Friend and Biographer Series: JHWS ‘Selena’

Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark….Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own, to which in his modesty he has given small attention…

Hello Watsonians,

Today we reach number twelve in our series of brief biographic interviews with some of the members of JHWS. Our members, like the good Dr. Watson, have some remarkable characteristics of their own, and we would like to give some small attention to them.

I am pleased to post the interview with the hardest-working woman I know: Beth Gallego.  As ‘SelenaButtons’, she keeps the JHWS going strong; I am very grateful for her inspiring leadership.

Thanks,

Margie

  1. Name and bull pup moniker

Beth Gallego, “Selena” (“Selena Buttons” until there is a new “Boy in Buttons”)

2. Current (city, state, country) location

Los Angeles, California, USA

  1. How long have you been a devotee of Dr. Watson?

Just about 4 years. I was not one who fell in love with the Canon as a kid, sad to say. I was much more into fantasy – especially the Wizard of Oz books – around age 10 or so. But after watching the first 6 episodes of the BBC Sherlock, and waiting for the third season to air, I was got obsessed with all things Holmesian and very quickly found my way to the Canon and a great many lovely people who were also excited to talk about Holmes and Watson endlessly.

  1. Do you have a favorite canonical story?

I love the Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton – I even wrote an essay on why it’s the *best* story for _About Sixty_. But I also have a soft spot for the Illustrious Client, the Red-Headed League, and the Lion’s Mane.

  1. What is your favorite quote from the canon?

“I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.” [LION] I have a bracelet with that quote on it.

  1. If you could speak directly to anyone in the canon, who would you choose and why?

Irene Adler. I want to know more about her life, because I think it would be fascinating. We get so very little of her side of the story, too.

  1. Are you fond of any particular canon adaptations—pastiche, radio, or film?

I deeply love the first two seasons (6 episodes) of the BBC Sherlock. It is what brought me into this world, and they are brilliant television in their own right. I enjoyed seasons 3 and 4, but not quite as much. I also really like the Abominable Bride episode, but I don’t really even think of that as an adaptation of Canon so much as an adaptation of an adaptation of Canon, which is a different sort of animal.

I also adore Lyndsay Faye’s short stories just published as a collection called The Whole Art of Detection. Her love of Dr Watson, especially, shines in her writing.

  1. Do you have a local Watsonian/Sherlockian/Holmesian group you meet with on a regular basis?

My local scions are the Curious Collectors of Baker Street and the Sherlock Breakfast Club. Los Angeles is large and sprawling, so my work schedule combined with transportation times makes it difficult for me to attend as many events as I’d like, but I try.

  1. Do you have any recent Watsonian/Sherlockian/Holmesian projects/events you would like to tell us about?

I went to 221B Con in Atlanta for the third year this April. It was the first time I wasn’t on any panels, so I was able to take time to hang out with people I only ever get to see at Con! We had an in-person JHWS meet-up (a “consultation”) in the bar on the Saturday night, which I hope will be an annual tradition. For the future, I’m working on a few essay ideas. Oh, and I do a little work on this website you might have heard of…

  1. If you had a magic wand, allowing you to add, subtract, change one thing in your Watsonian/Sherlockian/Holmesian world, what would it be?

I’d really like to see more curiosity about (not just acceptance or tolerance of) different points of view and ideas in discussions. I think people are too quick to criticize and dismiss ideas that don’t align with their own. (Obviously, a problem not just in our smaller world of fandom!) There are so many interesting possibilities to think about and discuss rather than retreading the same ground. I’d love to see more people embrace the idea that it’s possible to dislike something without insulting the people who do like it.

Also, I would like a transporter, so I can attend *all* the Sherlockian events, please and thank you!

 

The Sign of Fear (Book Review)

The Sign of Fear

by Robert Ryan
Simon & Schuster UK (January 2016 UK; March 2017 US)
448 p. ISBN 9781471135125

Publisher’s Summary

A stunning Dr. Watson thriller from the bestselling author of Dead Man’s Land, The Dead Can Wait, and A Study in Murder.

Autumn, 1917. London is not the city that Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes once knew. Terror has come from the sky and Londoners are scurrying underground in fear. Then tragedy strikes Watson. An old friend, Nurse Jennings, is on a medical boat that’s torpedoed—with no survivors. And his concert-going companion, Sir Gilbert Hardy, is kidnapped.

Then comes the gruesome ransom demand, for Sir Gilbert and four others, which will involve terrible mutilation unless the demands are met.

