There’s practically a cottage industry in novels about Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, not to mention a short-lived TV series.
That’s understandable. The escape artist and the author were two of the most famous men of their times. The fascinating true story of their friendship, with its ups and downs, has been chronicled in a number of non-fiction books, as well as in every biography of the two.
After passing up several opportunities to buy Walter Satterthwait’s Escapade, a 1995 Houdini - Conan Doyle mystery novel, I finally succumbed at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend last month. I’m glad I did.
It’s a great book for several reasons:
- · It’s an English country-house mystery.
- · And yet, narrator Phil Beaumont is a hard-boiled Pinkerton detective from America who cracks wise on every page.
- · Interspersed with Beaumont’s prose is another refreshing voice – that of paid companion Jane Turner, a young Englishwoman telling the story from her viewpoint in breathless letters to a friend.
- · It’s a locked-room mystery.
- · The plot is excellent, most especially in the way the subplot comes back in at the end when the reader has mostly forgotten about it.
- · The characters of Conan Doyle and Houdini are, it seems to me, largely true to life. This isn’t always the case in what passes for historical fiction.
As in any genre or subgenre, some Houdini - Conan Doyle stories are better than others. This is one of the good ones, well plotted, well written, and highly entertaining.