Forgotten Book: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren Estleman (1979)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes puts the world’s greatest detective on the doctor’s strange case.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 198th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Back in the mid 1980’s I thought I might end up as a regular writer of western novels. As a result, in 1984 Joe Lansdale and I ended up going to the Western Writers of America conference in Branson, Missouri. We spent a long Sunday driving from Dallas to Branson, talking the entire way. I heard stories that day which took years to appear in one form or another. I heard the story of The Night They Missed the Horror Show on that trip. I listened as Joe pitched The Magic Wagon to Pat LoBrutto in the cafeteria line for one of the meals. I met Jory Sherman and his wife Charlotte, who were writing two adult western series, Gunn and Bolt. Jory was talking with me about doing some of those titles but we never got beyond talking.

Among the people I met that weekend was Joe’s agent, Ray Peuchner. Ray had about a dozen clients there and I thought that someday soon I might be one of them. Ray’s most prestigious writer at that point was Loren Estleman.

I talked a lot with Loren that weekend. He told me about the first novel he sold, The Oklahoma Punk, and how it was from a minor publisher and was very hard to find. And he talked about Aces and Eights, his Spur award winning novel of Wild Bill Hickock, which he managed to write without once dealing with a horse. We talked mysteries too. His Amos Walker series of novels set n Detroit was underway. When I went back to Dallas, I found The Oklahoma Punk in the first bookstore I looked in.

The next WWA meeting was in San Antonio and I saw Loren again. We went book shopping in the city, where I served as the native guide to a large group of western writers. Wonderful things were found on that trip. The following year, it was Ft. Worth and I could not attend in the manner I had the previous two years. I got there briefly but I had to maintain my normal work schedule and the like. It was nowhere near as satisfying that year, and I never attended another WWA meeting. Nor did I write a western novel. I had ideas, but, being me, they remained unwritten.

A couple of years later, I found myself in the Detroit area for a couple of months. Loren lived nearby and I sent him a postcard with my information. He contacted me and we did a couple of dinners and spent a very pleasant day shopping for books in Ann Arbor. I have only seen him once or twice since then. But I enjoyed all the time we spent together.

So, long stories lead to shorter ones.

The other day while waiting for Sandi to appear in the local Cinco de Mayo parade, I spent some time in Front Street Books here in Alpine. I was killing time and enjoying the AC. I found a couple of paperbacks I was looking for and then chanced across a copy of this week’s book, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, by John H. Watson, M.DS, as edited by Loren D Estleman.

This was Estleman’s fifth book, following The Oklahoma Punk, two westerns, and another Holmes title, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, or, The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count. This copy was an first edition in a dust jacket — an ex-lending library copy with massive glue stains on the end papers — but for $4 I was not about to complain.

The novel features Holmes and Watson being initially retained by G. J, Utterson, an attorney for Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is violating some confidences. Dr. Jekyll has recently made a will leaving everything he owns to one Edward Hyde, a nasty, brutish character whom Uttwerson does not trust.

The pair follow Hyde and find him to be a loathsome character whom they believe is blackmailing Jekyll for his considerable fortune. But nothing they do can disclose much about Hyde, and Jekyll wants them to drop the case. He made the will voluntarily and is not being blackmailed.

Holmes and Watson are reinvigorated when Hyde apparently kills Sir Danvers Carew one day in full sight of various witnesses. Eventually, even Mycroft appears with a message from a royal personage – a very powerful female royal personage – who wants the case solved. The chase is on and plenty of action ensues, including a wonderful chase between two hansom cabs throughout a very busy London midday.

Sometimes it is hard for us as modern readers to remember that The Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was originally published as a mystery and the relationship between the two title characters was a total shock to Victorian readers. So, it is here to Holmes and Watson.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes is good read. Knowing the resolution, we readers get to enjoy seeing how Holmes is going to arrive at the highly improbable solution to the tale. I found it satisfying and well worth my time spent reading.

Check it out. Personally, I blame Mary Reilly (who does not appear in this book).

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

Forgotten Book: Kitt Peak by Al Sarrantonio (1993)

Kitt Peak’s cover isn’t a much of a grabber, but its pages are packed with action.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 197th in my series of Forgotten Books.

