. If you’re part of Mr. William’s family, please turn it loose.

Timothy Sheil’s Massive Volumes

In 1999, Timothy Francis Sheil published a massive pastiche, The Siam Question. In addition to relating one of Holmes’s missions during The Great Hiatus, it also tells what happens immediately after Holmes’s return to London in April 1894, and the additional details regarding his battle that time with the Professor’s brother, Colonel Moriarty. The book is a huge hardcover, over 600 pages long, bound in faux leather to look as if it is part of a series of Foreign Office documents, compiled by Watson at Mycroft’s request, and telling what Holmes did between 1891 and 1894.

I don’t remember what I paid for it, and I have no idea what it would cost now new, but it appears to be pretty cheap used on Amazon, if you’re interested. What interests me more is the promised sequel, The Egypt Question, which was supposed to be published soon after the first book, relating more of Our Hero’s adventures during the Hiatus. In 2001, I contacted the publisher, and they said the Tim was still working on the manuscript, and that it would be published as soon as it was finished. That was fifteen years ago. Here’s hoping that 2016 is the year!

Draco, Draconis

Like The Siam Question, there is another beautiful book, this time published in 1996, called Draco, Draconis. Looking just now on Amazon, I see that it sells for between $180 and $400, so I’m glad I got it when I did. It’s an oversized softcover, printed on heavy paper in Italy, telling Holmes and Watson’s investigation into a possible-real-life dragon. (SPOILER – There is a logical real-world conclusion. I wouldn’t be recommending this book if it wandered off into fantasy.) Produced by the probable pseudonyms of Brett Spencer Altamont and Dorian David Altamont, in association with Granada Television, it is full of high-quality illustrations featuring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke as Holmes and Watson. The story is quite good, and I was very much looking forward to the promised sequels listed at the rear of the book, Ronin, The Obsession of Sherlock Holmes, and The Case of ‘The Mansion House Paradox’. Sadly, none of these ever appeared.

Eddie Maguire’s Next Book . . . ?

In the mid-1990’s, I purchased a series of chapbooks by Eddie Maguire, each presenting really good individual Holmes adventures. In 2001, Mr. Maguire collected some of these in Sherlock Holmes: The Tandridge Hall Murder and Other Stories (Breese Books). He also later provided a story to Sherlock Holmes and the Three Poisoned Pawns (2008). In 2005, Breese put out Maguire’s first full-length novel, Sherlock Holmes & The Secret Mission, set in 1912. At both the end of this book and also on the back cover, it is promised that the adventure continues in Sherlock Holmes & The Bolshevik Plot. I’m still looking for this one. If you know Mr. Maguire, or any of the people who took over Breese Books (now published as part of Baker Street Studios Limited,) let them know.

Ross Husband

In 2013, Ross Husband published Sherlock Holmes and The Master Engraver. It’s a big paperback with big print, but the story is good and enjoyable. At the end, Husband provides an excerpt from the next book, Sherlock Holmes & The Murders on the Square, as well as a statement that he had six Holmes books ready to go, to be part of a series called The Revival of Sherlock Holmes. Sadly, in January 2014, Mr. Husband died unexpectedly. The news reports stated that his second novel was then at the proof-readers, and that the others would never be written. Hopefully someone will see this and pass it on to the Husband family, to let them know there is still interest in that second book.

Glen Petrie

Before the most recent (adequate) Mycroft Holmes novel, there have been several other Mycroft Holmes series of books, as well as a stand-alone or a few. One of these series is by Quinn Fawcett (the combination of husband-and-wife writing team Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Bill Fawcett.) Another better much better Mycroft series was by Glen Petrie. These include The Dorking Gap Affair (1989), The Monstrous Regiment (1990), and The Hampstead Poisonings (1995). But there is a fourth book listed out there by Petrie, also from 1995, and I don’t know if it exists or not, called The Young Poisoners. Considering the date and the similar title, this is likely alternate presentation of The Hampstead Poisonings, perhaps something that was registered and never used. Phillip K. Jones’ massive pastiche database shows these titles to be the same book. But Jones’ database also shows another Petrie title, Mycroft Holmes and the Versailles Protocol, which he describes as “Mycroft Holmes #01” and “unpublished”. If this one does exist, then I WANT IT!

George Alec Effinger

In Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (1995) and My Sherlock Holmes (2003), there are two connected stories by George Alec Effinger, “The Musgrave Version” and “The Adventure of the Celestial Snows”. Each seems to be part of a larger tale, narrated by Reginald Musgrave, regarding his and Holmes’s adventures in the late 1870’s, when both were still at University and suddenly found themselves in a year-long battle with Dr. Fu Manchu. I don’t know if there is actually a bigger work that these were drawn from, although I’ve heard rumors that it exists. In any case, Mr. Effinger died unexpectedly in 2002, and if such a work is actually out there somewhere, then I would urge that it be published. There have been a number of other encounters between Holmes and the evil Doctor over the years in other stories, but these are especially interesting and need to be brought forward in their entirety.

