Author Archives: C. Michael Forsyth

About C. Michael Forsyth

C. Michael Forsyth is the author of "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House,""The Blood of Titans," "Hour of the Beast" and "The Identity Thief." He is a Yale graduate and former senior writer for The Weekly World News

Arthur Conan Doyle: War Propagandist

Highly patriotic Arthur Conan Doyle volunteered as a physician in the Boer War.

Highly patriotic Arthur Conan Doyle volunteered as a physician in the Boer War.

By C. Michael Forsyth

Like most Americans, I learned nothing about the Boer War in high school. Knowing only that it was between Great Britain and the Afrikaners, and not being a fan of apartheid, I assumed the English were the “good guys.” But, the war was fraught with moral ambiguity – as was Conan Doyle’s role in it, as I learned while researching my novel Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House.


The war was declared in October 1899, when the Boers – descendants of the Dutch, German and Huguenot who’d settled in the Cape of South Africa – rose up against the British Empire. Britain had established a major military presence in the region, ostensibly to protect the rights of British settlers. But the Boers contended that the English were only concerned with getting their hands on the largest gold field in the world, discovered a few years earlier.

The Boers -- now known as Afrikaners -- were dismissed as rabble farmers when they took on the British empire.

The Boers — now known as Afrikaners — were dismissed as rabble farmers when they took on the British empire.

A superpatriot, Conan Doyle promptly volunteered for the army, telling his mother he was “honor bound” to do so, since as a public figure, he could be a role model to younger men. Due to his age (40), he was placed on a waiting list. Undaunted, Conan Doyle joined as a medic, although the famous author of the Sherlock Holmes stories had hung up his stethoscope many years earlier.

England's 5th Lancers at the Battle of Elandslaagte.

England’s 5th Lancers at the Battle of Elandslaagte.

Conan Doyle’s doctoring skills were put to the test soon after his arrival with the troops. His unit, stationed at Bloemfontein, was overwhelmed by a virulent epidemic of typhoid (then known as enteric fever). The horrific conditions in the hospital ward have been likened to a slaughterhouse. But the author rose to occasion magnificently, rolling up his sleeves and working tirelessly and without complaint, never leaving his post, according to an account in The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, by Russell Miller.

“I never saw a man throw himself into duty so thoroughly, heart and soul,” wrote Mortimer Memes, a war artist who visited the Longman Hospital and sketched the author tending to stricken soldiers.

But there is a dark side to this tale of wartime heroism.

The Boers turned out to be hardier than the British government expected.

The Boers turned out to be hardier than the British government expected.


When the mighty British Empire took up arms against the Boers – dismissed as ignorant farmers with rifles – the government assumed the conflict would be over in a matter of weeks. Newspapers nicknamed it “The Tea Time War.” But it turned out to be anything but tea with the queen. The Boers were surprisingly adept with firearms and employed guerilla tactics that left British military leaders – used to infantrymen marching at them shoulder to shoulder—flummoxed. The Boer War ended up being the longest, costliest and bloodiest conflict Britain fought in the 19th century, with 22,000 English troops dead, mostly from disease. As the casualties mounted and reports of wartime atrocities by the British army surfaced, support from the public — reared on the assumption of the Empire’s invincibility — waned. It was in some ways this was Britain’s Vietnam.

Many Boer children died in British concentration camps.

Many Boer children died in British concentration camps.


The British army herded nearly 120,000 civilians into concentration camps.

The British army herded nearly 120,000 civilians into concentration camps.

To stamp out the Boers’ guerilla force, the British commander Lord Kitchener resorted to scorched earth tactics, torching crops and farms, and poisoning wells. More than 30,000 farmhouses and 40 small towns were destroyed, according to Miller’s book. Nearly 120,000 civilians were herded into what the government called “concentration camps,” introducing that now-infamous term to warfare. At least 25,000 civilians, including many children, died in the camps due to the appalling conditions, often succumbing to disease.

None of this dampened Conan Doyle’s enthusiasm for the war; he remained a vocal champion. Returning from his five month tour of duty, he penned The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct, a spirted defense of the Empire’s war effort. He emphatically disputed charges that British soldiers had committed rape and insisted (wrongly) that they had never used dum-dum bullets (expanding bullets that created horrific wounds). Those civilians were kept in refuge centers where the conditions were not to blame for any deaths, he adamantly maintained.

England's treatment of civilians in the Boer war was condemned abroad, as this French cartoon shows.

England’s treatment of civilians in the Boer war was condemned abroad, as this French cartoon shows.


“I do not think that any unprejudiced man can read the facts without acknowledging that the British government had done its best to avoid war and the British army to wage it with humanity,” Conan Doyle wrote.

