Hard Cover with Dust Jacket, 408 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-87954-186-5 @ $39.95 plus shipping
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Baker Street Irregular is a mystery and espionage tale told by a member of a whimsical Sherlock Holmes club born in a speakeasy, as Woody Hazelbaker undergoes America’s political struggles in the 1930s and Second World War in the ’40s, stretching from the Great Depression’s worst year to the beginning of the Cold War. A young New York lawyer, Woody gets a cold dose of reality from a gangster client he keeps secret from the world, then puts stratagems he learned to use when he and other Baker Street Irregulars react to Hitler’s war against Europe’s democracies. Not only the Irregulars but Woody’s marriage are strongly divided over isolationism when Churchill’s Britain fights on alone. But Woody and his friends join British Intelligence in a covert campaign to circumvent America’s neutrality laws, leading eventually to treason, espionage and murder. In a series of wartime intelligence missions, Woody wages a clandestine war of his own to solve the disappearance of a woman he loved the day after Hitler’s invasion of Russia. His quest takes him from the White House to London’s Cabinet War Rooms, and finally Germany’s battlefields, then back again to the nerve center of America’s cryptologic campaign against both the Axis and Soviet Union. The mystery’s solution turns him inside out—and how he brings his bitter quest to an end is a masterpiece of ruthlessly satisfying deviousness.
Baker Street Irregular is "torn from the front pages" where its historical personalities and events are concerned, and "at last we know!" about the secret world of wartime intelligence. Some secrets, the product of deep research in long-classified archives, will be unfamiliar even to professional intelligence agents. And throughout, the tale is underpinned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories, and the eccentricities and passions of their most gleefully perverse fans: the Baker Street Irregulars, "perpetuating the myth that Sherlock Holmes is not a myth."
The Author is an alumnus of USC’s School of International Relations, the U.S. National War College, and the National Senior Intelligence Course. He retired from the Pentagon in 2006 as director of its special operations bureau’s policy and strategy office. Much of his knowledge of the novel’s diplomatic, military and intelligence matters was acquired in the course of his duties, and he continues to be active in several professional national security forums.
As the Baker Street Irregulars’ historian, his work has won their highest awards. His 2007 book Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters was a BBC Book of the Week in Britain, and in America won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best critical work. Besides other nonfiction about Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, he has co-edited and contributed to seven collections of new Sherlock Holmes tales by mystery writers, most recently Sherlock Holmes in America (2009). He divides his time today between Chicago and an undisclosed secure location in Vermont.
The Baker Street Irregulars was founded in 1934 by writer-critic Christopher Morley, and named for the street urchins in Conan Doyle’s stories who were Sherlock Holmes’s secret eyes and ears throughout London. Composed of writers, artists and professional people, over the decades they have created an immense mock-scholarship to prove the stories true. Some real-life Irregulars in this novel, besides Morley, are world heavyweight champ Gene Tunney, military historian Fletcher Pratt, General Motors vice-president Edgar W. Smith, mystery writer Rex Stout, Office of War Information director Elmer Davis, and bookman Vincent Starrett. Recent Irregulars have included science-fiction master Isaac Asimov, Nobel Prize winner Paul Hench, cyberneticist Norbert Wiener, writers Nicholas Meyer and Neil Gaiman, and Arkham House’s founder August Derleth. The author is "Rodger Prescott of evil memory" in the BSI since 1974.
Arkham House was founded in 1939 by writers August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to publish work by their late mentor H.P. Lovecraft, naming the press after the eerie New England village where Lovecraft’s stories take place. Since then Arkham House has published the best horror and supernatural fiction in the world. In 1945 Derleth created its Mycroft & Moran imprint to publish mystery titles as well.
The novel’s star-crossed lovers, from a preliminary sketch by dustjacket artist Laurie Fraser Manifold.