During my Spring Break this year, Sandi and I met with our friends Ed and Sam who came out to Alpine to see us. Among the many things we did was make a trip to the army post at Ft. Davis, about 25 miles away. That trip made me want to check back in on a previous Forgotten Book.

In February of last year, before I knew I was coming to this area, I wrote about the first book in this series, West Texas, a western mystery novel featuring former buffalo soldier Thomas Mullin who uses the methods of his literary idol, Sherlock Holmes, to solve a crime. The book was amazingly good and should be known by a larger reading group. But being published in hardcover by the minor publisher M. Evans as a Western with a non-descript typographical cover in 1993 does not lead to impulse buying and rave reviews,

Still, I knew Al Sarrantonio and I heard from those in the know that I should get that book. So I did. And when the sequel, Kitt Peak, came out, I picked it up also.

Kitt Peak is not an immediate sequel to West Texas. Thomas Mullin, the hero of the first novel, has inherited his aunt’s home in Boston and some 10 or 15 years have passed. The prejudice he experienced before is still present, though not as overt. Mullins misses the regimen of Army life and his horse. The civilization of Boston is not to his taste.

When he receives a letter from an old friend, Bill Adams, asking for his help in finding a missing daughter, it does not take much effort to start him moving. Knowing he cannot do things alone, he contacts his old companion, Lincoln Reeves, in Birmingham, Alabama, and asks to meet him in Tucson. The two are not quite sure what to expect. Adams was one of the few white men assigned to Ft. Davis and one of the few they both Mullin and Reeves respected.

But all is not sweetness and light in Arizona. Mullin could smell the aroma of alcohol on the letter and saw rings where a drink was placed on the letter. Mullins had heard that Adams had a fondness for drink, and with his daughter missing, it was not a large leap to see that fondness had grown.

The missing girl is half white and half Indian, specifically Papago Indian. The Papago name means “bean eater” and the tribe hates that name. They refer to themselves as Tohona O’otam. They worship the eagle that rules the sky. But the eagle is unhappy with the conduct of the peaceful tribe and begins to demand blood sacrifices. Le Cato is their leader, the Keeper of the Smoke, which includes the use of peyote.

When Mullin arrives, he meets up with the local hotelier, Cates, who has no use for him. The Marshall in town, Murphy, saves him from a bad encounter and tells him that not only is Abby Adams missing, but also her father Bob.

Out in the deserts south of town, Lone Wolf, an Apache leader, has plans for the area that are secret but involve lots of death.

Action swirls through this novel. Mullin and Reeves have bad encounters with the Papago and with miners. Bodies are found. Their guide is unreliable… maybe. And President Teddy Roosevelt is coming to Tucson on his way to California, seeking votes.

I enjoyed Kitt Peak quite a bit. It is short, just 143 pages, and that’s always a plus in my book when I’m trying to get one read and reviewed each week. The writing is crisp and evocative. I got a great feel for the area and the cultures. I like the first book slightly better, but that’s not a criticism of this one. Try to find it and check them both out.

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

Forgotten Book: Musrum by Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw (1968)

The cover of the surreal 1968 book Musrum.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 196th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week I have decided to share with you one of the oddest books in my library. Back in the late 70’s I was living in San Antonio and my friend, noted collector Willie Siros, showed me the oddest book from his library. That book was called Musrum. About a week later, I found a copy of it at the long gone and lamented Et Cetra Books near San Antonio College.

I read through it then and was fascinated. The authors, Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw, did one other book, Wintersol, which I have hunted for ever since and have never even seen a copy for sale. ABE (Advanced Book Exchange) has a couple of copies, both of which are over $50.

How to describe Musrum? It’s not a novel; it is more a collection of odd ramblings about a lot of subjects with numerous bizarre illustrations and typography. They love to hide the name Musrum in the illustrations, sometimes pretty abstractly, other times in shadows.

A sample page from Musrum

I’ve included some photos to give you some idea. I have also excerpted the section titled “Columbus” below:

Columbus 

  • Christopher Columbus often related a singular childhood memory, in which he was stopped, in a Genoan street, by a man who asked the way to Chicago.
  • Columbus had a left eye of solid gold.
  • He had been credited with the invention of Faraway Places.
  • There is a religious reason for this.
  • On his voyage across the Atlantic, Columbus discovered several (some say six) mid-oceanic islands. The secret of their location died with him.
  • Included amongst his baggage as a generous bale of feathers – a gift for the birds of America.
  • On landing in the Bahamas, Columbus met a native chief with a left eye of chalcedony. They did a straight swap.
  • In the Bahamas, he frequently held converse with his kindred in Europe. They could hear each other quite clearly over this immense distance.

