Forgotten Book: The Peacock Feather Murders (aka The Ten Teacups) by John Dickson Carr (1937)

The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best locked room mysteries.

The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best locked room mysteries.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 192nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

I love a great locked room mystery and The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best. Locked room mysteries represent an apparently impossible murder where there seems to be no conceivable way the crime could have occurred.

The master of this mystery style was John Dickson Carr with his irascible detective Dr. Gideon Fell. His novel The Hollow Man has been voted the best locked room murder of all time and it contains the definitive chapter, wherein Dr. Fell discusses the various aspects of the locked room. Carr’s major competition for the title of the best locked room writer is himself writing as Carter Dickson and features the irascible detective Sir Henry Merrivale.

Today’s book, The Peacock Feather Murders, was also voted one of the best locked room murders of all time. Our plot begins with Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Humphrey Masters receiving a note that reads, “There will be ten teacups at number 4, Berwick Terrace, W. 8, on Wednesday, July 31, at 5 p.m. precisely. The presence of the Metropolitan Police Is respectfully requested ” Two years earlier, Masters received a note of similar tone shortly before finding a young man named Dantley murdered. That homicide was never solved.

Half Resurrection Blues delvers noirish horror thrills.

Half Resurrection Blues delvers noirish horror thrills.

Masters and some of his men stake out the building. Young Vance Keating, a wealthy man-about-London, brushes off police protection. As the police watch, Keating enters the house. Suddenly, two shots sound from within. The place is vacant except for one room. In that room, they find Keating and an old revolver from which two shots have been fired. No one has entered or left. Inside the room is a table with an expensive covering that features peacock feathers and ten teacups. The police also find a hat with both the name of the dead man’s brother and gunpowder marks on it. In the Dantley murder, the police also discovered ten expensive teacups with a peacock feather motif.

Masters calls on his old friend Sir Henry Merrivale to help with the case. The suspects include the dead man’s brother Philip, his fiancée Frances Gale, his friend Mr. Rod Gardner and his lawyer Jeremy Derwent and the lawyer’s wife. Derwent is the previous owner of the home on Barrant Terrace. Coincidentally, he had been the previous owner of the home where Dantley was murdered.

The mystery has lots of convolutions, including a game of Murder played at the Derwents’ the night before, where Vance had been selected to play the detective but bowed out of the whole party at the last minute. There also are the expensive teacups in the first murder, replaced by a Woolworth set for the new one. And on top of that, there are lies and omissions, alibis and fakery — and ultimately a satisfying denouement which is properly footnoted to allow the reader to go back and see every clue.

The Peacock Feather Murders lacks the action of the noir mysteries I love, but I also have great respect for these puzzles. Just as Ellery Queen does in his early mysteries, Carr or Dickson plays fair with the reader and the clues are there for your discovery. Give them a try.

As a short, additional review, I also recently read Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older, a noirish horror title from Roc. And again, I loved it.

Carlos Delacruz is an inbetweener. He has been killed and does not require air to breathe or food to live. But he’s also not dead. He walks, he talks and he serves at the whim of the New York Council of the Dead as a soul catcher.

One New Year’s Eve, he discovers another inbetweener trying to open a portal to the afterlife and take living people into it. He kills the young man and this leads to complications. He promises to look in on the man’s sister, Sasha, and he finds himself falling in love (do the dead love?). And, suddenly, he is in the middle of a giant plot to bring Hell to New York.

There are some great characters in this novel, like Mama Esther, the manifestation of a loving house, and Baba Eddie, who works weird magic, and Moishe the real estate guy. The book was fun food for my noirish and horror appetites. It is listed as the first of the Bone Street Rumba novels. I’m not sure when the next one is due but I’ll read it. Check it out yourself.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

 

Forgotten Book: Jack of Eagles by James Blish (1952)

How much you enjoy James Blish's "Jack of Eagles" depends on how much scientific jargon you're willing to wade through.

How much you enjoy James Blish’s “Jack of Eagles” depends on how much scientific jargon you’re willing to wade through.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 191st in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week we look at a writer I have read a fair bit of, some I enjoyed, some I did not. James Blish is considered a fairly major writer of science fiction between WWII and the beginning of the New Wave in 1967. He was nominated for a Hugo Award twice during his lifetime, winning Best Novel for A Case of Conscience. He was nominated for the Nebula Award three times, not winning in all tries. He has since been nominated for three Retro-Hugo Awards which he won twice for early shorter versions of A Case of Conscience and Earthman, Come Home. Still an impressive list.

