|Daniel Stashower: The Dime Museum Murders|
Twilight (Paperback), ISBN 038080056X
I still remember my childhood disappointment upon learning of Arthur Conan Doyle's death. I already read all the Holmes stories he would ever write. I devour each new Holmes recreation that sneaks past the vigilance of the Doyle estate. Reading Daniel Stashower's fascinating biography of Doyle, I struggled to suppress the frequent urge to exclaim, "But why is he wasting time on that, instead of writing more Holmes stories!"
OK, you're wondering when I'll get to The Dime Museum Murders -- after all, that IS what I'm reviewing, isn't it? Yes, and I can explain this roundabout introduction. After hearing Stashower read a short passage from The Dime Museum Murders, I immediately suspected that it would provide a better Holmes fix than most other writers' attempts to recreate Sherlock himself. Careful inspection of the evidence proved my hypothesis correct. Here you will find all the elements we adore in Holmes. Consider the facts:
Item: the fascinating fin de siecle setting. Doyle had it easy. He could just stick his head out the window. Stashower needed to research this stuff, folks, and perform the even more difficult task of blending his research smoothly into the narrative so the reader wouldn't choke on great indigestible lumps of fact.
Item: the brilliant and egomaniacal detective, charging in to solve a case that baffles the police. OK, here Harry Houdini performs the starring role, not Holmes; but they act like brothers under the skin. Besides, Houdini read and absorbed the Holmes canon, and longs to follow in the master's footsteps.
Item: the dedicated, self-effacing narrator, without whom there would be no story. Dash Hardeen, Houdini's younger brother (himself a stage magician, though always overshadowed by his more famous sibling) walks his mile in Watson's shoes with equal charm and considerably more intelligence.
Of course, even the most dedicated fan recognizes that Holmes treads a fine line between brilliance and self-parody. And Stashower introduces a twist that pushes his tale well over that line, to brilliant comic effect: while Houdini did his reading, he can't, alas, compare with Holmes.
Though Stashower invites us to laugh at his hero, that laughter grows out of a genuine love for the subject, the period, indeed, the whole genre. It doesn't detract from the reader's keen excitement when the game is afoot, and Harry and Dash close in on the killer.
I understand that the second Houdini adventure, The Floating Lady, will hit the shelves in December 2000. I fervently hope that subsequent adventures follow soon. After all, as Doyle's biographer, Stashower can well appreciate the folly -- one might even say the danger -- of disappointing the same reading public who brought Sherlock Holmes back to life after the episode at the Reichenbach Falls.
For God's sake, man, type faster! They're gaining on you!
Donna Andrews is the author of Murder with Peacocks, which won the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award in May 1998. Her second book in the Meg and Michael series, Murder with Puffins, will be released this spring.
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