Please note that there will be a delay in fulfilling orders in the Society Shop between January 9th and 15th, while “Selena Buttons” is at the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Festivities (AKA the BSI Weekend) in New York City.
Thank you for understanding!
We love to talk in the comments section here on the blog, but sometimes we’d like a bit more room to have conversations. Enter the John H Watson Society Slack Channel!
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With the New Year underway, it is time to begin thinking about that annual event our ‘Calder’ (Brad Keefauver) once dubbed “Treasure or Torture”–the annual John H Watson Society Treasure Hunt. With ‘Selena Buttons’ approval, I am pleased to serve as Treasure Hunt Master for 2018. I hope to concoct a hunt you will find challenging and fun. We are taking a somewhat different approach this year. ‘TH6: Every Link Rings True’ will be a 50-question quiz rather than our usual 100 questions, and all the questions will link. Three of our previous hunts have featured some linking sections that were popular with our competitors.
To get you thinking about the possibility of participating this year, I have a small, five-question quiz below for you to think about over the next two weeks. Please do not post your answers here; your answers should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Answers will be accepted through January 29th.
Won’t you play along? As Holmes told Watson: “’Yes, you can, Watson. And you will, for you have never failed to play the game. I am sure you will play it to the end.”
TH6: Every Link Rings True Introduction Quiz
Helpful Hint: Your final answer should be appropriate for the times with February right around the corner.
‘It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true.’
January 12 (or thereabouts), 1903: Sir James Saunders diagnosed Godfrey Emsworth’s disease as pseudo-leprosy. [BLAN]
I was finishing this little analysis of the case when the door was opened and the austere figure of the great dermatologist was ushered in. But for once his sphinx-like features had relaxed and there was a warm humanity in his eyes. He strode up to Colonel Emsworth and shook him by the hand.
‘It is often my lot to bring ill-tidings, and seldom good,’ said he. ‘This occasion is the more welcome. It is not leprosy.’
‘A well-marked case of pseudo-leprosy or ichthyosis, a scale-like affection of the skin, unsightly, obstinate, but possibly curable, and certainly non-infective. Yes, Mr Holmes, the coincidence is a remarkable one. But is it coincidence? Are there not subtle forces at work of which we know little? Are we assured that the apprehension, from which this young man has no doubt suffered terribly since his exposure to its contagion, may not produce a physical effect which simulates that which it fears? At any rate, I pledge my professional reputation – But the lady has fainted! I think that Mr Kent had better be with her until she recovers from this joyous shock.’
“The trains which traverse the lines of rail beside which the body was found are those which run from west to east, some being purely Metropolitan, and some from Willesden and outlying junctions. It can be stated for certain that this young man, when he met his death, was travelling in this direction at some late hour of the night, but at what point he entered the train it is impossible to state.”
“His ticket, of course, would show that.”
“There was no ticket in his pockets.”
“No ticket! Dear me, Watson, this is really very singular. According to my experience it is not possible to reach the platform of a Metropolitan train without exhibiting one’s ticket. Presumably, then, the young man had one. Was it taken from him in order to conceal the station from which he came? It is possible. Or did he drop it in the carriage? That is also possible. But the point is of curious interest. I understand that there was no sign of robbery?” [BRUC]
The Metropolitan Railway opened its first line to the public on January 10, 1863 (just after Holmes’s own 9th birthday, per Baring-Gould). Of course, by the time we join Holmes and Watson in London, the Underground is already well-established.
My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands in the pockets of his dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder. It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay as white as when it fell. The grey pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but was still dangerously slippery, so that there were fewer passengers than usual. Indeed, from the direction of the Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the single gentleman whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention. [BERY]
[Hat-tip to Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney and their fantastic book, A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes.]
On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from home to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that he should go, for it seemed to me that he was further from danger when he was away from home. In that, however, I was in error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from the Major, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deep chalk-pits which abound in the neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with a shattered skull. I hurried to him, but he passed away without having ever recovered his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pit unfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of “Death from accidental causes”. Carefully as I examined every fact connected with his death, I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record of strangers having been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that my mind was far from at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plot had been woven round him.
January 8, 1888 (or maybe 1889): Jack Douglas confessed to killing Ted Baldwin. [VALL]
I was on my guard all that next day and never went out into the park. It’s as well, or he’d have had the drop on me with that buck-shot gun of his before ever I could draw on him. After the bridge was up – my mind was always more restful when that bridge was up in the evenings – I put the thing clear out of my head. I never figured on his getting into the house and waiting for me. But when I made my round in my dressing-gown, as my habit was, I had no sooner entered the study than I scented danger. I guess when a man has had dangers in his life – and I’ve had more than most in my time – there is a kind of sixth sense that waves the red flag. I saw the signal clear enough, and yet I couldn’t tell you why. Next instant I spotted a boot under the window curtain, and then I saw why plain enough.