Help comes from an unlikely source when Watson finds himself face-to-face with his old ruthless adversary, the “She Wolf” Miss Pillbody. She makes him an offer he can’t refuse and so an unlikely partnership is formed—a detective duo which will eventually uncover a shocking case of murder and find Watson on board a German bomber, with a crew intent on setting London ablaze.

General Review

Today I wanted to take a look at a book that technically came out over a year ago; however, the United States edition came out in March, providing wider access to many of our society members.

I am talking, of course, about the fourth in Robert Ryan’s excellent Dr. Watson series (which I have personally been referring to as the “Watson at War” series, but Amazon tells me it is actually the Doctor Watson Thriller series).  Mr. Ryan is a member of the Society, and with good reason, given the focus of his books!  The fourth book, The Sign of Fear, picks up not too long after the third in the series left off.  In an effort not to spoil the series, if you haven’t read it, I won’t go into too much detail about it, so please forgive me if this review is a bit vaguer than usual; every book in the series is intricately connected, and to discuss it would spoil it—and this is one series I recommend walking into unspoiled!

The premise of the series is based on Watson’s comment in LAST, about how he has signed up to serve in World War I.  Each of the books is set in a different aspect of WWI: the first was the Front; the second was the work of spies; the third was POW camps, and this, the fourth, is about the London bombings.  Watson is back on English soil, though his war service is by no means over, as demonstrated throughout.

Ryan’s books are incredibly honest in how they depict the War; there are no Heroes.  The English become monstrous in their desperation to win; Germans are humanized and given personal motivations for what they do, even as they continue on as spies and enemies.  The balance between the two sides is carefully maintained, never tipping too far over in one direction, with the overall understanding that the true evil is war itself.  Watch, in particular, for the chess scene.  An at times overdone motif, it is executed skillfully and tragically here.

While the book is a war story, it is also a mystery.  Ryan has said in interviews that he set out to write a story about a “detective in the trenches” (referencing his first book in the series), and the idea of a crime, a mystery, happening during a war has continued throughout the series.  The mystery is dense, with a many different threads that very slowly come together to form the bigger picture.  At times the plot can slow down quite a bit, in the pursuit of details and historical accuracy, but I never found it going so slow that my attention wandered.  Instead, it gave me time to ponder on the clues the reader and Watson are given.

The secondary characters are excellent, skillfully drawn and given unique personalities and motivations.  I wish Ryan would give more to his women characters; without spoiling, I will say that they often don’t continue throughout the series as a whole, something I find disappointing given how wonderfully they’re portrayed.  Otherwise, I find myself connecting with and adoring (or passionately hating!) the original characters, something not always easily done when it comes to Holmesian and Watsonian pastiches.  Miss Pillbody is particularly delightful as a character.

I just love this series.  It’s one of my favourites out there right now, and one that I think any Watsonian can sink their teeth into.  They are dense, weighty volumes, and this fourth book was a superb addition to the series as a whole.

What About Our Watson?

Years ago, I lamented that, while characters like Lestrade, Moriarty, and Mrs. Hudson all have series’ devoted to their points-of-view and stories (which is wonderful!), Watson is continually relegated to sidekick, with no series devoted to him.  This is the only one I’ve found so far (though, of course, if you know of another series devoted to Watson and his stories, do let me know!), and it gives us an absolutely phenomenal Watson.

The Watson we meet in this book is older, sadder, worn from his experiences in the war so far.  His depression and grief are overwhelming and incredibly realistic.  They also drive much of his action through the book, which at times leads him to impulsive, reckless actions that are fascinating to watch.  Despite the sadness, though, we still have the brave, compassionate, intelligent man from Canon.  One of the things I love best about this series is that it makes Watson the detective, though not the same kind of detective that Sherlock Holmes is.  The relationships that Watson has with people are one of the things that makes him effective as a detective, for instance; people trust him, and tell him things, and so he is granted access to information that few other people have.

The friendship between Watson and Holmes is exquisitely agonizing.  One of the things this series does so well is show a friendship that is aged, one where two people know each other so well, perhaps too well, and that circumstances and distance cannot necessarily diminish the strength of that friendship.  Watson and Holmes are not always in agreement in this book; nonetheless, they are always there for each other.  (Fun fact: sometimes I had to put the book over my face and shriek loudly about the beautiful relationship they have in this book and the series.)  Watsonians will also be interested to know that Holmes is very much a secondary character in this book, not appearing for long stretches at a time; the narrative is very much focused on the good doctor.

