First published in 1994, this reprint tells the tale of how Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle teamed up to catch a killer recreating grisly scenes of death from Edgar Allan Poe’s writing. Houdini and Conan Doyle meet up in New York City, where Houdini is busy revealing the tricks used by mediums to defraud their clients, and Doyle is in search of spiritual connection, which he finds in the form of Poe’s ghost, who visits him occasionally.
Having long admired Conan Doyle, Houdini, and Poe, and being a mystery lover, I thought I couldn’t miss with this story. I was wrong. The more I read, the greater my sense of dissatisfaction with the story. I simply could not connect with the characters, or with the story, and found myself increasingly annoyed with the author’s descriptive elements. For example, Conan Doyle and his wife are continually referred to as “the knight and his lady.” While I understand Conan Doyle was knighted, this description seemed contrived and silly. Elsewhere in the story, I found myself cringing when reading how a cop “felt his sphincter tighten with excitement” as he realized he had a clue to a murder. And later on, when describing the atmosphere of an indoor pool, Hjortsberg writes that “the close, humid air reeked sexually of chlorine.”
Despite the odd descriptive elements, I plugged along, thinking the story could get better, and there *are* some really interesting elements. I found the character of Isis engaging, and appreciated how Hjortsberg developed the relationship between her and Houdini. The ghost of Poe, though, seemed contrived and unnecessary, and the climax less than breathtaking. All in all, an excellent concept but an unsuccessful treatment.