The Mask of Death and The Abbot’s Cry

In 1984, Peter Cushing made his last appearance as Holmes in the film The Masks of Death. (He was in his early 70’s at the time, but looked older.) The story is supposedly set in 1913, but in my own Chronology, which I’ve written about elsewhere, I adjust it back to 1903, since in this adventure Holmes and Watson are still in Baker Street before Holmes’s retirement, and Irene Adler has not yet passed away. In spite of some of the features that were apparent in all bad TV movies of that time, the story itself is pretty good. Good enough, in fact, that a sequel was planned, to be called The Abbot’s Cry. However, Cushing’s health prevented him from participating in this one, and it was scrapped. Still, it’s likely that the script still exists somewhere, and I still make an internet search every once in a while to see if it’s surfaced.

The Consulting Detective Trilogy

In 2010, Darlene Cypser wrote The Crack in the Lens, detailing some information about Holmes’s life in the 1870's, growing up in Yorkshire in the years before he leaves for University. I disagree with a few things in the book, such as some of the dating and details about older brother Sherrinford’s situation, but all-in-all it’s a really good story, especially in filling in the early details of the Holmes-Moriarty feud. In 2012, Ms. Cypser followed up with Part I: University, of The Consulting Detective Trilogy, which planned to give other pieces of the puzzle in what helped Holmes to become Holmes. Again, I had some disagreements about dates and a few of Holmes’s actions within the narrative, and I think that he attended both Cambridge and Oxford, but this was a very informative book. The back cover indicated that Part II: Onstage was coming soon, and Ms. Cypser’s website says that Part II would appear in 2013, and Part III: Montague Street would arrive in 2014. I, for one, am still looking forward to reading them and adding them to my collection.

Kel Richards

1997 brought the appearance of three short young adult Holmes novels by Kel Richards, The Curse of the Pharoahs, The Headless Monk, and The Vampire Serpent. These were followed by a 3-in-1 volume, Footsteps in the Fog and Other Stories, which contained three more works. As one would expect, based on their target audience, the mysteries are full of short chapters, suspense, and possible monsters that – SPOILER – end up being unmasked in the end as defeated villains, a la Scooby Doo. However, they are fun little books, and they add to the Holmesian Universe. In the early 2000’s, Mr. Richards wrote some other short tales, and sent them to Joel and Carolyn Senter of (the now defunct) Classic Specialties. Joel sent them to me to evaluate, as they were considering publishing them. I said yes, do publish them please, but in the end Classic Specialties passed, and the stories went on to Calabash Press, which apparently didn’t publish them either. I’ve reached out to Mr. Richards, hoping to track him down for another pass at publication, but in the meantime, I’m waiting and hoping for more stories from him.

And Finally . . . .

There are still other items I could write about. I’m still waiting for the complete collected edition of Basil Copper’s Solar Pons pastiches, which I’ve lately heard will appear this year, but who knows? And then there were the IDW editions of the Canon, with the stories appearing in chronological order. While this doesn’t quite fit with the earlier books I’ve described, I was looking forward to this complete set, but it appears to have stalled at Volume 3 (in 2010), and doesn’t seem likely to get going again.

And then there is the following ongoing quest, and who knows how it will turn out? About five years ago, I bought a number of miscellaneous Holmes items through The Mysterious Bookshop that had been in the vast collection of another Holmes collector, Jerry Margolin. This purchase included a couple of unpublished Holmes novel manuscripts, and also a large carton of loose documents. In the box were a lot of old Sherlockian advertisements and articles, and down in this pile was a single sheet, apparently also from an unpublished Holmes manuscript. Based on the title of the chapter and the name at the top (possibly of the author,) I managed to track down through Phil Jones' Sherlock Holmes pastiche database that the sheet possibly came from The Badger Who Quoted La Rochefoucauld by Lou Jean Clark, which is listed as an unpublished manuscript from 1981. The title is also shown on Google Books as The Badger who Quoted La Rochefoucauld: Being the Badger's Own Narrative, Supplimented [sic] by the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. (1982, 776 pages).

Since first acquiring this single sheet, I’ve been trying to track down this manuscript in a variety of places. Jerry Margolin has no memory of it, and Otto Penzler of The Mysterious Bookshop, which sold the papers to me, doesn’t remember selling the complete manuscript anywhere else. I’ve tracked down Ms. Clark’s address, and have sent letters to her to determine the manuscript’s status, and whether I might ever get to read more than the single page that came into my possession. No response.

Ms. Clark lives in the northwestern part of the U.S., and I believe that she’s a Sherlockian. If you know her, let her know that I would love to read the complete story, and I know a publisher to whom I can introduce her.

I’ll keep waiting . . .

. . . for I am patient. I have many many many Holmes adventures to read - but never enough! - and new ones show up pretty much every day. But these various titles listed above keep gnawing at me. I know they’re out there somewhere, in some form, and I want to read them. And now you know about them too, and if enough of us wish for them and ask for them, maybe some of them will break loose.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Re-reading the Nero Wolfe Adventures - A visit to the Brownstone of Sherlock Holmes's son

Many people – including me – think that Nero Wolfe is the son of Sherlock Holmes.

