Category Archives: Male Author

{Book} Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane

“What up with all the Hellraiser?” my husband asked me the other day.

‘Tis the season, I guess.

I do rather like Hellraiser, the movie and the Clive Barker story, “Hellbound Heart,” that it’s based on. I believe I’ve watched the second in the series as well, but haven’t further followed the franchise. The mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Hellraiser lore seemed intriguing to me.

How much Hellraiser is in this novel? Quite a bit. This more than a wink-nudge-nod. I don’t think it’s explicitly necessary to be familiar with the movies or additional literature, but I did find the protracted mention of various Cenobites from other sources to be a little tedious.

Similarly, there are a lot of mentions and allusions to the extended Holmes universe, which I enjoyed more since I’m more familiar with that. I am a little leery of non-canon Holmes fiction, especially when it runs along the lines of “Sherlock Holmes Meets [insert famous historical/fictional character]”, but the conceit of Holmes being drawn to the Lament Configuration after his near-death at Reichenbach was plausible. I thought the personality traits of Holmes and Watson were well-represented, but many of the plot points originated from character other than the duo. It wasn’t *quite* deus ex machina, but close in a couple cases.

It was a fun enough book, especially for an October read.


{Book} The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”

The Boats of the "Glen Carrig"

The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” by William Hope Hodgson

Being an account of their Adventures in the Strange places of the Earth, after the foundering of the good ship Glen Carrig through striking upon a hidden rock in the unknown seas to the Southward. As told by John Winterstraw, Gent., to his son James Winterstraw and by him committed very properly and legibly to manuscript.

As I mentioned in my Notes post, I had decided to read Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates between Home Before Dark and the Sherlockathon, but an author’s note in that volume redirected me to The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, the first of a loose trilogy, apparently. The second volume is The House on the Borderland, which I intend to read as part of my Classics List at some point. The House on the Borderland is commonly considered a foundational text of weird fiction and is well-regarded by the likes of H. P . Lovecraft.

I really enjoyed The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. I get in the mood for sea adventures every once in a while, especially ones with a bit of supernatural flair. Two boats make it away from the wreck of the Glen Carrig. They encounter a desolate island full of shrieking fungi, storms, a continent of kelp, giant crabs and squids, and finally an island near another wrecked ship with survivors who have been marooned for seven years. Alas, the island/kelp sea’s natural inhabitants are strange squid men.

My forever beef with weird fiction is that it often falls back on “It was indescribable and therefore drove me insane!” Hodgson’s narrator does his best to describe all the uncanny elements and then he and his colleagues proceed to kill the things with fire. Is he later nervous and a little haunted by the things? Sure. But the goal is always survival. Does that make this a less sophisticated story? Maybe, but also a more enjoyable story in my opinion.

In the later part of the novel, Hodgson does get wrapped up in describing how the ship marooned in the kelp sea is eventually put into sailing shape again. All of the sea voyaging seems pretty realistic to me, which also grounds the fantastic elements, but some of these bits are drier than Melville’s whale chapters in Moby-Dick.

{Book} Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

I was on-board for this novel’s concept. The narrative is split, every-other-chapter, between a best-seller Amityville Horror-type book call House of Horrors and the experiences of Maggie, the grown daughter of the family who survived the haunting. Maggie’s life has been over-shadowed by “the Book,” but she doesn’t remember most of what happened at Baneberry Hall (the House of Horrors). Her mother and father, now divorced, won’t speak of it. At all. The only thing that she’s told is that she should never, ever go back to Baneberry Hall. Maggie believes there is a lot of lying going on. When her father dies and she learns that she has inherited the property (which her father still owned!), she of course goes to Baneberry Hall.

(There is some criticism that Sager uses “Baneberry Hall” a lot, more than is needed. I will contest, it’s weirdly addictive. Baneberry Hall.)

