Greetings from The Raven!

Aug. 3, 2018

Medical Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Dr. Verner by Carl Heifetz

A very unusual Holmes book…

To begin with, this is not the usual formula for a Sherlock Holmes book. In fact, Holmes appears in the book almost as an afterthought. The book centers mostly on the character of Dr. Maurice Verner. Dr. Verner is the cousin of Sherlock Holmes that purchased Dr. Watson’s practice after the death of Mary Morstan Watson.

The stories appear to be the property of the Verner family. They are usually introduced by being read by Maurice Verner, a descendant of Dr. Verner. The Verners have taken the original 221B sitting room and transferred it to their business headquarters, said to be located in a warehouse on the Detroit River.

The mysteries as per the title, revolve around mysterious deaths that have medical explanations, such as Tapauli Fever, Ergot Poisoning, Bubonic Plague, Tetanus and so on. A  Holmes fan will find familiar names, situations, and places.

But the stories don’t really ring true to a Holmes mystery. For example, it is hinted that Sherlock Holmes is not the real name of the Great Detective. I took it to mean that perhaps Holmes was being used as a fictional way to tell the stories of someone else. Dr. Joseph Bell is mentioned in passing. Bell has long been supposed to be the man Conan Doyle based his hero on, due to the man’s keen observation and deduction. Just a thought, maybe this is what the author means by his statement.

Honestly, I didn’t like the book much. There are bright spots, such as the means of detecting Ergot Poisoning, but overall the stories were—blah comes to mind. These stories have little beyond cold fact to try to capture the reader’s attention. They might do well as essays on medical mysteries, but as stories, they fall a good deal flat.

I did get a laugh on page seventy when Watson protests “I’m a Doctor, not a secret agent!” Nice echoes of Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. I will give the author only two stars… Lackluster tales…

Quoth the Raven

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Aug. 3, 2018

Saving Sin City by Mary Cummings

According to the cover, “William Travers Jerome, Stanford White, and the Original Crime of the Century.”

So many crimes over the years are called “The Crime of the Century.” Famous architect Stanford White is murdered by Henry K Thaw in 19o6. This means the crime quickly lost its status to the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping.

The facts of the case are fairly straightforward: A noted beauty of the era was a young woman named Evelyn Nesbit. Evelyn made her living posing for artists. She may have been one of the earliest women to appear in printed advertisements, singing the praises of toothpaste, face creams, and other commercial goods. She was also one of Charles Dana Gibson’s famous Gibson Girls.

Beauty attracts admirers, and one of Evelyn’s was architect Stanford White. White was forty-seven and Evelyn only sixteen when they became “acquainted.” In his apartment on West 24th Street, White had a gorgeous room of mirrors and curious objects. And he invited Evelyn and her friend Edna Goodrich to visit him. He was really after Evelyn alone and installed a “red velvet swing” which she loved to use.

It seems he plied the girl with drugged champagne and raped her. He claimed he was introducing her to a world where “everybody does it,” anxious to keep her quiet about his actions.

Evelyn became involved with multimillionaire Henry Kendall Thaw, who persuaded her to marry him. To Thaw she confessed what White had done. Thaw, who was at best eccentric and at worst emotionally disturbed, seethed because White had “defiled his wife.”

On June 25, 1906, at a show in White designed Madison Square Garden, Thaw brutally gunned White down. He made no more to hide anything, he rather exulted over the murder telling the packed house White deserved it for what he had done to Evelyn.

In the “Trial of the Century,” Thaw was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Beacon, New York. As usual, money talked and Thaw lead a privileged life in the hospital. He fought to be declared sane and succeeded after seven years and was released. He fled to Canada and was returned via extradition. It was over, however; and he walked free.

To sum up just how bad this book was, in my opinion, the story was every bit as exciting as the review I just wrote. I love true crime stories, but in this case, I would have had as great a time reading the Wikipedia article. One star is all I can muster up…

Quoth the Raven…

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Aug. 3, 2018

The Cthulhu Casebooks of Sherlock Holmes II The Miskatonic Monstrosities by James Lovegrove

Reimagining the Holmes canon as false stories to hide the truth, Lovegrove delves deep into the Lovecraft Mythos. Holmes and Watson are warriors against the Great Old Ones and their ilk. Stories Holmes aficionados know and love are cast in a different light, some of them quite ingenious. 

In this volume, fifteen years have passed since the events of The Shadwell Shadows. Mary Watson is now dead from being torn apart before Watson’s eyes by a fell creature. Holmes and Watson grip at each other and seem on the verge of losing it altogether.

We get a very grim and gritty version of The Sign of the Four, with both the participants and the treasure imbued with Lovecraftian terror. Still reeling from this encounter, Holmes and Watson are alerted by a  new menace that nearly proves fatal!

An American, Zachariah Conroy of Boston, is being held in Bedlam, spouting nonsense and scared out of his mind. He is then snatched from the asylum by a nightgaunt. Tracing the creature, Holmes and Watson find an isolated farmhouse in the Rainham Marshes. There they discover that the nightgaunt is controlled by another American named Nathaniel Whateley.

Whately tells a tale of a frightful expedition up the Miskatonic River, a place generally forbidden even by the Native Americans in the area. A chilling count of the Red Leech is part of that strange story. Zachary Conroy accompanies Whateley on this journey, and it is his journal that provides the knowledge here.

