Thursday, June 30, 2022

To Form the Amalgam [ENGR]

In "The Engineer's Thumb," Colonel Lysander Stark is our main antagonist.  While not one that is normally listed as a best villain in the Canon, I think we are doing this malevolent German a disservice.  What we have in this story is a baddie who may actually be a template for so many others to come later on in the Canon.

We are told repeatedly that Stark is thin, German, and a colonel.  Another villain whose thinness will be accentuated?  Professor Moriarty.  A dangerous German?  Von Bork.  And a deadly colonel?  Colonel Sebastian Moran.

I admit, there's nothing ground-breaking there.  Being thin isn't a major component of villainy, colonels aren't well-regarded throughout the Canon, and people from other countries are usually dangerous according the Conan Doyle.  So let's look a little closer at Stark.

The colonel has done his research before reaching out to Victor Hatherley, knowing that he is an orphan, a bachelor, and lives alone.  Beddington will do the same such research before he reaches out to Hall Pycroft in "The Stockbroker's Clerk."

Of course, we all know by now that when a stranger offers someone too much money for a simple job, things are suspicious.  This strategy will be used again in "The Stockbroker's Clerk" and "The Copper Beeches."

But Victor Hatherley isn't as smart as we are, and he agrees to go with Stark to his secluded house (cough, cough, "Wisteria Lodge") by way of a long, quiet, and disguised carriage ride like the one that will be repeated in "The Greek Interpreter."

Once there, Stark will be betrayed by a woman in his household, supposedly someone who in on his schemes, as she tries to warn away a man in danger.  Sound like Beryl Stapleton from The Hound of the Baskervilles?  Sorry, that story won't be written for nine more years.  So let's stick with "The Engineer's Thumb."

Hatherley soon learns that Stark is a counterfeiter, just like Killer Evans will be in "The Three Garridebs."  But Colonel Stark is so fierce that he is not opposed to killing someone to achieve his mission, sort of like Hugo Oberstein in "The Bruce-Partington Plans."

Elise tries to stop Stark from killing Hatherley, insinuating that he has promised not to harm anyone after the last time.  We will see James Wilder make a similar promise to his father later in "The Priory School."  

While listening to this story.  Holmes says Colonel Stark is "a cool and desperate man."  Jack Stapleton (HOUN) and Baron Gruner (ILLU) will both be described as "cool" by Holmes in later stories and George Burnwell (BERY), Giuseppe Gorgiano (REDC), and Von Bork (LAST) are all called "desperate."

We learn that Colonel Lysander Stark is actually an alias.  But so is the identity this villain is using in town.  The locals know him as a patient staying with Dr. Beecher.  A villain pretending to be a resident patient?  I'm sure that idea won't be used again.

And this "Dr. Beecher" is actually Stark's accomplice, who turns out to be softer-hearted than the colonel had counted on.  Just like Jack Woodley will find out about his accomplice in "The Solitary Cyclist."  

Of course, Colonel Stark escapes Sherlock Holmes.  Another villain will escape justice just two months later in "The Beryl Coronet."

So while Stark may not be a top villain, I think this cleaver-wielding criminal should be recognized for laying the groundwork for so many malefactors that would come after him.  Let's all give Colonel Lysander Stark a big thumbs up.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Interesting Interview: Laurence Deloison

This January, Laurence Deloison was the first French woman to be inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars.  And that is important enough itself to warrant an interview this Sherlockian that not enough of us Americans know well enough.  But I am lucky enough to be a class member of Laurence's and through some emails and keeping up with her Facebook posts, I quickly learned that she's more than a history maker.

Laurence is the president of one of France's Sherlock Holmes societies, Le Cercle Holmésien de Paris.  But on top of that, she is a world traveler, energetic Sherlockian, and a friend to all that meet her.  Laurence is one of those people that once you learn a little about her, you immediately want to learn more and more; she is that fascinating.  So get ready to meet someone you're going to want to spend more time with in this week's Interesting Interview, Laurence Deloison!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

For me anybody who is a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, and wants to share this passion with same-minded people. I don't make a distinction between someone who discovered the Sherlockian universe through the Canon, Rathbone, Cumberbatch, a pastiche or a comic book. All roads lead to Holmes! 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was offered The Hound of the Baskervilles for my birthday when I was 10 or 11 years old. Love at first sight! I was already reading some Agatha Christie novels at that time, so I loved a good mystery. But here was this incredible character… Sherlock Holmes ! I went to the library to ask if they had more of  it, and read it all during my summer vacation that year. 

However I think I had already been exposed to Holmes earlier than that, with the Sherlock Hound animated series by Hayao Miyazaki which used to air on French tv. It really loved it as well.

Growing up Sherlock Holmes always stayed somewhere on my mind but I didn’t really have access to any other content. Until one day I caught some reruns of the Granada series on tv… which completely revived my interest. I was now old enough to travel on my own, so with a friend we bought a ticket to London and rushed to Baker Street. That was the first of many visits to the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

It also coincided with the arrival of the internet, which changed everything. I realized that there were so many movies or books I knew nothing about. But most of all, that I was not alone in my obsession and that there were even people calling themselves Sherlockians! I had to join them of course.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I work in the travel industry. For several years I was doing international sales for different hotel groups (I even worked for the canonical Hotel du Louvre in Paris). Hence my BSI name, “Claridge’s Hotel." Now I work for a company which specializes in expedition cruises to the polar regions, so I guess you could also call me Sigerson! Actually there is a direct connection to Conan Doyle who worked as a surgeon on a whaler in the Arctic. When I did my first trip to the Arctic, I read the diary of his voyage Dangerous Work, and I left it in the ship’s library at the end.

