Friday, July 13, 2012

Death out of thin air

by Clayton Rawson (writing as Stuart Towne).

In two short novels from the 1940s, professional magician Don Diavolo gets mixed up in a couple of homicide cases where his experience in creating seemingly impossible effects for the stage works to his advantage in debunking apparently supernatural causes for (in "Ghost of the Undead") the death of a woman in his dressing room at the theater, evidently by vampire bite, and (in "Death Out of Thin Air") the murder of a police detective in his office at headquarters and a number of highly publicized thefts by an invisible man.

Clayton Rawson was himself a magician, and also wrote mystery novels featuring the Great Merlini, another professional illusionist who also ran a magic shop; I'm told that Don Diavolo appears in one of the Merlini novels, and a character in one of the Don Diavolo stories mentions that Merlini's store ships mail orders to India with all the instructions carefully translated into Hindustani.  The Don Diavolo stories all originally appeared in the pulp magazine called Red Star Mystery; the other two ("Claws of Satan" and "The Enchanted Dagger") are collected under the title Death from Nowhere.

These and five Merlini books have all been released as ebooks from Open Road Media; I stumbled across them in the OverDrive catalog of downloadable ebooks available from the library where I work, which I think is all kinds of cool, not only that these are available but that somebody in my library consortium bought them for our collection.  To be honest, if a new paperback reprint of pulp stories from the 1940s came out, we probably wouldn't buy a copy for the shelf, so it's grand that somebody took a chance on them in electronic form.

This was my first exposure to Don Diavolo.  I read them and dutifully trotted off to Shelfari to log them and was a little startled to see that I am the only Shelfari user to have done so!  I read the Merlini novels years ago; I forget which library had them, if it was a college library or a public library. But I think it may be time to read them again.

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