Tag Archives: mystery

{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} 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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{Book} Death by Suggestion

This book was provided to me by the editor for review consideration.

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death, edited by Donald K Hartman

DEATH BY SUGGESTION gathers together twenty-two short stories from the 19th and early 20th century where hypnotism is used to cause death-either intentionally or by accident. Revenge is a motive for many of the stories, but this anthology also contains tales where characters die because they have a suicide wish, or they need to kill an abusive or unwanted spouse, or they just really enjoy inflicting pain on others. The book also includes an introduction which provides a brief history of hypnotism as well as a listing of real life cases where the use of hypnotism led to (or allegedly led to) death. (via Goodreads)

Why Was I Interested In This Book?
The late 19th and early 20th century was awash in periodicals. A wealth of literature is tucked away, nearly forgotten, in these magazines. It always surprises me how modernly “genre” some of these stories are, especially since they aren’t from the pulp magazine that appear by the 1920s. It’s fun to see what gems can be mined, especially on a particular theme.

In the case of Death by Suggestion, Donald Hartman has pulled together over twenty tales of hypnosis and mesmerism from the Victorian and Edwardian eras  in which death also plays a part. Hypnosis was quite the fad topic at the time and Trillby, the novel that spawned the character of Svengali, was a bestseller.

What Did I Think?
This was an entertaining collection. Appropriately, I read it during October and enjoyed all the perilous situations. There are murders; there are suicides; there are accidents. As is often the case for me, though, (maybe it’s my aging brain) I wish I wouldn’t have read it straight through. The stories tend to start feeling the same when I read too many in a row. It’s not the fault of the stories.

The anthology has some recognizable names (Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Conan Doyle) and some rather unknowns, as you might expect. In all cases the quality of the writing is pretty good, which is not always the case when delving into old magazines. I do wish the stories had been placed in chronological order, but that’s probably my over-want for order kicking in. I’ll probably eventually reread this anthology, but reorder the stories.

But, I’d also unreservedly recommend this anthology for Deal Me In, if one might start thinking about the 2020 edition of that challenge already. The story choice and stories themselves are far better than the Hitchcock anthologies I’ve been reading this year…

Original Publishing info: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018
My Copy: Kindle edition provided by the editor
Genre: mystery/crime

Review ~ The Zombie Ball

This book was provided to me by the author for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

The Zombie Ball, An Eli Marks Mystery #6 by John Gaspard

A Blast From the Past

Eli’s asked to perform his magic act at a swanky charity gala, The Zombie Ball– a former zombie pub crawl which has grown into an annual high-class social event. What begins as a typical stage show for Eli turns deadly when two of the evening’s sponsors are found murdered under truly unusual circumstances. Compounding this drama is the presence of Eli’s ex-wife and her new husband, Homicide Detective Fred Hutton. Under pressure to solve the crime before the 800 guests depart, Eli and his detective nemesis go head-to-head to uncover the bizarre clues that will unravel this macabre mystery. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I enjoy mysteries, but I haven’t gotten too involved in many mystery series. The Eli Marks books have been the exception. Eli is a working magician and his insight into crimes are often based on the principles of magic.

What Worked
One of the things that keeps me reading a book, and in this case a series, is having a character I like spending time with. Eli Marks is one of those characters. He’s smart and funny (because of course John Gaspard writes him that way) and it’s been entertaining seeing Eli get his life on track. Which means this was also a fun time-warp back to when Eli was freshly divorced and taking any gig that came his way.

What Didn’t Work (as well as usual)
This was a fairly short story, about half the length of previous Eli Marks mysteries. It has a quite a long set up; there isn’t a corpse on the scene until about the 60% mark. This is fine. The time is spent with Eli as he meets our cast of characters and settles in at the Zombie Ball venue. But is also make for a very quick resolution to the mystery.

Overall
If you’ve been following the adventures of Eli Marks, The Zombie Ball is a decent extension of the series. If you haven’t read any Eli Marks mysteries, start at The Ambitious Card. You won’t be sad you did.

