Friday, January 16, 2009
Friday's Forgotten Books, January 16, 2009
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn, NY-based film critic and musician who spends way too much time reading old pulp mysteries and hanging out at his local diner where he has a dish named after him. Listen to his music at www.myspace.com/modernsilentcinema and visit his blog at www.pulpserenade.blogspot.com.
Night of the Jabberwock, Fredric Brown
Nothing compares with Fredric Brown’s inimitable, hallucinatory sense of humor. Equally adept writing both sci-fi and crime fiction, his best novels often show the influence of both—nightmarish tales of the bizarre that seem too weird to be true. But, in Brown’s world, the truth is never normal, and the irrational reigns supreme. Such is the case with Night of the Jabberwock (1950), which follows a reclusive Lewis Carroll scholar making his living as a small-town newspaper editor as he takes a trip through the proverbial “rabbit hole” and winds up in the most unexpected of situations. A strange man appears at his door one night, offering him the opportunity to “raise the Jabberwock” at midnight; meanwhile, a lunatic has escaped from the local asylum; and, to add to the mayhem, big city mobsters are on their way to town, and our protagonist wants to get the full scoop. The concoction is pure Brown: a surreal voyage laden with humor and action in which the protagonist—and the reader—is always on the brink of losing their sanity. Plus—what other crime novel features such fascinating, in-depth discussions of Carroll’s literary and scientific work, or begins every chapter with an applicable quotation from the author? Certainly a one-of-a-kind book, and worth all the effort it takes to track it down.
Rafe McGregor is the author of the forthcoming THE ARCHITECT OF MURDER. You can visit him right here.
Sherlock Holmes in Russia by Alex Auswaks, published by Robert Hale, 2008.
This is an excellent collection of seven Sherlock Holmes adventures, written by two Russian authors; a rare treat for all crime fiction fans, and long overdue. The introduction, by George Piliev, tells the fascinating story of how these tales came to be written, in the context of the Sherlockian phenomenon in Russia. Conan Doyle’s detective came to Russia in 1893, via Germany, and was so popular that a host of (presumably unauthorised) imitators sprung up, creating a subgenre of it’s own in the first decade of the twentieth century. Mr Piliev explains how Holmes reached an even greater audience when Russian writers decided to transport him and Watson from Baker Street to Russia, on the premise that they travelled widely in the country and became fluent in the language.
There is something very appealing about Holmes going on another eastern excursion after his last case in 1903, rather than retiring to keep bees (Conan Doyle’s tongue must have been sore from the number of times he placed it in his cheek). While Doyle quite rightly guarded his creation jealously (he took action when Maurice Leblanc included Holmes in an Arsène Lupin story), one can’t help thinking he might have enjoyed the Russian approach, especially once he began to regard Holmes as a burden: two of these seven stories end with the Great Detective missing, presumed dead.
Most of the cases concern thefts of different sorts, which perhaps reflects the concerns of the Russian middle class at the time. The first two, by P. Orlovetz, are the best: The Brothers’ Gold Mine has a fiendishly clever solution, and despite a dull title and very slow pace, The Railroad Thieves is superb. The richness of atmosphere and detail in the depiction of life on the Siberian railway is completely compelling. The Strangler, by P. Nikitin, has the most potential, but is let down by a poor action sequence in the finale. It is nonetheless a brooding, grim Gothic mystery in the spirit of The Copper Beeches and The Speckled Band, with a touch of The Final Problem thrown in.
One mystery remains: absolutely nothing is known about the two authors who created these marvellous tales. Mr Piliev and the publisher both deserve the thanks of mystery fans worldwide, but the greatest credit should go to Alex Auswaks, the translator, for his painstaking work in building such a fantastic bridge from Baker Street to Vladivostok.
Here are more forgotten books. Thanks!
Scott D. Parker