Thursday, September 6, 2018


As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talents into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural.
Solar Pons to a T, or Sherlock Holmes, actually, as August Derleth had wanted to call his ratiocinating private detective until Arthur Conan Doyle, who’d decided not to write any more Holmes stories, told him “No.” Undaunted, Derleth came up with a new name for the star of his Holmes pastiches, giving birth to Mr. Pons. It should be elementary to wonder what credit, if any, Doyle himself gave to the creator of Holmes’s precursor, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, as the quotation above, which describes Dupin to the same T as it does Holmes/Pons, was penned by Edgar Allen Poe in his prologue to The Murders in the Rue Morgue, a story first published in 1841. My exhaustive research has turned up no evidence of legal threats by Poe’s literary guardians to prevent Doyle from naming his detective Dupin, nor any inkling Doyle had even the slightest interest ever in doing so.
A disclaimer of sorts is appropriate at this point, as I should disclose a marked aversion to ratiocination despite the amusement of trying to pronounce it perfectly ten times in a single breath whilst keeping in mind precisely what it means. The aforementioned prologue to Rue Morgue provides a terrifyingly complex explanation of how the mind of Dupin/Holmes/Pons solves mysteries no other living soul could ever hope to fathom without extraterrestrial or exotic chemical assistance.
C. Auguste Dupin
I suspect my disinclination to embrace mystery-solving by means of such techniques as determining beyond doubt from a barely visible filament of wool adhering to a pants cuff that the wearer of said pants had arrived aboard the Orient Express, Coach #7, from a remote village in Bangladesh...uh, where was I? I don’t have patience for such folderol unless it appears in something light and short, such as August Derleth’s quickie, deftly crafted stories featuring Solar Pons and his faithful assistant/stenographer Dr. Lyndon Parker. The collection’s odd title, In Re: Sherlock Holmes – The Adventures of Solar Pons Book 1, is an homage to Derleth’s debut Pons collection’s homage to the forbidden Holmes. Shamefully, having grown up an hour’s drive from Derleth’s home town in Wisconsin, it’s the only one of his many works I have read, and read only after the cumulative guilt from reading Friday’s Forgotten Books blogging friends’ enthusiastic reviews of Derleth’s work finally last week nagged my fickle forefinger to the one-click download button on’s Kindle version of In Re...Book 1. [breathe]
Holmes v. Pons

So why did it take me so long to “discover” August Derleth? Let me list some pathetic reasons:
  • His work wasn’t taught in my schools because he was local, and therefore not a “serious” writer.
  • I didn’t know he wrote Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Yet, altho I went thru a serious Holmes phase years ago, I was never tempted to join the Williamsburg, Va., chapter of The Baker Street Irregulars.
  • My dad bad-mouthed him, thinking him not a “successful” writer (he was hoping to discourage my interest in writing), which meant he was “a little nuts,” altho my dad had tried to write a mystery and abandoned it after a couple chapters and warned me not to tell anyone because people would think him “a little nuts” (one was always “a little nuts” until one actually wrote a novel that made a lot of money, altho every now and again he’d assure me that “everybody’s a little nuts” (he was a lawyer and had to cover all of the bases, win every argument), but then August Derleth was really nuts because “HE MARRIED A TEENAGER!!!I was barely a teenager myself when on one of our family visits to Madison to “eat out” he pointed at Derleth with a young woman walking near the Capitol. THERE HE IS! LOOK AT HIM WITH HIS TEENAGE WIFE!!! True, Derleth looked old enuf to be the woman’s grandfather, and, back then and at my impressionable age, pretty much completely under the thumb of an egomaniacally fucked-up father, I agreed, with a murmur, thinking the man might have been at least somewhat nuts. And, sad as it is to recognize and acknowledge, this likely was the emotional toxin that kept me from August Derleth’s work until last week.
So, then, did I enjoy the dozen Solar Pons adventures contained in this collection? Elementary, my dear friends. I’d forgotten how much fun I’d had reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, and I found some neat treasures in the Pons stories, to boot, which I shall present as little mysteries for you to solve. The game is now afoot!