I’ve been reading the Nero Wolfe novels since I was a teenager in 1981. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read and re-read these books, but I’m well past being able to count it on two hands. Wolfe is my second favorite “book friend” (as my son calls them) after Holmes. His adventures cannot be recommended highly enough.

Recently, and even though I don’t have time to do so, I’ve been of a mind to read about Wolfe again, thanks to things mentioned and discussed by fellow Wolfeans Bob Byrne and Dan Andriacco. But when reading about Wolfe, I don’t just read all the cases presented by Archie Goodwin’s literary agent, Rex Stout. There are actually a number of other Wolfe tales presented by others that should be read as well.

Back in 2013, I wrote an essay for the [Nero] Wolfe Pack Gazette, entitled “Re-reading the Corpus”, as the body of Wolfe stories is known. (It can be found in The Gazette, Vol. XX, No.2, Spring 2013). At the time, I was then in the middle of another re-reading the Wolfe adventures. The essay gives information about the other tales beyond the official Corpus, and suggests an order in which to read them.

As I consider whether to once again re-visit the Brownstone, I thought that I’d put that essay from The Gazette of nearly three years ago up on this blog for a wider audience. (I've updated a few on the list at the end, to reflect recent additions.)

So, from 2013, here it is for your consideration:

Rereading The Nero Wolfe Corpus

I recently started my umpteenth reread of the Wolfe Corpus, after looking up one day and realizing that it had been several years since I'd visited the Brownstone. When I read about the lives of Mr. Wolfe and Archie, I like to read chronologically. But I don't just read the Corpus and nothing else, and I don’t start with Fer-de-Lance. There are a lot of other stories to read as well.

Meet Nero Wolfe

I first encountered Nero Wolfe in 1975, when I was ten years old, but it was several years before I actually figured out his name. At that time, I had recently started my lifelong frenzied fascination with the life of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and was reading Baring-Gould's Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. I had reached Chapter 18, describing the birth of the son of Holmes and Irene Adler. The chapter continued by describing the grown son's attributes and his physical resemblance to Mycroft Holmes. The chapter concluded with Rex Stout's vague acknowledgement that, as literary agent for [name deleted] (as Baring-Gould showed it,) he could neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the claim. I didn't know who Rex Stout was, and I certainly didn't know who [name deleted] referred to.

Of course, to some of you - but not all - the whole subject of Wolfe's parentage by way of a Holmes-Adler union is flummery. However, I was ten years old, and it seemed perfectly reasonable to me. I was quite willing to accept this fellow as Holmes's son. I just didn't know his name yet.

A year or so later, I was in a used bookstore with my dad, and he handed me a scuffed paperback titled Over My Dead Body. It was a Pyramid edition, with a cover illustration showing a man getting stabbed by some sort of sword.

Stout's name was in big orange letters, and underneath it was another name, an odd name, in slightly smaller yellow letters: Nero Wolfe. For all I knew, that was a coauthor's name. Knowing that I liked mysteries, my dad said that this was a book with a detective. I let him buy it for me, and promptly shelved it and forgot about it. (Back then I had much more extra space on my bookshelves . . . .) At some later time, I connected the author's name, Rex Stout, with [name deleted]’s literary agent, as mentioned in the Baring-Gould biography. So now I knew that Holmes's son was named Nero Wolfe – how strange! But that still wasn't enough to get me started reading the Corpus.

Strangely, what did nudge me into reading Archie's narratives was the premiere of the 1981 William Conrad television show. I acknowledge that this was not the best door to Wolfe's world, but at least it got me there. I had seen the film Death On The Nile with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot a few years earlier, and my teenage interest in the other Great Detectives was slowly expanding. Wolfe's gathering of the suspects at the end of the television episode was much like what I had enjoyed at the end of the Poirot movie. After watching that first episode of the 1981 series, I remembered that I owned a Wolfe book. I pulled it out, and started to read it the next day in study hall. And that was all it took. Soon I was a Wolfe fanatic. Ever since, Wolfe has been my second favorite person about whom to read and collect, only surpassed by The Master, Sherlock Holmes himself.

In 1981, Bantam had been reissuing Wolfe books for a couple of years, each with that magnificent portrait on the back cover of Wolfe, glowering straight out at the reader.

I've never seen another version of Wolfe that looks better, or that better suits how I picture him. (I would love to know more about this painting, who painted it, and where the real item is right now. It seems to be a treasure that the Wolfe Pack should seek out.) For a high school sophomore in a small town in 1981, finding Wolfe books was a very hit-or- miss project, and I read them as I found them, in no particular order. It continued this way for several years, devouring new ones as I discovered them, and sometimes going back to reread old favorites.

