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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Reminiscences of Solar Pons, by August Derleth


The Reminiscences of Solar Pons
By August Derleth
1961


If you're like me, you probably know of August Derleth as the guy responsible for posthumously rescuing H.P. Lovecraft from the dust bin of obscurity. Until recently I was not aware that he also published a number of volumes (looks like nearly a dozen) of the adventures of one Solar Pons, whose marked resemblance to Sherlock Holmes is no accident.

This is apparently the fifth volume of collected Pons stories. There are eight stories in all, along with an introduction by Anthony Boucher and A Chronology of Solar Pons, by Robert Patrick.

The stories were all published in the late Fifties and early Sixties, except for The Adventure of the Black Cardinal. This appeared in 1930 and, coincidentally or not, was the one I liked the least. A tale of a rabble-rouser fomenting dissent against the Catholic Church, it bogged down a bit in politics and church history. A nice scene, however (small spoiler warning), at the end with Pons in a light aircraft, ready to take out a baddie with a machine gun.

The other low point for me, The Adventure of the Troubled Magistrate, wasn't a bad tale but was merely a bit too straightforward and obvious. In the so-so category, The Adventure of the Cloverdale Kennels, which asks us to speculate how and why a man might have killed himself by placing a rifle in a tree outside his window and using a piece of string to pull the trigger. The Adventure of the Praed Street Irregulars involves a kidnapped kid and international intrigue and didn't really do too much for me either.

The stories I found more interesting included The Adventure of the Mazarine Blue, which has to do with a rare butterfly and a mysterious thirteenth coffin that turns up in a crypt where there were only twelve previously. Missing hats - and quite a few of them - pose an interesting problem in The Adventure of the Hats of M. Dulac.

The Adventure of the Blind Clairaudient presents a slightly farfetched tale of a woman who claims to be able to hear the future and who doesn't particularly like something she's just heard. Which leaves The Adventure of the Mosaic Cylinders, the longest and, for me, the most entertaining story in the book. It finds Pons unraveling an interesting puzzle that has to do with the cylinders of the title, a poem and some valuable antiquities.

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