NO; MEMBERS OF your local Sherlock Holmes society do not wear deerstalker caps and smoke pipes when they meet. Not usually, anyway.
They’re into mysteries, Victorian-era history, storytelling — and sure, sometimes dressing up. More than anything, The Sound of the Baskervilles (Puget Sound plus Holmes’ book “Hound of the Baskervilles”) is about celebrating Arthur Conan Doyle’s clever detective and everything connected with him.
Its members are not always reverent about their passion. Tongue-in-cheek wordplay abounds, for one thing. They call themselves SOBs, and their newsletter is named “Ineffable Twaddle,” after a wisecrack by Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson.
A recent meeting at the Queen Anne library began with a quiz (unsurprisingly, the prizes were books) and reports of Holmes-related happenings from around the world — from a band called the Sherlocks to Holmes-themed anime. But the heart of the meeting was a spirited in-depth discussion about a Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” in which strange things start happening to a young woman who goes to work in the country.
“It’s like a book club on steroids,” Kashena Jade Konecki, the group’s vice president, tells me later. The SOBs are often opinionated, bringing their own varied experiences to the conversation. “Because it’s such an intergenerational group, you get a lot of different perspectives. I think in an online, message-board world, you lose some of that. We disagree, but it’s never bitter.”
The group holds monthly meetings as well as playful events throughout the year, from potlucks to treasure hunts to Blue Carbuncle Bingo.
Sherlock Holmes societies used to be more old-school. The New York-based Baker Street Irregulars, the core Holmes literary society in America, was founded in 1934 but didn’t fully admit women until 1991.
Then came the Robert Downey Jr. movies, the British “Sherlock” TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and the American series “Elementary.” Plus books starring Holmes’ sister, or re-envisioning Holmes as a woman. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is co-authoring a series about Holmes’ brother, Mycroft. And a new wave of scholarship is looking at the canon in a whole new light.
“Sherlock,” especially, drew a wave of younger fans, including Konecki. Some clubs were initially less than hospitable to the new crowd, but this group makes a point of being open to all. “If you like Sherlock Holmes, you are a Sherlockian. That’s what matters to us,” she says.
This group is a “scion chapter” of the Baker Street Irregulars. In the church of Sherlock Holmes, BSI member Sonia Fetherston tells me, The Sound of the Baskervilles is a parish church (other regional Holmes groups include the Dogs in the Nighttime in Anacortes and the Stormy Petrels in British Columbia).
Fetherston lives in Oregon but says she comes to this group’s meetings partly because the people are both fun and dedicated. “There are a lot of younger members of this particular group,” she says. “They’re really good about welcoming new people.”
Konecki credits longtime Sound of the Baskervilles leaders Terri and Dave Haugen for fostering that atmosphere. With no relatives living close by, Konecki has celebrated holidays and life events with them. “I call Terri and Dave my Sherlock parents,” she says with a laugh.
Group members say that when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, there’s always something new to explore — and with The Sound of the Baskervilles, they don’t have to explore on their own. “Everyone is so nice and so smart,” Konecki says. “How can you not want to hang out with nice, smart people?”