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: The Memoirs of Solar Pons by August Derleth (1951)

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.