I love this portrayal of Watson; can more writers take their lead from Ryan when writing him?

You Might Like This If You Like:

War stories; historical fiction; depictions of grief; post-Canon speculation

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

On June 15th…

Pinner knew when he read the news,
Suicide he would have to choose.
He went to his room
To hasten his doom,
And to drum on the door with his shoes.
– Don Dillistone, 2002

June 15, 1889: Holmes and Watson accompanied Hall Pycroft to Birmingham to see Arthur Harry Pinner in New Street. [STOC]

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (1893)

Following his lead we ascended five stories, until we found ourselves outside a half-opened door, at which our client tapped. A voice within bade us “Come in”, and we entered a bare, unfurnished room, such as Hall Pycroft had described. At the single table sat the man whom we had seen in the street, with his evening paper spread out in front of him, and as he looked up at us it seemed to me that I had never looked upon a face which bore such marks of grief, and of something beyond grief – of a horror such as comes to few men in a lifetime. His brow glistened with perspiration, his cheeks were of the dull dead white of a fish’s belly, and his eyes were wild and staring. He looked at his clerk as though he failed to recognize him, and I could see by the astonishment depicted upon our conductor’s face, that this was by no means the usual appearance of his employer.
“You look very ill, Mr. Pinner,” he exclaimed.
“Yes, I am not very well,” answered the other, making obvious efforts to pull himself together, and licking his dry lips before he spoke. “Who are these gentlemen whom you have brought with you?”
“One is Mr. Harris, of Bermondsey, and the other is Mr. Price of this town,” said our clerk, glibly. “They are friends of mine, and gentlemen of experience, but they have been out of a place for some little time, and they hoped that perhaps you might find an opening for them in the company’s employment.”
“Very possibly! Very possibly!” cried Mr. Pinner, with a ghastly smile. “Yes, I have no doubt that we shall be able to do something for you. What is your particular line, Mr. Harris?”
“I am an accountant,” said Holmes.
“Ah, yes, we shall want something of the sort. And you, Mr. Price?”
“A clerk,” said I.
“I have every hope that the company may accommodate you. I will let you know about it as soon as we come to any conclusion. And now I beg that you will go. For God’s sake, leave me to myself!”

 

June 15, 1889: Arthur Pinner attempted suicide. [STOC)]

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (1893)

Again and much louder came the rat-tat-tat. We all gazed expectantly at the closed door. Glancing at Holmes I saw his face turn rigid, and he leaned forward in intense excitement. Then suddenly came a low gurgling, gargling sound and a brisk drumming upon woodwork. Holmes sprang frantically across the room and pushed at the door. It was fastened on the inner side. Following his example, we threw ourselves upon it with all our weight. One hinge snapped, then the other, and down came the door with a crash. Rushing over it we found ourselves in the inner room. It was empty.
But it was only for a moment that we were at fault. At one corner, the corner nearest the room which we had left, there was a second door. Holmes sprang to it and pulled it open. A coat and waistcoat were lying on the floor, and from a hook behind the door, with his own braces round his neck, was hanging the managing director of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company. His knees were drawn up, his head hung at a dreadful angle to his body, and the clatter of his heels against the door made the noise which had broken in upon our conversation. In an instant I had caught him round the waist and held him up, while Holmes and Pycroft untied the elastic bands which had disappeared between the livid creases of skin. Then we carried him into the other room, where he lay with a slate-coloured face, puffing his purple lips in and out with every breath – a dreadful wreck of all that he had been but five minutes before.

(Chronology Source: A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes According to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn)

On June 14th…

June 14, 1889: Hall Pycroft finished marking off all of the hardware sellers in Paris. [STOC]
(Source: A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes According to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI)

Illustration by WH Hyde for Harper’s Weekly (1893)

“I went back to the hotel with the big book under my arm, and with very conflicting feelings in my breast. On the one hand I was definitely engaged, and had a hundred pounds in my pocket. On the other, the look of the offices, the absence of name on the wall, and other of the points which would strike a business man had left a bad impression as to the position of my employers. However, come what might, I had my money, so I settled down to my task. All Sunday I was kept hard at work, and yet by Monday I had only got as far as H. I went round to my employer, found him in the same dismantled kind of room, and was told to keep at it until Wednesday, and then come again. On Wednesday it was still unfinished, so I hammered away until Friday – that is, yesterday. Then I brought it round to Mr. Harry Pinner.
“‘Thank you very much,’ said he. ‘I fear that I underrated the difficulty of the task. This list will be of very material assistance to me.’
“‘It took some time,’ said I.
“‘And now,’ said he, `I want you to make a list of the furniture shops, for they all sell crockery.’

