NEVERMORE by William Hjortsberg


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 A carefully researched thriller that provides many fascinating details about celebrities of the Jazz Age but fails miserably and completely to provide any suspense. The novel has three protagonists: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the British creator of Sherlock Holmes, who is on a US tour to promote the spiritualist practices in which he ardently believes; Harry Houdini, the masterful escape artist, magician, and debunker of mediums; and Mrs. Opal Fletcher, a.k.a. Isis, a wealthy widow and clairvoyant to the elite. Doyle and Houdini are great friends and together resolve to find the serial murderer who patterns his killings on the grisliest death described in the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. But Hjortsberg is not interested in spinning a good detective yarn. He hardly ever shows the pair sleuthing, and when he does, their efforts seem elementary and uninspired. Even Poe's ghost, who appears to Doyle regularly, can't get the men out of their easy chairs and into some serious action--physical or mental. It doesn't help that the author can't decide who the real hero of the story is; both men seem equally inept, while the murderer is determined, methodical, and obvious to the reader from the start. Houdini's love affair with Isis starts off titillatingly (she uses an ivory dildo filled with warm milk to bring him to a heightened, prolonged orgasm) but withers almost immediately, since the author denies him any sense of involvement with the woman or their child. All the characters wander through this fact-filled, name-dropping plot in a stupor, as if they--like the killer's victims--had chloroformed bags pulled over their heads. Hjortsberg is the author of seven previous novels (Falling Angel, 1978, etc.) and a number of screenplays. Practice does not always make perfect. (First printing of 75,000; $65,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-87113-579-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1994


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