I really enjoyed the four Cities in Flight novels, of which Earthman, Come Home was a portion. His After Such Knowledge series featuring A Case of Conscience, Doctor Mirabilis, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment was not a sequence I particularly liked, though. Case of Conscience was okay but overlong. The rest, I finished but had no desire ever to re-read.

Other novels I liked included VOR, A Torrent of Faces (with Norman L. Knight) and the novella “There Shall Be No Darkness,” which was an early werewolf novel.

When I selected Jack of Eagles, I did so thinking I had read it before. Very quickly, though, I became aware that this was the first time. I think I initially had it confused with VOR. But I read it and it was OK. Again, not anything great, but I did not begrudge myself the time.

The novel tells the story of Danny Caidan, a journalist at a food service magazine in New York City. He has the amazing ability to tell people where they have lost items. Other than that, he’s pretty normal. Until the one day he is called on the carpet for writing an article that says a wheat company is about to get in trouble with the Feds for insider trading. When asked for a source, he cannot provide one and is summarily fired.

Gathering his things, he begins to wonder about his situation. He visits a stock broker and wants to buy some futures in the wheat company. If what he wrote was true, he could make a killing, ironically on “insider trading.” He visits his bank and finds he has a tidy sum, so he goes to a bookie and makes some bets on horse races. His bets all come in. Since he bet modestly, he won modestly.

He also visits a fortune teller and meets her niece, Marla, who wants to know what tricks he is using to scam the rubes. He also visits a group of psychic believers.

Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of Danny Caiden. The FBI and SEC want to know about insider trading and how he was able to break the news on a very secret investigation. The gangsters running the bookie outfit want to know how he gets the winners correct. The psychics want to know the true extent of his power. He seems to be a precog who has some telekinesis and the ability to teleport and they are not sure what else. He could be a danger to them, since he does not want to follow their party line.

There is a lot of scientific jargon in this novel. In his introduction, Robert A. W. Lowndes talks about Blish’s fascination with science and trying to be scrupulous in how he described things. Blish was not one for a hand-wavy explanation and that may be what I dislike in his work. I am not an engineer; I don’t need to know how something works to appreciate it. When Blish comments on a scientific text, it is after reading it thoroughly, rather than getting the Cliff Notes version,

Anyway, Danny has to work out his problems with some help from a friend and save the girl while avoiding jail or death.

It was an OK read, as I said. Your mileage may vary. I will probably not revisit another Blish title in the immediate future though.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely talented and vivacious Todd Mason is doing those honors.

 

 

 

Forgotten Book: The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (The Insidious Fu Manchu) by Sax Rohmer

Rohmer's Fu Manchu was an iconic super villain but from a less politically correct time. Approach at your own risk.

Rohmer’s Fu Manchu was an iconic super villain but from a less politically correct time. Approach at your own risk.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 190th in my series of Forgotten Books.

As I have mentioned several times in the Friday Forgotten Film columns I am a fan of Dr. Fu Manchu. I’m not quite sure where that obsession comes from. I had encountered the not-so-good Doctor in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. as a freshman in high school and I must have encountered the name in other, earlier places. Nonetheless, in the Fall of 1967 my folks asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I was apparently reading a Pyramid paperback at the time because there was an ad for the Fu Manchu books in the back.

I told my mother I wanted as many of these as she could get me. She ordered them all. I think there were 12 listed at the time but only 7 or 8 were in stock so that was what I got along with the Modern Library hardcover of Adventures in Time and Space by Healey and McComas. It was a great Christmas.

I immediately sat down and began to read them. I was enthralled and plowed through them rapidly, even though they were a tiny bit dull to me at the time and hard to read. Pyramid used narrow gutters and small type so you had to strain sometimes to read the page.

Over the years I acquired the other titles and many more Sax Rohmer books. I read many of them and meant to read even more. Most were gone in the great book sale of 2007 (some even before then).

The upshot is that the other day I was in Half Price Books in San Antonio (which I will dearly miss now that I am moving) and they had seven of the Pyramid Fu Manchu titles on a spinner rack for $3 each. I snapped them up and was very happy. I knew I would be doing the opening title as one of my forgotten books.

So the other day I was using the Kindle app on my iPad 2 which is great for reading. I was looking for something to review and I almost started on The Devil Tree of El Dorado (which will be coming soon). I checked the listing on my Kindle and saw the Sax Rohmer Mega-Pack that Wildside Press had done. I contained the first three Fu Manchu novels as well as a lot of other novels.