More busy work to keep Pycroft out of the way? More time to impersonate Pycroft and pull off the robbery? –Chips

 

On June 13th…

June 13, 1900: Holmes recovered the Black Pearl of the Borgias from the sixth bust of Napoleon. [SIXN]
(Source: A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes According to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI)

Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele for Collier’s Weekly (1904)

Quote from Canon:

Holmes took a paper from his pocket and laid a ten-pound note upon the table.
“You will kindly sign that paper, Mr. Sandeford, in the presence of these witnesses. It is simply to say that you transfer every possible right that you ever had in the bust to me. I am a methodical man, you see, and you never know what turn events might take afterwards. Thank you, Mr. Sandeford; here is your money, and I wish you a very good-evening.”
When our visitor had disappeared Sherlock Holmes’s movements were such as to rivet our attention. He began by taking a clean white cloth from a drawer and laying it over the table. Then he placed his newly acquired bust in the centre of the cloth. Finally he picked up his hunting-crop and struck Napoleon a sharp blow on the top of the head. The figure broke into fragments, and Holmes bent eagerly over the shattered remains. Next instant, with a loud shout of triumph, he held up one splinter, in which a round, dark object was fixed like a plum in a pudding.
“Gentlemen,” he cried, “let me introduce you to the famous black pearl of the Borgias!”

Chips says: We presume Holmes turned the pearl back to the authorities. What he do with the reward? Should he have shared?

Spring 2017 Watsonian

The latest issue of the Watsonian is making its way to members’ mailboxes around the world. Digital subscribers should have received a “completed order” email including a link to download the new issue. (If you have the Paperless Membership or the Print + PDF Membership and you did not receive an email, please contact Selena Buttons.)

This issue’s contributors reflect our commitment to blending the wisdom and background of great Sherlockians and the enthusiasm of those newly drawn to The Game. Some have been writing for the Watsonian since its inception, while others are appearing for the first time.

An eclectic mix of features and topics fill this issue.  Sandy Kozinn (“Roxie”) examines campfire cookery in “Roxie’s Canonical Ramblings”, Alexian Gregory (“Darwin”) explores the alleged connections between Cornish and Chaldean in “Pondicherry Ponderings”, and Lyn Adams makes an expedition to Baker Street West. The issue includes artwork from Neha Dinesh, John Foster (“Barney”), and Fran Wing (“Phoebe”). The “Billiards With…” interview series returns with a look at the Sub-librarians Scion.  Margie Deck (“Mopsy”), AKA The Pawky Puzzler, presents a cryptic challenge to solve. Essays both scholarly and personal, poetry, and pastiche can all be found with this issue’s pages.

We hope you will find something interesting, educational, entertaining, and thought-provoking in this issue. Digital (PDF) copies and details about the contents are available in the Shop: Watsonian vol. 5 no. 1.

On June 12th…

A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, gives us two events from the same case today:

Illustration by Richard Gutschmidt (1906)

June 12, 1900: Beppo murdered Pietro Venucci. [SIXN]

“You can see for yourself that anyone going out through that open window could reach the front doorstep by taking a long stride. This was clearly what the burglar had done, so I went round and opened the door. Stepping out into the dark I nearly fell over a dead man who was lying there. I ran back for a light, and there was the poor fellow, a great gash in his throat and the whole place swimming in blood. He lay on his back, his knees drawn up, and his mouth horribly open. I shall see him in my dreams. I had just time to blow on my police whistle, and then I must have fainted, for I knew nothing more until I found the policeman standing over me in the hall.”

June 12, 1900: Beppo destroyed the fifth bust of Napoleon. [SIXN]

The spot where the fragments of the bust had been found was only a few hundred yards away. For the first time our eyes rested upon this presentment of the great Emperor, which seemed to raise such frantic and destructive hatred in the mind of the unknown. It lay scattered in splintered shards upon the grass. Holmes picked up several of them and examined them carefully. I was convinced from his intent face and his purposeful manner that at last he was upon a clue.

On June 11th…

According to A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, on June 11, 1900, Lestrade consulted Holmes about the theft of busts of Napoleon. [SIXN]

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (1904)

“Anything remarkable on hand?” he asked.
“Oh, no, Mr. Holmes, nothing very particular.”
“Then tell me all about it.”
Lestrade laughed.
“Well, Mr. Holmes, there is no use denying that there is something on my mind. And yet it is such an absurd business that I hesitated to bother you about it. On the other hand, although it is trivial, it is undoubtedly queer, and I know that you have a taste for all that is out of the common. But in my opinion it comes more in Dr. Watson’s line than ours.”
“Disease?” said I.
“Madness, anyhow. And a queer madness too! You wouldn’t think there was anyone living at this time of day who had such a hatred of Napoleon the First that he would break any image of him that he could see.”

