Friday, June 12, 2015

FFB Review: "THE ADVENTURE OF THE ECTOPLASMIC MAN (1985) by Daniel Stashower (Reviewed by Barry Ergang)

Barry is back today with another review for Friday’s Forgotten Books hosted by Patti Abbott author of Concrete Angel among other works. As happens most of the time with Barry’s selections for FFB, this is another book I have not read. Most likely I never will either and not just because my TBR pile is huge. I never have understood the fascination with Harry Houdini. For that matter, I never had understood the fascination with escape artists and the like. Why put yourself in a dangerous situation just to try to escape from it? Makes absolutely no sense to me.



Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Appearing in London in 1910, Harry Houdini has not yet attained international fame. But as he has done in other countries, he challenges Scotland Yard to imprison him so he can demonstrate his abilities as an escape artist. The Yard complies, and half an hour later they receive a call from Houdini telling them “he’d made it back to his hotel all right and he just wanted us to know he’d left a surprise in the cell block.” So reports a flustered Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock Holmes, adding
that, according to the American Society for Psychic Research, Houdini must “achieve his effects through psychic means” and that “no other explanation is possible.”

The means? Reducing himself to ectoplasm in order to penetrate solid walls or cell bars.

What ensues? Highly entertaining details concerning Holmes’s meeting with Houdini and the former’s involvement in a case in which the illusionist is arrested for stealing documents from a seemingly impenetrable vault-like room—documents that can severely embarrass the Prince of Wales, who will shortly be crowned King George V. The documents are letters from the Countess Valenka, an avaricious soon-to-be murder victim of whose death Houdini is also suspected.

Prior to starting this novel, I read about seventy pages of another mystery, the title and author of which will not be named because I didn’t finish it. Referred to as “a donnish detective story,” it is generally quite well written in a formal style, although in places I think the dialogue is somewhat stilted. However, given the urgent nature of the situation that is at the heart of the story, it feels too leisurely in tone, and the first seventy pages
dwell at excruciating length on people’s impressions of two principal characters. It became tedious so I gave up on it, though I’ve read and liked a couple of other books by this author.

I mention this because The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man is also written in formal prose, Daniel Stashower doing an admirable job of emulating Conan Doyle’s style and approach. (This isn’t surprising because Stashower is also the author of a biography of Doyle and the co-editor of a book of his letters.) The significant difference between it and the unnamed title of the preceding paragraph is the pacing. The story moves steadily forward without flagging, superbly blending suspense with moments of humor.

This was its multi-award-winning author’s first novel. Successors sans Holmes starring Harry Houdini and his brother Dash Hardeen are The Dime Museum Murders, The Floating Lady Murder, and The Houdini Specter. A standalone, Elephants in the Distance, also features a magician as sleuth. All four, as well as the title under consideration, are likely to please fans of traditional mysteries.

© 2015 Barry Ergang

Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of it is available at Amazon and at Smashwords. His website is

1 comment:

jhegenbe said...

This one was a keeper. Can't say that about most of a faux-holmes, but the ideas and execution were good. Thanks