TITLE: THE HOUDINI SPECTRE
AUTHOR: DANIEL STASHOWER
Details: no. 3 Henry Houdini Mystery
Received from Book Geeks
The year is 1898 and Harry Houdini is twenty-four years old. Because theatre agents in New York are still convinced that there is no market for or interest in escape-artists, Houdini continues to be confined to dime museums where he performs tricks that frustrate him and leave him feeling humiliated.
Something comes along though to take his mind of his slow progress towards the fame he feels he is destined to achieve.
Biggs, a journalist and friend of Harry’s brother Dash, has been present at a spiritualist’s gathering where he’s witnessed what to him seemed inexplicable occurrences.
None of this would be a problem except that the presiding medium, Lucius Craig, has attached himself to a vulnerable and very wealthy widow with a promise that he will be able to contact her recently deceased husband. When Harry and Dash are invited to join in during the next séance in order to expose what must be a fraud they are only too happy to comply, sure in the conviction that Craig won’t be able to produce any tricks they aren’t capable of themselves.
When, during the séance, Craig – who has been securely tied to a chair by Harry - doesn’t just produce a free-floating ghost but also has that apparition kill one of the other participants with a knife, even Harry and Dash are astonished. Still convinced that they are dealing with a charlatan, be it a very cunning one, they proceed to investigate. An investigation during which Harry embarrasses himself once or twice and Dash nearly ends up as a victim himself; and one with a solution that will surprise even the reader.
Once again I was thoroughly entertained by a Harry Houdini mystery. Daniel Stashower paints a wonderful picture of the two brothers with Harry as the rather arrogant and self-assured up and coming magician and his brother Dash as his loyal, more modest and level-headed partner. Because the reader knows that the fame which Harry continues to proclaim as a certainty is indeed only a short few years away it is easy to smile at the arrogance on the pages. It must have been less entertaining to be around him during that phase in his life though if he was indeed this sure of himself and his future.
Because these stories are narrated by Dash, his descriptions of his brother Harry and both his innocence and his arrogance come across as honest and loving and ensure that the reader feels affectionate towards both brothers.
Since Stashower is a magician himself his explanations of what is going on and how certain tricks are enacted is both convincing and compelling. And, as is usually the case with magical tricks, once the “how” is revealed the magic disappears.
The mystery in this book is great because what appears to have happened should not be possible, especially not in the times during which the story is set. And, if it hadn’t been for the author’s note at the end of the book, I would not have believed the solution to the mystery credible. Of course this means that it would be almost impossible for any reader to figure out what may have happened, which makes this a very satisfying mystery.
I like that Harry, in these books, is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and wants to solve the mysteries he comes across in the way the great detective would have done. That he continues to get it wrong just adds to the humour in these stories and makes his arrogance easier to laugh about too.
I’m absolutely delighted to have discovered this author and his Harry Houdini mysteries and will continue to read them for as long as he is willing to continue writing them.