The Dime Museum Murders by Daniel Stashower

Harry Houdini – master escapologist, somewhat mediocre magician and now detective? While working at a dime museum in order to make ends meet, Houdini and his brother,  Dash Hardeen, are called upon to give their expertise in a tricky matter – locked inside his study, Bradford Wintour has been shot with a poisoned dart – a dart fired by Le Fantome, a small statue created by the great magician Robert-Houdin. Two problems – how did the statue shoot so accurately and, more importantly, how did it shoot a splinter in the first place, given that all it is designed to do is spray ink from its blowpipe.

Luckily, Houdini has been reading the works of Conan Doyle recently, so clearly he’s perfectly prepared to investigate. After all, if a couple of cowboys can follow in the great sleuth’s footsteps, surely the great escapologist can do the same…

I spotted an intriguing review of this in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – “a locked room… well managed with clues and surprises” – and, coupled with my interest in the golden age of magic, this seemed ideal for the penultimate entry in my New Author August idea. But is it a little piece of magic, or has the rabbit escaped from the hat?

About 80% magic, I’d say. It’s a great read, narrated by Houdini’s brother, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it doesn’t gloss over the fact that Houdini was, to be honest, a bit of an arse. Very arrogant and single-minded, he may have read Conan Doyle, but he’s no Sherlock Holmes, bouncing his suspicions from one person to another – at any given time, he is certain that the last person he met must be the guilty party. Luckily his brother is a little more able in the sleuthing deaprtment…

The plot trundles along nicely – I was particularly impressed by the sensible way that Houdini is introduced into and stays in the investigation, and there is a shocking development about halfway through that makes things very personal. The author clearly knows his stuff about the era, and the magic industry in particular, and there’s some fascinating stuff here.

But all good things must come to an end… and here, I’m afraid, the author undoes a lot of his good work so far. The locked room solution is disappointing – I would use another word, but that would spoil things. More of a disappointment, though, is the motive which, while sort of hinted at, does seem to come out of nowhere and is rather unbelievable.

But for the most part, this is a great read, and I’ll certainly be returning to the (short) series – hopefully next time, the mystery will match the rest of the story.


  1. I loved this fictional incarnation of Houdini. I thought it very real based on all the bios I’ve read. Vain, egotistical, kind of a little boy who never grew up. And the surprise that Theo turns out to be the real detective made it all the better. I read all the books by Stashower in this brief series. The one that also features headline stage illusionist Kellar (THE FLOATING LADY MURDER) is the best I think.

    I met Daniel Stashower once at a talk he did on Conan Doyle. He confessed that Avon, the original publisher of these books, failed to market them properly and pretty much ruined the chance of the series ever going beyond the three books. A real shame. But then Stashower became a biographer of Doyle and gave us some fascinating (and award winning) non-fiction books. So a happy accident in a way.


  2. Does sound intrioguing (Houdini and Doyle did of course meet in real life) and I remember liking CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL, which I thought did a particularly good joob on conjuring up (ahem) the era of the great stage magician. Stay away though from that other Doyle and Housini novel, William Hjortsberg’s NEVERMORE though, really silly stuff.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.