The problem with this sort of past/present narrative device is that, as a writer, you either need to be very honest with the story and make sure there are no holes, or you need to sweep the reader up in such a whirlwind of events that there is no time for questions. Sager goes for the latter and honestly that works for many readers. But I can get pretty annoyed by petty things, and that happened to me here. I had too many questions. (Possible spoilers ahead:) For example, knowing a little about the amateur ghost hunting community, how is it possible that there is no information online about the pet cemetery or the breech in the wall around the house? Maggie does some internet research and it’s stated that there are a lot of tourist “ghouls” interested in the house. I find it pretty unlikely that there wouldn’t even be a rumor online that the Book isn’t entirely factual. Were Polaroid instant cameras in the 80s-90s light enough to maneuver around for “selfies” and did the pics develope fast enough to track a ghost? I’m guessing that the modern instant cameras are lighter, less bulky, and have better developing processes, but my grandma’s Polaroid was a brick and after waiting for a few minutes for the picture to develop, you’d realize the lighting had led to over-exposure. Also, in what reality was there ever the attitude of “Oh, a teenager is dead. Who cares?” (July 6, Day 11, pg 318 in my copy…) Especially in a small New England town?

There was just too much of those things for me, and honestly, not enough creepy atmosphere to keep me distracted.

{Book} Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Book cover for Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

I was turned on to this book by a post over at SciFi & Scary: Five Entry-Level Japanese Horror Stories. I’ve read a small amount of modern Japanese horror and have had Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan on my TRB list for long enough that it’s part of my Classics Club list, but I hadn’t read any Japanese mysteries.

Edogawa Rampo is one of the most well-known classical writers of mystery…at least in Japan. Sadly (for non-Japanese readers), only maybe a third of his works have been published in English. His career spans from the 1920s to about 1960, with an understandable lapse during WWII. Rampo was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. He has a reoccurring private detective in the form of Kogoro Akechi (“The Psychological Test” being an Akechi mystery included in this anthology), but also dozens of standalone novels and short stories.

This collection was originally published in 1956 while the author was still alive to assist with translation. It mostly collects stories from the 1920s with the exception of “The Cliff” (1950), which does have a very different style—a man and a woman engage in a dialogue at the edge of a cliff until one of them meets their doom.

I’m going recuse myself here: I don’t know much about 1920s’ English-language mysteries. I’ve read a little Agatha Christie and a tiny bit of Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy L. Sayers, but I haven’t really liked any of them. I think perhaps they’re not macabre enough for me and their plots go on too long. So it’s hard for me to contrast Rampo with *them*. But I have read quite a bit of Poe and Doyle. While they were Rampo’s inspiration to write in the mystery genre, he isn’t imitative of them directly. Instead, Rampo’s stories are more grounded in reality than Poe’s Dupin mysteries (I’m thinking about the unlikelyhood of a rampaging orangutan here), but grimmer than Doyle’s Holmes canon.

There is also an eroticism to many of Rampo’s stories that I found surprising for the era, though that might be due to my lack of experience with this time frame in literature. The collection begins with “The Human Chair” from 1925, a yarn about a man who hides himself in a big easy chair and finds that he very much likes being able to feel women sit on him. Nothing is explicitly described, but I wonder is such a story would come out of America, even pre-Hays code. (If I’m wrong, let me know. I have so many holes in my literature education!) A few other stories have similarly “deviant” characters.

Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination consists of nine tales, all quick compelling reads. I found the book via hoopla, so if you need a book for an upcoming spooky challenge or readathon, you might be able to check it out through your local library’s online system. Definitely worth some time!

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The Lady of the Shroud

The Lady Of The Shroud

Never have I ever felt so much like a bait and switch had been perpetrated on me…

Well, maybe it’s partially my fault.