Original Publishing info: Albert’s Bridge Books , 2019
My Copy: Kindle ARC
Genre: mystery

Review ~ Guilt is a Ghost

This book was provided to me by the author for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

Guilt is a Ghost by Tim Prasil

In 1899, a séance was held at the Morley Mansion in Boston, Massachusetts. The millionaire Roderick Morley was desperate to contact his murdered friend. He hoped to clear himself of suspicion by identifying the true killer. The séance went horribly wrong, though, and Morley left the room—to commit suicide. By 1903, the Morley Mansion was deemed haunted! The new owner hired Vera Van Slyke, an odd but brilliant ghost hunter. With her assistant, Lucille Parsell, Vera quickly realized that, to banish the ghost, the two would have to solve the murder. But a fugitive murderer wasn’t the only shadow cast over the Morley Mansion. A fake medium had performed at that séance, a shame-ridden woman who called herself: “Lucille Parsell.” And, sometimes, guilt is a ghost that can never be banished. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I read Tim Prasil’s Help for the Haunted previously and enjoyed it. Help is a collection of connected mysteries. Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, our detectives are ghost hunter Vera Van Slyke and reformed fraudulent medium Lucille Parsell. If you can’t see just how much this is a “book Katherine would read,” you haven’t been around my blog too long.

What Worked
As with Help for the Haunted, there are, in fact, ghosts in Guilt is a Ghost, and there are two things that I particularly like about how ghosts are treated in these stories.

First, ghosts are  naturalistic phenomena. There are rules and some scientific theories surrounding them that is in line with the era. One of those rules is that guilt rips holes in the existential fabric between the living and the souls of the dead. Ghost are the bleed-through. This places the cause of ghost more on the living, which is an intriguing idea.

Also, the solution to the mystery isn’t provided by the ghosts. Too often I’ve read supernatural mysteries in which a ghost is given omnipotence and can provide answers when the human protagonists hit a wall. That is such a cop-out, but not one engaged in here.

The mystery in Guilt is a Ghost is complex enough that it warranted a novel length story. There a few non-action scenes with characters discussing matters, but I like spending time with Vera and Lucille. Their conversations are never a hardship. Vera is a lunch-and-beer-loving character after my own heart.

What Didn’t Work
Minor quibble: Timeline-wise, the stories from Help for the Haunted fall in the midst of Guilt is a Ghost. Guilt starts out with the circumstances that lead Vera and Lucille to meet, but the majority of the story takes place after the events of Help.* The transition is a tiny bit clunky. Reading Help for the Haunted isn’t necessary before Guilt is a Ghost, but it isn’t a bad idea either.

* Actually, I was reminded that the chronology of stories isn’t quite that clean cut. In fact, one of my favorites from Help occurs right after Guilt! But don’t let this scare you. If you need it, Tim Prasil has a “cheat sheet” for you.

Overall
Ghosts, female detectives, early 20th century. The only thing I’m sad about is that I don’t have more Vera Van Slyke mysteries for the coming autumn reading season!

Original Publishing info: Brom Bones Books, 2019
My Copy: trade paperback
Genre: mystery

Sunday Salon, 5/12/2019

Sunday Salon

Read

Didn’t finish anything this past week. I did finally get into some short stories I haven’t read in the complete, unabridged Edgar Allan Poe that I’m reading. The delightful macabre surprise among the stories thus far is “MS. Found in a Bottle,” a creepier version of “A Descent into the Maelström.”

Deal Me In: 7, so another story from the Stories Not for the Nervous anthologies. This week’s story was “Something Short of Murder” by Henry Slesar. Housewife Fran Holland has a pony problem, which means she also has a bookie problem. She owes Mr. Cooney $25 dollars and Cooney wants it by six o’ clock. In 1957, when this story was published, that’s a bit of money and Fran doesn’t have it. She doesn’t have anything more to pawn. She can’t tell her husband (this isn’t the first time she’s owed money) and she won’t ask her luckier friend Lila. So what is she to do? She tries, panhandling, but then her luck changes… Decent story. I liked that our main character is a housewife.

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

Reading

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don't Learn Them from Movies Anymore) The Count of Monte Cristo The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe

I’ll be starting the new week with Life Moves Pretty Fast and my “dailies” The Count of Monte Cristo and Poe. Since Bout of Books starts Monday, I’m hoping to get through a couple of my library books too. I’ll have a more comprehensive TBR tomorrow when I officially sign up for BoB.