I started in and was soon enmeshed in the London of pre-WWI. Dr. Petrie is surprised one night when his old friend Sir Dennis Nayland Smith arrives late from Burma and begins to tell him a fantastic story. Smith is now working as an agent for His Majesty’s government and has run across an Asian genius who has plans that include world domination. This evil genius is described as “Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, … one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present … Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

The novel details Smith and Petrie’s efforts to stop Fu Manchu from killing several people seen as impediments in his plan. It is pretty episodic, indicating that it was first a series of novellas later knit together to make the novel.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes is vastly superior to his villains with the possible exception of Moriarity, there is no doubt that Fu Manchu is, by far, the superior intellect. Smith and Petrie escape by luck and with help on multiple occasions.

The book features some wonderful touches – a giant centipede, poisonous spiders, dacoits, Kali thugees, giant poisonous mushrooms, sinister poisons, a golden elixir, death traps, locked room murders and more.

Born out of the “yellow peril” era, it is certainly not PC and could probably not be published today, but I found it as enthralling now as I did 49 years ago. And with my Kindle, I could make the type size easy to read and not get the headaches that those old Pyramid paperbacks used to cause.

As usual, all my taste is in my mouth. Fu Manchu has been parodied so many times, it is sometimes hard to remember he is one of the first super-villains to appear in literature. He will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely talented and vivacious Todd Mason is doing those honors.

Forgotten Book: The Lost Continent (Beyond Thirty) by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1915, 1955)

The Lost Continent isn't exactly a Burroughs masterpiece.

The Lost Continent isn’t exactly a Burroughs masterpiece.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 189th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Somehow in 189 review essays, I have never tackled a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. ERB was one of the first writers I read regularly, though the titles I had access to were pretty random. When I lived in Iowa Park, Texas (1962 – 1967), the local library was pretty small but they had some ERB, some Tom Swift (the original series) and a smattering of other stuff. So, I read some Venus books, some Pellucidar and other titles, though no Tarzan. They had none of those.

When I got to San Antonio in 1967, the school had a book fair and I saw a copy of Thuvia, Maid of Mars with the Roy Krenkel cover and I fell in love with that series. Mars was Heaven, to quote Mr. Bradbury. So I read a lot of Burroughs. But as a collector I never had many ERB titles. The good ones were already too expensive. I had copies of them all, just no collectible first editions.

In college, I ran across the Fantasy Press edition of Beyond Thirty and The Maneater, a collection of two short novels which had not been reprinted from their early pulp days. I kept that book for many years, but it is now long gone.

I read it back in the 70’s, when I purchased the Fantasy Press edition, and thought it was OK. Not Africa-, Mars-, Venus- or Pellucidar-comparable, but OK. So when I found a UK paperback of Beyond Thirty — now retitled The Lost Continent and with an odd cover — for 50 cents recently, I picked it up with the idea of making it a Forgotten Book.

The novel was written in 1915, just three years after A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes and was directly affected by World War I. It tells the story of Lt. Jefferson Turck of the Pan American Navy and is set in 2137. Some 200 years earlier, a great war in Europe caused the Western Hemisphere (and its one giant nation Pan America) to declare the rest of the world off limits. Pan America controlled from meridian 30° West to 175° West. The Navy patrolled these coordinates. Lt. Turck is patrolling from Iceland to the Azores in his flying submarine, which can travel in the air or below the waves, when the craft suffers an engine failure as well as a wireless failure. A giant storm pushes the ship into those forbidden zones. Entry into the zone is punishable by death, regardless of the circumstances.

Faced with this likelihood, the ship stops for repairs and Turck goes out fishing with three men. During the fishing trip, his boat is separated from the ship and the four men find themselves left behind.

Not wanting to travel across the Atlantic in a small motorized ship, they decide to try for Europe, specifically England. When they arrive they find themselves hunted by Tigers, but their weapons are sufficient to keep the beasts away. Soon they are near London, where they find lions abounding, and they rescue a young maiden from a semi-human tribesman. The girl turns out to be Victory, the Queen of England! She is in trouble as Buckingham, a member of her tribe, has killed her father the King and wants to marry her so he can become King himself. Buckingham does not like Turck and soon captures him and offers him as a sacrifice to the lions.

With Victory’s help he escapes and she joins the four men as they explore continental Europe. Turck falls in love with Victory and is surprised when she and one of the crewmen desert the remainder of the party and leave them stranded. Here they encounter an army of Abyssinians who are well trained and organized. Turck alone is captured and taken to the local commander, who makes him his personal manservant, which irks Turck since he has never been a servant to a black man before. Whites are inferior to the Abyssinians, and he is treated poorly.