The great advantage of my work is that I get to travel a lot, which I will talk about later. But that also means that I sometimes miss some of our meetings in Paris…

What is your favorite canonical story?

They are many… But I think I would say "The Blue Carbuncle." First because who doesn’t love a good Christmas story? And I think it has everything: comedy, drama, some great deduction scenes, the Victorian society with the rich and the poor, and Holmes being magnanimous at the end. 

I love the scene at Covent Garden where they are trying to get information about the origin of the goose, by pretending they have made a bet about it (which was reused in a very clever way in Sherlock BBC’s "The Hounds of Baskerville").

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

What I love about meeting other Sherlockians, is that there are people from very diverse backgrounds, that I probably would never had met otherwise. And such interesting people! In the end, like Holmes and Watson, being a Sherlockian is very much about friendship. And I have made wonderful friends along the years.

One of them is Bonnie MacBird, who came to one of our meetings a few years ago. At the time she was doing some research for her first book Art in the Blood which is partially set in Paris. I am very happy to see that her series of Sherlockian novels has expanded, with a 5th one coming up soon. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I am not a collector, because I live in a small Parisian flat so space is an issue. (However I have some Parisian friends who it doesn’t stop!)

So I like to collect experiences. Every movie, theater play, exhibition, escape game directly or indirectly connected to the Sherlockian world, I am here for it! 

Also whenever I travel to a new city, I am always looking for any shop or restaurant with a name related to SH. I just enter Google maps and type “Sherlock Holmes," “Baker Street," “Conan Doyle," “Moriarty”… and very often there is something. I have a good collection of pictures from all over the world. The latest in date was the Sherlock Holmes Pub of Malaga, Spain. 

I remember spending the longest time looking for an alleged Sherlock Pub in Istanbul. When I found it the name had changed but they told me that the Sherlockian décor had been taken to another bar nearby… which I finally found! That was a fun investigation. 

I even travelled to Riga in Latvia just to stay at the Sherlock Art Hotel there (which is great!), and look out for filming locations of the Russian television series with Vassili Livanov.

Now that makes me think… maybe I should write a Sherlockian world travel guide ?

What does Sherlockiana look like in France?

First of all, an interesting difference is that in France we call ourselves “Holmésiens” (Holmesians) instead of Sherlockians! 

Or course it might not be as big as in Anglo-Saxons countries, but Sherlock Holmes is a popular character in France. After all he has a French grandmother! And he (or rather is double Herlock Sholmès), was the adversary of Arsène Lupin.

To give you an example, in the past couple of years we saw about 8 different Sherlockian theater plays in Paris, most of them being new creations. So the character keeps up inspiring.

Like everywhere else, there was a great dynamic in the Sherlockian world created by Guy Richie’s movies with Robert Downey Jr, quickly followed by the Sherlock BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch. That drew so many new people to SH, and I think it is fantastic.

I had already been involved in Sherlockian societies before that, but in 2012 we decided with a group of friends to create “Le Cercle Holmésien de Paris." It celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and I am very honored to be its president. We gather in a Parisian pub every second Wednesday of each month. So every Sherlockian in town is always welcome.

We are a small but tight group of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts who most of all enjoy having fun together. Recently we organized a treasure hunt in the streets of Paris, during which we smashed 6 Napoleon busts until finding the Black Pearl of the Borgias!

And this summer we are travelling together to Scotland on the footsteps of Conan Doyle, Joseph Bell… and the Lochness monster.

As someone who travels quite a bit, how does that influence how you enjoy this hobby of ours?

I feel very lucky to have been able to visit many places connected to Sherlock Holmes. London of course, where I go often and is one of my favorite cities. But also Reichenbach Falls, Dartmoor, the collection of the Toronto Public Library…

I love how those places give us the possibility to connect between fiction and reality. Look how Speedy’s Cafe in London has become a place of pilgrimage for a new generation of Sherlockians!

But travelling has been also the opportunity to meet Sherlockians around the world. In the US and UK, but also in Japan or Brazil. One day I was travelling to Brazil for work and decided to reach out to a local group of Sherlock BBC fans. They were very active online, but had never met in person. So we took the opportunity of my visit to organize a gathering. I honestly thought I was going to meet 5 or 10 people. It finally turned out into a large event in a library of Rio de Janeiro, where I found myself on stage answering questions in Portuguese. It’s really fascinating to see what a universal appeal there is for the character.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

An interesting French book which I would recommend is Maximilien Heller by Henry Cauvain. I must give the credit to Takeshi Shimizu from the SHSL who first told me about this book and translated it into Japanese. I don’t know if it was translated into English.

It is a novel published in 1870, so 17 years before STUD.

It is the story of a doctor who meets a strange man called Maximillien Heller. He is tall, thin, lonely, enjoys opium and chemistry, has great capacities of deduction, sometimes uses disguises. And they go solve crime together.

Rings a bell ?

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I believe there is a new generation of Sherlockians that is very capable of maintaining traditions but also creating new ones. With my club we sometimes do animations in public libraries and the children are always very curious and interested in Holmes.

The Sherlockian world will probably evolve, adapt, but I am sure it will still be doing strong !