Discovering Scholarship and Pastiches

In the winter of 1984-85, I was in my second year of college, and I realized that I had finally acquired all of the Wolfe books. Or so I thought. I embarked on something that I had never done with any other series that I had read up to that time: I started trying to read the Corpus chronologically, beginning with Fer-de-Lance. Of course, I didn't get it right. I read the novella collections as whole books, in the order that the collections were published, instead of separating out the individual novellas and fitting them in between the novels, as they were actually written and chronologically occurred. But I did my best.

During that winter, I checked out McAleer's biography of Stout from the library. One night I was amazed to read that there was a relatively unknown - at that time - Wolfe novella, "Bitter End." (This was before it was later collected and published in book form.) My dormitory was located immediately behind the college library, so I walked over that night and found the lost story in an old American Magazine - it had probably been sitting on that shelf, untouched by anyone else, since it was first placed there. I truly felt like a Wolfe scholar at that point, knowing about and actually having read something of which the casual Wolfe reader was unaware.

Later, while still in college, I made it to New York for the first time and got to walk along West 35th Street. Not quite how I imagined it. By the late 1980's, I was married, and had discovered the Wolfe Pack. I joined, and learned about Reverend Gotwald's amazing annotated companions. I bought them all, even though we really couldn't afford them. This prompted another rereading, this time in better chronological order, as outlined in the companions.

Of course, I was still buying and collecting Holmes books as well, along with items relating to my other detective heroes, such as Ellery Queen, Hercule Poirot, and Perry Mason. While placing a telephone order to a now-defunct Sherlockian bookstore in California, I was talked into purchasing two hardback books by a then-unknown author, John Lescroart. The books, Son of Holmes and Rasputin's Revenge, were about someone with the odd name of Auguste Lupa, supposedly Holmes's son. I purchased them for my Holmes collection, received them, and promptly forgot about them, intending to read them some day, but with no urgency since someone named Lupa couldn't be Holmes's son. I already knew that Holmes's son was named Wolfe.

Weeks later, I was driving home from work, and a spark jumped in my brain that Lupa was a variant of the word for wolf. Wolf. Wolfe. Auguste . . . That was a name derived from that of a Roman emperor, Augustus. A bit like Nero, also a Roman emperor. Auguste? Nero? Nero Lupa? Nero Wolfe? Son of Holmes? Good grief!

I admit that it's embarrassing that it took me so long to make that connection. I checked as soon as I got home, and found that that Lupa was a heavy-set young man of the right age who loved food and beer, especially beer, and he was a World War I-era spy, and he wore yellow shirts, and he encountered and acquired a cook named Fritz . . . . This was the link that I had been searching for. These were narratives of young Nero Wolfe, before he was Nero Wolfe. And he was the Son of Holmes. Clearly in the future I needed to include these books as prequels to the Corpus whenever I reread it.

Later, I found another related item. The film Sherlock Holmes in New York, along with a corresponding paperback book, had appeared way back in 1976. For those who haven't seen or read it, Irene Adler is in New York with her son, Scott. Professor Moriarty - who did not die at Reichenbach - uses threats against Irene to lure Holmes and Watson to the United States, where he intends to commit the crime of the century right under their noses. As a distraction, he kidnaps Scott. Throughout the course of the book and film, Holmes and Irene reference their previous meeting in Montenegro, the fact that Holmes's middle name is also Scott (as theorized by some Sherlockians from Holmes's use of the name Escott in the story "Charles Augustus Milverton": Sherlock Scott Holmes: S.Scott Holmes: Escott,) and Holmes and Irene's general implied conversation that the boy's father is Holmes. I added this to the list of prequel materials to be read before Fer-de-Lance.

A few years ago I found two more books and a short story, all by Brian Freemantle, that I think should count as part of the early days of Nero Wolfe: The Holmes Inheritance, The Holmes Factor, and "The Faberge Egg." All of these take place in 1913. In these stories, Holmes's son, identified (incorrectly, in my opinion) as Sebastian Holmes, is on his first solo missions for the British government, initially to the United States, and then to Russia. It is my belief that Freemantle constructed his narratives after examining old documents relating to the events. In these notes, the protagonist, Holmes's son, was simply identified as "S. Holmes" or "S." Freemantle, not knowing that the actual name was "Scott," came up with the incorrect name of "Sebastian" to fill in for "S." Freemantle adds a few other editorial fictions that I don't agree with as well, and I am forced to rationalize them away as spurious elaborations by the editor, such as statements that Sherlock Holmes is still on cocaine as late as 1913, and that the mother of Holmes's son is not Irene Adler, but rather a woman who nursed Holmes back to health after the Reichenbach Incident.