    Musrum a catalogue of banners

  • Similarly, being a historical figure of great stature, he was able to display to his waiting sponsors in Europe many native artifacts and treasures. He merely needed to hold the objects high above his head.
  • Columbus discovered a unique group of islands one hundred and thirty-two miles due south of New York. (See Fig. 1.)
  • His cartographer made a chart of this group, using invisible ink – whereupon the islands themselves vanished.
  • Fear dissuaded him from entering New York harbor. The place was infested with sponge-cats.
  • Musrum had fled the city some days previously,
  • Kneeling down by the waters of Lake Huron, Columbus kissed the clear reflection of the Queen of Heaven; then, scooping up a gobletful of her gentle visage, he dashed it against a rock. A small amethyst dropped to the ground. Picking this up he screwed it deftly into his right eye.
  • Gott strafe Isabelle!
  • Columbus dropped swiftly down to the sea and oblivion.
  • He kept a sponge-cat with no eyes at all. He was terribly afraid of it.
  • A page detail from Musrum

    A.D. 1505. God noticed the existence of America for the first time.

  • A,D. 1933. A carrier pigeon released by Columbus arrived in Lisbon; nobody recognized it for what it was.
  • For a keepsake, Columbus gave his flagship to a Native Chief. He remained marooned in America until 1502.
  • Any European rulers commissioned Columbus to discover new continents so as to enhance their prestige; but he was a monomaniac… He discovered America in fifty-seven slightly different versions.
  • It pleased him, in his old age, to converse with other mariners. A wide range of subjects included the sites of sea battles, undiscovered continents, and the repair of ancient islands.
  • Crabmeat; wishwater; hard sunshine; milkwet silvershard; Christobus smiling remotely.”

So, that’s three pages out of 160. Surreal and fascinating stuff. Enjoy the pictures. (The one with the flags reads “Musrum, A Catalogue of Banners.” If you stare at it long enough it makes sense.

I know Musrum will not be for everyone, but I find it a fascinating thing to dip into on odd occasions. Sort of like The Codex Seraphinianus. But you can read it and, in the right frame of mind, understand it.

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

Forgotten Book: Stop This Man! by Peter Rabe (1955)

The lurid-looking core of Peter Rabe’s Stop This Man!

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 195th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Recently I ordered some paperbacks from a Facebook acquaintance. I got 11 books, which included four Fu Manchu novels by Sax Rohmer, two Fredric Brown novels (one science fiction, one mystery and both great!), and five novels by Peter Rabe.

Peter Rabe is one of those forgotten mystery writers of the ’50’s and ’60s. He’s not quite in the John D. MacDonald, Ross McDonald, Jim Thompson, Charles Williams or Donald Hamilton class, but he is not far behind them. When the box with the books arrived, I was immediately drawn to Stop This Man! because I loved the cover, the blurb from Erskine Caldwell, and because I had not previously read it.

So, it found its way into my hands and my recliner.

Stop This Man! Is an odd novel. It deals with the theft of a 36-pound gold bar and the cross country chase to recover it. Tony Catell is a three-time loser who has just gotten out of prison. He is acquainted with Otto Schumacher, a quiet man who has a gift for planning robberies. Tony has stolen the gold bar based on Otto’s plan. Otto and his girlfriend Selma are waiting for Tony when he arrives with the bar. But, of course, there’s a problem. None of them knew the bar was radioactive. People who get near it suddenly don’t so hot. While the bar doesn’t seem to be affecting Tony, others are dying.

Otto wants to wait but Catell doesn’t. Selma is attracted to Tony’s style and decides to hang with Tony. The FBI have fingered Schumacher as a possible accessory in the crime, but when they confront him, they find only a corpse. Radiation has done its job.

With the heat turned up, Tony decides to by-pass an intermediary and go straight to the buyer, Mr. Smith, in Los Angeles himself. He dumps Selma and tells her to meet him in LA, though he has no intention of keeping that date.