Weekly (Starred Review) :Baker Street Irregular
Jon Lellenberg, Arkham/Mycroft & Moran, $39.95 (408p)
Lellenberg, the official historian of the Baker Street Irregulars and coauthor of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (with Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley), makes an impressive fiction debut with this gripping period spy novel. In 1933, Woody Hazelbaker, a young Wall Street lawyer, gets an unexpected and unlikely career break after taking on mobster Owney Madden as a client. The knowledge Woody gains from assisting the criminal in liquidating his interests in a number of businesses proves handy years later on the eve of WWII when Woody and some fellow Sherlockians get involved in anti-Nazi efforts amid strong isolationist sentiment. Lellenberg does an excellent job at bringing the original Irregulars, who included Christopher Morley and Rex Stout, to life. His own background as former director of the Pentagon's special operations bureau's policy and strategy office serves him well in recreating the grind and tedium of actual intelligence work. (Nov.)
From The District Messenger by Roger Johnson
Jon Lellenberg, author of Baker Street Irregular (Arkham House, Sauk City, WI 53585, USA; $39.95) is a long-standing member of our Society. His scrupulous research, intelligent marshalling of facts, and clear presentation of conclusions have been demonstrated time and again. He worked for the Pentagon for some thirty-five years, and since 1989 has been historian of the Baker Street Irregulars – all of which means that in this, his first novel, he’s writing of things he knows intimately. In 1933, towards the end of Prohibition, a young New York lawyer named Woody Hazelbaker is obliged to take on a powerful gangster as a client. Working for Owney Madden, and having to keep the fact secret, opens his eyes to much that’s bad in depression-hit America, and to much that’s good and useful. Not long afterwards, Woody is introduced to Christopher Morley’s fledgling Sherlockian society at Christ Cella’s speakeasy, a meeting of kinsprits (Morley’s term) that leads to lasting friendship with Basil Davenport, Earle Walbridge, Fletcher Pratt, Elmer Davis, Edgar Smith and other giants of the early BSI. Since Anthony Boucher’s The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars in 1940, several fine, generally light-hearted detective stories have featured the BSI. There are mysteries in Baker Street Irregular, but it’s something more than a detective story. Jon Lellenberg shows us, through Woody Hazelbaker’s eyes, America’s reaction to the rise of Nazi Germany and the outbreak of war. A group of Irregulars helps promote Anglo-American co-operation, in defiance of a strong isolationist movement, and when America enters the war, Woody joins military intelligence in Washington. While he is politically active in one direction, his wife is active in another; he doesn’t learn the depth and purpose of her commitment until the end of the war, when the extent
of Russian espionage in America is revealed, but his work and his search for the truth have taken him from Washington to London and on to the front line in Germany. Fact and fiction sit so easily together that it’s often hard to tell which is which. Real people, including those early Irregulars, come vividly and credibly to life. And through the sometimes extraordinary experiences of one man, Mr Lellenberg helps us to understand why things in America were as they were. Baker Street Irregular is an ambitious novel and a very considerable achievement.
Bill Crider’s Blog
Baker Street Irregular, the first Arkham House book in several years, is billed as a mystery/espionage thriller. Maybe so, but to me it was more like the kind of novel that I used to read fairly often, a big, sweeping historical that blends the coming-of-age story with the story of changing eras in 20th century.
Our hero is Woody Hazelbaker, a young midwesterner who works for a prominent New York law firm during the Depression. He's afraid he might lose his job, as others have, but because of his un-lawyerly personality, the head of the firm gives him a new client, one that others in the firm wouldn't care to work with: Owney Madden.
Madden is the first of many actual historical figures to appear in the pages of the novel, and Hazelbaker learns a lot from their association. He profits from it in a lot of different ways as the story moves along.
Hazelbaker also falls in with Christopher Morley's Baker Street Irregulars, and it's a lot of fun to see what Lellenberg does with characters like Morley, Rex Stout, Alexander Woolcott, Basil Davenport, Lucius Beebe, and Fletcher Pratt, to name a few.
When WWII comes along, Hazelbaker and many of the other Irregulars are involved in various ways, primarily with code-breaking and espionage. They're a big help to the allies, and Hazelbaker sees a bit of England and Europe along the way. He's a married man now, though separated from his wife, and that part of the story is also tied to the war effort.
I was a bit intimidated when I saw how long this book was, but the writing swept me up and carried me right along. The complex story is easy to follow, and Woody Hazelbaker is an engaging and sympathetic narrator. Sherlockians will enjoy the by-play among the Irregulars, and everyone will get a nice refresher course in mid-20th century American history. Baker Street Irregular is an ambitious and entertaining book. I really enjoyed it.
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