August Derleth
From The Adventure of the Sotheby Salesman, something in this quote should remind you of another, more popular fictional detective (hint – one of his most outrageous cases involved tweaking the ego of a certain powerful Washington, D.C. bureaucrat): For some moments Pons stood gazing with rapt interest at the lowered window, his eyes slightly narrow now, his lips pushing out and in in his customary fashion when deep in thought.”
Answer aloud what bell doth ring in this quote from The Adventure of the Purloined Periapt: “I have used these lads before your time, Parker. And no doubt I shall use them after. They are remarkably alert. I call them my Praed Street Irregulars.”
And this, from The Adventure of the Seven Passengers (you may shout it out):Pons regarded Baron Ennesfred Kroll as the prototype of the arch-criminal, and found himself ultimately involved in several adventures in which he recognized the hand of the baron, before he was enabled to trap him.”
Delightful as these stories are, I found myself thoroughly absorbed in the background on August Derleth and Solar Pons provided by three devotees: David Marcum (Regarding Sherlock Holmes), Derrick Belanger (Many Firsts), and Vincent Starrett (In Re: Sherlock Holmes).
I wish to hell someone had led me to August Derleth’s enchanted world long ago...long, long ago. 

[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]


  1. Derleth was loved and hated by the people in his home town. He was outspoken and ideosyncratic. Many of the residents of Sauk Prairie were immortalized in his works as thinly veiled characters; many considered this a privilege. He would walk the two miles to town invariably wearing a black opera cape. When he won the Guttenheim Award, he spent the prize money having his extensive collection of comic strips bound. And when he built Place of Hawks (his large home), he used the bank loan given for building for another purpose (if I recall correctly, it was to help keep his publishing business Arkham House afloat). When he married his wife she was fifteen and he was 44. He was active in Sauk City affairs and served on the school board and on many other local organizations and was often embroiled in local arguments, winning many and losing some. The Place of Hawks was often used as a teenage gathering place. He was openly bisexual and there are hints that he had homosexual relationships with some of the older teenagers. Derleth was a man of many passions, one of the chief being morels -- for several weeks each year he would stop all work and go hiking with a wooden basket collecting the mushrooms, hanging them throughout his home to be eaten over the coming year. He was a glutton when it came to sweets. Argumentative and opinionated, he was a polymath of literature. His Sac Prairie Sage (part of his larger Wisconsin Saga) was a major milestone in regional writing. He wrote mysteries, fantasy, horror, science fiction, poetry, juveniles, history, biography, literary criticism and reviews, meditations, comic strips, and works on conservation -- many of which were superb. Throughout all of Derleth's work there is displayed a deep love of his home state and its people, as well as the look, the sounds, and the smells of nature which surrounded him.

    Derleth's Solar Pons stories are among the best Sherlockian mysteries out there. (Athough the one novel in the series, MR. FAILIE'S FINAL JOURNEY, was an absolute stinker IMHO.) I would also highly recommend PLACE OF HAWKS, a collection of stunning novellas and part of his Sac Prairie Saga. To my mind, some of his best work can be found in his series of juvenile novels featuring Steve Grendon (based on Derleth in his youth) and Sim Jones (based on Derleth's best childhood -- and life-long -- friend); these books evoke the same wonder and nostalgia as Ray Bradbudy's Greentown, with mystery and adventure added. Many critics consider his best work to be meditative WALDEN WEST.

    I urge you, Matt, to read more of the Solar Pons stories as well as some of Derlth's other work. Your father may have been right to criticize Derleth, but there was little reason to criticize Derleth's writing.

    1. Thanks so much for this background, Jerry. I've learned so much just now about August Derleth and, too late, sadly, about my father. I do remember him telling me about a Derleth story he'd read, calling it brilliant. I shall indeed read more of his work. Thanks again!

  2. I read a Solar Pons collection for SHERLOCK HOLMES WEEK on my blog last month. August Derleth, like many writers, was quirky. But he'll always be known for establishing Arkham Press to bring H. P. Lovecraft's work to the world...and his wonderful Solar Pons stories!

  3. These are terrific stories, and despite the totally irrelevant information in Jerry's first paragraph (since it has nothing to do with the writing!), there is a lot to like in Derleth's writing, both the Pons stories and his science fiction.

    1. Thanks, Rick. I would note, tho, that Jerry's information is indeed relevant to the reasons it took me so long to discover Derleth's writing.

  4. Matthew, David Marcum has collected new Solar Pons stories by an assortment of writers and the anthology will be released soon...

  5. Well, I learned a lot from your post and the comments. I had heard of this author, but did not know much. I have not read much of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels or stories, either. I will make some more progress on that before moving onto August Derleth.

    1. I haven't read anything by Doyle in years, Tracy. Time I took another look at him, too!

  6. Is this like a 'six degrees of separation' thing? Ha. I'm a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and I've heard of Pons and his creator, but I've never gotten around to reading any - at least that I remember. Maybe one of these days I'll take a look.

    1. More like six degrees of cloning, Yvette. But if you like Holmes, you'll like Pons. Hard to tell them apart, except for the names.