I’d just the one candle that was in my hand, but there was a good light from the hall lamp through the open door. I put down the candle and jumped for a hammer that I’d left on the mantel. At the same moment he sprang at me. I saw the glint of a knife and I lashed at him with the hammer. I got him somewhere, for the knife tinkled down on the floor. He dodged round the table as quick as an eel, and a moment later he’d got his gun from under his coat. I heard him cock it, but I had got hold of it before he could fire. I had it by the barrel, and we wrestled for it all ends up for a minute or more. It was death to the man that lost his grip. He never lost his grip, but he got it butt downwards for a moment too long. Maybe it was I that pulled the trigger. Maybe we just jolted it off between us. Anyhow, he got both barrels in the face, and there I was, staring down at all that was left of Ted Baldwin.
by Joe Ide
Mulholland Books (October 2016)
336 p. ISBN 9780316267724
East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.
They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.
This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.
Another step-to-the-left pastiche, this one imagines if Holmes and Watson were young black men in inner city LA. I was curious how it would work, and I’m pleased to say that I couldn’t put the book down. Joe Ide created a truly interesting set of characters. There are subtle nods to canon throughout (my favourite: Harry!), but if someone unfamiliar with Holmesiana were to pick this up, they’d be able to follow along easily.
The story alternates between two timelines. The first is the main mystery, wherein a rap icon (along the lines of Biggie or Ice Cube) who has an album deadline coming up will no longer leave his house, due to a near-death experience with a gigantic houn- er, big dog. Though his entourage is interested in getting him into the studio, the rapper is more interested in staying alive, and so hires Isaiah to find out who is trying to kill him. The second timeline looks at how Isaiah became a detective, and how he met Dodson, our Watson in this tale. Ide does a phenomenal job here for weaving in canon references, while making the relationship between Isaiah and Dodson far more fraught than the relationship between Holmes and Watson ever was.
Both timelines are deeply compelling. The mystery is intriguing, although fairly surface level. Ide focuses more time on us meeting and getting to know all the characters, villains included, than he does in crafting an in-depth mystery. We know who the hitman is early on; the matter of who hired him is wrapped up in an afterward fashion. If you care more about complex mysteries in your Holmesian pastiche, this is certainly a drawback. There’s very little meat here for you to really dig into. However, the character depth makes up for it, in my mind. We get an internal view of the hitman, the rapper, all the members of his entourage, the rapper’s ex-wife… we get to understand everyone as individuals. Even if they’re sometimes distasteful individuals that we hope we never meet in real life.
The second timeline, however, was by far my favourite. I enjoyed seeing Isaiah travel from a somewhat naïve, sweet teenage boy into the world-weary, yet still fighting, man he grew up to be. The introduction of Dodson into his orbit, and just how Dodson impacted him and who he is, was excellent. It is easy to read parts of the second timeline and see, despite the distance of years, just how the two of them still have hooks in each other, even if they wish it were otherwise.
The style of writing is more noir and thriller than your traditional pastiche, an aspect that may disinterest some people. This is no classic or cozy mystery; there is a great deal of language, sex, and violence. The sex and violence are more peripheral, and not at all a focus of the story, but they are still there, which may make some people uncomfortable. However, I felt that those aspects added to the atmosphere of the story, and weren’t gratuitous. I don’t typically like noir, but again, I couldn’t put down this book. The heart of it was very much in keeping with Sherlock Holmes canon.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved how different it was from most reimaginings, while still remaining true to the core of who Holmes and Watson are. Ide clearly loves canon, even as he’s willing to play with it. I am already working on getting my hands on the sequel, which came out just a few months ago.
This is not the first pastiche to reimagine Holmes and Watson as young black men. Probably the most well-known of these is Watson and Holmes, a graphic novel series. Despite a similar opening premise, though, this book is radically different, in part because of their Watson.
Our Watson is a former drug-dealer, former gangbanger, present day entrepreneur. He isn’t a “former” because of any noble reasons—he survived a gang war and saw a new way to make money, and he took it. He’s a bit of a womanizer, and his relationship with Isaiah is… contentious, at best. Isaiah doesn’t really like him half of the time, yet they find themselves drawn together time and again.
Despite these external trappings, Dodson is very much a Watson. A womanizer, yes, but he cherishes the women he’s with and treats them well. A gangbanger he may have been, but he also loves to cook, a skill he was taught by one of his girlfriends. A former drug-dealer, but incredibly brave, and he basically saves Isaiah from himself on multiple occasions. He’s charming, and good with people. He often helps interpret Isaiah for his clients, since Isaiah has no patience for such things. He’s funny, and finds the humor in things, and is incredibly smart himself. And despite his tough exterior and loud bravado, he has a heart of… maybe not gold, but at least of slightly tarnished silver.
Dodson is a meaty character, incredibly complex in that he’s not likeable in one moment, and incredibly so in the next. I am also deeply in love with how the author decided to treat the “Watson always asks Holmes how he did things” issue that arises in more pastiches than one would care to admit; Dodson keeps asking questions to try and get a rise out of Isaiah, to annoy him. It’s a unique take, and it works well. It’s also a remarkably brotherly thing to do; Isaiah and Dodson may not be the best of friends, but they certainly have the brotherly part of the relationship down well.