I’d read in advance that this was an “adventure” novel, but I thought maybe this was being said by a stuffy academic that didn’t want to admit that a piece of literature contained supernatural elements. The first 40% of this book played into that notion. The novel’s epigraph is about a ship’s crew seeing a ghostly Lady in a Shroud adrift in a coffin off the coast of the Blue Mountains. Rupert Sent Leger inherits a large sum from his uncle, but is required to spend a year in a castle in those same Blue Mountains (an area in the Balkans). This is a prime Gothic set up, with a Bram Stoker requisite number of solicitors involved. After settling in, Rupert is visited in the night by a Lady in a Shroud. He thinks she might be a vampire and that notion is reinforced by his seeing her in a glass coffin and the psychic premonitions of his Scottish aunt. After a few encounters, Rupert falls deeply in love with the Lady and a dark marriage is performed.

Along side this, Rupert is bent on gaining the trust of the surrounding mountaineers and is willing to spend a good deal arming them against the Turks who are eternally bent on invading. The story turns when we learn that the daughter of the local Voivode has been captured. Spoilers: this is, of course, the Lady of the Shroud. How? It was politically advantageous for her to appear dead. She is rescued by Rupert. Her father is also rescued when the Turk kidnap him and Stoker proves he doesn’t quite know how an aeroplane works. (I mean, can’t you anchor it like a dirigible?) Things are still not that bad in this section. There is some strategy involved and it’s actually Lady Teuta who has to swing down from the aeroplane to retrieve her father. But that’s all over by the 70% mark.

The remaining 30%? Well, I got through 10% and skimmed another 5%. Rupert and Teuta’s secret marriage is out of the bag and no one has a problem with it. Teuta becomes the usual universally beloved (which happens to most women in Stoker’s fiction) and she gives up her pretending-to-be-dead rope-swing ways. The Turks are still lurking about, but are no match for the mountaineers, especially now that Rupert has supplied them with guns, a semaphore system, a war ship, an aeroplane, and Scottish highlanders to keep everyone disciplined. According to the pundits, who I now believe when I didn’t before, the rest of The Lady of the Shroud is more of the same. And I decided that I had better things to do.

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall

During my reading of The King in Yellow, I read H. G. Wells story “The Door in the Wall.” Since the collection was on my Classics Club list and I enjoyed the titular story quite a bit, I decided to finish the book before moving on.

The Chambers story “The Demoiselle d’Ys” is said to have anticipated Wells’ “The Door in the Wall.” In both, our protagonist crosses over into some other time or place. In “The Demoiselle d’Ys,” Philip is time-slipped into the past where he has a curious encounter. In “The Door in the Wall,” Lionel Wallace goes through a green door as a child and enters some sort of utopia. Though he promises to return as an adult, he never does, even though he sees the green door several more times throughout his life.

To a certain extent, I think Wells’ “A Dream of Armageddon,” bears resemblance to the Chambers’ story as well. In this case, a man named Cooper relates the “consecutive” dream he’s had. He has lived a whole other life within a dream world—what he purports to be the far future. At first this other world is Idyllic, but it turns dark when war breaks out. Cooper ends up living out his entire life and dying in the dream, similar to Philip’s snake-bitten fate in his time-slipped past.

Wells spends a lot of time in “A Dream of Armageddon” describing the beauty and terribleness of the war machines. This appreciation and dread of industrial machines is revisited often in these stories. In “The Cone,” a fairly basic revenge tale, I personally don’t know enough about smelteries to know when Wells is being fanciful, but his descriptions are vivid and full of grandeur. So also are the descriptions of deaths in “The Cone” and “The Lord of the Dynamos.” The victims meet their demises due to the evils of man rather than the evils of machines—the machines are only the tools—but their deaths are horrible in ways that only technology can seem to facilitate.

Man’s mind doesn’t fare well either in the industrial world. In “The Door in the Wall,” it’s Wallace’s business ambitions that keep him from going through the door again. The life of the protagonist in “The Diamond Maker” is pretty much ruined by his gem fabrication technology. (The story includes a long description of the actual technology.) The protagonist of “A Moonlight Fable” is also driven a little mad when he isn’t let by his mother to wear his very nice, spiffy suit. The suit is a thing of the modern world, which is being curtailed by the past, and the man just can’t take it.

