They honor the legend of Sherlock Holmes

November 16, 1990|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

Marshall H. Pinnix, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, patrician financial analyst, has spent the last couple of weeks researching the simple art of murder and other forms of curious death.

He's not planning anything untoward. Pinnix is a Sherlockian. That means he's one of the fanatic speckled band who are devotees of Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, whom they have canonized.

Pinnix has analyzed the Doyle Canon for the alleged 263 strange deaths and the reputed six burials in the Sherlock Holmes adventures.

Pinnix will report on his findings on the 263 deaths and six burials tomorrow at this year's Weekend with Sherlock Holmes at the Enoch Pratt Library.

Fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories and four novels make up The Canon. It became holy writ that the holy writings should be called The Canon when Christopher Morley and other alleged wits founded the Baker Street Irregulars at a famous meeting in February 1934 at a now-defunct bar-restaurant in New York City.

"It's like religious literature," Pinnix says, "so canon is an appropriate name for it."

The Sherlock Holmes weekend is the 11th annual presentation of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore and the Carlton Club, which are the local "Scion Societies" of the Baker Street Irregulars. All of these names derive from Sherlockian adventures. Holmes, of course, resided in chambers at 221B Baker Street, London, which he shared with the ineffable Dr. John Watson.

Marshall Pinnix will have to report that he was unable to account for the 263 deaths reported by Doyle.

"I guess if I had slogged through all The Canon I guess I could have found them all," he says. "Actually the six burials were harder to find than the 263 deaths."

He came up with four, then enlisted the aid of Lester Moskowitz, a mathematician who has keyed every word of The Canon into his computer.

"He got back to me within an hour," Pinnix says. "But all of us combined could not come up with six, true, honest burials."

Death is no problem. Sherlock Holmes himself, Pinnix reports, is responsible for several deaths. But he only kills one person, Tanga, a dwarflike creature from the Anderman Islands, he and Watson encounter aboard ship. They fire their revolvers together and blow the Islander to the bottom of the Thames.

Holmes is directly responsible for a death in the "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," Pinnix says.

Julia Hudson is killed in a locked bedroom. Holmes and Watson spend the night in the room. A swamp adder, "the deadliest snake in India," slithers in through the ventilator. Holmes beats it back and it kills Dr. Grimes Roylott, the murderer, who is lurking in the next room.

A case of Sherlockian justice, one supposes.

And, of course, Holmes fought a life and death struggle with his deadly nemesis Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem."

"They both fall off the Reichenbach Falls," Pinnix says. Doyle was getting tired of his hero. But Holmes' public wouldn't let him die.

"The hue and cry revived Holmes," Pinnix says, "but not Moriarty, except retrospectively."

To come up with 263 deaths, Pinnix suggests, you might have to include certain non-humans: "Holmes shoots the Hound of the Baskervilles.

"There are a number of natural deaths," he says. "And there is one suicide, in 'The Problem of Thor Bridge.' "

Pinnix lights the logs in his fireplace, puts on his deerstalker cap, takes up his pipe, drops into a plush Victorian rocker and strikes a suitable pose for a photographer.

"I think every Sherlockian likes to own a deerstalker," he says. Holmes, of course, affected a deerstalker and cape.

Sherlockians, incidentally, are what American followers of the cult of Sherlock Holmes call themselves. In Britain, the cultists are called Holmesians.

Sherlockian Pinnix has been a member of the Six Napoleons nearly 35 years, and he was Gasogene in the early '80s. Gasogene, another canonical term, is what the Six Napoleons call their leader. Pinnix is also an Oxbridge Scholar, a member of a collateral study group.

He got his deerstalker in Edinburgh, Scotland.

"I couldn't find one in England," Pinnix says. He travels to Britain two or three times a year on business.

"One of the things I make sure I do," he says, "is to visit the Sherlockian holy places in London and elsewhere."

And while in London, he loves to eat at the Cafe Royale, which figures in "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client."

"They have an excellent kidney stew," Pinnix says. "I always eat some when I'm there."

And he, of course, believes Holmes still lives.

"He's now 136 years old and he's retired to be a beekeeper on Sussex Downs."

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