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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Houdini and Holmes

It's always fun to be surprised by references to Sherlock Holmes in a book where you didn't expect them. I had that experience recently with a mystery novel starring Harry Houdini called The Houdini Specter.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised at all. One of the reasons I bought the 2001 book at an antique store in Chattanooga was the author, Daniel Stashower. In addition to authoring a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and co-editing a book his his letters, Mr. Stashower wrote a pastiche called The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man which brings together Holmes and Houdini.

The Houdini Specter doesn't include Holmes as a character. But Stashower presents Houdini here as a man who has read the stories, quotes them, and is obviously influenced by them as he and his brother investigate an intriguing case of a man killed in their presence during a seance.

At one point, Houdini examines the scene with the energy of a bloodhound. "It's something he picked up in a Sherlock Holmes story," his brother explains to a police lieutenant.

"A great man once said what when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth," Houdini tells a character named Kenneth.

"That's very good," Kenneth says. "Goethe?"

Houdini quickly sets him straight.

In other places, Houdini paraphrases Holmes without attribution. He says that his brother, Dash Hardeen, "himself is not luminous, but he is a conductor of light." Elsewhere, stating the obvious, he says, "I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues." And in the end, Houdini agrees that the solution to this murder is one for which the world is not yet prepared.

I find these uncredited references, almost inside jokes for Sherlockians, to be highly enjoyable. In fact, the whole book is, and I intend to look up the others in Mr. Stashower's Houdini mystery series.

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