I’ve written before about the new Sherlock Holmes books that have been written by these modern authors with mixed success. This one, The Ectoplasmic Man has a silly title. Famous escape artist, Harry Houdini, has been accused of stealing important papers which, if found, would seriously embarrass the Prince of England and push Britain and Germany closer to war.
The author, Daniel Stashower, positions himself in the story as a member of New York City Society of America Magicians. They are clearing out an old magic store, in New York in 1985. He finds a note from Dr Watson to Bess Houdini and a reference to a an unpublished manuscript. So, now that all parties concerned have died, Stashower is now publishing the case. He tells that he,
made a few awkward but…illuminating footnotes in those places where Watson’s notorious murkiness asserts itself.
And indeed there are a few odd footnotes which make the whole thing seem like a high school exam version of a Sherlock Holmes book. When Watson refers to previous cases or crimes, the footnotes give the name of case eg. The Hound of the Baskervilles. But if you’re a Sherlock buff then you don’t need these, and if you don’t know anything then you still wont. Although he does at one point explain what haggis is…There isn’t enough of them to really serve a purpose, and Stashower doesn’t return at the end of the book to close proceedings. Although living in 1980’s New York, he also sounds exactly like all the characters in 1910 England.
The story has enough of the usual Holmes tropes to be annoying. Like why are these Princes always shagging about and writing inappropriate letters to unreliable women? And why would that lead to war? Why is everyone really Hungarian? Holmes also has the annoying habit of disappearing off for half the story and figuring it all in secret. This is in the original Conan Doyle stories but what works in a 19th century newspaper doesn’t work as well in a 203pp book published in 2009.
You end up with a mostly Watson book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he is the nicest character but the book doesn’t make enough of having Houdini as one of it’s main characters. The title comes from a description of Houdini, that he can pass through walls because he turns himself into ectoplasm. The descriptions of his miraculous escapes are pretty hard to understand and boring (he just sort of wiggles himself out).
All in all I’d say this Sherlock book is mediocre, but still mildly diverting.