Wednesday, July 16, 2014
“The Green Spider” marked Sax Rohmer’s third foray into short fiction. Still writing under the pen name of A. Sarsfield Ward, the story first appeared in the October 1904 issue of Pearson’s Magazine. It was not reprinted until 65 years later in Issue #3 of The Rohmer Review in 1969. Subsequently, a corrupted version with an altered ending courtesy of the editor appeared in the May 1973 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. The restored text was included in the 1979 anthology, Science Fiction Rivals of H. G. Wells. More recently the story has appeared in the 1992 anthology, Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection, the September 2005 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and as the title story in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense (2011). The story itself shares in common with Rohmer’s first effort, “The Mysterious Mummy” the presentation of a seemingly supernatural mystery that has a rational explanation. In the nine months that elapsed between the publication of “The Leopard Couch” and “The Green Spider,” Rohmer honed his writing skills and became a more devoted student of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and deductive reasoning. “The Green Spider” concerns the disappearance of the celebrated Professor Brayme-Skepley on the eve of an important scientific presentation. It appears to onlookers and Scotland Yard that the Professor has been murdered by a giant green spider that apparently made off with his corpse. The unraveling of the mystery reveals the green spider is no more authentic a threat than the phantom hound of the Baskervilles. While a minor effort, the story retains its charm more than a century on and shows that the mysterious A. Sarsfield Ward was steadily improving as an author. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Sapper’s The Third Round (1926) marked a return to the more humorous tone of the first book in the series. Not only the humor, but the premise of that initial book is invoked with the decision to again build the plot around a spunky female whose doddering old father has fallen prey to heinous villains. All trace of The Black Gang and its doom-laden paranoia over England likewise falling prey to a communist revolution has been removed. In its place we have Hugh Drummond once again eager to escape the boredom of everyday life and engaging in comical banter with friends and foes alike. The starting point for the adventure this time is the impending nuptials of Algy Longworth, Hugh’s old friend who has finally been reduced to the silly ass familiar from the stage play and film adaptations. The catalyst for Algy’s descent into idiocy is his having fallen head over heels in love to the extent that he now horrifies his friends by reciting poetry. So serious is his obsession with the girl of his dreams that he has become a literal walking disaster shunned by all who know him. Algy’s future father-in-law, Professor Goodman has realized an alchemist’s dream of manufacturing diamonds at almost no cost. His intent to take this amazing discovery public brings him to the attention of the diamond syndicate who promptly hire Carl Peterson to remove this living, breathing threat to their livelihood. The novel opens with the syndicate’s interview with Peterson just as the first book opened with Peterson bringing together the international team to financiers to bankroll his scheme to destroy the British economy. Once again, Sapper deliberately echoes the introduction of Dr. Nikola in the first of Guy Boothby’s series in his treatment of the introductory meeting of the chief villain. Sapper’s decision to bring Peterson up from the background to a point of focus as the central threat for the first time is its greatest strength for his narrative finally has a focal point equal to Drummond’s often overpowering personality. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE TOMORROW.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
“The Mysterious Mummy” marked Sax Rohmer’s first appearance in print. Only 20 years old at the time, Rohmer was then writing under the byline of A. Sarsfield Ward. Born Arthur Henry Ward, Sarsfield was a surname of historical repute from his mother’s side of the family which he adopted at the start of his writing career. A preview of the story was featured in the November 19, 1903 issue of Pearson’s Weekly with the full story printed in the November 24 issue. “The Mysterious Mummy” languished in obscurity until it was reprinted by Peter Haining in the 1986 anthology, Ray Bradbury Introduces Tales of Dungeons and Dragons. Haining also included the story in the 1988 anthology, The Mummy: Stories of the Living Corpse. Rohmer scholar Gene Christie selected the story for inclusion in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense published in 2011. The most interesting feature about this first foray into fiction is that it is not at all a living mummy story, but rather a straight heist caper. Rohmer later disingenuously claimed that a copycat theft was attempted in France and the thief was arrested with a copy of Pearson’s Weekly on his person featuring the story which he claimed was so good he had to risk trying it in real life. Rohmer, of course, was a terribly unreliable interview subject. While it is possible the press were more gullible a century ago, it is more likely they viewed his tall tales as good copy. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Monday, June 23, 2014