About 300,000 copies of the pamphlet were sold in Britain and it was translated to foreign languages and read by people around the world. It is credited with shifting the tide of public opinion at home and abroad.

While there were rare opportunities for peaceful tea breaks, the "Tea Time War" was far from a cakewalk.

While there were rare opportunities for peaceful tea breaks, the “Tea Time War” was far from a cakewalk.


Conan Doyle was rewarded for his role as war propagandist, after the war ended with a British victory in May 1902. That October 24, he was knighted by the recently crowned King Edward VII.

The Boer War chapter of Conan Doyle’s life highlights his courage and compassion. It also illustrates his extraordinary capacity for ignoring reality once fixed upon a belief. Years later, this quality would be on spectacular display when he championed the belief in the existence of fairies.

Copyright C. Michael Forsyth

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world's greatest magician probe a paranormal  mystery in new thriller.

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world’s greatest magician probe a paranormal mystery in new thriller.

Houdini the Pilot

Houdini in his French biplane.

Houdini in his French biplane.

When one hears Houdini referred to as a “daredevil,” one pictures the escape artist dangling from a skyscraper in a straitjacket or plunging, manacled, into an icy river. But his heroics reached greater heights than that: Houdini was as a pioneering aviator, the 25th pilot to fly a powered aircraft!

The idea for including an airplane scene in my thriller Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House hit me after I saw a scene from his 1919 movie The Grim Game, in which he climbs from one biplane to another in midair — the only surviving segment of the film. Doing a little digging, I learned just how avid an aviation buff he was.

Daredevil Houdini wing walks in The Grim Game.

Daredevil Houdini wing walks in The Grim Game.

As early as 1908, just five years after the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, he offered $5,000 for one of their planes, according to The Secret Life of Houdini, a book I found an invaluable resource in my research. His plan was to leap, handcuffed, from a plane over London, escape from the manacles on the way down, open a parachute and land safely at Piccadilly Circus. That plan was scrapped but the following year, he purchased a Voisin E.N.V. 238, built by the French Voisin brothers, for $5,000 and in November of 2009 made his first flight, over a German army parade ground in Hamburg.

Houdini became the first man to fly in Australia, on March 18, 2010

Houdini became the first man to fly in Australia, on March 18, 2010


The magician’s aerial exploits attracted notoriety among impresarios, and so when he went on tour Australia in 2010, his contract called for him to make 10 exhibition flights. He had the honor of being the first person to fly on the continent. An enormous crowd gathered to watch him soar above Digger’s Rest on Mar 18, 2010.

Houdini’s triumph had a lasting impact. The success of a flight by a self-trained amateur raised concern that Australia, long thought to be too isolated to face attack, was vulnerable to an assault by air, especially from Japan. As a result, the government began to forge a fledgling air force.

Houdini never got a chance to do his parachute escape in real life, but I found the notion so captivating, I included one in my novel!

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world's greatest magician probe a paranormal  mystery in new thriller.

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world’s greatest magician probe a paranormal mystery in new thriller.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Introduced Skiing to England.

The author with his wife Louise ("Touie") on the slopes.

The author with his wife Louise (“Touie”) on the slopes.

By C. Michael Forsyth

When I first began plotting out my novel Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House I assumed that Houdini would handle all the physical heroics and Conan would be a cool-headed, Holmes-like intellectual. But as I researched the author I quickly discovered that rather than enjoying a sedentary lifestyle, he was a robust man of action, large, strapping and adept at a wide range of sports.

Over the years, Conan Doyle indulged in, and mastered, cricket, soccer, rugby, golf, boxing, car-racing, horsemanship, hunting and biking. He took a swing at baseball while on a trip to North America. In fact, other than Ernest Hemingway, it’s hard to name a writer more suited to the role of action hero.

I was particularly surprised to learn that Conan Doyle was among the very first to ski on the Swiss Alps and introduced his countrymen to the sport.

In 1894, when Conan Doyle visited Norway and Switzerland, skiing was not popular in those countries; few Swiss ever tried downhill skiing. The adventurous author, who’d done cross-country skiing in Norway, had to import a pair of downhill skis from there to Switzerland. He and two Swiss companions “created quite a little excitement” among locals when they swooped down the slopes at Arosa, he wrote his mother proudly.

The source for that is the book Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a Life in Letters, which I found enormously helpful. It also quotes an account Conan Doyle wrote for Strand Magazine titled “An Alpine Pass on Ski.” In it, he predicted, accurately, “Ski-ing opens up a field of sport which is, I think unique. I am convicted that the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the ski-ing season in March and April.”

Conan-Doyle was very proud of his contribution to the sport, later devoting three pages to the subject in his memoirs:

“I think I’m right in saying that these and other excursions of ours first demonstrated their possibilities to the people of the country and have certainly sent a good many thousands of pounds since then into Switzerland. If my rather rambling career in sport has been of any practical value to anyone it is probably in this matter.”

