Titan Books, 2009 reprint of the © 1985 original
This appears to be Stashower’s first mystery; he subsequently wrote a nicely done series of mysteries featuring Houdini (beginning with The Dime Museum, 1999). Houdini appears in The Ectoplasmic Man, but it is really a Sherlock Holmes mystery—Houdini is suspected of, and arrested for, the theft of a series of letters that could compromise the Prince of Wales and the subsequent murder of the woman involved, a German Baroness. Stashower does a creditable imitation of Watson here, even allowing Watson to express his pique at Holmes’ disregard of his feelings. All this in 1910, with tensions rising in Europe by the day.
We begin with Lestrade coming to ask Holmes for assistance, specifically asking him to attend Houdini’s up-coming performance in which he will apparently pass through a solid brick wall, because Houdini is suspected of the theft of the letters. Lestrade fears that Houdini has extra-normal powers, especially since he has already escaped from a cell at Scotland Yard (staged as a publicity stunt). Lestrade’s visit is followed by a visit by Houdini’s wife Bess, who is concerned by the police interest in her husband. Holmes blows her off, but Watson makes up his mind to attend. At the performance, Watson is called up to the stage to assist (and manages to blunder his way to wrecking the illusion). And Houdini is arrested, taken to cell, and wrapped up to the best of the Yards ability.
Holmes, of course, involves himself, and finds evidence rather quickly that Houdini could not have stolen the letters (evidence that Lestrade, in a greater than usual fit of incompetence, ruses even to consider. The mystery is really fairly straightforward, but it takes a while for it all to unfold. We close with Houdini triumphant, Holmes brilliant, the Empire saved again (for a while). Not a masterpiece, by any means, but nicely done. And you will learn some things about the art of escape, as a side benefit.