Monday, 16 November 2020

The Memoirs of Solar Pons

Author: August Derleth
First Published: 1951
File size/Pages: 1373KB / 251pp
Ebook Publisher: Belanger Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2018

Despite what may have been published in the 1970's, the second collection of cases for Solar Pons was actually The Memoirs of Solar Pons. So in keeping with the republished and reformatted ebooks by Belanger Books I am following their sequence and downloaded the next chronological installement of the adventures of the most famous of Sherlock Holmes successors.

Memoirs sees author August Derleth in fine form. He weaves Holmesian influences, references and homage into his second book about Solar Pons, the private detective who uses prodigious powers of observation and deduction to solve crimes in 1920's and 1930's London, from his base in an apartment at 7B Praed Street. There is even a reference to that other man of exceptional detecting talent, Dr. John Thorndyke (I'd recommend grabbing a copy of the The Red Thumb Mark or The Eye of Osiris if you can). Derleth cleverly manages to squeak in a sneaky appearance of Lovecraftian literature, which adds a bit of spice to one of the tales (see below).

There are eleven stores, one less than in Regarding Sherlock Holmes - however, these are in my opinion far superior in structure and in the telling. Derleth is able to weave more variety and greater story-building into Memoirs than he did before. The stakes are higher, the need to deduct more quickly is evident, and the supporting characters are more finely drawn. It's clear that the author had improved in his wirting skills at this time. Despite my miss-givings with the first book, this one starts well and, with only a few exceptions, holds its interest throughout. A number of the tales are longer in form, allowing for more interaction between Pons, his assistant Dr Lyndon Parker, suspects, and Police Detective Jamison.

Pons' relationship with Parker begins to take a different slant over Holmes and Watson in this collection I feel. Whereas Holmes elicits some comradeship and even a little brotherly love towards Dr Watson - Dr Parker doesn't appear to receive the same treatment from his exceptionally talented partner. There is a more critical vein running through Soalr Pons. He is only too quick to put Parker down, and seems to relish it more than Holmes ever did with Watson (or perhaps I'm more familiar with the later and have a tendancy to over romanticize it?).

Below is a selection of some of the stories I particularly enjoyed.

The Adventure of the Circular Room

The opening story is a great one, although the central conceit is not too difficult to fathom out for yourself. Pons is called to assist a woman recently returned to society after being committed to an asylum. Her condition was brought on by the death of her husband, but her relatives secured her well-being and looked after her finances while she recovered enough to return to a house newly-built from her husband's wealth. A young nurse is employed to care for her, but comes to Pons concerned for the mental health of her ward. The poor lady is convinced that her dead husband is haunting the house, and tempting her in her weakened state, to join him in the afterworld.

The Adventure of Ricoletti of the Club Foot

This story features Solar Pons brother, Bancroft Holmes of the Foreign Office. Bancroft beseeches his younger brother to assist the Government to investigate the breaking and entering of the office of one of the best cryptographers in the British foreign service, Ricoletti. Agents working for Bancroft can discover nothing missing from Ricoletti's office, and he claims himself that nothing was removed - all his secret papers are intact. However, the night-porter witnessed a most strange creature sitting at the official's desk in the late evening, and was coshed unconcious. The presence of Bancroft adds something extra to this tale, as does the appearance of a ghoulish figure in the dead of night.

The Adventure of the Six Silver Spiders

Lovecraftian influences abound in this great story where Pons and Parker are enlisted to aid in the apparent forgery of an auction in Edinburgh of priceless ancient volumes of Occult material. Six avid collectors of the ephemeral are each sent notice of a fantastic offer to submit sealed bids on the aution, which offers them the opportunity to purchase much sought after literature. This was a really good mystery that twists and turns rapidly to confuse the reader, with Pons the only person who can bring the mystery to a resolution. 

The Memoirs of Solar Pons is a recommended read, a big improvement on the first collection of stories, with Derleth improving his tale-telling skills. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the volumes now.


Hedgeguard said...

At some point, you might want to take a peek at the 7 volumes of additional Pons stories by British author Basil Copper, authorized by Derleth's heirs and written in the 70s and 80s, but not published until rather recently by Drugstore Indian Press.

Shaun Osborne said...

Thanks. I've seen them floating around in various forms. Have you read them? Are they in keeping with Derleths original?

Hedgeguard said...

I'm just about to finish the first volume of them. Yes, they're pretty close to Derleth's own stories, although in these he tends to overuse some of the signature touches -- pulling the left earlobe, bemoaning the lack of interesting crimes, etc., -- just a wee bittoo much at times. They tend to be somewhat longer than most of Derleth's stories, so the plots are a bit more developed at times, but my sense is you could pick up one of these stories without an author credit and think it was likely by Derleth.