Soon the Emperor Menelek XIV visits, and when presented with captured slaves, immediately picks out Victory as his next paramour. Turck does not like this and has to find a way to rescue her.

Our hero eventually wins out and is reunited with her, the remainder of the crew and makes it back to his world, where things have changed and he is now a hero rather than a condemned traitor.

All in all, it’s an OK read, but not nearly as good as others from this time period. The final 20 pages is extremely rushed, and events which should have taken chapters are shunted off in two sentences. It is lesser Burroughs and it is not hard to see why it took 40 years to be collected. It also suffers from an attitude against the non-white races that I found pretty blatant and jarring to current sensibilities, which is not surprising given some of the charges leveled against his Tarzan books from the same period.

If you’ve read all the other ERB, you should read it. But if you have not, don’t go out of your way to locate it.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick (1969)

The title character of PKD's Galactic Pot-Healer heads to another planet where he faces an appropriately triply fate.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 188th in my series of Forgotten Books.

One of my early writing heroes was Philip K. Dick. The man was a lunatic genius. Somewhere around 1966, my friend Joe Pearson gave me a copy of The Man in the High Castle in paperback. It was mind blowing. And I reread it almost immediately.

And nearly failed German because of it! With a name beginning with “C,” I was in the front row. But my German teacher was a Luxembourger who fled the Nazi invasion, so she was death on the Nazis and a swastika would send her into a tirade in three or four languages. Well, the Popular Library edition had a US map with the Swastika and Rising Sun over the map. I had just finished my final exam (I was carrying a strong A in the class) and I was reading High Castle right in front of her while she was grading my paper. And that cover was facing her!

When I realized what I was doing, I immediately put the book cover on my desk top. I continued reading but she could no longer see the cover.

So I was a rabid PKD fan and every time I found one of his novels or collections, I bought it. Most of them were 50 cents or less. In 1969, Galactic Pot-Healer came out and I read it and it moved to the top of my favorite PKD books. For most people, the list is High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, Martian Time Slip, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly, in some semblance of that order. But I really loved Pot-Healer, The Game Players of Titan, The Zap Gun and Counter-Clock World, too. The mid to late 1960’s were a very productive time for Dick.

When I saw Galactic Pot-Healer in the Waldenbooks at North Star Mall, I plopped down my 60 cents and took it home. At 144 pages, it did not take long to finish. Wow! Teenage mind blown. I eventually got the SF Book Club hardcover version and kept that for many years,

Joe Fernwright is a pot-healer. He takes pots – ceramic and otherwise – and restores them to their former glory, sometimes better than originally made. Unfortunately, in his future America, there is not much call for his line of work. So he gets his daily cash dole and spends it immediately. It devalues up to 80 percent in 24 hours. He has a depressing life until he gets a message: “Pot-Healer I Need You. And I Will Pay”. He gets another note that says, “I Will Pay You Thirty-Five Thousand Crumbles.” He checks with his bank to get an approximation of how much this is in real money. He is told $200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00.

Joe’s interest is piqued. An entity known as the Glimmung is raising the sunken city of Heldscalla from the bottom of an alien ocean on Sirius Five, aka Plowman’s Planet. He is part of an elite team of humans and aliens brought to the planet to achieve this task. The Glimmung (also featured in PKD’s YA book Nick and the Glimmung) is hard to describe, looking sometimes like a gyroscope or a teenage girl or the contents of an ocean all at once.

Arriving at Plowman’s Planet, Joe is greeted by the Kalends, another alien race, who sell him the Book. They only sell one book and it claims to know the past, present and future. In perusing it, Joe sees that things may not go so well for him or the Glimmung, which brings about interesting discussions of fate, fatalism, predestination and other philosophies PKD puts interesting spins on. Joe learns his fate may or may not involve dying, meaning his character has a very trippy experience.

It’s a very complex book and one I understand somewhat better at 64 than I did at 17. If you like PKD, and you all really should, it is a rewarding experience.

But as always, your mileage may vary.

As I quick throwaway, just a few minutes before writing this I finished up The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax, a first mystery novel by Andrew Cartmel, and it was fabulous! Nearly 500 pages and I read it in two evenings. All about collecting jazz records from the mid 1960’s and the wonderful mania that is searching for treasures (like PKD paperbacks) and the joys and pitfalls of finding it. It’s just out from Titan Books for $14.95 and worth every bit of it. I am now anxious for the next book in the series which is scheduled for May 2017. Check it out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer (1931)

The dialogue in Stuart Palmer's The Penguin Pool Murder is a major selling point.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 187th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I love a good mystery. A locked room mystery is even better. And a good noir story with blazing guns and snappy dialogue is my forte. I’m not much on amateur detectives or cozy mysteries. So, why was I reading a Golden Age mystery with a spinster school teacher working with the New York homicide Inspector?

