Monday, October 30, 2017

Character, Canines and Cocaine

My original idea for this week's post was to only talk about dogs and cocaine, but then I heard the new episode of Sherlock Holmes is Real.  As I mentioned last week, I was interviewed for the second episode to discuss The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.  I didn't know much, if anything, about the show, but publicity is publicity, right?  Somehow, my interview trying to get the word out about my new book got me pulled into some conspiracy perpetrated by the Baker Street Irregulars and descendants of Moriarty.  It's pretty nutty, but if you're into out there ideas, this week's episode of Sherlock Holmes is Real is.... something.  Besides calling my character into question, they question if my name really is Rob Nunn, or if it's a nom de plume meant to lead people to think Sherlock Holmes never existed.

I'm just trying to sell some books, people.

The past week has found the topic of dogs on my mind quite a bit.  Because we adopted a puppy Friday night.

Ever since talk of getting a dog began, I've been trying to convince my wife and daughter to let me name it Toby.  Like most things that I argue with my wife and daughter about, I lost.  Even though our new pup was a girl and was already named Molly, I still tried valiantly to name our new pet Toby because Toby is the best animal in the best story in the canon.

I don't know why I love Toby so much, but I do.  It may be because he is the first animal that Holmes has respect for.  Much better than the poor dog in A Study in Scarlet.  It might be because of the scene when Watson goes to Old Sherman's house on Pinchin Lane to get Toby.  Or it might just be because that was the dog's name in The Great Mouse Detective.

Either way, Toby is a piece in a bigger puzzle that is The Sign of Four.  I really enjoyed Chris Redmond's About Sixty, but am so stubborn that I found myself disagreeing with the 59 other submissions that didn't say The Sign of Four was the best story.  But that's another post.

(One more picture of my dog before I move on)

A thought occurred to me today as I was thinking about this story.  One of the highlights of SIGN is the scene with the Watson's watch.  Watson is trying to keep Holmes occupied so he won't use cocaine.  His lecturing didn't work, so he pulls out an old pocket watch to have Holmes show off his deductions.  Once this little tour de force is finished, Mary Morstan shows up and the plot takes off.

But what if Watson hadn't delayed Holmes for whatever reason?  We have a very different client meeting.  Holmes has just injected himself with a seven percent solution of cocaine and a well-gloved young lady comes to talk to her about her dead father.  Things probably would've gotten weird.  Doyle never showed us what Holmes was like on cocaine, but I can't imagine he would be one to sit with his fingers tented and eyes half closed as he listened to a client lay out their problem.

If it weren't for Watson's watch, would SIGN have ever happened?  Does Holmes dismiss Mary Morstan's card or is she so turned off by the drug fiend she meets with that the case never happens?  Bartholomew Sholto's murder goes unsolved.  Tonga lives.  Watson and Mary never marry.  Watson probably never opens up his own practice.  The Adventure of the Naval Treaty is never brought to Watson and Holmes.  Britain is drawn into war.  Watson and Holmes are drafted into service.  No one is there to stop Moriarty.  Chaos ensues.

Thank God Holmes never took that cocaine.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Listen to This, Mr. Holmes!

There is a subset of the Sherlockian that I feel doesn't get enough attention: podcasts.

Now, before you say, "Nah, not for me."  Give me a second.  We are spoiled in our hobby as having some very good and very different podcasts out there.  I love the podcast forum, listen to a lot of them and I really feel like there is a show out there for each of us from the fans of traditional scion meetings to people who swoon over Cumberbatch's cheekbones and everyone in between.

Let's take a little stroll through Itunes, shall we?

The granddaddy of them all, and the one that should be mentioned first, is I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.  Put out by Scott Monty and Burt Wolder, IHOSE has 130 episodes under the belt dating back for years.  IHOSE is now on a bi-weekly schedule, and is THE podcast for the traditional Sherlockian world.  In fact, their playlist page gives you an idea of just how broad the show's focus us.  From books to  BSI societies to holidays to a primer for the uninitiated, I Hear of Sherlock has probably covered a subset of Sherlockiana that you're interested in.  No matter what I may be listening to on the 15th and 30th of the month when a new episode drops, that gets pushed to the side for my dose of IHOSE.  I recommend that every Sherlockian out there subscribe to this show just to be aware of the wider world of Sherlockiana out there.

