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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man. Daniel Stashower. Titan Books (2009)

A very engaging and highly enjoyable Sherlock Holmes story with a great cast, a solid plot and strong grasp of the essentials. When Harry Houdini is performing in London and gives a private performance for the Prince of Wales he finds himself caught up in a nasty blackmail plot. Sherlock Holmes is drawn into the mystery and with a clever and determined opponent has a genuine problem on his hands. The story unfurls at a nice pace with clever reveals and set pieces that give the limelight to both Sherlock Holmes and Houdini as needed. The final unraveling is clever and ties the plots threads nicely together with flair and substance.
Daniel Stashower takes an unusual approach to writing a Sherlock Holmes story, it is a risky route and one that thanks to his skill and care pays off . A typical and very successful approach is to present Sherlock Holmes with an interesting opponent, this retains the basic dynamic of the Conan Doyle stories. Daniel Stashower takes a different route, he presents Holmes with an ally as energetic and competent in his field as as Holmes is in his. Even more interestingly he allows Watson's affection for Holmes to spill over into admiration and affection for Houdini.
This is delicate ground to tread upon, the Holmes-Watson bond is the beating heart of the Sherlock Holmes universe and it is a delicate mechanism. With quiet skill  Daniel Stashower shows that the same aspects that Watson is drawn to in Holmes are present in Houdini, mixed in a very different way, the core of the two men are similar. Admiration for an extraordinary talent and recognition of the relentlessness focused energy in both men draws Watson and both Holmes and Houdini recognise the tremendous compliment of Watson's friendship.
That this does not stop either of them from using his straightforward loyalty and friendship when required to achieve their aims and the way Watson responds is a key element in the book. By getting this framework spot on the beautifully crafted plot works a treat, it gives space to all the cast to come forward and be seen. The set pieces are cleverly staged, the coils of the plot draw in Houdini so that his presence becomes essential rather than window dressing. Smart and satisfying, a pleasure to read.

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