Friday, August 28, 2015

Sherlock Holmes vs Cthulhu

A few years ago I posted a blog about when I introduced Sherlock Holmes to HP Lovecraft in The Adventure of the Ancient Gods. If you're interested in reviewing it, you can click on the link in the title and be taken there. However, if you're interested in reading the story, you may have a bit of a problem. Copies of the original fanzine, Holmesian Federation #4 are very difficult to find and can be costly; copies of the chapbook published by Gary Lovisi's Gryphon Books are likewise hard to find and can be even more expensive, especially if it's the first edition with my name misspelled on the cover. Purchasing the book, along with any of my other Sherlock Holmes books published by Gryphon is no longer an option, thanks to a visit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That incident led me to republish a later book, which introduced Sherlock Holmes to HG Wells' Time Traveler as Sherlock Holmes: The Coils of Time & Other Stories. The "other stories" in the book were all new ones I had written after 2005, all either about Holmes directly, in homage to Holmes, or about other characters in the Canon.

In the two years that have passed since that first Holmes collection, I've written two steampunk novels, four volumes in a continuing series about the Three Dog Detective Agency, and edited a collection of my SF, fantasy, mystery and horror stories from 1970-2000. But I've always wanted to bring back "The Adventure of the Ancient Gods," as well as "The Terror Out of Time," a sort-of Cthulhu Mythos tale teaming Sherlock Holmes with Professor Challenger, Conan Doyle's scientific adventurer, in Edwardian London. That goal has finally been achieved with the publication of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Mythos Adventures. In addition to the two stories mentioned, we have "The Whitechapel Terror," in which Holmes is helped by Brigadier General Knight (one of my other series characters) and a most unlikely hero named Sherrington, a sort of Woosteresque chap; "The Woods, The Watcher & The Warding," where Holmes and Watson venture into legend-haunted Hammershire County to come to the aide of Lestrade and a man who may be guilty, but not of what everyone thinks; "The Adventure of the Shattered Men," in which Holmes makes a solo trip to a isolated island in the North Sea to help an old friend who fears the wind; "Lestrade & the Damned Cultists," where the redoubtable Scotland Yard inspector finds himself bedeviled by occult forces, aided only by his own skill as a detective, the dubious assistance of Detective Sergeant Jacket, and come characters met along the road; and "The Whisperer in the Highlands," where a very young Sherlock Holmes comes to the aide of an old Scottish professor of geology (also the narrator of the tale) who is plagued by nightmares and a voice that whispers. In the first collection, Holmes was often off stage or merely an inspirational spirit, but in this new collection Sherlock Holmes plays a key role in every story. Hopefully this will be a treat for both fans of HP Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

There's Something About Honey

Honey West was one of the first female private eyes to grace the small screen, and she was one of my first celebrity heartthrobs. Looking back, it's difficult to say which made a bigger impression on my young mind, Honey West or the imported Emma Peel of The Avengers. Fortunately, since one is domestic and the other foreign, I can say it's a toss-up, just like I don't have to choose which car was cooler, Honey's Shelby Cobra Convertible or Emma's Lotus Elan. Since they were both black belts in Karate, either one could have been my bodyguard. On the other hand, Honey did have a pet Ocelot, and how cool was that? Honey West did have an advantage with me that Emma Peel did not, in that she was initially a literary character, and for a book person that is always something to consider. Also, Anne Francis, who played Honey West, also had an advantage (with me) that Diana Rigg did not--I was already smitten with her from Forbidden Planet (she almost upstaged Robby), and we shared a birthday...always go with a Virgo.

The television version of Honey West started on a second season episode of Burke's Law (another of my favorite mid-Sixties TV shows) entitled "Who Killed the Jackpot." There we met not only Honey, but her man-Friday Sam Bolt (played by John Ericson) and her pet Ocelot, Bruce. Honey must have made an impression with viewers and producers alike because two writers from Burke's Law were told to develop a stand-alone show for Honey, which premiered on ABC in September 1965. It's funny how some things can make an impression far beyond the reality of the situation. Seen through the prism of memory, Honey West had a long run, was a reason to tune in every Friday night at 9 PM, right after The Addams Family (yet another of my favorite mid-Sixties shows). Alas, such was not the case. Honey West endured but a single season, a mere 30 episodes, killed off by two factors--the cold equations of the Nielsen Ratings put it behind Gomer Pyle, USMC (of all things!) and ABC's moguls decided it was cheaper to import The Avengers and run it in the time-slot. (Philistines!) Well, if I couldn't have Honey, at least I could watch Emma karate chop the villains.

Fortunately, Honey West the literary character had a longer run than her television avatar, beginning in 1957, ending in 1972, at least for novels written by the original authors. I came a bit late to the party, not reading my first Honey West novel until the Eighties, and I started with This Girl for Hire, which was the first novel in the 11-book series. Here's a list, for the collector:

This Girl for Hire (1957)
Girl on the Loose (1958)
A Gun for Honey (1958)
Honey in the Flesh (1959)
Girl on the Prowl (1959)
Kiss for a Killer (1960)
Dig a Dead Doll (1960)
Blood and Honey (1961)
Bombshell (1964)
Honey on her Tail (1971)
Stiff as a Broad (1972)

I discovered that Honey West of the books was not only tougher than her TV counterpart, but sexier too. Somehow, she always managed to lose her swimsuit top or her blouse or her dress, and yet she always managed to retain her honor and her virtue. She was very much the equivalent of the shining knight of detective fiction, the private eye able to walk the mean streets without becoming mean. In that respect, Honey West reminds me of Philip Marlowe, but she also calls to mind Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian Princess, Dejah Thoris, who never wore anything but a battle harness and weapons (illustrators are not allowed to get it right) and yet always remained clothed in virtue and righteousness. Pity the poor fool who ever mistook Honey for either an easy frail or a damsel in distress.

The books were written by Gloria and Forrest (Skip) Fickling. Technically, the byline of GG Fickling is not a pseudonym for they were Gloria's initials and surname, yet it is because they both wrote the books, especially the first two or three. According to Gloria, Skip did most of the writing starting with Honey in the Flesh, with her contributing plots and characters. Those readers coming to the series and expecting to find the television show might be disappointed. No Bruce the Ocelot and no high-tech 007-like gadgetry. There was also no man-Friday Sam Bolt; instead, we have Lt Storm from the Sheriff's Office, who was more antagonist, rival and frustrated rescuer than helpmate. Still, you have Honey, and that is quite enough. The books are well worth the effort to track down, at least the original ones...there are some modern books with the Honey West character brought back, but since I haven't read any, I can't say anything about them. By the way, if you like the mix of murder and breezy humor that was a hallmark of the Honey West books, then you'd probably also enjoy Richard Prather's Shell Scott series of novels, which have a similar approach to crime solving.