Tag Archives: mystery

Review ~ The Hypno-Ripper

This book was provided to me by the editor in exchange for an honest review.

The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K. Hartman

This is the second anthology in a series looking at the use of hypnotism as a fiction device in Victorian/Edwardian fiction. I reviewed the first volume, Death by Suggestion, back in 2019. (Which, yes, seems like a decade ago…)

As the extended title says, The Hypno-Ripper includes two tales, one on the longer end for a novella, the other on the longer side for a short story: The Whitechapel Mystery by Dr. N. T. Oliver and The Whitechapel Horror by “Charles Kowlder.”

Most of the stories in Hartman’s first anthology were mystery/crime stories in which hypnosis was often used to control someone into committing a horrible act, rather than as an information gathering device (as I would have expected). The Whitechapel Mystery (and Horror) are no different.

The protagonist of Mystery, an American detective investigating a bank robbery in New York, falls under the influence of nefarious Dr. Westinghouse. He follows Westinghouse back to London and they (maybe together, maybe only under Westinghouse’s influence) perpetrate the Jack the Ripper murders. That the tale starts in New York and involves an American is interesting; this might be because the author is American. The last fourth of book, in fact, is a biography of Dr. N. T. Oliver, or as he was more commonly known, Edward Oliver Tilburn. Tilburn is quite a character and his life as a con man is well worth the time. Oliver/Tilburn’s writing starts a little dry. The bank robbery stuff goes on a little long. In the style of news coverage of the time, the telling of the Ripper’s crimes gets pretty lurid.

The premise of The Whitechapel Horror is nearly the same. This time our protagonist is Charles Kowlder, an American who goes to London and, while there, has a mental breakdown. Kowlder self-hypnotizes into being a maybe partial/maybe full participant in the Ripper murders. This story is much shorter; it made the rounds of newspaper syndication under the guise of an unknown author. Hartman conjectures that Tilburn might also be the author of this piece as well. It would not be beyond Tilburn to self-plagiarize and publish this anonymously. I think it’s just as likely that, in the wild-and-wahoo world of 19th century copyright law, another writer could have adapted the longer work and pawned it off on newspapers wanting a sensational tale.

In writing quality, I wouldn’t say that either of these stories is particularly outstanding for the era. They are worthwhile for their subject matter, both as tales of hypnotism and as Jack the Ripper fiction that is contemporaneous to the events. If you’re a fan of Victoriana, do check it out.

Review ~ A Master of Djinn

An advanced reading copy of A Master of Djinn was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city—or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…

Summary via Goodreads

When I reviewed The Haunting of Tram Car 015 last year, I stated that I would definitely be willing to spend more time in Clark’s supernatural/steampunk Cairo. I didn’t realize at the time that a novel was forthcoming!

A Master of Djinn scores high in my three fields of “what makes enjoyable fiction according to Katherine”: setting, characters, and plot.

Obviously, I think very highly of the setting. I love the notion of steampunk, but I think it requires a light touch, especially when magic is also involved. Perhaps 1912 is a little late to be honest-to-goodness steampunk. We have, I suppose, entered the “cog age” by then. The magical elements end up giving the era a technological boost. I’m also a fan of mythical entities that don’t get a lot of play like djinn. (This is what led me to Clark’s fiction in the first place.)

Agent Fatma is possibly one of my favorite characters in fiction. She’s smart, tough, and has a very particular fashion sense. She’s also not perfect and knows when to ask for help, which is kind of important for an investigator. The supporting cast of character are fun and competent but also have their flaws.

The plot is a solid police procedural, though one with trips to djinn-run libraries and interviews with deity-touch informants. There are a few twist and turns (one of which I saw coming) and the conclusion is much bigger than the inciting incident, which is fine. There are of course themes of Fatma being a woman in a man’s world, though for the most part she’s proven herself. More vital to the plot is the casual hypocrisy that happens when an institution says “we’ve hired *a* woman; we’re progressive now!” and how that leads to people in power who believe that their society too is so progressive that there are no more problems of race or class. These aren’t issues that are harped on; Clark doesn’t preach at his reader. But these are issues that are in play and direct certain aspects of the story.

A Master of Djinn is set in the same world as Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo, “The Angel of Khan el-Khalili,” and, aforementioned, The Haunting of Tram Car 015. While events from those plots are referenced and there are shared characters, they are not needed to enjoy A Master of Djinn. But then, I’ve read all of them, so it might be hard for me to tell. (The links above will take you to Tor.com where those stories are currently available for free. A no-risk taste, if you are still undecided.)

{Book} The Parasite

The Parasite

The Parasite by Arthur Conan Doyle

Mesmerism (or animal magnetism, or hypnosis) was quite the thing during the 19th century as scientists wildly conjecture about what was within its bounds of possibility. Writers of fiction took the chance to speculate as well. In fact, I reviewed an anthology of hypnosis-based crime stories just last century year. Arthur Conan Doyle (author of “The Refugees” and “Micah Clark,” as the title books title page reminded me) had his own hypnosis tale to tell.

The Parasite is written in diary-form by our narrator, Gilroy, a skeptic. Gilroy begins the novella thinking that hypnosis is just an entertainment based on deception. He is made a believer when Miss Penclosa, the celebrity hypnotist of the moment, puts his beloved fiancee in a trance and has her (briefly) call off the wedding. Gilroy changes gears and decides he’d like to study Miss Penclosa by being put into trances by her.

From the beginning, Gilroy assures the reader that Miss Penclosa, who has a crippled leg, is kind of creepy and not at all good-looking. He is absolutely not interested in her. But after a few sessions with her, he is strangely drawn to her. And soon, he’s experiencing periods of missing time. Obviously, Miss Penclosa is a very dangerous woman.

Gilroy talking about women, both his fiancee and Miss Penclosa, is a bit cringe-worthy in a late 19th century kind of way. Plot-wise, Doyle’s written better. Skip this one, read Richard Marsh’s The Beetle instead.


I read The Parasite during Readers Imbibing Peril and Something Wicked Fall. I also read it as a part of the Sherlockathon for the “The Scot” prompt and as part of my Classics Club list.

{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!

RIPXV logo

{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