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Tales of Terror and Mystery by Sir Arthur…
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Tales of Terror and Mystery (1921)

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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I've long been a fan of Sherlock Holmes, but have only read bits and pieces of Doyle's other works. I know a lot are supposed to be (or so critcs will say) a bit pulpy, but this isn't something that bothers me. I enjoy a bit of melodrama, even if it's over the top at times - and Doyle definitely has a tendency to be over the top with his action-adventure stories, and his romances. This particular book contains twelve short stories - six under the section titled tales of terror and six under mystery. (Note that this is one of many Doyle books in public domain on Gutenberg and elsewhere.)

I'll add more about the stories as I finish them. [Except no, I won't, read a bit further.]

One story of note - The Lost Special - concerns a train that has disappeared between two stations, and officials are unable to find any trace of it, except for the dead body of the train's engine-driver. The mystery continues without answer, and newspapers begin printing speculation by "private individuals:"

[quote location: 50% in] "...One which appeared in The Times, over the signature of an amateur reasoner of some celebrity at that date, attempted to deal with the matter in a critical and semi-scientific manner...

..."It is one of the elementary principles of practical reasoning," he remarked, "that when the impossible has been eliminated the residuum, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must contain the truth..." " [Capitol letters as they were in the text.]

It's hard not to immediately assume that the "amateur reasoner" is Sherlock Holmes. In fact I thought that this story was one that was dramatized by ITV with Jeremy Brett as Holmes - only it doesn't seem to be on the episode list, so I must be imagining that I've seen it.

Doyle uses the same plot devise - the letter writer to a newspaper trying to solve the mystery - in another story in the collection: The Man with the Watches:

"...There was a letter in the Daily Gazette, over the signature of a well-known criminal investigator, which gave rise to considerable discussion at the time. He had formed a hypothesis which had at least ingenuity to recommend it...

"Whatever may be the truth," said he, "it must depend upon some bizarre and rare combination of events, so we need have no hesitation in postulating such events in our explanation. In the absence of data we must abandon the analytic or scientific method of investigation, and must approach it in the synthetic fashion. In a word, instead of taking known events and deducing from them what has occurred, we must build up a fanciful explanation if it will only be consistent with known events. We can then test this explanation by any fresh facts which may arise..."

Using "fanciful explanation" doesn't sound at all like Holmes, and then, the letter writer's theory turns out to be wrong in most aspects, perhaps right in another. So, not at all a secret wink to the reader that we should recognize the letter writer. Oh well.

...I was actually going to try and add little bits about each story, but for many of them what I find interesting would completely give away the ending, and these are rather short stories.

So instead I'll just quote a bit from one of the stories which, though a bit over the top here and there in that way you get used to with Doyle, does have some fun with technology. I'm referring to the first story in the collection; The Horror of the Heights, and I'd definitely have to categorize this as science fiction. I have no idea how accurate Doyle's writing is on the then-fairly-new technology of airplanes (the tech details seem very dry and boring), but his idea of unexplored areas of the sky are interesting:

"...Aeroplaning has been with us now for more than twenty years, and one might well ask: Why should this peril be only revealing itself in our day? The answer is obvious. In the old days of weak engines, when a hundred horse-power Gnome or Green was considered ample for every need, the flights were very restricted. Now that three hundred horse-power is the rule rather than the exception, visits to the upper layers have become easier and more common. Some of us can remember how, in our youth, Garros made a world-wide reputation by attaining nineteen thousand feet, and it was considered a remarkable achievement to fly over the Alps. Our standard now has been immeasurably raised, and there are twenty high flights for one in former years. Many of them have been undertaken with impunity. The thirty-thousand-foot level has been reached time after time with no discomfort beyond cold and asthma. What does this prove? A visitor might descend upon this planet a thousand times and never see a tiger. Yet tigers exist, and if he chanced to come down into a jungle he might be devoured. There are jungles of the upper air, and there are worse things than tigers which inhabit them..."

And later we do learn of what one such "tiger" looks like. Whether Doyle manages to make this experience creepy or amusing is probably up to whether you enjoy this sort story, and the style in which he writes. ( )
  bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |
I’ve been reading more short stories this year and have come to one conclusion --- I prefer one author over several. I enjoy the stories more if I become familiar with the author’s voice and I can then move along without feeling the need to stop and regain my footing at the end of each story. In Tales of Terror and Mystery, this is exactly what happened.

There were 13 stories here; six tales of terror and seven tales of mystery.

Tales of Terror:
The Horror of the Heights follows a pilot who encounters giant jellyfish like aliens. The Leather Funnel reminds us what a true nightmare can be. The New Catacomb is a take on the value of friendship when a woman’s love is involved. The Case of Lady Sannox is an affair gone wrong. The Terror of Blue John Gap involves an imaginary monster made real. The Brazilian Cat is a tale of family woe and backstabbing relatives.

Tales of Mystery:
The Lost Special is a recounting of a train kidnapping. The Beetle-Hunter follows a young doctor and the horror he finds in answering an advertisement. The Man with the Watches is about a train with missing persons. The Japanned Box makes us wonder what a widower is doing alone in a room late at night. The Black Doctor involves the disappearance and supposed murder of a well-liked town doctor. The Jew’s Breastplate is a museum caper complete with a mummy. The Nightmare Room is an odd scene with a séance to boot.

If you know anything about Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, these stories reflect many of his interests including his love of new technologies and preoccupation in the afterlife. It’s endearing and somewhat uncomfortable at the same time as his prejudices also come through. I’m not going into that here though.

I enjoyed the tales of terror more and there are a few gems among the mysteries as well but I did see a few endings coming which didn’t cause any disappointment. With a short story, in some cases only pages, it’s going to happen.

If you’re a fan of Doyle, this one is worth a look. It’s fast and the stories are entertaining. ( )
  justabookreader | Aug 30, 2011 |
Another collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's short story collections published by John Murray.
This one contains quite a few crackers and it is difficult to pick just one or two,but I will have a go. The Leather Funnel and The New Catacomb. Also The Lost Special and The Beetle-Hunter. All of these are well-told stories in this genre of which Sir Arthur is a Master. ( )
  devenish | May 18, 2009 |
Hit and miss, but when the short stories hit, they hit hard and well. A lot of the "eh" stories have more to do with their reliance on old technology for explanations. ( )
  cainmark | Feb 6, 2009 |
Decent stories all. ( )
  wktarin | Jul 25, 2008 |
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CONTENTS:

The Horror of the Heights

The Leather Funnel

The New Catacomb

The Case of Lady Sannox

The Terror of Blue John Gap

The Brazilian Cat

The Lost Special

The Beetle-Hunter

The Man with the Watches

The Japanned Box

The Black Doctor

The Jew's Breastplate
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385114486, Hardcover)

This anthology is a thorough introduction to classic literature for those who have not yet experienced these literary masterworks. For those who have known and loved these works in the past, this is an invitation to reunite with old friends in a fresh new format. From Shakespeare s finesse to Oscar Wilde s wit, this unique collection brings together works as diverse and influential as The Pilgrim s Progress and Othello. As an anthology that invites readers to immerse themselves in the masterpieces of the literary giants, it is must-have addition to any library.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:10 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

This volume presents some of Arthur Conan Doyle's unduly neglected masterworks of suspense. Each begins in a quietly factual way, which makes all the more dramatic the crescendo of fear and puzzlement that ensues as each startling new circumstance is revealed. Even without his supremely logical brainchild Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle shows that his tales are unbeatable for thrills and excitement. This is a great opportunity for the listener to discover a new facet of the master's ability to mystify and enthrall.… (more)

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