Along the way he tries to keep a low profile, stealing and changing cars frequently. In Arizona, he meets a small town bully with a badge who hates him at first sight. Tony is beaten and jailed and the prospects don’t look good, but he is an experienced felon and soon has the drop on the sheriff.

In LA, Tony meets up with an old friend, the Turtle, at just the right time. He’s got less than a dollar and looks like hell, so the Turtle spots him some money and helps him find the way to Mr. Smith. On his way, Tony makes some enemies – Mr. Smith’s right hand man Topper being the worst of them. He makes a good friend in Topper’s young girlfriend Lily. He makes some corpses. And he meets Selma again. Need I mention the Feds are now breathing down his neck?

Of course, things get worse from there.

Stop This Man! is a good, short read that was reprinted in 2011 by Hard Case Crime. Thank you Charles Ardai for all that you’ve done there!

While it’s enjoyable, the book is odd. Most of the real action takes place off stage. Both the robbery and the initial meeting between Schumacher and Tony have happened before the book starts. Even so, there’s a lot of action in the 160 pages in this novel.

I’ve not read a ton of Rabe. Not like those other writers I listed earlier. What I have read, though, I really enjoyed. I know Ed Gorman was a big fan of Rabe’s work and we discussed it once on the phone for quite a while. While reading this, I thought of Ed a lot. Gone, but not forgotten.

Rabe wrote quite a few books but they are a little hard to find. If you find one, read it. Then look for more. You’ll find some of the oddest tiles on his books. Titles like Benny Muscles In, Murder Me for Nickels, Dig My Grave Deep, A Shroud for Jesso and Kill the Boss Goodbye make his books memorable.

Check him out. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  This week, however, Patti is, hopefully, accepting an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best paperback novel and the beautiful and talented Todd Mason is hosting for her.

Forgotten Book: Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Frank Orndorff (1945)

Kongo – The Gorilla Man was a strike out, even for this gorilla fan.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 194th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I am a monkey and ape fan. I say it proudly, claiming King Kong as my favorite film.

I was alerted to the novel Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Jess Nevins, who informed a select group of monkey fans with a picture of the dustjacket and asked whether anyone of us had ever read or heard of it. No one had, but I checked out American Book Exchange (ABE) and found a copy in fair condition for under $20, including shipping. The primitive looking cover and the scarcity of the title sealed the deal.

When the book came in, I posted on Facebook and Todd Mason urged me to include it as a Friday Forgotten Book. I had been planning on returning to the FFB fold anyway, so between Robert Bloch’s Centennial and this novel, I was enticed to return.

What can I say about Kongo? I read it. If I was a sadist or horrible person, I would urge you to do the same, but I’m not. ABE shows five entries for Frank Orndorff, including two copies of Kongo, The Truth About the Bible, and two copies of Amazing Stories Quarterly, Volume 1, #1 from 1928. Other sites did not reveal any additional titles.

So, not a prolific writer. But that’s not the issue here. This novel is a mess. The plot takes  several paths, but essentially starts with a majestic white eagle sailing over the African continent with a priceless diamond around its neck. Various groups are looking for it. There’s the team of Harry Van Hall and his friend Jack, two men searching for game and the white eagle. There’s the villainous team of The Brut and The Weasel. There’s the tribe of gorillas, led by Kil. And there are various African natives, some good, some bad.

Harry and Jack kill a gorilla one day. This gorilla was Kongo-go, or “Kongo the coward” in gorilla speak. To amuse the natives, Harry dons the gorilla pelt and is performing in it when tthe group of gorillas led by Kil attacks the camp. Harry is knocked in the head and loses all sense. He believes that he is a gorilla and part of the tribe. The others notice that he smells odd, but accept him as one of their own. As the coward, he is the last to eat if he is even allowed. Harry does not remember his old life, but he understands gorilla speak. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he discovers the use of a club and works his way up in the tribal organization.

The Brute and The Weasel find the large diamond which has worked its way to a tribe. The king of the tribe wants to kill them, but the two use their white man’s magic to play for time and to try and get the diamond, which the natives do not value. Their only problem is that the king is not honorable and really wants nothing more than to kill them for their supplies. Still, though, he is fascinated by their magic and needs to learn it before he kills them.

