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Book Review

Book Cover

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Ectoplasmic Man


Author: Daniel Stashower
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $9.95, Cdn $12.95
ISBN: 978 1 84856 492 3
Available 23 October 2009

When escapologist Harry Houdini is framed and jailed for espionage, consulting detective Sherlock Holmes vows to clear the man’s name, with the two joining forces to take on blackmailers who have targeted the Prince of Wales. It’s a case that requires all of their skills - both mental and physical. Can the daring duo solve what people are calling “The Crime of the Century”...?

Originally published by William Morrow & Co in 1985 and long since out of print, The Ectoplasmic Man is the first in a series of handsomely designed reprints of rare stories featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation. Across the range, there’s an emphasis on team-ups with famous personalities from fiction or real life, and this one is no exception, as the world’s greatest consulting detective joins forces with the legendary escapologist Harry Houdini.

The pair don’t hit it off straight away, as Holmes injures Houdini’s pride by seeing through one of his illusions, but when the conjurer is implicated in the theft of some politically sensitive letters, Holmes vows to prove Houdini’s innocence. The two are well matched, each man “the unparalleled master of his craft”, as Watson puts it. Houdini is largely absent for the middle section of the novel, imprisoned and bound by a promise not to attempt escape (which is a far surer constraint than mere ropes and padlocks), but he is freed in time for the action-packed finale.

Author Daniel Stashower peppers his narrative with convincing details about both of his heroes, including references to some of Holmes’s most famous cases and some of Houdini’s best-known stunts. Inspector Lestrade, Holmes’s brother Mycroft and Houdini’s wife Bess also put in appearances. The author has fun with Watson’s use of the word “ejaculated”, adding a footnote to explain that the term had a broader definition in those days (the narrative takes place in 1910), and debunks a few popular myths about Holmes. The story proper is prefaced by a foreword describing the “discovery” of this hitherto lost Watson manuscript, which was supposedly penned in the 1920s - thus explaining any modernisms that may have crept into the prose style.

Though originally published in the USA, the novel favours British spellings during Watson’s part of the narrative, though a few stray American spellings have slipped through. There are also rather a lot of typos, especially during the middle part of the book, though I don’t know whether these were present in the original edition or occurred when Titan transcribed the text.

Generally, though, this is a highly entertaining tale. Once it has you in its clutches, you won’t find it as easy as Houdini to escape.


Richard McGinlay

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