In fact, IHOSE had so many topics to cover, they started a second podcast, Trifles.  Trifles, as the title would imply, focuses on the trifles of the Sherlockian stories.  These are much shorter episodes, about 15 minutes each, and focus on a very narrow subject.  Episodes of Trifles will be more or less interesting depending on the topic.  Watson's marriages may be highly interesting to you, but maybe not the role of mothers or fathers in the stories.  No worries, because the next week will be a whole new topic!  If you are someone who loves to go down a rabbit hole on a specific topic, Trifles is right up your alley.

The history of Sherlockian podcasting can't be told without talking about The Baker Street Babes.  Started by Kristina Manente, the Babes have grown since the early days in 2011.  The cast is made up entirely of young women, but if you brush them off as silly fangirls, they will quickly prove you wrong.  BSB includes best-selling authors, world travelers, college professors, and plenty of others who know more about Sherlock Holmes than most of us.  The show has a heavy BBC Sherlock focus, but that's not their only focus.  Episodes have included interviews with Sherlockian authors, playwrights and radio personalities.  They just announced their second book, Femme Friday.  Although the output of shows has slowed down in recent months, anyone who enjoys BBC Sherlock and is interested in branching out to know more about the source material would do well to check out this high energy podcast.

I Grok Sherlock is a fairly new podcast put out by Mike Ranieri and Geordie Telfer of the Bootmakers of Toronto.  Each month, Mike and Geordie take listeners through one of Doyle's Holmes stories in order of publication.  But this podcast is far from your typical book report.  The hosts' irreverent sense of humor and pop culture knowledge permeates the shows from start to finish.  Although each episode is dedicated to a specific Doyle story, Mike and Geordie spend a large part of each episode (and sometimes a whole episode on its own) going over the month's story's representations in popular media.  Their background in theater bring a new insight to discussions of Peter Cushing, Benedict Cumberbatch, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, and the many, many, many other actors who have portrayed the Great Detective over the years.  If you are interested in Holmes and his media incarnations, this is the show for you.

For fans of BBC's Sherlock and all of its fandom, there is The Three Patch Podcast.  This is a big one.  I mean big in scope of time.  Episodes can run up to three hours in length!  But it's not just hours of the same people talking.  Oh no.  It has recurring segments, reviews, interviews and much more, all with different hosts.  Three Patch is put together by a team of people who all have a serious love of the BBC show and its fandom.  And this fandom has worlds most of us traditional Sherlockians know little about.  If you love this fandom, you probably already know about Three Patch, but if you are curious about the online world of Johnlocking and fan fiction, this is your gateway.

And then comes the newest of the Sherlockian podcasts, Sherlock Holmes is Real.  This is actually what got me thinking about podcasts this week.  I was interviewed for Sherlock Holmes is Real last weekend and wasn't totally clear on what it was.  Toni Sutherland said she was interested in talking to me about The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, and there's no such thing as bad publicity!  It was a pleasant interview, but she latched onto an offhand comment I made about conspiracies which struck me odd at the time.  When I heard the episode, I completely understood.  Apparently, there are some Sherlockians out there who think Sherlock Holmes was a real person, but not in The Great Game kind of way.  They think he truly existed, but there is a conspiracy afoot to turn him into a fictional character.  Alan King is at the forefront of this conspiracy theory, and to tell you the truth, I'm not sure what I think about this idea.  But I can tell you, I'm interested to see where it goes. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention, This Tangled Skein, a short lived, but fantastic podcast put out by Beth Gallego.  It's billed as a podcast about yarn, tea, and Sherlock Holmes (not necessarily in that order).  I'm not a knitter, but Beth's take on the Sherlockian topics of each episode were always a delight to listen to.  She seemed to take the traditionalist and new wave view on many topics, which isn't always easy to do.  Although it's been a year since the last episode, I still have hopes...

