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Friday, 28 August 2015

FFB: The Casebook of Solar Pons

This is the fourth of six Pinnacle paperback books concerning the private enquiry agent Solar Pons, penned by August Derleth.  This collection was copyright 1965, my Pinnacle paperback published April 1975. There are eleven ‘adventures’, previously published in The Saint Mystery Magazine (extinct) or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (still publishing!) in the 1960s.

The Solar Pons creation by Derleth was in response to the absence of any new Sherlock Holmes adventures from the pen of Conan Doyle. His first Pons adventure was published in 1928 (See an earlier blog here). Conan Doyle died in 1930. These pastiches closely resemble the Holmes canon, though are not slavish copies; Pons is his own man, and he has his own chronicler, Lyndon Parker, M.D. This collection also contains a fictional biography of Parker. I find these faux biographies fascinating and indeed have created several for my characters in the Tana Standish psychic spy series! [See also the note at the end.]

The adventures in this collection tend to occur in the 1920s or 1930s – no specific dates are provided. An attempt at creating a chronology of the Pons adventures is published in The Reminiscences of Solar Pons (1961). So whereas Holmes was an investigator knocking on the door of the twentieth century, Pons seems to be a twentieth century enquiry agent harking back to the nineteenth, in mannerism and style, and this treatment tends to work.

Derleth delighted in blending fact and fiction. Brief mention is made of Carnacki the ghost finder (an occult detective creation of William Hope Hodgson, 1912; indeed, Derleth published the Carnacki stories in a 1948 collection.) Parker has a liking for Sax Rhomer’s Fu Manchu stories. And Pons’ foil, Scotland Yard Inspector Seymour Jamison, makes use of a pathologist, the famous Bernard Spilsbury. Other familiar characters who crop up are Pons’ long-suffering landlady, Mrs Johnson, Pons’ brother Bancroft who works in the Foreign Office, and Constable Meeker.

The story titles emulate those of the Holmes canon: ‘The Adventure of…’ the Sussex Archers, the Haunted Library, the Fatal Glance, the Intarsia Box, the Spurious Tamerlane, the China Cottage, the Ascot Scandal, the Crouching Dog, the Missing Huntsman, the Whispering Knights, the Amateur Philologist, the Innkeeper’s Clerk.

Parker’s writing style is in the same vein as the estimable Dr Watson. And at times, his description leaps off the page: ‘It came with startling suddenness when the hounds gave tongue. An instant later the cry “Gone away!” rang forth, and the field plunged forward. The hounds boiled out over the moor, their music ringing wild on the wind. From Huntsman to field and back among the other members the cry was passed that a dog-fox had been viewed, the hounds were hot on his scent.’ – ‘The Adventure of the Missing Huntsman’

Mysterious deaths in closed rooms, savage death at the claws of a beast, identity switching, people who are not what they seem – Derleth runs the gamut of twists and turns in these clever sleuthing short tales. If you have never read Solar Pons and hanker after Sherlock Holmes, then treat yourself, read a Solar Pons story or two; they’ll bring a smile of recognition together with great pleasure. Nobody else has written such a sustained sequence of Holmes pastiches. They’re a delight.

Note: If you’re interested in biographies of fictional characters, try Imaginary People, a who’s who of modern fictional characters (1987) by David Pringle. Then there are these books, too: The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower by C. Northcote Parkinson (1970), Biggles, the authorised Biography (1978) and James Bond: the authorised biography of 007 (1973), both by John Pearson, Tarzan Alive: a definitive biography of Lord Greystoke (1972) and Doc Savage: his apocalyptic life both (1973) by Philip José Farmer.

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