Tales of Terror and Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle


Tales of Terror and Mystery

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?

Buy it here
Listen to it here
Read it here

Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon

Brewster's Millions

When I read Stephen Biller’s review of this book, I knew I had to read it at my first opportunity. Well, that opportunity arose and here we are. Unlike some books that I have read lately (good books, but slow going), I could not put this one down.

If you haven’t read this book, go read it next. It’s not that long and worth your time. The story though straightforward is amazingly creative. A young man receives one million dollars on his twenty-fifth birthday. That would be nice today, but in 1900, this was an astronomical fortune. About two weeks later, Brewster learns that he will inherit around seven million dollars on his twenty-sixth birthday if he can meet the following conditions:

  • He must be a pauper
  • He cannot have any hope of getting his money back after said birthday (No IRA’s or bonds or friends holding the cash for him)
  • He cannot spend frivolously (The understanding is that he will have to spend $1,000,000 so this is subjective)
  • He can’t give it away
  • He can’t tell anyone about this new inheritance nor why he is getting rid of the current one.

Brewster decides that this can’t be too difficult….

In 1900, the United States did not have a consumerist economy. Nay, the world did not have a consumerist economy anywhere. The best that I can figure, I could probably spend the equivalent in today’s currency (particularly given the current exchange rates), BUT we have societies built on spending money. One amusing point came when Brewster had appendicitis. He tried to overpay the doctor (bought the best care available, hired a private nurse etc…); the bill came to $3,000. 🙂

The hardest part was when people began deserting him as his money ran out. He was mocked and scorned. Those people would come to his parties, eat his food and laugh. They wanted simply to get what they could before he ran out of cash. Then they left him like the vultures they were.
Brewster’s amazing year showed him true love and true friendship. He decided that even if he lost the challenge, that much was worth one million dollars.

And no, the story wasn’t without some turns that would catch you off guard.

Definitely worth five stars even with a couple of swear words.

But, before you go, if you lasted this long, I have a question or two. How would you spend the money today? I would assume that it would be worth at least 30-40 million today. If you didn’t have the requirements about giving, who would you give to? I’ve thought about it once or twice. I think that I could do a lot of good for some of my family. Are they needy? No, but I would love to spend on them. That’s the great thing about family. They are people to spoil.

Gutenberg text: here
Librivox audio: here
Amazon purchase: here

From Earth to the Moon & Round the Moon by Jules Verne

From Earth to the Moon; Round the Moon

About a month ago I joined Team Cringely, a group of volunteers looking to put a rover on the moon as a part of the Google Lunar X Prize. This group is a loose organization of volunteers who want to participate in space but haven’t the opportunity to do so. Growing up, only two careers interested me. One was to be an astronaut. I loved to see pictures of space and wistfully dreamed of space travel to see those sights in person.

I remember disappointment upon discovering that I would need to have multiple doctorates and being lucky to get a place on a NASA shuttle.

Talk about a depressing day.

Now I can live my dream vicariously through this mission. But those of us consisting of Team Cringely (and our opponents) weren’t the first to desire the opportunity to go to the moon. NASA wasn’t the first organization either. For more than a century, men like Jules Verne looked at the mistress of the night and wondered what men would find on the moon.

In this classic pair of stories, Barbicane, Ardan, and Nicholl overcome cultural and personal grievances to join forces as emissaries to the moon. It all began with the bored members of the Baltimore Gun Club. The Baltimore Gun Club consisted of men who had studied (invented and experimented) gunnery during the Civil War; now, bored, they sought a new challenge. This new challenge was to launch a cannonball at the moon. Eventually, the Frenchman, Michelle Ardan, decided that he wanted to fly to the moon and sailed to Florida to enter the projectile.

This action of Ardan, led to a prolonged discussion about the habitability of the moon and the precautions necessary for a man to travel in space. Much of the story lies in discussions about the nature of the moon, it’s past and present state of habitability, and the nature of space travel. Much of this will probably be a tad bit tedious for some, but I found it somewhat interesting. Given that hindsight is 20-20, it is easy to see the errors being made. But, when one tries to look at it from the perspective of an author writing in 1865, the science and reasoning is much less comical and far more impressive. Verne had many facts correct or at least close to correct.