Of course, from this you can deduce that I have decided to accept that Nero Wolfe's actual real name was Scott Holmes. Lescroart says that Wolfe's real original name is John Adler Holmes, but I just don't think that is right. I have filled in some more of Wolfe's early biography to my satisfaction, after careful consideration over thirty-plus years and numerous rereads of the stories. In 2011, my first book of Holmes short stories, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, was published. In the final story, "The Adventure of the Other Brother" and the subsequent Postscript, I outline what I believe is Wolfe's boyhood story from the time of his birth to his early twenties: Irene Adler's later marriage to a Montenegrin man named Vukcic (he has a son named Marko!), Holmes’s sudden departure from London and young Scott's move to Sussex with his father following Irene Adler's death in 1903, his exposure to deduction and criminal investigation while growing up during Holmes's supposed "retirement" when Holmes is actually functioning as an agent of the British government during the years leading to The Great War, Scott’s early uses of names involving variants of the word “wolf,” and Wolfe's eventual recruitment into service for the British government, under the supervision of Mycroft Holmes. I also reveal the true identity of the great Sherlock Holmes successor, Solar Pons, and his relation to young Wolfe.

Re-reading the Corpus

I've reread the Corpus many times since the first time,and later when I discovered the Auguste Lupa books in the late 1980's. I always work in the other books previously mentioned, so that I can read about Wolfe's whole life, and not just the vast, best, and most familiar part recorded by Archie Goodwin (with Rex Stout’s assistance) from the nineteen-thirties onward. I am in the middle of my current pass through the events of Wolfe's life, and I started, as usual, with Ch.18 of Baring-Gould's biography, because that details the events leading to Wolfe's birth. Then I read and watched Sherlock Holmes in New York, explaining an incident in Wolfe’s life when he was nine years old. This time I included a glance at the incidents outlined in my own book, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, telling about Wolfe's experiences from childhood to early adulthood. Next came the Freemantle and Lescroart books, relating the events of the years leading to World War I through the middle of the war.

So far no one has really filled in the stories of Wolfe's travels between the War and the time he settled in New York. I have theories about that as well, including why he settled on the name Nero Wolfe for the rest of his life. The next chronological item to occur when reading about Wolfe’s life is "Firecrackers" by Charles Burns, which first appeared in The Gazette (Vol. IX, No.’s 1-3) and later in Nero Wolfe: The Archie Goodwin Files. This story is, for me, the definitive tale of how Wolfe and Archie met in December 1926. [Robert Goldsborugh has written a later version, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, but it has some objections, and probably stands better as a later case with certain fictions added by Goldsborough later.] Finally, after reading these prequel items, I was ready to start Fer-de-Lance. As I read the Corpus this latest time, I find that the original stories are just as fresh, fun, and exciting as they were when I first found them in 1981.

As I visit W.35th Street this time, I'm adding in several other books that I should have read years ago. Unbelievably, in the thirty-plus years that I've been reading about Nero Wolfe, I never picked up Inspector Cramer’s adventure Red Threads or Dol Bonner’s The Hand in the Glove. In spite of the fact that it has taken me this long to actually read Red Threads for the first time, I have been amazed for years that it hasn’t received more attention. If Arthur Conan Doyle had written a separate book about Inspector Lestrade, it would have been studied and picked through as an honored addition to The Holmes Apocrypha. I've always had the impression that Red Threads doesn't get much respect. The same for Dol Bonner's initial appearance in The Hand in the Glove.

Granted, Red Threads and The Hand in the Glove aren't the most exciting stories that Stout ever brought to us. But it is fun to see Inspector Cramer competently dealing with other people when he isn't vexed by Wolfe and Archie. And if I hadn't read these books, I wouldn't have known several other facts, such as details about Dol Bonner's past and subsequent bitterness, or that District Attorney Skinner's first name is Bob.

There are other Stout fragments that should not be ignored, such as “Why Nero Wolfe Likes Orchids” and the introduction to “The Case of the Spies Who Weren’t.” And what about the Stout short story "By His Own Hand," originally starring Alphabet Hicks, which features an appearance by Purley Stebbins? I've always read this story as if Archie was the actual main character, instead of Hicks, and that this is really one of Archie’s solo cases that took place in the summer of 1950, while Wolfe was on his own Great Hiatus during In the Best Families. In fact, I’ve rewritten it as an Archie Goodwin story,[see The Gazette, Vol.XX, No.2, Spring 2013] much like Charles Burns rewrote the Tecumseh Fox novel The Broken Vase as "Requiem For a Violin" (The Gazette [Vol. XI, No.’s 1-4]), which is another story I always include in the Big Reread. I also wish that someone would rewrite the remaining Tecumseh Fox novel, Double For Death, and the Alphabet Hicks novel, The Sound of Murder, as Wolfe stories.

As I go through the Corpus this time, I am also working in various other items in the chronologically appropriate places, such as traditional-minded fan-fiction items that I have discovered over the last few years. There are some stories in back issues of The Gazette that I haven’t read. There are items to be included from Nero Wolfe: The Archie Goodwin Files. Alan Vanneman has produced a Wolfe story collection on his internet blog, Three Bullets, containing "Politics Is Murder," "Invitation To A Shooting Party," and "Fame Will Tell." I can't judge all of these stories yet, as I haven't reached the point where I will read them and fit them chronologically into the Corpus. Some of the Vanneman tales seem as if they will be too modern to be acceptable, but "Invitation To A Shooting Party" is set in 1935, and it works just fine.

