Better Lock the Door

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars was written by Anthony Boucher and published in 1940. The Case was a tribute to Sherlock Holmes.

Set in 1939, Hollywood, Metropolis Pictures plans to produce a movie based on one of Sherlock Holmes’s stories. However, they are getting backlash from the fans Holmes because the writer, Worth, wants to change the story to make it a tough, hard-boiled rendition. The executive at Metropolis discovers that, by contract, he cannot replace the hated writer. So, they decide to invite some of the members of The Baker Street Irregulars to oversee the production and give the film their stamp of approval. 

The plan is to have the sherlock fans stay at a house in Hollywood and invite the press to promote the film. However, as the guests are gathering, Worth crashes the party and threatens the Irregulars to reveal their secrets.

After the party breaks up, they found a lady from the production company unconscious in the second-floor hallway. When she comes to, she tells them she saw Worth being shot. However, when they go to the room, they can’t find the body.

As the Irregulars try to help the police discover what happened to Worth, they find a series of clues, all referencing either Holmes’ famous cases or others mentioned in his files.

This book reminded me of the old Police Squad television series, or better, a Dean Martin Matt Helm spoof. The characters would all be guest stars playing the stock roles and there are plenty of gags they could play for laughs.

In the story, Boucher shares a lot of Sherlock trivia and suggestions of several of his plots. As a good mystery should, he gives plenty of clues and red herrings. The author gathered everyone at the revealing, and I think he will have your head swimming before the killer is unmasked.

Anthony Boucher

Anthony Boucher was the pseudonym used by William Anthony Parker White (1911-1968). Born in Oakland, California, White became proficient in French, Spanish, and Portuguese to translate mystery stories from those languages into English. But after spending time in the little theater movement, he decided to become a playwright.

He wrote his first mystery novel, The Case of the Seven of Calvary, in 1936. For the next several years, White produced a book a year. In the late thirties, he became interested in science fiction and fantasy. He was one of the founding editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The magazine won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine in 1957 and 1958.

From 1942 to 1947, he was a book reviewer specializing in science fiction and mysteries for the San Francisco Chronicle. He also reviewed mysteries for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In 1951, Boucher began writing the “Criminals at Large” column for The New York Times Book Review and continued until his death. He accumulated 852 columns. His criticism of mysteries earned him Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards in 1945,1949 and 1952.

White once said, “Good detective stories are, as I often quote Hamlet’s phrase about the players, ‘the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time,’ ever valuable in retrospect as indirect but vivid pictures of the society from which they spring.”

Some Special Achievements

In a 1981 poll of 17 detective writers and reviewers, His novel Nine Times Nine was voted as the ninth best locked room mystery of all time.

In the Introduction to The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, Otto Penzler wrote, “All the members of the Baker Street Irregulars remember Tony Boucher, one of the first, one of the most learned, one of the most beloved, and one of the most talented of all the stars who illuminate the annual celebration.”

Today, White may be best known today as the namesake to the annual Bouchercon World Mystery Conference. Bouchercon is an international meeting of mystery writers, fans, critics, and publishers.

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The Baker Street Irregulars

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes often used an informal pack of misfit street urchins to do his spying or legwork. He called them his Baker Street Irregulars (BSI). In the early 30s, there was a heightened awareness of Sherlock because of Doyle’s death in 1930. During that time, several books came out about his famous detective.

Previously, Christopher Morley had formed a club with his friends including Rex Stout, A. A. Milne, T. S. Elliot, and many others to celebrate, well anything. They loved to party. But they also talked about writing and publishing. Their first meeting in 1934 was on January 6, the date Morley had decided was Holmes’s birthday. The party became the first meeting of The Baker Street Irregulars.

As it says on their website, the BSI is part literary society, part social group, and part source of whimsical entertainment. One can become a member only by invitation. Membership may be granted after significant accomplishment, either in the Sherlockian community or their professions. The group has about 300 members from around the world. They have an annual dinner in New York City every January. Past members include Isaac Asimov, Dame Jean Conan Doyle (Whose biography is worth a read.), John Gardner, Laurie R. King, and Otto Penzler.

American Mystery Classics

Otto Penzler is an editor of mystery fiction and the proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. In 1975, he founded The Mysterious Press to publish exclusively mystery and crime fiction. He sold it to Warner Brothers in 1989. In 2018, he established Penzler Publishers and launched American Mystery Classics. They reissue mystery and detective fiction, many of which had not been available in decades. Some of the authors include John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and Mary Roberts Rhinehart.

In 2018, Penzler said AMC will feature ‘traditional mystery stories’ by some of the most popular writers from what he called the ‘golden age of detective fiction.’

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars was one of the classics that was endanger of disappearing. That was until Penzler Publishers to step in. As most authors know, books come out, hopefully, to fifteen minutes of great acclaim. Then they too often become just a drop in the sea of books in the world. It is only through significant effort can book stay pertinent and in the public’s eye. And by saving such classics, we can appreciate the authors and the growth of fiction.

1 Comment

  1. Douglas Harrell

    Neat post. I did not know where the Boucher in Bouchercon came from. I’m a huge S.H. fan, so I have checked “The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars” out from the library.

    Years ago (40?) I used to get the Baker Street Journal. I enjoyed the articles actually about Sherlock Holmes, but many articles consisted of trying to make sense of Watson’s contradictory statements regarding when various stories occurred.

    One aspect I recall is that according to the BSI, Sherlock Holmes was real, and his fame is real. Since the death of such a famous person would undoubtedly be huge international news, and since it has never been reported, Sherlock Holmes must still be alive, and keeping bees in Sussex. Silly, but fun.

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