Watching

I found another series-that-I-wish-would-have-lasted-longer streaming on one of the free services: Houdini & Doyle is on Crackle. The series only has a passing resemblance to actual history, but it’s fun and Michael Weston is by far my favorite cinematic Houdini.

Did/Doing

Last week was kind of busy.

On Monday, Eric and I went up to Chino Valley visited my parents and my sister and her wife as they passed through on their way to Kansas City. It was just a quick trip up and back for dinner and dessert.

Saturday was spring league ultimate frisbee finals. It was single elimination. My team won the play-in game, but lost in quarter finals. We stuck around to watch semis and finals and chat with people we know, which is almost the best part of league finals. My body isn’t feeling too badly today, but I’m glad I didn’t have to play more than two games.

Looking forward to a quiet week of reading and writing.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

 

Mini Reviews ~ Two Classics

 

Love and Mr. Lewisham

Love and Mr. Lewisham by H. G. Wells

Young, impoverished and ambitious, science student Mr Lewisham is locked in a struggle to further himself through academic achievement. But when his former sweetheart, Ethel Henderson, re-enters his life his strictly regimented existence is thrown into chaos by the resurgence of old passion. Driven by overwhelming desire, he pursues Ethel passionately, only to find that while she returns his love she also hides a dark secret. For she is involved in a plot of trickery that goes against his firmest beliefs, working as an assistant to her stepfather—a cynical charlatan ‘mystic’ who earns his living by deluding the weak-willed with sly trickery. (via Goodreads)

Currently, I’ve been reading Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman, a nonfiction book about movies made in the 1980s. In the chapter about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hadley makes a point that one of the things that makes John Hughes teen movies special is that they are some of the few movies that address class in America. Indeed, class seems to be something that’s difficult for Americans to talk about. We’re above all that here in the US, right? Anyone can be anything, right? Yeah, well, probably not.

Of course, H. G. Wells isn’t American and Love and Mr. Lewisham isn’t set in the States, but the issues of class in this novel are just as relevant. Lewisham chooses love over practicality. He’s not rich enough to support Ethel while he finishes his education. In effect, he marries down in an effort to help her rise above her station. (He saves her from having to work for her stepfather who runs a mediumship scam, which is why this story originally piqued my curiosity.)  Lewisham and Ethel’s relationship almost doesn’t survive. Honestly, not a lot happens in this book. It doesn’t matter to me; I really enjoy Wells’ writing style.

Publishing info: originally published 1899
My Copy: ebook, Project Gutenberg download
Genre: literary

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by Emmuska Orczy

Mystery readers and fans of detective fiction and the police procedural are in for a real treat with these twelve interlaced stoires featuring Lady Molly, head of the Female Department at Scotland Yard in and around 1910. Lady Molly is an ace sleuth and the Police Chief’s secret weapon when faced with perplexing and unsolvable cases.(via Goodreads)

I was listening to a podcast a while back (and I don’t remember the name of it because my usual podcast app tanked) and it mentioned that Baroness Orczy, of The Scarlet Pimpernel fame, also wrote some mystery stories featuring a female detective. Right up my alley!

These stories are definitely a response to Sherlock Holmes. Lady Molly has an extraordinary intellect and is assisted by a devoted “normal” person, Mary, who writes about the cases. Lady Molly isn’t a consulting detective. Notably, she works for Scotland Yard, but it seems that she’s mostly called upon when the male workforce is stumped. She then uses her feminine intuition and social savvy to solve cases. Refreshingly, most of the cases do have a sort of female twist to them. They’re not necessarily about domestic problems but they’re more concerned with marriages and property.

Sadly though, the problem with using “intuition” to solve cases is that, narratively, it looks like really good guessing. The reader isn’t given enough information to solve along with the story. (At least I didn’t find this to be the case. It could be argued that I lack a lot of feminine anything.) It isn’t really until the last story in this collection that Lady Molly looks even remotely fallible, and that story is the most satisfying of the bunch.

Publishing info: publisher, 1910
My Copy: Browser-based, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/orczy/molly/molly.html
Genre: mystery/crime