I am also listening again to each of the Wolfe radio shows that are still in existence. They aren't perfect, but if one accepts them with the understanding that they were probably heavily altered from Archie's notes in order to make them more radio-friendly, the essential Wolfe-ness comes through, and they make a fine addition to the Overall Corpus, thus presenting an even rounder picture of our heroes. The same is true for the pastiche episodes of the 1981 series.

An additional consideration as I read is a concurrent examination of the life of my all-time next-favorite person about whom to read and collect, also a famed New York detective, Ellery Queen. I have studied Ellery's adventures since childhood, since before I even heard of Nero Wolfe, and I have noticed some interesting intersections. More about that in a future paper - I hope! - but I will mention a couple of interesting ideas for further exploration. First, in "Disguise For Murder," set in 1949, Inspector Cramer seems especially overwrought when dealing with the idea of a strangulation occurring in Wolfe's office, to the point that he seems to unnecessarily antagonize Wolfe by sealing the office during the course of the investigation. Perhaps Cramer's over-reaction becomes understandable when one considers that The Cat Murders, a series of serial-killer strangulations, had just taken place during the previous summer and fall of 1948 (as recorded in Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails) and Doris Hatten's strangulation the previous October had occurred during some of the worst of New York's terror related to the Cat Murders. No wonder Cramer was sensitive, thinking that some part of the Cat Murders, as investigated by his old peer Inspector Queen, was beginning again.

An additional intersection occurs in the summer of 1950. Ellery Queen is in Los Angeles at that time, for reasons never adequately or convincingly explained, during the events of his own adventure, The Origin of Evil. It is my belief that he is there at the personal request of Wolfe, who needed his help while establishing his identity there as Pete Roeder. I am not certain what Ellery's role was in Wolfe's master plan, but I am sure that when Wolfe called, Ellery answered. Ellery's subsequent involvement in the events of The Origin of Evil was simply something else that happened to him while he was there - as things always seem to happen to the Great Detectives.

After reading all of the Corpus, with the additional items worked in, I'll reread Robert Goldsborough's wonderful additions. I have a slightly different chronological take on these books, as well as the later Wolfe stories as presented by Stout. Sadly, I don’t believe that Wolfe and Archie never aged. I think that the events of the later Wolfe cases, chronicled by both Stout and Goldsborough, actually took place earlier than the dates implied within the stories. In the case of Hercule Poirot, I have always felt that most of Poirot’s later investigations took place in the late nineteen-forties, that Poirot actually died in the early nineteen-fifties, and that the events of Curtain did not occur as late as 1975, the time of publication, as some would argue. Many people seem willing to believe that Poirot was one-hundred-twenty-five-plus years old at the time of his death, just because that's when Curtain was copyrighted. I believe that all of the Poirot books published during the late nineteen-fifties, sixties, and seventies, actually occurred in the late nineteen-forties, and that any contemporary references within them, implying that they were occurring around the time of their actual publication dates, were simply added by Christie during the writing process to give them an up-to-date feel. I think that Stout, and later Goldsborough, did the same thing when preparing Archie's manuscripts for publication.

You might argue that the Watergate Crisis is an integral part of A Family Affair, invalidating my argument. I actually think that the events of A Family Affair took place in the mid-nineteen-sixties, not long after the events of The Doorbell Rang, and that the Watergate elements of A Family Affair were worked in by Stout in the nineteen-seventies, when he was updating from Archie's notes. Actually, the sensitivity to a cover-up as shown by Wolfe in A Family Affair was simply related to his wariness following the events of The Doorbell Rang. All of the novels between The Doorbell Rang and A Family Affair still occur between those two books - they are just compressed into the late nineteen-sixties, instead of extending into the mid-seventies. Perhaps it is a topic worthy of future discussion.

Finally, I'll probably finish reading about Wolfe’s life with three pastiches that I found on the internet by Glenn Dixon under the collected title Three Strikes, which sounds perfectly Goodwin-ish. The stories included therein are "Welcome To Death," "No Body," and "Not With A Whimper." I must admit that I haven't read them yet, since it's been a while since I journeyed through the Corpus, but I hear good things, and I was glad to find them.

A Summation

To sum up, I believe that a well-rounded view of Wolfe must include other stories than those presented by Stout, although I freely agree that Stout’s are far, far better than any others, and if you're only going to read one thing about Nero Wolfe, by all means, make it something from the original Corpus. However, when rereading the complete life of Nero Wolfe, I would like to suggest the following sources:

To Be Read Before Fer-de-Lance:
Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, Ch 18 - William S. Baring-Gould - The facts relating to Wolfe's birth
Sherlock Holmes in New York (Book and Film) - Wolfe at age nine in New York
• "The Adventure of the Other Brother" and "Postscipt" - The Papers of Sherlock Holmes - David Marcum - Although Wolfe isn't specifically a character, his history from birth through his early twenties, and an incident involving him in the late 1920's, is outlined, as well as mentions of his early acquaintances with Ellery Queen, Solar Pons, and Hercule Poirot
The Holmes Inheritance, The Holmes Factor, and "The Faberge Egg" - Brian Freemantle - Wolfe in 1913 as an agent of the British government
Son of Holmes and Rasputin's Revenge - John Lescroart - Wolfe, the British agent, during The Great War
• "Firecrackers" - Charles Burns - The definitive meeting of Wolfe and Archie Goodwin

To Be Read With The Understanding That This Is The Real Deal:
• The Nero Wolfe Corpus - Rex Stout (Accept No Substitutes! To be read in chronological order!)

