Mystery fans shouldn't ignore Derleth's Solar Pons books just because they're pastiches.
By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 170th in my series of Forgotten Books.
Not long ago I was in Half Price Books looking to see what might be malingering for me to find, when I ran across a stack of old Unicorn Mystery Book Club titles. If you are not familiar with the Unicorn Mystery Book Club, it was a club similar to the Mystery Book Club that published omnibus volumes with four titles in each volume. The Unicorn Mystery Book Club was generally edited by Hans Stefan Santesson (according to an article I read) and frequently they contained unusual entries. The volumes I picked up had Fredric Brown and Anthony Boucher in them, so I know I got some solid stuff.
This week’s book had The Beautiful Stranger by Bernice Carey, Fish Lane by Louis Corkill, Hangman’s Hat by Paul Ernst and The Memoirs of Solar Pons by August Derleth. I have had the Derleth Solar Pons books at various times in my collection, but they’d slipped from my fingers by the time I ran across this book. I picked it up and decided to read.
August Derleth is a puzzle to me. I love him as an editor and publisher of Arkham House and for preserving (with Donald Wandrei) the legacies of Lovecraft, Smith and Howard. As a horror writer, I find him pretty close to unreadable, particularly when he takes on the Lovecraft Mythos.
The Solar Pons books, however, I enjoy. Partly because they are somewhat formulaic. Solar Pons is Sherlock Holmes. No one even remotely tries to deny it. His assistant, Dr. Lyndon Hardy, is Dr. Watson (the Doyle Watson, not the movie one). Derleth’s pastiches are good, very relaxing and enjoyable. Not near the equivalent of the originals but better than many things which followed Doyle and Derleth.
Derleth wrote more Solar Pons stories than Doyle ever did for Holmes — eight volumes of short stories and one novel. The collection in question this week contains 12 stories and is chronologically the second volume published.
The stories included are all pretty clever, especially “The Adventure of the Broken Chessman,” which features Russian spies in London during the 1920s, and “The Adventure of the Six Silver Spiders,” which references some of the famous occult volumes such as The Necronomicon and Unausprechlican Kulten, which are familiar to Lovecraftian fans. I also really enjoyed “The Adventure of the Proper Comma,” which features Pons’ Praed Street Irregulars and “The Adventure of the Five Royal Coachmen,” which combines politics, spies and trout fishing.
Some stories were easy to figure out, such as “The Adventure of the Circular Room” and “The Adventure of the Paralytic Mendicant,” while others were not as easy. And how could you not love a title like “The Adventure of the Tottenham Werewolf”?
Each story ran about 20 pages for a quick and easy read. This was not my first encounter with Mr. Pons and Dr. Parker nor will it be my last. Paperback copies exist of most of the Derleth titles, since Pinnacle did a reprint series in the 1980s, as well as including the four volumes Basil Copper continued with the character after Derleth’s death. I have not read those, but I may have one or two hanging around. I’m not sure, but perhaps I will check around and see.
Online book marketplace AbeBooks has quite a few of the paperbacks for under $5, plus shipping. EBay has also has a large number for various prices, including some of the original hardcover published by Arkham House’s mystery imprint Mycroft and Moran.
There are never enough great detective short stories. These may be very good. I don’t know if I’d call them great, but I enjoyed the collection all the way through.
As usual, depending on your fanatical devotion to the canon, your mileage may vary. Don’t ignore them just because they are pastiches.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.