See? Told you!  They are all Sherlock Holmes based, but these podcasts are all their own entities.  For those of us who love podcasts and Sherlock Holmes, there's plenty to keep us busy.  Even if you're not a podcast listener, I would urge you to find one and give it a try.  We can but try.

Monday, October 16, 2017

I Reviewed the Whole Extraordinary Sequence of Events

Friday night, my wife and I attended a performance of Baskerville put on by Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis.  As I mentioned last week, I wasn't sure what to expect; I'm not a big theater person and have never been to a Sherlockian play before.  That being said, my review is ready:

I loved it.

A little background before I get into this specific performance.  Baskerville was written by Ken Ludwig in 2015 and tells "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in a way that is true to the canon while adding in plenty of humorous bits.  Now, imagine HOUN and how many characters are in it.  Baskerville is put on by just five actors.  And, to me, this is what really impresses.

Insight Theatre's production is no different.  John O'Hagan plays Holmes alongside Kent Coffel as Watson.  Elliot Auch and Ed Reggi are billed as Actors 1 and 2 respectively, while Gwen Wotawa is listed as Actress 1.

As I watched the performance Friday night, I was struck at how similar I found O'Hagan's performance to Basil in "The Great Mouse Detective."  In a madcap story, he was the solid deductive genius, but you could sense his own energy right under the surface.  In a Q & A session with the audience after Sunday's performance, O'Hagan told the crowd that he modeled his Holmes after Basil Rathbone, and since Basil of Baker Street was modeled after the same actor, I'd say his version of The Great Detective hit home.


Although Kent Coffel has second billing as Dr. Watson, anyone that's familiar with HOUN knows that Watson plays just as large, if not larger, of a role than Holmes in this story.  Holmes is absent for much of the tale while Watson is off on the moor.  Coffel's Watson is the epitome of a stalwart companion in this performance and you can see why Holmes trusts him so and the audience feels that Henry Baskerville is much safer whenever Watson is around.

Director Maggie Ryan explained to the audience in Sunday's talk back session that Holmes and Watson were written to be the two steady roles in this comedy while the other three actors got to get all of the laughs.  An astute audience member (who may or may not have been Brad Keefauver) noted that it was a wise choice to keep the characters true to their original form, otherwise anyone familiar with the original stories would have a hard time with Holmes and Watson as comedic characters.

Elliot Auch gets two pretty substantial roles in this performance: Dr. Mortimer and Stapleton.  And even though his slot in the performance calls for 14 different characters (seriously!  14!), his version of Mr. Barrymore was my favorite.  Dr. Moritmer is a pretty straight forward character, but what he gets to do with Stapleton and Barrymore are entertaining takes on what could easily be cardboard cutout characters.  Stapleton does a lot of flouncing while Barrymore does a lot of limping.

Although it's listed as the Actor 2 role, Ed Reggi's performance should have been labeled "Henry Baskerville and some others."  Reggi spends the majority of his time as the Texas heir of Baskerville manor, and gives the role just enough Texas twang to make it funny without it being a parody of a loud American.  Reggi also gets to play a foul-mouthed Lestrade, and how he is able to pull off Sir Henry and Lestrade in the same climactic scene is one of the many highlights of the show.

I purposely saved Gwen Wotawa's performance for last.  Because it's the best.  My wife and I saw the show Friday night and talked about her role the entire way home.  I got to see Baskerville a second time on Sunday and was just as impressed.  Since Baskerville is such a popular play, I'm assuming the Actress 1 role is just as demanding in all other performances, and if so, the lady that takes it on has to be extremely talented.  Wotawa takes on at least 20 roles by my guess.  All of them have different dresses, wigs, accents, and sometimes genders.  The fact that one woman can differentiate so easily between Mrs. Hudson, Beryl Stapleton, Laura Lyons, Cartwright of the Baker Street Irregulars, and a score of others is no small feat!  But if you get to see this play, Wotawa's performance as Mrs. Stapleton is a true delight just for her reaction to Holmes asking if Charles Baskerville had a girlfriend.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this performance, but not today.  I was lucky enough to get to see it a second time Sunday afternoon because I am selling copies of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street in the lobby before and after the Sunday matinees.  Somehow, I also agreed to be part of the Sunday talk back sessions with the actors.  I had a few minutes to give a synopsis of my book to the crowd and answer one or two questions before the actors came back out on stage, and after that, I spent more time asking them questions than I did talking about my own book (Sometimes curiosity outweighs capitalism and stage fright).

