Review time! with some of Greg Hatcher’s short stories!

A few years ago, when I met up with Greg Hatcher and his lovely wife for dinner in Seattle when I was in town for the Emerald City Comic Con, he brought along some of the books in which he’d had short stories published. I read one of the stories fairly quickly, but then … I kind of got sidetracked and didn’t read the rest of them. Now, despite the fact that I’m still working (we both are, and are very thankful for that), I figured it would be a good time to sit down and read them all and let you know what I think. I can’t promise that I’m going to be too objective – I mention this whenever I review something by someone I know – because Greg is a good guy, and I think you should all go buy the books in which his stories appear, but I’ll do my best. Let’s take a look! I should point out that all of these books are published by Airship 27 Productions, the nifty boutique publishing house of Ron Fortier, which is devoted to keeping old pulp heroes alive!

“The Case of the Ectoplasmic Escapist,” published in George Chance – The Green Ghost volume 1 (2014). If not for Greg, I probably would never have heard of the Green Ghost, but here we are. George Chance is an ex-magician who became a 1930s vigilante, using the tricks of his trade to dazzle, disorient, and defeat the bad guys, which is not a bad schtick at all. So Greg gives us a story in which he has to deal with a bunch of magicians, all of whom could see through his tricks. Oh dear. George is invited to the opening of a museum dedicated to a famous magician who died on stage a few years earlier, and while he’s there, he plans to investigate the death, which he is sure was murder. Chance has a posse, because of course he does, and they all go along. Of course it was murder, but from there, the story takes a bunch of twists and turns that keep us on our toes. Some of them are pretty obvious, but some aren’t (at least to me), so that was nice. What Greg does well in this story is give us a lot of nuts and bolts about magic tricks, which is always neat, and he does a clever job showing how Chance “turns into” the Green Ghost – it’s a short but very effective passage.

Greg gives us memorable characters very quickly, which is nice to see. I assume that he’s using the templates established way back when, but he still does a good job giving each character interesting personalities. Greg’s prose is interesting – I can hear his voice in my head while I’m reading it, and his writing style is very close to the way he tells stories. It’s kind of hard to describe – it’s terse, like a lot of pulp writing, but also, oddly, the slightest bit … I want to say rambling, but that sounds negative, and it’s not. Greg is a born raconteur, and when he talks, he has an easy, smooth style that belies the often angry words he’s using (Angry Greg is very entertaining, because he usually has thought quite a lot about what makes him angry). So it’s kind of a smooth yet terse writing style, which is very hard to reconcile. But it works. Pulp fiction relies on clipped prose, and Greg gets to the point quickly, but he never gets there without making sure the picture is filled in very well around it. Sorry – listen to one of Greg’s podcasts and you’ll get an idea of what I mean. Or just come to Seattle and hang out with him when Emerald City is going on!

Anyway, this is a clever story that takes into account both Chance’s past and the times and the practicalities of being a magician. Greg hits familiar beats, but not necessarily in familiar ways (the final confrontation between Chance and the villain, for instance, is familiar but not clichéd), and he does something interesting with a side character, which is neat. It’s a cool story.

“The Adventure of the Infernal Inheritance,” published in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective volume 6 (2014). Greg writes a Holmes story, because who doesn’t love writing a Holmes story? In this one, he gives Watson a bit more to do (he notes at the end that he did this deliberately to counter the long-standing movie tradition of Watson being kind of a bumbler … something he notes Martin Freeman upended in Sherlock, but which Lucy Liu did far better in Elementary), which is nice. Holmes is still the smart one, but Watson saves Holmes’s life from Sebastian Moran, and he also manages to lower Moran’s defenses earlier in the story when they visit the villain in prison, something Holmes is unable to do because Moran hates Holmes so much. So that’s interesting. Greg gives us the typical Holmesian deductions, which are always fun, and Holmes is less abrasive than he is in some adaptations – Greg has read the original stories, of course, so he knows that Conan Doyle’s Holmes isn’t quite the social misfit that many actors have portrayed him as. Greg uses Moriarty, but he makes the point that in the original stories, Moriarty was never present, so he isn’t here, but his presence is felt.

I don’t love Greg’s big plot, though. Everything holds together, certainly, and it seems logical that Moriarty might come up with it, because he’s so damned smart, but it seems … I don’t know, too clever, maybe? Too big a leap, even for someone as brilliant as Moriarty? I don’t want to give it away, but it seems that what Moriarty postulated would be impossible given the time period when he would have had to postulate it. Maybe I’m wrong. It just seems like that Moriarty would have had to have access to things that didn’t exist yet when he died, even though it’s possible he could have made such a leap theoretically. I don’t know – it skirts too close to science fiction for me, even though the story itself holds together quite well. It’s also funny that 2014 Greg ignores the advice of, say, 2020 Greg with regard to Batman stories. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but it feels like this is too big a thing for a Holmes story. But that’s just me.