There were several things leading up to it. I had recently found a nice trade paperback of this novel. It is the first in the Hildegard Withers series. I have seen the filmed version with Edna May Oliver and James Gleason a couple of times, as well as Oliver’s other two appearances in the role and at least one time with Zasu Pitts filling the role. I would love to see the made-for-TV movie from 1972 with Eve Arden in the role.

Miss Withers is taking her third grade class on a trip to the New York Aquarium where she trips up a pickpocket. While arguing occurs among the guards, the pickpocket escapes. When a dead man falls into the temporary penguin pool, she is the first to notice the body and has the guards call for the police. The police include Inspector Oscar Piper, her main foil throughout the tale.

The dead man is Gerald “Jerry” Lester, a local trader with a seat on the Stock Exchange. His wife Gwen is at the aquarium with an old friend/flame Phillip Seymour, a local attorney. Piper, of course, suspects the wife and boyfriend, particularly once the boyfriend admits to knocking Lester out and hiding him away. Other potential suspects include the aquarium director, Bertrand Hemingway, another attorney Barry Costello and pickpocket Chicago Lew McGirr. It seems a fairly open-and-shut case, especially when Seymour confesses to killing Lester. Unfortunately, his confession contains factual errors not supported by the coroner’s report.

Miss Withers, being industrious, inserts herself into the case, taking notes as all the suspects are questioned and noticing things the police do not. She is the first to discredit Seymour’s confession.

The events in the story take place almost immediately after the Great Crash of 1929 and several of the players here were clients of Lester. They lost big time in the margin call. And then there’s Lester’s secretary who may have had an interest in more than dictation. Gwen does not love Lester and wants to spend his money, but he took a big hit and is trying to cut back expenses.

The novel is fairly straightforward, with Palmer playing fair with the reader. The clues are there and an observant reader can figure out who the killer is. I suspected I knew about 2/3 of the way through — and my reasoning was correct.

What makes this novel special is the dialogue, particularly that between Miss Withers and Inspector Piper. They have a great relationship in the book and in the films. Palmer was a former newsman and he knew his characters well.

Now with this being a novel of the early 1930s, there are some social issues that might offend modern readers. There is social racism, nothing overt, but typical of the time. The police, except Piper, are close to buffoons and do not mind some breaking and entry or obtaining evidence in ways that would get your case laughed out of court nowadays. But I could live with that.

I enjoyed the book. It is not very long: fewer than 200 trade paperback sized pages. The plotting was good. In fact, Palmer ended up moving to Hollywood to work in the film industry. He worked briefly with one of my favorites, Craig Rice, and eventually they collaborated on some John J. Malone and Hildegard Withers stories. Those also are worth reading. He also worked on the Falcon, Lone Wolf and Bulldog Drummond movie series.

Check it out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: The Opener of the Way by Robert Block (1945 and 1976)

Many options, some very pricey, exist for purchasing Robert Bloch's The Opener of the Way

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 186th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Like most readers, I go through phases where I binge on certain types of books and try to collect them in various editions. One of my longer manias involved Arkham House books. I went through several stages where I wanted the words to all their titles or I wanted nice collectible copies of all their volumes. That path, I can assure, you will lead to destitution and madness. That would particularly be true now if you are starting your collection now and do not have really deep, deep pockets.

Back when I was looking at the Arkham House titles, they were expensive. And, while I work with accounting and money and the like, I have never been one to let my better judgment stand in the way of something I want. Well, not quite true. In 1973, I was offered a presentation copy of Lewis Carroll’s Phantasmagoria for a mere $150. At the time, I was working maybe 20 hours a week, for less than $2 per hour while attending school. That $150 price tag represented close to two months take-home pay for me. I was barely able to stay in school and feed myself at the time, so I had to let it go. But that potential purchase always remains back in my thoughts. What might have happened? What might have happened was that I would have lost my apartment, been unable to pay my bills and I would have had to sell the book, along with many other nice things, in order to keep a roof over my head, my car running and food on the table.

That book was THE ONE that got away.

I have had many fine things over the years, but Arkhams were always one thing I loved. I once convinced a bookstore to order the entire available Arkham catalog and tried to buy them one at a time for a while. They were only $4 or $5 each at the time, but even then, I had trouble getting them paid for. It caused some stress in my relationship with the bookstore.