I love this passage, and the way it shows the friendly relationship that’s developed over the years between Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson. Lestrade just pops round from time to time for cigars and a chat about what’s new in London crime. –Selena

On June 10th…

A Day by Day Chronology of Mr Sherlock Holmes, According to Zeisler and Christ, compiled and edited by William S Dorn, BSI and DWNP, once again gives us multiple events for the day:

June 10, 1889: Hall Pycroft was supposed to start work with Mawson and Williams. [STOC]

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (1893)

“Quite so. Why? When we answer that, we have made some progress with our little problem. Why? There can be only one adequate reason. Someone wanted to learn to imitate your writing, and had to procure a specimen of it first. And now if we pass on to the second point, we find that each throws light upon the other. That point is the request made by Pinner that you should not resign your place, but should leave the manager of this important business in the full expectation that a Mr. Hall Pycroft, whom he had never seen, was about to enter the office upon the Monday morning.”

Isaac Asimov provides us a summary in verse:

First young Pycroft had no job, then two,
And that puts him,it seems, in a stew.
First they want him no doubt.
But then Paris is out.
It’s a puzzle ___ Does Holmes get the clue?

June 10, 1900: Beppo destroyed two more busts of Napoleon. [SIXN]

Busts of Napoleon on display at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, London

Some little time ago he purchased from Morse Hudson two duplicate plaster casts of the famous head of Napoleon by the French sculptor Devine. One of these he placed in his hall in the house at Kennington Road, and the other on the mantelpiece of the surgery at Lower Brixton. Well, when Dr. Barnicot came down this morning he was astonished to find that his house had been burgled during the night, but that nothing had been taken save the plaster head from the hall. It had been carried out, and had been dashed savagely against the garden wall, under which its splintered fragments were discovered.
[…]I thought it would please you. But I have not got to the end yet. Dr. Barnicot was due at his surgery at twelve o’clock, and you can imagine his amazement when, on arriving there, he found that the window had been opened in the night, and that the broken pieces of his second bust were strewn all over the room. It had been smashed to atoms where it stood.

On June 9th…

Another Double Day. Not the complete one-volume book, just events. (Not sorry, could not resist pun. Bad, but fun for me. –Chips)

[*Groan* –Selena]

A Day by Day Chronology of Mr Sherlock Holmes According to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, gives us two events for this date.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (1892)

June 9, 1888: Jeremiah Hayling was killed by Colonel Lysander Stark [ENGI]

“Here is an advertisement which will interest you,” said [Holmes]. “It appeared in all the papers about a year ago. Listen to this – `Lost, on the 9th inst., Mr. Jeremiah Hayling, aged 26, a hydraulic engineer. Left his lodgings at ten o’clock at night, and has not been heard of since. Was dressed in,’ &c. &c. Ha! That represents the last time that the Colonel needed to have his machine overhauled, I fancy.”
“Good heavens!” cried my patient. “Then that explains what the girl said.”

(I know this picture is usually thought to be our Thumbless Engineer, but with a little imagination I imagine this could have been the fate of Mr. Hayling. –Chips)

June 9, 1889: Hall Pycroft began marking off all of the hardware sellers in Paris [STOC]

“‘You will eventually manage the great depot in Paris, which will pour a flood of English crockery into the shops of one hundred and thirty-four agents in France. The purchase will be completed in a week, and meanwhile you will remain in Birmingham and make yourself useful.’
“‘How?’
“For answer he took a big red book out of a drawer. ‘This is a directory of Paris,’ said he, ‘with the trades after the names of the people. I want you to take it home with you, and to mark off all the hardware sellers with their addresses. It would be of the greatest use to me to have them.’
“‘Surely there are classified lists?’ I suggested.
“‘Not reliable ones. Their system is different to ours. Stick at it and let me have the lists by Monday, at twelve. Good-day, Mr. Pycroft; if you continue to show zeal and intelligence, you will find the company a good master.’ […]”

No matter as why Pycroft was told he was doing it, I associate this job with copying the Encyclopedia Britannica in another case. Both tasks would keep a (not-so-bright?) person out of the way. –Chips