As an aside, one flaw that I have noticed with the reasonings of this generation of authors is this: They made many assumptions that appeared reasonable at first blush, and never challenged them. In this work, the assumption of the three was that Selenites must exists. Ardan was very typical of the thinking. He wanted it to be so and so it was.

But, that was typical Verne. He lived in a world decades or centuries ahead of his time. Verne obviously had great respect for the Americans. Though often in a backhanded manner, Verne continuously praised the American people for their ingenuity, skillfulness and bravery. It was his opinion (as seen in this work) that only Americans would be brave and foolhardy enough to pull off an endeavor of this magnitude.

And that brings me back to the present: Can a disparate team of men and women put a rover on the moon for less than $4 million? Normal people say no. Team Cringely begs to differ.
This is not one of Verne’s better stories, but worth reading if for no other reason than that it is Verne.

Here are the links:
Amazon: From Earth to the Moon; Round the Moon
Gutenberg: From Earth to the Moon (text)
Librivox: From Earth to the Moon (audio)
Gutenberg: Round the Moon (text)
Librivox: Round the Moon (audio)

Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton

Here I Stand

October 31, 1517; Martin Luther nails the 95 theses to the wooden door of the church in Wittenburg. I would like to take this opportunity to make a plug for Reformation Day. Halloween has demonic origins, and our society as a whole is really going for the roots of the holiday with all its grusomeness. “Harvest Parties” are just fine, but what if, instead of just neutralizing the holiday, we as Christians actually sought to reform it? Make it about learning the roots of the Protestant Reformation (which, for any Catholic readers, was also the start of the Catholic Reformation and led to a revival of the Catholic church in many areas of Europe. So pick someone like Erasmus, but its still the same idea). Encourage people to dress up as Biblical/ Christian heroes of the faith; give handouts with a short biography of a Reformer (available online; I wrote ours in one hour after reading this book); have booth attendants dress up in medieval costume; or even ask the pastor to prepare a short talk on the Reformation and its significance. This year, our church is theme-ing our (first ever) Reformation Day party on Martin Luther.

Plot: Martin Luther is famous for starting the Protestant Reformation. A monk of the Augustian Order, he was a diligent scholar whose dedication to the church (and history as a law student with a degree in theology) made him a prime candidate for a professorship at the university of Wittenberg, where he had time to study the scriptures and write. His travails with (and eventual separation from) the Catholic church were published all over Europe, (not always with his consent; the famous 95 theses were written in Latin because they were intended as points for scholarly debate, not public consumption). The former monk eventually married a nun, and they had six children. Far more fascinating than his life, though, were his writings of theology, and the context in which he said them.

Good: Lots of period details, literally and figuratively: there are fun 16th century prints on almost every page, including both famous woodcuts (Luther accused of heresy, the debate at Worms, etc.) and rarer etchings (fancy Reformation-themed capitals kick off each chapter). I confess, I love pictures like these; especially since the Latin names look similar to English, so I could translate who was who for myself! Also, the author takes time to point out the historical setting, including that which made Luther a 16th century celebrity. The printing press was the YouTube of that era: new, exciting, and made “instant” notoriety available to more people than ever before. And Luther utilized it (by the grace of God) while the Pope didn’t. This is only a small example out of a multitude.

Bad: This isn’t really bad, but worth considering if your child is reading this. I should note that the author explains many various doctrines of the era, and while good to know, the author is not shy about his opinion. Infant baptism is good, transubstantiation is wrong, etc. I am old enough to understand that what a book says doesn’t necessarily reflect my personal beliefs; not all teenagers, even, may have gone over these points of doctrine for themselves. Personally, I loved it, because Bainton’s view dovetails with most people in the 1500s, and he explained a lot of things I hadn’t quite understood, “how can anyone think that?” Younger minds might simply absorb the opinions, though, and not catch the disclaimers that bracket the ideas the author disagrees with (the existence of elves, for example, was a common belief among German peasants like Luther’s parents).

Overall: I loved this book. It made Luther seem more human than others I have read. His faults are mentioned, but so are his graces. Roland Bainton incorporates the rich tapestry of Renaissance life into his narrative of Luther’s life. Highly recommended for all ages.

My apologies for not posting this last week when it was more timely. Matt