Peter Blau doesn’t like Sherlock Holmes.
Which is fairly significant, considering longtime AAPG member Blau is one of the country’s foremost experts on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character.
And even more significant considering how anyone who knows him knows that Blau is AAPG’s biggest promoter of all things Sherlockian.
“When people ask me what I like about Sherlock Holmes,” Blau says, proud of his place in the world of Sherlockians, “I tend to answer ‘nothing.’ He was inconsiderate and rude, especially to Watson, for whom I feel a great sympathy.”
Sometimes you know when an interview will be fun.
Peter Blau, in addition to being a consulting geologist, is a freelance writer and one of the guiding lights of The Red Circle, an organization based in Washington, D.C, dedicated to honoring, discussing, dissecting and generally obsessing over Sherlock Holmes and the four novels and 56 short stories in which he appeared.
Certainly, the Sherlockian world takes Blau very seriously.
Here’s what the organization’s website says of him:
“While Blau holds no official office in the group, you would be right in a sense if you said that he is the Red Circle.”
“What I enjoy,” Blau said, “very much, is the Sherlockians, who tend to be interesting as individuals.”
For Blau, then, a geologist by training, it isn’t the power of Holmes, the hidden mysteries in the work, the lessons we can all learn from Holmes’ tenacity and thoroughness – it’s something much simpler.
“The Sherlockians are about having fun.”
And that fun may be part of the group’s DNA. For decades, AAPG Sherlockians have held their own party at every AAPG annual convention – always via Blau’s organizational efforts – to toast Sherlock and tell fun stories.
“By and large,” Blau said of the difference between Sherlockians and, say, other members in similar mystery clubs, is, “literary societies honor authors, not characters.”
He makes the point that while there are Edgar Allan Poe literary groups, there are no groups for Poe’s literary detective creation, C. Auguste Dupin (reportedly an inspiration for Doyle).
“Sure we talk about Doyle,” he said, “but mostly it’s about Holmes.”
If this at all sounds similar to a Star Trek convention, in general, and Trekkies, in particular, Blau, too, sees the connection.
“While I’ve never been to a Star Trek convention,” he said, “there are Sherlockians who like costume, and who are well aware that Leonard Nimoy has played both Spock and Holmes – and remember the Sherlockian episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation?”
A Case of Identity
Blau, who has a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s in petroleum geology, says the connection between Holmes and geology is rudimentary, but strong.
“Let’s see,” he says, laughing, when the question is asked. “I’m not sure how important Sherlock Holmes is to geologists, but it was in the Sherlock Holmes stories that we first find a detective using geology to investigate crime.”
Holmes would examine the soil samples on suspect’s shoes to determine the location of crimes, Blau reminds you.
To illustrate, Blau alludes to a passage in “A Study in Scarlet,” in which Dr. Watson first describes Holmes’ knowledge of geology as “practical, but limited:”
“After walks,” says Watson of Holmes, “[he] … has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their color and consistence in what part of London he had received them.”
Blau says, in the crime world, this is known as the transfer principle: Every criminal brings something to the scene of the crime, and takes something away. Blau says it is exactly the method that forensic geologists use, as well.
And it seems other AAPG members are just as amused at the connection as Blau. Fellow forensic geologists and mystery writers Sarah Andrews (a former AAPG member), Ray Murray and Charlie Mankin all have attended Red Circle meetings at the Sherlockian society in Washington, D.C., and AAPG conferences.
So has Sherlock-enthusiast Dean Clark, managing editor of SEG’s The Leading Edge, who says “Peter Blau might be the best known Sherlockian in the world.
“Some years ago I read an interview with Peter in which he said that when you attend meetings of most groups, about 25 percent of the people are interesting,” Clark said, “but when you attend a Holmes meeting, everybody is interesting.”
His Last Bow
While Blau is an expert on Holmes, he’s not an elitist. He knows for many Holmes is the guy with the deerstalker cap and calabash pipe (even though, Blau points out, those Holmes never had either – actor Basil Rathbone had them in the 14 films he did as the famed sleuth).
As for perhaps the most Pavlovian response when Holmes’ name is brought up – “Elementary, my dear Watson” – well, you guessed it. Holmes never said that, either.
“Some Sherlockians seem to feel betrayed when Holmes is something other than a Victorian gentleman, but there are also plenty of people (including me) who enjoy seeing what people do to and with Sherlock Holmes,” Blau said – “as long as it’s done well.
“Of course, people who yearn for the older approaches to Holmes – and worship Basil Rathbone – seem to forget that in the Universal Studios films Sherlock Holmes fought Nazi spies in London and in Washington,” he said.
In fact, Holmes is believed to be the most portrayed movie character in film history, with 75 actors playing the part in more than 200 films.
He then mentions 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes,” starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, and its $500 million take at the box office.
“Lot of people must have enjoyed it,” Blau said, even though he allows that some in the Red Circle were upset because, for one thing, Downey didn’t shave, and Holmes almost certainly would have.
“‘So what?’ I tell them.”
(Coincidentally, the day we talked, Blau was on his was to see newly released “Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows,” saying he was looking forward to seeing Holmes on “steroids.”)
There’s a quaintness to Blau’s affection for Holmes, an enjoyment for both the original work and the adaptations through the centuries.
“The one thing that Sherlockians should take seriously,” he says, “is not to take themselves seriously.”
There is, though, one bit of folly, one aspect of the Holmes’ legend Blau wants to share – the character’s place on the moon … literally.
“I’ve not been to Sherlock Crater on the moon, of course,” he laughs, “but then neither has Jack Schmitt, the astronaut who named it in honor of Sherlock Holmes.”
Probably not a complete coincidence that AAPG Honorary Member Schmitt, too, is a geologist.