Then there are the Arab slavers and the lost rich white girl who is to be sold in slavery. Not to mention other characters and stories, all of which are pretty bad. The book had obviously not been proofread before publication, because words are used incorrectly. There are also many spelling errors and sentences which do not make sense.

This book was a struggle, but I made it through. It is a young adult novel with little depth, motivation, characterization or reason for existing. It is not really a Tarzan rip-off as Harry has no real skills or jungle smarts.

Let me just say, save yourself the trouble. It did not work for me and I don’t think it will work for you.

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

Forgotten Book: “Black Magic Holiday” by Robert Bloch

Bloch’s “Black Magic Holiday,” as it first appeared.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 193rd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Wow! Has it really been since last July that I did a Forgotten Book column? Amazing! In that time, I have moved from San Antonio to the wilds of West Texas. When I did the last columns, the movers were coming. I honestly thought it would be a few weeks and I would be back.

But 250 boxes of books and 30+ bookcases require a little bit of time to get organized. Not that I would know what organization is. My books are now generally on the shelves, though their order is still ruled by serendipity. I have some organization on a few cases. My Joe Lansdale books are generally where I can find them. The small group of books and magazines where I have appeared are in one area, A few writers are organized but most are not. But, as my wife says, “I have the rest of my life to get organized.” Because I’m not doing the boxing and moving thing again.

I would probably still be working on that massive undertaking, but this week represents the 100th anniversary of Robert Bloch’s birth. I reviewed a Bloch book (the paperback of The Opener of the Way) last June as my 186th in this series. Normally I do not review two books by a writer within a year, but how often does a 100th birthday come along? Not to mention, technically that review was 2016, and this is 2017.

I picked this title for a couple of reasons. One, I could find it because I had my set of Imaginative Tales in order on the bookcase with digests, and two, it is a funny work — something Bloch excelled at.

When Imaginative Tales debuted in 1954 as a companion to Imagination, they produced some truly wonderful covers for their lead novellas. Issue 3 (January 1955) featured “Black Magic Holiday” as the cover piece. It was their first featuring Bloch, though he would soon appear on several more. The cover was by Harold McCauley and I liked it.

The story was originally published in Fantastic Adventures in 1950 under the title “The Devil With You.” I didn’t realize it when I started reading it, but what the heck? It’s still a good story. And funny. I had read “Lost in Time and Space With Lefty Feep,” which featured the humorous adventures of the title character, about 30 years ago and I laughed quite a bit. I don’t have that title anymore, due to the big book sale of 2007, but it made me kindly disposed toward this title.

So, on to the story. Bill Dawson was a salesman who is touched by the finger of Fate. Deciding to take a vacation from his furniture sales job in Davenport, Iowa in New York City, Bill takes a room in the Hotel Flopmoor. That evening he finds two strangers in his room, Marmaduke Hicks and Tubby XXXXX. They have been residing in the hotel for quite a while, evading the manager Mr. Bipple, in scenes reminiscent of the Marx Brothers in Room Service. When they are discovered in Bill’s room, they play double-or-nothing with Bipple over their bill. They win and before anyone knows anything, they have parlayed Bill’s stay into him owning the hotel. Bipple is deliriously happy. Bill is now the hotel manager on the eve of a convention of magicians checking in for a stay.

One particular room is haunted with talking furniture and it has been requested by Mr. L. Dritch. Dritch had stayed there the year before and it has been haunted ever since.

The magicians are noted for causing chaos, with rabbits and birds running loose and illusions popping up all over the place. But other weirdness plays in as well, because not all the magicians are prestidigitators. Some are true magicians — and they have sinister plans for the convention and the hotel.

There is much drinking and innuendo, a la Thorne Smith, who was an obvious influence. There’s a fun bit involving a woman cut literally in two, whose halves do not function together, creating chaos. And more fun involving a werewolf and wax figures on a dance floor. Naturally, all of this happens as Hell is about to break loose.

I had fun with this story, and it reminded me that Bloch was excellent whether he was doing horror, science fiction, or fantasy. This one can also be found in The Lost Bloch, Volume One: The Devil With You (Subterranean Press, 1999). Check it out! Or get some Bloch for yourself.

I hope to keep doing these reviews as well as the Forgotten Films. They might possibly not be every week, but I will try.

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

 

 

 

 

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.