I received this as a review copy – there is obviously a ‘remarketing’ push on this as it appears to have originally been published in 1994, although I had never heard of it. I thought that I had never even heard of Hjortsberg, but after just a coupel of seconds of research, I have learned that he wrote the screenplay for one of my favourite 80s films (Legend) and he wrote Falling Angel, which was eventually adapted to become Angel Heart starring Robert De Niro.
In this book, Hjortsberg is ‘padding out’ the reality that magician Harry Houdini formed an unlikely friendship with Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and that they eventually fell out over matters supernatural. Houdini obviously knowing that all of his tricks were just that and being a renowned sceptic, with Conan Doyle being a firm supporter of ‘the unknown’ – and in 1918 believing Houdini had really been able to dematerialise an elephant, even though he protested to the contrary.
It’s 1920s New York, and there have been a spate of murders that seem to be reconstructs of tales of Edgar Allen Poe. Houdini and Conan Doyle hope to solve the case as the murders seem to be drawing closer to them – and the police aren’t having much luck. Throw in the ghost of Poe himself appearing to Conan Doyle and this seems like a great period detective story with some supernatural elements and a cast of timeless celebrties.
However, it really doesn’t quite seem to hit the mark. There are obviously real reported conversations or meetings between the two main characters that appear to have been shoe-horned into the story in order to make it feel more like it could really have happened.
Unlike The Secrets Of The Lazarus Club, which was a fun, easy read, this seemed to take ages to start going anywhere, and then came to a rather abrupt end. I also felt that the main characters weren’t particulary respectfully used – there was a rather alarming scene with Houdini and a woman who believes herself the reincarnation of Isis, that really didn’t need to be spelled out quite so graphically.
It also rather grated on me how many time Conan Doyle was referred to as ‘the knight’. Was this meant to make us feel he was more gallant than his Hungarian counterpart? Does anyone refer to people called ‘Sir’ as ‘the knight’ – ever?
It was a wonderful idea, but I don’t think it was executed too well!