You might like the plot, of course. Certainly the writing is well done, and the way everything fits together is nice and explicable. It’s just that I didn’t love the solution, even if it makes sense. Such is life!

“The Adventure of the Impossible Angel,” published in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective volume 7 (2015). This is more like it in terms of Holmesian plots, as Greg takes an actual Conan Doyle story, “A Case of Identity,” and wonders what would happen if Conan Doyle weren’t writing for a Victorian audience and was also more interested in the characters rather than the puzzle. In the original story, a young woman is romanced by her stepfather, disguised as a suitor, so that when he leaves her at the altar she will become disillusioned with romance and remain unmarried, allowing her stepfather to remain in control of her considerable inheritance. As Greg notes in his afterword, this is extremely creepy, especially as the girl’s mother was in on the plot. Plus, Conan Doyle’s Holmes was never terribly concerned if the guilty party was punished, especially if the crime, in this case, was a bit fuzzy, legally. So at the end of the story, the stepfather and mother get off scot-free. Greg and his wife, as you might know, are deeply involved in social work and dealing with underprivileged people, so he did not really love the ending to this story, which seems like it would damage the young woman irrevocably and allow a sexual predator off the hook. So he kills off the stepfather at the beginning of this story, but it seems like the stepfather is killed by the very man he created to seduce the young woman. Well, that can’t be, so it’s an intriguing case for Holmes. Greg delves into the character of Holmes and Watson quite well here, as Watson finally blows up at Holmes for his horrible attitude toward people. In most media, Watson doesn’t blow up at Holmes – Lucy Liu is, again, the exception, as even Martin Freeman really never does – despite the fact that Holmes comes across as wildly inconsiderate and dismissive of those who help him, especially Watson. What’s interesting about this confrontation is that Watson is both right and wrong when he verbally attack Holmes, and his berating is woven nicely into the plot. The story is a bit spicier than we’d get from Conan Doyle, and obviously, Greg fills in the backgrounds of the characters far more than Conan Doyle ever did, but unlike the story in the previous volume, this feels more like a Conan Doyle Holmes story. Which means I like it a lot more!

“None So Blind,” published in Black Bat Mystery volume 3 (2015). We’re back to the pulps, as Greg tries his hand at the Black Bat, another vigilante with a schtick – this time, it’s Tony Quinn, who was blinded in an accident, which allowed his other senses to become stronger, but then he had his sight restored, and it was even better! So he’s able to perceive things that others don’t, and he spends his time zipping about the city as the Black Bat. It’s a pretty good hook (so good that DC and Marvel both swiped aspects of it!), and Greg does a good job showing how Quinn is able to do things “beyond the ken of mortal men!!!!!” because of those senses – he can navigate a city pretty easily because he knows where all the places to grab hold of are, and he can reach a zeppelin above the city because he can perceive air currents. Quinn, as per usual, has a posse to help him fight crime, and in this story, Greg puts the spotlight on Silk Kirby, an ex-con man, who helps him solve the mystery in the story. The mystery itself is pretty keen – at a party with the city’s glitterati, lightning from a cloudless sky kills several guests, and a swami shows up to say that the city should release a big mobster because he’s innocent, and the deaths are because the universe is angry. This is where Kirby comes in, because he can spot a con man, so Quinn sends him to figure things out with the swami. Of course, there’s a woman involved – ain’t there always? I don’t want to give too much away, but Greg does a nice job reflecting the cultural realities of the 1930s, and he manages to explain the strange things that are happening in the story fairly plausibly (it’s not an angry universe, in case you were hoping). As Greg is writing a character not quite as well known as Holmes and Watson, he’s back to more of “his” style of writing, and it works quite well. This story is better than the two Holmes ones, and it’s about on par with the Green Ghost one, although I think it’s a bit better than that one. This book also has a contribution from Gordon Dymowski, whom I’m friends with on Facebook. I should probably read his story!