This isn’t a Watson for everyone, I will freely admit it. But it’s a NEW Watson, and I ended up loving him far more than I thought I would. I admire the author’s courage to try something different with such a beloved character, and for pulling it off.
Noir; urban settings; LA; rap music; new interpretations on canon
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know! Contact the Society and they’ll pass your request along.
Robert Perret (JHWS “Sampson”) writes in response to our Mystery Tid Bit Post:
I can only find the USH citation online, and a brief wiki mention of Calabash. It appears to be neither the first nor the last Sherlockian writing from Asimov and I don’t have anything else to go on, so submitted as is for partial credit, I guess?
C13593. Asimov, Isaac. “Those Endearing Old Charms,” Calabash, No. 1 (March 1982), 13.
“Let me tell you of all those endearing old charms / That we’ve loved and enjoyed so for years, / Will stay constant despite Moriarty’s alarms / For while Holmes is alive we’ve no fears…”
Chips answers: Asimov’s song is based on “Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms“, a popular song written in 1808 by Irish poet Thomas Moore using a traditional Irish air.
In the comments to that post, Roger Johnson (JHWS “Count”) correctly identified the piece, writing:
Asimov, a very accomplished versifier, here writes a variant on Thomas Moore’s 1808 poem:
BELIEVE me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts, fading away!
Thou wouldst still be ador’d as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
And, around the dear ruin, each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still!
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofan’d by a tear,
That the fervour and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
Oh! the heart, that has truly lov’d, never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turn’d when he rose!
Asimov followed the example of 1946 James Montgomery’s “Irregular Song”, written in the mid-1940s:
Believe me, if all those endearing old yarns
Which we cherish so fondly today
Were to vanish ‘neath Boscombe’s or Hurlstone’s dark tarns,
Like fairy gifts fading away,
There would still be those papers well guarded by Cox,
Watson-data as yet unrevealed,
And the records contained in that battered old box
New Conanical treasure would yield.
Oh dear Sherlock, to share thy adventures we long,
As you crush London’s crime under heel,
And we sing in thy praise an Irregular Song,
Though it ne’er can express all we feel.
Let grim warfare and pestilence rage as they can,
You will still give long hours of joy
To the boy who, adoring, is now half a man –
Or the man who is yet half a boy.
Moore’s poem became famous when set to a traditional Irish tune, and Montgomery applied his fine tenor voice to singing his own words to that same tune. I’m not aware that Isaac Asimov regaled the BSI with a musical rendition of “Those Endearing Old Charms” – but I wouldn’t put it past him.
Richard Olken (JHWS “Palmer”) added:
The tune is also that of Harvard’s anthem, Fair Harvard
Fair Harvard! we join in thy Jubilee throng,
And with blessings surrender thee o’er
By these Festival-rites, from the Age that is past,
To the Age that is waiting before.
O Relic and Type of our ancestors’ worth,
That hast long kept their memory warm,
First flow’r of their wilderness! Star of their night!
Calm rising thro’ change and thro’ storm.
Farewell! be thy destinies onward and bright!
To thy children the lesson still give,
With freedom to think, and with patience to bear,
And for Right ever bravely to live.
Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,
As the world on Truth’s current glides by,
Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,
Till the stock of the Puritans die.
Samuel Gilman, Class of 1811
Asimov did sing to the tune of O Danny Boy, as noted in the March, 1984 issue of the Baker Street Journal (Vol 34, #1, Page 7)
O, SHERLOCK HOLMES
by Isaac Asimov
(Sung to the tune of “Danny Boy)
O, Sherlock Holmes, the Baker Street Irregulars
Are gathered here to honour you today,
For in their hearts, you glitter like a thousand stars
And like the stars, you’ll never pass away.
This year that’s new, must tick away its months and die,
For Father Time moves on remorselessly,
But even he can’t tarnish, as he passes by,
O, Sherlock Holmes, O, Holmes, your immortality.
O, Sherlock Holmes, the world is filled with evil still
And Moriarty rages everywhere.
The terror waits to strike and by the billions kill.
The mushroom cloud is more than we can bear.
But still there’s hope in what you’ve come to symbolise,
In that great principle you’ve made us see.
We may yet live if only we can improvise,
O, Sherlock Holmes, O, Holmes, your rationality.
Next week, Sherlockians from across the country and around the world will gather in New York City to celebrate the Master’s birthday in grand style. Scheduled events include the BSI Annual Dinner, the Gaslight Gala, the Baker Street Babes Daintiest Scream on the Moor charity ball, a Distinguished Speaker Lecture presented by Martin Edwards, an informal brunch hosted by ASH, a vendor’s room, and more.
I’m very excited to be attending for the very first time. Will I see you there? Let me know in the comments! (If you’re following along from home, be sure to check our twitter feed during the Weekend!)
We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portmanteaus.