 Whateley is a strange man, who keeps collecting of weird creatures and reads from a stolen copy of The Necronomicon. Conroy has his own macabre experiments, so unsettling that he has been asked to leave Miskatonic University. He has discovered how to place the mind of one creature into another. Far from discouraging him, Whateley helps him refine the process and urges more radical experiments.

The story is well written, exciting and with a shade of horror throughout. Some of the characters are not what they seem and the reveal is well worth waiting for! Loved it!

I give the book five stars plus!

Quoth the Raven…

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Aug. 3, 2018

The Shadow 38 Dead Men Live and Dictator of Crime by Maxwell Grant

I am going to assume that anyone that is likely to read this review knows the Shadow’s back-story. The really great think about the Shadow novels is that the back-story isn’t repeated over and over ad infinitum throughout the series, unlike other pulp heroes.

To make it short the Shadow is a man of mystery. He is always garbed in flowing black cape and slouch hat, only his burning eyes and beak-like nose visible. He is the Master of Darkness, able to camouflage himself in the shadows so as to be virtually invisible. He is also a Master of Disguise, which is why fans of the radio show rather than the pulps will be surprised at his identity. You see Lamont Cranston is the Shadow, but the Shadow is not Lamont Cranston!

The true name of the Shadow is not revealed until issue 131 The Shadow Unmasks. And yet at times, even this identity is questionable. Perhaps the Shadow, like the Joker, prefers his life to be multiple choice!

As for these stories:

Dead Men Live, novel number 18 was originally published on November 15, 1932.

People are disappearing at sea, found in the ashes of a laboratory, or burned up in a house fire. Death has stretched out a bony hand and wiped them out. And yet someone is using their inventions, spending their money, and exploiting their good name. The crooks have the authority to do this legally and cannot be touched. The Shadow knows the answer—somehow dead men live…

I liked the fact that this features Shadow operative, Cliff Marsland. Behind Harry Vincent, Marsland is a favorite of mine!

Dictator of Crime, novel number 232 was originally published on October 15, 1941

In the Caribbean country of Centralba, dictator Luis Castenago has seized power. Hiding behind a carefully constructed plan that time and time again shows him in a favorable light, Castenago has many of his people bluffed. Those who are not fooled by the illusion are taken into “protective custody.” Castenago has even hired a crew of gorillas from Miami under the leadership of Murk Wessel…

This was a great novel starring Kent Allard and Margo Lane! Yes!

The book is published as a double-reprint, including the original interior art! Almost all of the 300 plus adventures of the Shadow would always be five stars plus to me!

Quoth the Raven…

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Jul. 7, 2018

The Adventures of the Gravedigger: Volume Three  by Barry Reese

Possible spoilers!

Charity Grace rose from her own grave, called by the entity that calls itself “The Voice.” She was tasked by the Voice to spend three years as an agent of justice. This wasn’t turning evildoers over to the police. No, most of the bad guys and gals who crossed Charity Grace ended with their heads whacked off by a sword.

Charity Grace was reborn as the Gravedigger, a pitiless sword of justice, shoveling dirt on the graves of the evil and the cruel. She set up headquarters in the home of former Gravedigger Josef Goldstein. She also gathered a group of agents to aide her cause. Among them is black British man Mitchell and lovely Asian-American girl Li Yuchun. Mitchell became Charity’s closest confidant and also her lover.

Over the years Gravedigger encountered a host of lawless persons, often wielding some sort of arcane power. In her first volume, she fought a man known as Thanatos, The Sons or Daughters, a gender-swapping cult and the Headless Horseman and more. Her battle could never be over until her three-year crusade was over.

Along the way, she encountered both the Peregrine and Lazarus Gray. Both shared an adventure with her, but neither really approved of her bloodthirsty crusade. But the Gravedigger could not be contained nor even slowed down. Her battles were fought to the death.

She was still dealing out rough justice, in the Second Volume; a silver skull talisman hidden at Hendry Hall is activated by Sandra Locke. This released the spirit of the deadly woman warrior known as Pandora, who possessed Locke. Pandora is allied with the evil Hiroshi Tamaki, who claims to be Emperor. This was a fight that could have easily ended in Charity’s second and final death. With the victory, she changed her headquarters, moving to Hendry Hall.

Now, in this third volume, she has one last battle before her trial. If she can survive this bloody battle with the strange people of Blood Island, including a man who says he is dead and calls himself the Ghost. He reports to the evil man known as King, along with his Queen and other Chessmen. Her heart will be weighed to determine whether she has redeemed herself or whether she is doomed to the underworld. The deal was that if she passes, she can go on to the afterlife or she can choose to remain on the earth.

In a way, I was sorry to see perhaps character’s final adventure. But the action was pure pulp, and the adventures have been terrific! Who knows, perhaps the world has not seen the last of either Gravedigger or Charity Grace. I also love the new cover! Beautiful!

Barry Reese is excellent at his brand of pulp, creating many characters, some that echo old pulp heroes. But for my money, Charity Grace, as Gravedigger, is the greatest of them all!

I give the book five stars plus! Looking forward to the next Lazarus Gray and other forthcoming gems of pulp from a master of the genre!

Quoth the Raven…

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