“Love Is a Battlefield,” published in Domino Lady volume 1 (2015). Ellen Patrick, a.k.a. Domino Lady, first appeared in 1936 as a character in one of the “spicy” pulps that were so very popular back then (good thing we’ve moved past the point where you can use sex to sell any- and everything, right?), and Greg points out in his afterword that he had a tough time with her, because he’s writing a woman as a main character, something he had never done before (it’s not in first person, though, so that probably helped), and he wanted to keep the sexiness while not making it salacious. Ellen, for instance, ends up in her underwear in this story, but it’s because the villain knows she has stuff hidden in her clothes, and it turns out she has stuff hidden in her bra, anyway. I liked this story quite a bit, too, because it begins with a long prelude in which the villain hires a dude to discover who the Domino Lady is, and it gives us a wider scope than just Ellen solving a crime, as Greg presents a very credible villain and a pretty good henchman, too (good characterizations of henchmen is always a good thing). So we reach Ellen through a roundabout route, and while it’s her story, we get a lot more than if it just focused on her. Like he’s done in some of the other stories, Greg brings in cultural realities and why some people would be vulnerable to villains, and he adds a nice love story, to boot. (I do think filming in Puerto Vallarta in the 1930s is an anachronism, but what the hell.) The story works well, but Greg does point out that Ellen is playing the part of the ditzy socialite, but when she’s in her “Ellen” persona, she seems just as competent and intelligent as she really is, so it’s easy to believe that the villain would see through her disguise. The point of the story is not really that the villain wants to discover her identity, but what he’ll do then, but it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to let Ellen really lean into the role she’s playing. But that’s a minor complaint, because everything else works nicely. There’s the hints about the awful corruption among Los Angeles government in the 1930s, the shadiness of the movie industry, the racism of the people in charge, the blacklisting of those who don’t fit into a narrow definition of “normal,” and a woman in her underwear. Sound good!

So those are some of the stories Greg has written over the years. I was planning on getting more from him in March before they foolishly canceled the Emerald City Comic Con over some hoax, but maybe I’ll be able to get there next year and pick up some more. I could, I suppose, just order them on-line by using the link below, but that would be far too easy! Don’t let that stop you, though, from searching them out and give Greg some of your support. He’s an excellent dude!

15 Comments

  1. My blushes. I am all aglow.

    You all should know that Greg warned me he was going to write this when I handed him the stack (that he insisted on paying for, he is very ethical) so I am just glad the other shoe dropped finally.

    Also, just FYI, the Bat was the last one of these to be published but it was the first one submitted and as such it was kind of my audition, so it’s much more of an action piece. And I put a zeppelin in the story to really stack the deck because Ron loves them, as you may have gathered from the name of the publisher. Now it can be told!

    A dozen books later I guess I passed the test. There’s two Sherlock Holmes stories and a Mystery Men in the pipeline for some time around the end of the year, probably.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Excellent – it’s nice to see a (well-deserved) spotlight on Greg’s writing. So good on you, other Greg!
    (Although I don’t agree with you about Infernal Inheritance, so I guess that means I’m writing you out of my will; no complete set of Marvel digests for you, mister!)

    Seriously, though, I think you hit on something I also noticed in Greg’s prose style: he packs a lot of story elements, explanations, etc., i.e. condenses a lot of information, but using relatively few words and in a very readable, conversational way – basically the opposite of a tedious information dump. He makes writing short stories look really easy, even though it’s actually pretty hard to do what he does.
    So yeah, everybody, go find all these books that other Greg mentioned here and read these great stories (as well as Greg’s other stuff, mainly a few more Holmes stories, a Sinbad story, and that friggin’ awesome novel, Silver Riders).

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Now I’m sad that I’m not getting the Marvel digests! 🙁

      I noticed your name quite a lot in the afterwords, sir! Look at you, helping Greg out!

      I really need to get his novel. As I noted, I had hoped to get it in March, but maybe I’ll suck it up and order it from a cold, unfeeling on-line book seller.

  3. Congrats!
    “As Greg notes in his afterword, this is extremely creepy, especially as the girl’s mother was in on the plot. ” Well, yes. One of Doyle’s strengths is that he’s willing to give Holmes’ clients a tragic ending (Valley of Fear, Dancing Men, Five Orange Pips) or let villains get away (Greek Interpreter, though they pay for it later). That said, no problems with the odious stepfather getting some rough justice.
    I suppose the extreme Capable Watson would be Ben Kingsley in Without a Clue, which assumes Holmes is deductive genius Watson’s dimwit front man (for reasons explained in the movie). Michael Caine’s too laid-back as even a fake Holmes but Ben Kingsley is fabulous.

      1. He’s on my shortlist of ‘good Watsons.’ Trumbull and I have kicked around this idea a lot and he finally wrote it up for us here. My favorites are Martin Freeman and Edward Hardwicke, but Duvall is there along with David Burke and Patrick Macnee and Colin Blakely and Jude Law as tied for third. I love James Mason in Murder By Decree as well, but he’s very much in the Nigel Bruce tradition. I think Bruce’s Watson was so huge that it didn’t really go away as the default until Hardwicke in the Jeremy Brett version. Even Blakely’s and Burke’s had a little comedy-bumbler Watson in the mix. Duvall’s didn’t but that was the lone outlier for years, and it was also a Holmes movie written by the one screenwriter who’d done it that had already been in the Baker Street Irregulars and had a Holmes novel under his belt.

        My opinion, of course. But I’ve thought about this a LOT, even before I started writing my own.

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