Unfortunately, some of Wells’ 19th century attitudes are on display as well. When Neptune and a rogue celestial body are hurtling toward Earth in “The Star,” the “savages” believe it’s a good portent while the scientist are sure that humanity is screwed. (Neither are exactly correct.) “The Lord of the Dynamos” gives us Azuma-zi, a black assistant from the “mysterious East,” a savage of the sort that “give(s) souls to rocks and trees—and a machine is a thousand times more alive than a rock or tree.” Azuma-zi ends up sacrificing his abusive supervisor to the power plant’s main dynamo…

Wells does subvert colonial notions in a stronger manner in “The Country of the Blind.” Nunez, a sighted English mountain climber, finds a sequestered city where everyone is blind. Believing the adage “In the land of the blind, the one-eye man is king,” he attempts to conquer them. When that doesn’t go well, he tries to fit in, but eventually leaves when the head of the society demands that his eyes be put out. In a way, this is a tale of colonialism repulsed.

Whatever the subject matter, I do like Wells’ style of writing. While many writers might shoot for dry allegory, Wells is always lively enough that I don’t feel entirely preached at. Definitely a bright spot in the early 20th century writings I’ve been reading lately.

Draft No. 4

Draft No. 4

I added this book to my TBR list a couple months back when Deb @ Readerbuzz was reading it. I’ve been looking for books on writing nonfiction, but most of what I’ve found have been about writing memoirs, which isn’t quite what I’m after. I didn’t realize at the time that I’m slightly familiar with John McPhee. I’d read his A Sense of Where You Are years ago.

I looked up Draft No. 4 at the local online libraries and found that the Phoenix library had it — except they didn’t have it. I put in a hold, but then realized I was on a wait list for 0 copies. I suspect this happens when an online library had the license for a book, but it expired and the book wasn’t an automatic rebuy (if such a thing exists) due to lack of interest. I’ve also had it happen with a little known book about a 1910s serial killer. So I went to Amazon. The ebook was $10; the paperback was $12.75. I tossed the paperback into my cart and waited until we needed to round out an order. I still have a hangup about buying ebooks for a near premium price. In the meantime I checked out McPhee’s Levels of the Game.

A word about the paperback. It’s white. And it has this texture to it. Arizona is quite dusty. My white book has gotten dusty and resists cleaning because of the texture. I do no recommend reading it while eating Doritos.

Draft No. 4 is a fairly slim book. It’s earned a spot on my desk with my other writing books to be sure, though (like most of my favorite writing books) the practical advice is buried amid career anecdotes.

The first two chapters cover, roughly, the things that were of most interest to me: what’s a worthwhile idea to write long-form nonfiction about and what do you do with it once you have it. Turns out in McPhee’s experience, a good idea for a piece of nonfiction is a thing that the writer can commit time and effort to. What form will it take? Where will it end up? These are variable things. McPhee’s advice seems to be: keep an open mind and go with the flow. To me, that’s fairly comforting.

Of course, there is McPhee’s progression of drafts which is the second thing of particular non-entertainment-only interest to me. The first draft is simply getting things down, the philosophy of you can’t fix what doesn’t exist. In McPhee’s second draft, he tinkers with shape. The third draft is smoothing out the rough spots after giving it a verbal read-through. And the fourth draft? In the fourth draft, he calls into question weak wording and cuts about 10%. This cutting comes from writing for a magazine like Time where space is a premium. Ideas need to be cut, trimmed, distilled in order for there to be the proper number of lines for the piece when published in a print magazine. Even when not under those constraints, McPhee has found that this practice tightens up writing. (I have found this to be the case myself in the past.)

John McPhee is an entertaining writer and an entertaining teacher too. Draft No. 4 has a lot of stories from McPhee’s long career and some writing advice as well. Suitable even for those who aren’t crazy enough to write a book on a topic no one cares about. Yet.