Arkham, for those who have made it this far and don’t really know what I am talking about, is a specialty publisher, that started as a venue for August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to publish a memorial volume for H. P. Lovecraft, since no commercial publisher was interested. They launched the enterprise with The Outsider and Others in 1939. They soon also published more Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, along with Robert E. Howard’s amazing Skullface and Others. They did the first books of many fine writers of the weird, fantastic and horrible. People like Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Seabury Quinn, William Hope Hodgson and Robert Bloch. Their volumes are wonderful, filled with stories only available to those with a fantastic pulp magazine collection and deep pockets. My first Arkham book was The House on the Borderland and Other Stories by Hodgson, which reprinted the title novel and three others. I ran across Hodgson through Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy Series and loved his work.

Over the years, I acquired several Arkham House books, some like the Hodgson expensive, others like Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock not nearly so much. But I never had The Opener of the Way by Robert Bloch, which was published in 1945. It was Bloch’s first book.

For several titles, such as the massive Clark Ashton Smith volumes, I got the British publisher Neville Spearman’s 1970’s reprints. Sure, you had to order them from England and it took forever and the postage was expensive, but CAS was worth it. Spearman did The Opener of the Way in 1974 but I missed it. Again, funds were a big reason.

In 1976, British publisher Panther released the massive collection in two paperback volumes, The Opener of the Way and The House of the Hatchet. Last year, I got the first of those volumes, not realizing it did not contain all of the hardcover title. And that is what I read this week.

This volume contains ten stories from the hardcover edition, including the title story, “Beetles,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” and “The Fiddler’s Fee,” all stories I really liked. They suffer slightly from being together, as many of the stories contain that final line that serves as a “Gotcha!” with the Ripper story being a superb example. Others you could see coming.

I like Robert Bloch’s work. About 6 months ago I reviewed his novel The Will to Kill here and it was great. This volume holds up reasonably well. It does represent early work by Bloch who matured as he wrote more.

Those who want the whole volume can get the Arkham House volume (starting in the $400 + range on up to a price with a comma in it), the Neville Spearman edition ($30 to $750), the two paperbacks (between $10 and $20 each) or The Early Fears by Bloch (Fedogan and Bremer, 1993), which reprints all of Opener (except the introduction) and Pleasant Dreams, another early collection.

Go forth and collect.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Iroshi by Cary Osborne (1995)

Cary Osborne's Iroshi transports the ronin story to space.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 185th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week’s selection is certainly a Forgotten Book. I have had a copy for about 20 years, except for a brief period after I sold my library, after which I acquired another copy. Cary Osborne has been a friend for more than 20 years and she is one of the nicest people I know. That said, I am ashamed to say I did not actually sit down and read Iroshi until last week. I had it and it was around, but I didn’t get the compulsion to read it versus some other books.

So, confessions aside, I read Iroshi the other day and really enjoyed it. It is not a perfect novel. It is a first novel, and it has some of the regular problems associated with those books. But, it was enjoyable.

Laicy Campbell is a young woman on Siebeling, one of the many inhabited mining planets around the galaxy. Her father took off one day and left Laicy’s mom and family flat. They took in wash and did other chores to get by. At 12, Laicy started in on martial arts. Her instructor, Robert Crowell, taught her for five years in the various fighting styles. Where she excelled was in kendo, working with swords. After the five years, Crowell sent her to Earth to train with his old master, Mushimo. The training was long and arduous and involved reading and understanding the zen of what she was doing, in addition to the forms. One of the things she was trying to master with Mr. Mushimo was achieving the void.

While at Mushimo’s there is an attack of ninja warriors. Ninjas were supposedly long gone from Earth. Laicy and Mushimo defeat them with the aid of another helper/student Akiro. Mushimo sends Laicy into a room filled with swords and tells her to pick one. She hears the voices of the swords, and one in particular calls to her, drowning out the others. It is Mushimo’s ancestral sword going back many generations. He gives it to her, saying he has no heirs to pass the tradition on. Soon he dismisses her and gives her a credit disk with more money than she can imagine. She decides to wander, using the name Iroshi. She hears that Mushimo has died and left his entire estate to Crowell, her former teacher.

