Friday, May 29, 2015

The Ectoplasmic Man!

The Ectoplasmic Man was one of the earliest in Titan Book's line of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Written by Daniel Stashower, this novel was first released in the middle 80's.

I've put off reading it until now simply because I find myself somewhat bored by the shenanigans of the famous Harry Houdini. It was not always so, as I fondly remember a book I got in elementary school which detailed Houdini's life and I scoured it. But in more recent years I've seen so many TV specials on magic and Houdini that I've just grown somewhat tired of the subject. He was a fantastically conditioned athlete and he was a fantastically clever magician. There have been a few, but I don't doubt he captured the imagination like no one else before or since.

That said, this Sherlock Holmes story purports to be yet another discovered manuscript by the loquacious Dr.John Watson, who must be among the most prolific authors who never lived. It tells of a time late in the career of Sherlock Holmes when Houdini was touring Europe and found himself running afoul of the British government when some documents go missing. Given his highly publicized talent for defying locks he falls under suspicion by Inspector Lestrade and others and is thrown into the gaol. Bess Houdini implores Sherlock to take the case and he does for King and country and eventually for the benefit of the Houdinis themselves.

It's a slight mystery alas, as the solution seems a bit too obvious too soon. I expected a few more twists, but the revelations of some of the hijinks used to steal the documents are properly clever and tie nicely into the legend of Houdini.

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  1. As a kid, I was always interested more in Houdini's pop culture persona than the great feats of escape. There was a Dr. Strange-like mystique that was very appealing in context with popular entertainment of the early eras of film and pulps. Houdini appeared as the star in silent movie serials and films and used H.P. Lovecraft as a ghost writer in Weird Tales.

    There was a time in our history when a lot of the mythic heroes were, in some way, real.
    Lindbergh, Mata Hari and Houdini were all compelling and able to grow into legends because they actually did exceptional things. The current vogue seems to be about reality stars who can barely function as human but are, through some weird alchemy, famous for it.

    1. Perhaps once it was about people who we wanted to be, and now alas it's merely about people who we are glad we're not.

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