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THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
THE ECTOPLASMIC MAN
By Daniel Stashower
Titan Books, October 2009 (Originally printed in 1985) ($9.95)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
The time is 1910. The location is London, England. Sherlock Holmes is at the peak of his investigative powers. Harry Houdini is starting his climb to fame as the worldís greatest escape artist. The two men are thrown together when Houdini is arrested for the theft of documents that if made public would compromise His Majestyís Government. The only way a thief could have gotten to the documents was to have the ability to walk through solid walls. The only man who professes to be able to do this is the Ectoplasmic Man currently performing at the Savoy, Harry Houdini. Houdini himself put on a private demonstration of his ability to walk through a solid brick wall for Lestrade as well as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Muddy footprints in the middle of the room confirm that Houdini had somehow penetrated the vault.
When Houdiniís wife, Bess, desperately asks Holmes help to find the real thief to clear her husbandís name, Holmes soon discovers the crime is more than a manís honor, but reaches high international politics and down into the depths of human hatred. The case is far from clear. The muddy footprints Lestrade is convinced prove Houdiniís guilt, Holmes discovers on inspection are only in the middle of the room. There are no muddy prints anywhere else. Did Lestrade think Houdini somehow appeared in the middle of the room or did he think Houdini walked on his hands? Then there is the murder of a Countess Valenka, whose body is stuffed in one of Houdiniís trunks at the Savoy. What has her murder to do with the theft of the documents and Houdini? A further mystery: is the body in the trunk the same woman Dr. Watson said he interviewed yesterday? And why does Holmes place so much importance on a milk can?
For the general reader, I highly recommend this book as a fast-paced entertaining mystery story. Daniel Stashower has written a neat little mystery. The settings and characters work. The prose is straightforward and not affected with trying to sound Victorian. Though the main character is Sherlock Holmes, the reader can be thoroughly ignorant of the detective and still enjoy the book. And who knows, this may lead to discovering the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
For the followers of Sherlock Holmes, I can recommend this book as a faithful pastiche. Daniel Stashower is both a Sherlockian and a magician. He succeeds in capturing the character of Dr. Watson. It is through Watson that we experience the stories and so with this book. Watson is the loyal, courageous, and honorable English gentleman whose hero is Sherlock Holmes. Stashower captures the great affection Watson has for Holmes and what Holmes owes to his ever-faithful friend Watson.
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