She soon acquires a reputation as a badass who picks fight and rarely loses. She finds herself on the planet Rune, another arid mining world. She senses a call to the desert and finds an abandoned town with a hidden water source and other secrets. Those secrets include the bodiless souls of the former inhabitants who are able to guide her. Chief among these spirits is one called Ensi who is particularly bonded to her. Her old master Mushimo is also among these spirits. Together they want Iroshi to establish the Glaive, a kind of warrior guild that she will administer, and to see that others are trained in the proper ways of the masters. She is again attacked by nameless assassins who fail to stop her.

This ends Section 1 of the book. Section 2 takes place eight years later. The glaive is becoming a political force throughout the galaxy and Iroshi, as its leader, has become a powerful person. Her facility on Rune is attracting attention, which includes that of Mushimo’s two sons, whom he disowned earlier. They want to stop her and seize the property that their father has given to Iroshi and Crowell.

The fight for Earth and control of the fortune takes the second half of the book. I didn’t find it as compelling as the first half, but I did not dislike it either. The break seemed a little forced to me, but I wasn’t the one writing it.

Overall, the melding of a female Ronin warrior and a space traveling society and zen religion was a little odd, but I thought it worked. There are currently three books in the Iroshi cycle – Iroshi (1995), The Glaive (1996) and Persea (1996). They are all back in print right now as ebooks. Cary Osborne’s website indicates that she is working on a fourth Iroshi book to be titled Beyond the Void.

After reading Iroshi, I know I will pick up the other volumes in the series, although I will possibly wait until the fourth one appears, so I can get the sense of closure that reading an incomplete series does not give you. Hopefully, it will not be 20 years before that happens.

If this sounds like your cup of sake, give Iroshi and the other titles a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed. But, fair warning, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: Lone Star Planet (aka A Planet for Texans) by H. Beam Piper and John J. Maguire (1958)

This little sf novel captures Texas' larger-than-life eccentricities.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 184th in my series of Forgotten Books.

As Greg Lake (of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) so nicely put it, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!” April and half of May have come and gone and there has not been a Forgotten Book column on the screen here at Sanford Allen’s Candy Skulls blog. I have been very busy! (Scroll up and read Tuesday’s Forgotten Film column for the full scoop and to learn about which Tarzan film had its initial theatrical release in 1958 and which was not shown in the US until 1966. Go ahead! We’ll wait! La-de-dah! La-de-dah! Repeat as needed.)

So, once again I say, “Welcome back!” This week, we reach back into our Wayback Bag to find a writer who was once very popular, fell out of favor, killed himself because of it, came back into favor, and is now forgotten again for the most part. H. Beam Piper wrote a lot of stories for Astounding and Analog before the New Wave made the engineer-solving-things story a little passé. He is probably best known for his novel Little Fuzzy, which had sequels prepared by Ardath Mayhar (Golden Dreams), William Tuning (Fuzzy Bones), and, most recently, by John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation). Wikipedia tells me someone named Wolfgang Diehr has also published two additional Fuzzy novels, Fuzzy Ergo Sum and Caveat Fuzzy. And, let us not forget that Michael Whelan applied his very considerable talents (along with those of David Wenzel) to a children’s book about the Fuzzies (The Adventures of Little Fuzzy) in 1983 that is pretty wonderful.

Anyway, Piper wrote a lot to try and make a living. Some of his stuff is very good (try the Paratime stories), but of all of it is at least of professional quality. One of the odder pieces was a novelette titled A Planet For Texans, which he wrote with John J. McGuie. This is an entertaining yarn with some politics thrown in for fun. Stephen Silk is a career diplomat who works behind the scenes. When bored, he writes articles as Machiavelli Junior. One such article lands him before a group of senior diplomats, where he’s forced to explain himself. Rather than be fired, he allows himself to become the new Solar League Ambassador to the independent planet New Texas. New Texas provides superbeef and is known as the Butcher to the Stars. The giant cows won’t grow anywhere else, and the New Texans are mighty proud of their independent, cantankerous nature. The previous ambassador was shot and killed.

Also looking at New Texas is a new race in the galaxy, the z’Srauff, an aggressive bunch that resembles intelligent dogs. While the Solar League is not at war with the z’Srauff, it seems inevitable, and the League wants New Texas to be on board.

So Mr. Silk finds himself shipped off to New Texas with roughly three hours’ notice to pack and go. On his flight out, he meets Gail, who is also headed there. When he arrives, he is separated from her and ends up meeting his new aide Hoddy Ringo, a man returning to New Texas after having had some past “issues” that could have made him the late Hoddy Ringo.

One of the previous Solar League ambassadors is still on planet, Silk discovers. After serving a short while as ambassador, the man went native, renounced his League citizenship and became a New Texan. He had a family, which of course included a daughter named Gail, mentioned earlier.