I'm lucky enough to get to spend the next two Sundays with Insight Theatre and their take on the most popular Sherlock Holmes story.  Even though I already have two viewings under my belt, I'm looking forward to more.  Who knows, I may just end up a theater fan after all.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Whole Thing Had Been Fixed Up for Theatrical Effect

The play's the thing!

Okay, that's not a Sherlockian quote, but it sums up my current Sherlockian thoughts.  Because this Friday, I'm going to see my first Sherlockian play!  Being so deep into this hobby as I am, it's surprising that it's taken me over a decade to see the great detective on stage, but that dry spell ends in a few days.

Starting this week, the Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis is performing "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery" all throughout October.  I've heard snippets of reviews of Ken Ludwig's play here and there and expect a humorous retelling of The Hound of the Baskerville, but I purposely haven't looked for much more information on the play.  I want to be surprised by what this troupe puts out there.

Some of their previous performances have included "On Golden Pond," "The Wizard of Oz," "Death of a Salesman," and a bunch of titles that would probably be familiar to anyone with even the slightest theater knowledge, of which I'm lacking.  Although I would've LOVED to have seen their performance of "Charlotte's Web."  Love that book.

Sherlock Holmes has a rich tradition in the theater.  From Mary Morstan, Cadogen West and Josiah Amberly in Doyle's stories to William Gillette and Charlie Chaplin to Charlton Heston and Jeremy Brett to the modern day incarnations all across the globe, Holmes and the theater seem to go hand in hand.  If anyone follows Howard Ostrom on Twitter, you see just how many local productions of the Holmes stories are constantly being put on.

Why does Holmes endure in the theater tradition?  I'm about the last person to try and answer that.  My exposure to theater is extremely limited, but maybe I'll be an expert after this weekend.  Doubtful, but it gives me something to mull over this week anyway....

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I’m Too Ill to Think

I've been sidelined by a pretty wicked stomach virus for the past few days, so this week's post will be a collection of short topics that may or may not be as coherent as a typical week's post.  Here we go...

First and foremost, Brad Keefauver teased that he has a podcast project in the works!  While he's not revealing much more than that, I expect it to have that trademarked Keefauver quality of thoughtfulness, quirkiness, knowledge and passion.

As I mentioned last week, I had my first book signing at Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, IL.  Thinking about it still brings a smile to my face.  One of the many highlights of that evening was being interviewed by a local newspaper (and making it to the front page!).  If you're interested, you can read my interview here.

I am currently reading Bill Mason's "Pursuing Sherlock Holmes" and enjoying it immensely.  Mr. Mason's book is a collection of different writings ranging from a musical toast to a fictional meeting between Mrs. St. Clair and Holmes after the events of The Man With the Twisted Lip.  Two chapters that I really enjoyed were his analysis of Holmes' dressing gown and the parallels between Baron Gruner and Count Dracula.  That second topic may sound far-fetched, but Bill makes an argument that isn't nearly as outlandish as you would think.  I also had the privilege of meeting Bill this summer at the Nerve and Knowledge symposium in Indiana, and as well as being a great Sherlockian writer, he is a genuinely nice guy!

This month, the Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis is performing Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.  I have been looking forward to this for months since I first heard about it.  If you are in the St. Louis area in October, check it out!

I also recently finished "Sherlock Holmes on the Roof of the World" by Thomas Kent Miller.  I'm not a big pastiche reader because I find it hard to read other people's take on the Watsonian voice (which is a big reason I narrated The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street in the third person).  But Mr. Miller's book takes place during the great hiatus, so his narrator is one from an H. Rider Haggard tale.  If you enjoy quick, adventurous reads, I would recommend checking this one out.

That's it for me.  Back to the couch.