To Be Read/Listened-To/Watched Concurrently With The Corpus (In The Chronologically Correct Location . . . .):
Red Threads and The Hand in the Glove - Rex Stout - Incidents in the lives of Inspector Cramer and Dol Bonner
• "By His Own Hand" - Rex Stout - With Archie substituted for Alphabet Hicks - One of Archie's solo investigations during the summer of 1950
• "The Case of the Spies Who Weren't" - Rex Stout (Ramparts Magazine, January 1966) - Archie's narrative of the only recorded time Rex Stout visited the Brownstone
• "Why Nero Wolfe Likes Orchids" - Rex Stout (Life Magazine, September 15, 1963) - A revealing peek at one of Wolfe's early cases, and what it led to . . . .
• Nero Wolfe’s Introduction to the boxed set of recipes created by American Magazine to accompany their version of Too Many Cooks
• Fritz Brenner's Introduction to The Nero Wolfe Cookbook
• [Later volumes by Robert Goldsborough, published since this essay was in The Gazette in early 2013. These, to be fit in the chronologically correct spot, include: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, Murder in the Ball Park, Archie in the Crosshairs, and Stop the Presses!]
• "The McAleer Fragment" in Rex Stout: A Biography - The text of a Christmas card from Archie to Stout biographer John McAleer
• "Requiem For A Violin" - Charles Burns - A Wolfe investigation, originally written by Stout as a Tecumseh Fox novel
• Pastiches in various back-issues of The Gazette and Nero Wolfe: The Archie Goodwin Files.
• Various serious fan-fictions - No slash, parody or comedy, please
• Existing "Nero Wolfe" Radio Shows
• Pastiche Episodes of the 1981 "Nero Wolfe" Television Show
• Various intersecting clues gleaned from the lives of Ellery Queen and Solar Pons

To Be Read Upon Completion of the Corpus:
Murder In E-Minor, Death On Deadline, The Bloodied Ivy, The Last Coincidence, Fade To Black, Silver Spire, The Missing Chapter - Robert Goldsborough - What happened after A Family Affair
Three Strikes - Glenn Dixon - Taking up where Goldsborough left off. I can't wait to see what happens in these. . . .

In conclusion, I would recommend that anyone rereading the Wolfe Saga, sometimes described as encompassing more than ten-thousand pages, be willing to add a few hundred more pages in order to see the complete picture. It is well worth it, I assure you.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Writing in the New Century – Stop to Think How Lucky We Are!

Here we are, well into the 2000’s, and a thought occurred to me today. It’s so simple that it’s silly to think it. But I was remembering what it was like to write a story twenty-five years ago, and wondered if everyone really appreciates how much easier we have things now.

I am not a professional writer, although I really enjoy writing, and the need to create bubbles up in me on a regular basis. My favorite thing about being a Civil Engineer is to design something. My creative streak is also shown by the fact that I spent the first two years of my first degree in college as a piano major, before switching to business management, and even now, I almost can’t walk through our living room without stopping and playing something on our piano.

I discovered the joy of writing by wanting more stories about my book heroes. Back when I was eight, I discovered an incredible series of mysteries, The Three Investigators, that ignited my love of reading, with no looking back. I can still read that series today, as they are so well written.

(Here are a couple of links: http://www.thrillingdetective.com/3investigators.html and http://threeinvestigatorsbooks.homestead.com/ )

But I’m not writing to plug those books. I mention them to explain that, soon after reading the books in that series that were in existence up to that time in the early and mid-1970’s, I desired more tales about those characters. So I used my dad’s typewriter to write my own, not realizing that I was dipping my toes into the world of fan-fiction. But there was no internet then, and no computers. There was no uploading stories for others to read. This was old school. I typed the stories on real paper, with errors that had to be typed over or covered with Liquid Paper. And then they were just for my own enjoyment, and maybe for just a few others as well.

I produced several “books” featuring more stories about The Three Investigators and my other favorites at the time, The Hardy Boys. I still have them, and they look just like you would imagine. But creating them gave me a taste for writing. I learned that something doesn’t get written if you don’t sit down and do it. And I became addicted to the feeling of starting with literally nothing, and coming out the other side with something that didn’t exist before. I’ve explained elsewhere about my writing process, wherein I start writing, usually without a plan or outline, and go into the zone where I’m just transcribing what I hear in my head. I can crank out a few thousand words in very little time, which explains why my emails (and even this blog entry) can get so long so fast. After a good writing session, which usually lasts four hours or more if I can find the time and prepare myself for that kind of pain, I come back to the world, slightly sore, and with all of my coffee gone, even though I don’t remember drinking it.