Politics on New Texas is a little different. Not unlike politics in current Texas. They take personal rights very seriously, and if a law was to infringe on those rights, the New Texans can legally kill the lawmaker who brought the law into effect. Somehow, being an ambassador is seen as being a lawmaker and there is no diplomatic immunity.

Silk has to find out who killed his predecessor, make the guilty party pay, not get killed himself, convince the freedom loving New Texans to become part of the Solar League, incite the z’Srauff into breaking the peace, win the girl he loves and still find time to visit the Alamo. The New Texans did not build a replica; they brought the original over stone by stone. Ostentatious is a Texan byword now and then.

This is “not a novel of big thinks” as Mr. Joe R. Lansdale has described some books. This is a novel of true Texans and fun. I really enjoyed it and found it much too short. Originally, it was released as half of an Ace Double. The version I read had it bound together with Four Day Planet, another fun Piper book. So, copies should not be that hard or difficult to find. The Ace Double has the better cover.

Scott says check out Lone Star Planet or A Planet for Texans and H. Beam Piper while you can. Then go have a barbecue. Your mileage and acid reflux may vary.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely and talented Todd Mason is hosting it for her.

 

Forgotten Book: Amazon Planet by Mack Reynolds (1966 – 1967 magazine, 1975 book form)

Mack Reynolds' Amazon Planet seems to have lost some of its political punch.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 183rd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Popular taste in science fiction is a pretty fluid thing. The field is so broad and encompasses lots of sub-genres. It’s pretty easy to be focused on a single area or author and not see whole fields that exist. As a teenager in the ’60s, I found it was still possible to read most of the important books in the field each year. Within a few years that was no longer possible.

I remember when fantasy titles were very, very scarce. This year represents the 50th anniversary of the first Lancer Conan title with a Frank Frazetta cover. At that time you had to look. Michael Moorcock was coming and Ballantine had published Tolkien and some E. R. Eddison but not much else. Ace was thinking of printing the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books.

So all this is in prelude to talking about Mack Reynolds. A very prolific writer, Reynolds published something like 75 books between the 1950s and 1980s, of which I have read four. That’s not much based on his output and huge presence in the marketplace. I don’t know why I never read much. He was in a lot of ace Doubles, and I certainly read many of those by lesser writers. But I did read Amazon Planet back then, and now, some 48 years later, I decided to revisit him and one of his novels.

Amazon Planet was serialized in Analog in 1966 and 1967, which is where I originally read it. God only knows why, because I didn’t read many of the serialized novels at that time. The fact that I had all three parts at the time is pretty amazing, at least to me.

Guy Thomas is a United Planets Federation negotiator who has been sent to Amazonia on a freighter. The only other passenger is a young woman, Patricia “Pat” O’Gara, who is going from her home planet of Victoria to Amazonia.

The crew is fascinated that Guy plans to go to Amazonia. The planet is run by women, and men have little to no rights. Pat is trying to escape the repressive Victorian mores of her planet to the more enlightened government of Amazonia. There are several early political discussions about matriarchies and female warriors, a subject which Reynolds obviously knew much about.

But there are difficulties. Pat has no landing visa to go there. And Guy is a man. When the Amazonians show up, there is a problem with Guy’s visa also, since it shows his name as Gay. He tries to convince them that it is no big deal. The Amazonians warn him that since he is a man, any Amazonian warrior with fewer than three husbands can come up, clasp him on the shoulder and say, “I take thee.” At that point, he would become part of the warrior’s harem.

But things are never quite what they seem. Guy is not a sales negotiator. He is a spy hoping to help a male underground rise up from the female tyranny.

It becomes an action adventure story stuck in the idle of a political discussion (not quite a diatribe) and something approaching Women’s Rights. And even that does not begin to cover the whole of the book.

I mostly enjoyed the novel, but it does seem a bit dated. And according to Wikipedia, this was one of the books caught up in a period of declining sales on Reynolds’ part and a takeover of Ace Books that prevented several novels from being published between 1969 and 1975. By 1975 the ERA was old hat and much of the punch of this book seemed to have been lost.

I do have another Reynolds book that I intend to read sometime, Code Duello. I am not sure when I will get to it. My experience with Amazon Planet has not moved that one in up in my reading list, nor caused it to disappear.

The Ace Books thing is interesting as it notes that his sales had declined. Yet on the paperback copy I read, he is noted in a big label, “Voted the most popular science fiction author by the readers of Galaxy and If.” Go figure.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.