The most striking feature of the second Bulldog Drummond thriller by Sapper is the near complete removal of humor from the proceedings compared with the frequent light touch demonstrated with the initial book in the series. There is also precious little mention of the First World War, which was such an important factor in the first book, as the focus here is much more on the reaction against the Russian Revolution and the fear of a similar communist uprising occurring in Britain during the early 1920s. Once more the influence of Edgar Wallace’s Four Just Men series is strongly felt, particularly in the first half of the book where the Black Gang are featured anonymously with no mention of their true identities. Many critics label this second entry in the long-running series as fascist. I suppose that is an understandable reaction to a vigilante storyline in which it is suggested Britain would benefit from modifying freedom of speech to deny protection to radicals. The Black Gang is very much a Machiavellian work, but one which seeks to restore order at its conclusion by having Hugh Drummond agree to dismantle the Black Gang and let the law sit in judgment over criminals going forward. Of course with such a finale as this one wonders why Sapper bothered to take the proceedings to such an extreme in the first place. The success Edgar Wallace enjoyed with his own vigilante series was undeniably an influence, but the author’s underlying motivation appears to have been his genuine outrage over the slaughter of the Russian royal family and the belief that those behind the Bolshevik movement were not fervent followers of communism, but rather unprincipled villains eager to exploit a utopian ideology to put themselves in positions of power. Sapper wanted to see the threat of communism put down and could only envision such a task being accomplished by private citizens working outside the law. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
The very talented darkly-humored poet James Hutchings returns with his third collection, They Say the Sirens Left the Seas. I previously reviewed his first offering, The New Death and Others back in 2011. This new collection offers readers more of what they have come to expect from this eccentric and highly original voice. Hutchings is just as much at home spinning fables as he is dishing up Gothic treats or plunging into the ridiculous with no consideration of social conventions. All three of his excellent collections are available at Amazon as eBooks or direct from the Smashwords website for download for less than a dollar apiece. TO CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE TOMORROW.
Friday, June 6, 2014
The strongest scenes in Bulldog Drummond (1920) are the ones that show off Sapper’s strengths as a humorist. While it has since become commonplace to see Bondian heroes tossing off quips while being menaced by an unfailingly polite villain, it hardly compares to the way Hugh Drummond handled himself in similar scenarios. Drummond regularly displays a self-deprecating humor when it comes to his features and his intellect, yet his ability to needle villains by refusing to treat them as a serious threat displays an intelligence and understanding of the criminal mind that proves a constant source of amusement for the reader. Drummond may start off as an independently wealthy and very bored veteran of the First World War who seeks adventure, but the character soon transforms into the head of a gang of vigilantes determined to right wrongs as they see fit. He and his gang view meting out justice without resorting to the law as their right as recently demobilized soldiers. The wartime ability to kill without fear of criminal punishment continues into their clandestine civilian activities, although they take the precaution of hiding behind masks and hoods to protect their identities when doing so. Drummond’s gang includes his fellow World War I veterans Algy Longworth, Peter Darrell, Ted Jerningham, Toby Sinclair, and Jerry Seymour, as well as New York police detective Jerome Green. Later dubbed The Black Gang, the vigilante squad was clearly inspired by Edgar Wallace’s bestselling Four Just Men series. The secret war they wage is aimed squarely against the forces of socialism and communism to an extent that was matched only by Harold Gray’s original version of Little Orphan Annie. The anti-foreign sentiments in the first book take root around the perceived threat of foreigners altering the course of England’s political identity and economic status. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Bulldog Drummond is a peculiar case. The reputation of the original novels is more maligned than even Sax Rohmer’s Yellow Peril thrillers. To be sure, “Sapper” (the pseudonym of author H. C. McNeile) expressed views that stand out as offensive even among the common colonial prejudices of Edwardian England. The reason for this is easily understood. The author’s nationalistic fervor was predicated on the belief that the only good nation was Britain and every other nationality was inferior to varying degrees. McNeile was a “True Blue” Brit in every way. A decorated veteran of the Great War, Sapper and his characters adore England and are intolerant of everyone else. Americans are castigated for their crudeness, the French are pompous, and Germans are a vile and irredeemable people. More bigoted views will follow, but that is the extent in the first quarter of the first book in the series. Having addressed the bad, what is it that makes the books still worth reading nearly a century later? Are they simply a document of more repressive times or do they offer value that makes one willing to overlook the reliance upon stereotypes and casual slurs? I would argue that anyone interested in the development of the thriller and pulp fiction should be exposed to at least the first four books in the long-running series. There is much that is light and entertaining in Sapper’s fiction to the extent that they often read like drawing room comedies until thriller aspects interrupt the humor. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.