I’ve written a lot for other things as well over the years. My first real job out of college (the first time I got a degree) was as a Federal Investigator with an obscure – and now eliminated – government agency. A sizeable chunk of the job was writing reports about our investigations. True, in the early days some of this was dictated on cassette tapes so that others could type them up, but it was still about organizing information. Later, when I went back to school to become a Civil Engineer, I insisted on being the report-writer for various group projects, partly because I only trusted ME to do it right, but also just because I liked writing.

The reason I thought of putting all this down is that I was emailing a friend yesterday, and we happened to discuss an unpublished novel that I wrote, back in the early 1990’s when I was still a Federal Investigator. That got me thinking about my experience writing that book, versus how I write now.

In those days when I was an investigator, I had to travel a lot, for long chunks of time. The agency where I worked wanted to make sure that they got their money’s worth when they sent me on a trip, so I was usually somewhere far from home for anywhere from three weeks to three months at a time, or longer. I really didn’t like being away from my wife and baby son, and I resented it quite a bit. On some of the trips, I was working in an office instead of in the field, and I was able to really use a computer, albeit a primitive one, for the very first time. I had access to early word processing programs, and sometimes I would sit at my work desk and surreptitiously tap out little short stories. I learned that I can write much better on screen than by longhand. I still have those short stories, and one can see how I would play with using italics or bold, since one certainly wasn’t able to do that on a typewriter.

One day, when I was stationed in Albuquerque for a couple of months – very far from my home in Tennessee – I impulsively stopped at a Walmart and bought a typewriter and some paper, and then took it back and sat down in my hotel room and started writing a novel. And that managed to keep me busy during the evenings and weekends for the rest of my time there. I would finish a hundred pages or so, and then mail them home for my wife to read. She liked it, and so I was motivated to keep going.

The thing ended up being 600+ pages, and was very Ludlum-esque. The plot made the assumption that the Agency for which I worked, during those final days of the Cold War, had been infiltrated by a group of blackmailers who had access to all the information that we routinely obtained during our investigations. They were using it to assist some deep-cover Russian cells, all centered around the Oak Ridge nuclear facilities, near where I still live and then worked a great deal. Of course, one of the heroes of the book was an honest investigator within the agency, coincidentally someone like me, who saved the day.

I finished the book, but never thought of publishing it, since it was written more to be a cathartic exercise than to change careers in order to become a professional author. A year or so later, the Agency where I worked was eliminated, and I was allowed to keep my old briefcase. It became the repository of the massive manuscript, and it now rests under a bed.

I pulled the manuscript out a few months ago, and it is certainly very dated. People who have read it have told me that it’s good, but it’s certainly a product of its times, and if it were ever published, it would have to be a period piece. For instance, there is a character who works for a shadowy government agency that is able to use a thing called The World Wide Web to check information about people! Radical!

But getting back to the purpose of this whole essay: When I looked at this old manuscript from around twenty-five years ago, all the work that went into it came flooding back. Typing each page on paper was so much more of a chore, as one had to be so careful to set down exactly what you wanted to say, since backing up or rearranging paragraphs or inserting words or even deleting chunks as you went along was a massive pain.

Something else that is so much easier now is researching a simple little fact. For example, in the manuscript from the early 1990’s, there are a number of story locations that are set all around the U.S., reflecting places where I had been sent to work in those days. I included several maps within the novel, and seeing them made me remember how I would have to pull out an old atlas and pore over it in order to get descriptions sort-of close to correct.

Contrast that to right now, when I’ve been working on several new things, including a new Sherlock Holmes novel. I started it a few weeks ago, and it’s approaching 40,000 words, and progressing nicely, thank you very much. Yesterday, I needed to have Holmes and Watson travel to a place in Essex. I simply pulled up Google Maps, zoomed in until I found just where I wanted, looked at the satellite view to see the actual layout, and then did a street view as well. I looked up a few village names, picked one I liked, and typed my description into a Word document. I moved some things around, backspaced to replace a highlighted misspelled word, inserted a phrase or two in the middle of a sentence here and there, and then kept on going. Twenty-five years ago, I would have had to stop and go find a book (or books), and fudge in the description in a vague way so as not to show that I had never actually seen the place.

So, do we realize just how easy we have it now? There are so many more people that currently write than three were in the olden days. Realizing and commenting on this is certainly not new or profound. But if we still had to write on typewriters, would we even write at all? Could any of us do what the pulp writers did, back in the day, churning out thousands of words per week on old manual typewriters? And just imagine what those same people could accomplish now if they had access to modern computers.

It boggles the mind, but I just know that I’m thankful to be able to have the opportunity to create something, and that it’s certainly a lot easier than it used to be!