Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a variety of material. Most notably, he had the first truly great detective (and consequently the first great arch-villain). (He even wrote the adventure story: The Lost World, being the inspiration for Jurassic Park and a myriad of adaptations.) To my mild surprise, Doyle also dabbled in the genre of horror with stories similar in nature to the master of horror: Edgar Allan Poe. I suspect that this work had a small tribute to the work of Poe, because these stories have stylistic similarities to Poe’s writings.
So what kind of tales will you find in this book? I’ll list the stories and make a comment or two about each one.
Tales of Horror:
- The Horror of the Heights – This story, placed in the early days of aviation now lacks the punch I assume that it once had. If one believes that villains often reveal the fears of the public (at the time of their publication), then this story presents an intriguing glimpse at the early age of flight. This story takes place at a time before enclosed cockpits….
- The Leather Funnel – A rather nasty story, this one. This story represented the requisite pass (albeit minor) at the occult and violence. As I enjoy Poe, I am probably not a good judge of just how dark a tale can be, but I squirmed a tad at the pictures.
- The New Catacomb – Two young men, both professional archaeologists, explore a heretofore-unknown catacomb in Rome. Doyle essentially rewrote one of Poe’s more famous stories in this short thriller. Sorry, I won’t tell you which one as it would spoil the ending.
- The Case of Lady Sannox – A story of morbid vengeance. Can one understand the desire for this particular revenge? Possibly, but it still makes one shudder at the heart who would dare commit such a crime. Definitely a shiver inducer.
- The Terror of Blue John Gap – Meh…. Not that exciting. Has about the same fear factor as Bram Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm, but that’s about it. Short and not really frightening. Skipping a story in this book? Make it this one.
- The Brazilian Cat – Somewhere, I either read this story or one like it. Probably one like it as the story line isn’t all that uncommon. A desperate financially troubled youth makes friends with an uncle who had traveled the world (Brazil in particular). This uncle, from whom the lad wanted money until he inherited his own fortune, had a pet cat. A black Brazilian cat similar to a panther or leopard. A killer cat. It was a dark and stormy night….
Tales of Mystery
- The Lost Special – One of the better stories in this collection. This mystery reveals the clever mind of Doyle. But, as Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, I guess the revelation is a moot point. Oh well. Apparently, a special train (high speed) disappeared without a trace between two small towns one afternoon. How could an entire train disappear? It couldn’t leave the tracks and it never arrived. This clever tale will keep you wondering right until the end.
- The Beetle-Hunter – A young scientist specializing in beetles, answers an advertisement for an adventure of unlimited duration. This story had plenty of potential, but wasn’t really well developed.
- The Man with the Watches – Another train mystery. An old man and his apparent daughter enter one train car; they are the sole occupants. The next car, the smoking car, has a lone middle-aged man in it. At the next stop, the smoking car is empty and the other car contains the corpse of a young man whose pockets filled with watches. The three occupants have vanished.
- The Japanned Box – Japanned is a term used to describe a lacquer applied in a Oriental style. A gentleman takes a position as a tutor to two young boys. During his stay, he over hears a woman’s voice coming from the study of the widower’s study. That study contains a Japanned box, which can never be touched on pain of dismissal. Somehow, women enter and leave the study without using the door.
- The Black Doctor – A foreign doctor, becoming the star of the community, breaks off his engagement and prepares to leave town. Before he can go, the black doctor is found murdered in his office. During the trial of the ex-fiancé’s brother, surprising evidence comes from a rather surprising source.
- The Jew’s Breastplate – Interesting tale that takes place in a museum. The story revolves around the breastplate of the Jewish high priest and the wonderful jewels in it. The new caretaker discovers that someone had loosened the jewels, but not stolen them. Each night the culprit loosens several more jewels but never takes a single one.
Generally of high quality, you will probably enjoy some of the stories here. Being short stories, they make great reading right before bedtime. Well, OK, except for The Leather Funnel. I think that I might not read that one right before bed.
What short stories do you recommend?