The Master of Mysteries

Poisoned Pen. (Library of Congress Crime Classics). Jan. 2023. 496p. ISBN 9781728264011. pap. $14.99. M
This reissued collection of short stories written in 1908 and 1909 brings back an early detective of American crime fiction. Classic genre fiction expert Leslie S. Klinger’s introduction states that Astro the Seer and his assistant, Valeska Wynne, filled a gap left by the departure of Sherlock Holmes. Astro is a psychic who fascinates the upper classes in New York City with his auras, crystals, and unusual dress as he solves mysteries ranging from murder and kidnapping to matters of the heart, for clients from a variety of social classes and ethnicities. In two dozen stories, he experiments with science and philosophy, guiding principles in his shrewd assessments of his fellow humans. The mysteries are sometimes humorous, like the story of a bridegroom who disappears, and running throughout the collection is the thread of Astro’s growing infatuation with the beautiful Valeska (a thread that’s tied up in the last few stories).
VERDICT Burgess’s stories have too much philosophizing and pseudoscience for modern readers. Recommended only for collectors and reference, as early examples of American detective fiction.
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