Bicycling was just one of the many sports Conan Doyle enjoyed.

Bicycling was just one of the many sports Conan Doyle enjoyed.

In reading Conan-Doyle’s own words, what was most useful to me as a novelist was to get a sense of his playful manner of speech, warmth and modesty. His magazine article was full of self-deprecating humor.

“There is nothing peculiarly malignant in the appearance of a pair of ski,” he wrote. “No one to look at them would guess at the possibilities which lurk in them. But you put them on and you turn with a smile to see whether your friends are looking at you, and then the next moment you are boring your head madly in to a snowbank and kicking frantically with both feet and half rising to butt viciously into that snowbank again, and your friends are getting more entertaining than they had ever thought of you capable of providing.”

About sliding down the mountainside on his backside in a less than dignified manner, he joked, “My tailor tells me Harris tweed cannot wear out. That will not stand a thorough scientific test.”

Conan Doyle’s autobiography, Memories and Adventures, includes a chapter on his sporting activities that concludes with a summation of the importance of such manly exploits in his life:

“It gives health and strength, but above all it gives a certain balance of mind without which a man is not complete. To give and take, to accept success modestly and defeat bravely, to fight against odds, to give credit to your enemy and value to your friend—these are some of the lessons that true sport should impart.”

Copyright C. Michael Forsyth

May 22 is Conan Doyle’s birthday. So now through Thursday, May 22, my new thriller Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House. Best of all, today thru May will be FREE in every eBook format at Smashwords.com Enter coupon code WD87N.

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world's greatest magician probe a paranormal  mystery in new thriller.

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world’s greatest magician probe a paranormal mystery in new thriller.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in the Adventure of the Spook House is continuing to get rave reviews from fans of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

From the Sherlock Holmes Society of London: “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House is an adventure story with depth, full of atmosphere, suspense, ingenuity and a real feeling for place, period and personality. Intensive research, a good ear for rhythms of speech and a literate style make for a cracking good read.”

The spanking new book trailer is now up on YouTube.

New York City dwellers, support independent bookstores by purchasing your autographed copy at The Mysterious Bookshop, which specializes in mysteries and is a neat place to browse. It’s located at 58 Warren St in Tribeca, open Monday-Saturday from 11am-7pm. (212) 587-1011

Support independent bookstores!

Support independent bookstores!

The Mysterious Bookshop has been a fixture in New York City for more than 30 years.

The Mysterious Bookshop has been a fixture in New York City for more than 30 years.

Houdini Was Also a Movie Star!

In Houdini's serials, henchmen keep making the mistake of tying him up.

In Houdini’s serials, henchmen keep making the mistake of tying him up.

By. C. Michael Forsyth

Most Americans know that Harry Houdini was a famous magician and escape artist. But how many know that he was also a matinee idol? From 1919 to 1923 Houdini starred in five silent film serials and features.

His body of work is collected on a wonderful DVD set Houdini the Movie Star, which also includes a rare audio recording of Houdini speaking in 1914, newsreel footage of Houdini’s escapes, and detailed film notes. Viewing the three disks was enormously valuable to me as I tried to fashion the “character” of Houdini in my novel Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House. Here before my eyes was the Houdini of fiction, a figure even more heroic than the larger-than-life man of reality: Brave, resourceful, brainy and ready to fight
at the drop of a hat.

The Automaton, a hulking robot, menaces Houdini in The Master Mystery.

The Automaton, a hulking robot, menaces Houdini in The Master Mystery.

In The Master Mystery (1919) Houdini plays Quentin Locke, an undercover Justice Department agent who infiltrates an evil corporation that purchases scientific inventions solely to keep them off the market. The villain, whose identity is a mystery, works through a man-sized robot (the first of its kind on film) plus an army of henchmen. They regularly overpower Houdini and leave him in a deadly and seemingly inescapable predicament at the end of of each episode. Houdini must free himself from an electric chair before a goon can throw the switch; escape from the bottom of an elevator shaft where he’s been tied as the car descends; save himself from corrosive acid that spreads toward him as he lies bound, and a slew of other deadly scenarios. One has to suspend disbelief, of course, to buy that the henchmen keep tying the escape artist up instead of simply shooting him. But hey, James Bond villains have been making that mistake for 50 years!

Daredevil Houdini wing walks in The Grim Game.

Daredevil Houdini wing walks in The Grim Game.

Only a five-minute fragment of the 1919 feature film The Grim Game remains. But what a fragment! In the spectacular sequence, Houdini, chasing by plane a villain who has kidnapped his sweetheart in another airplane, climbs out on the wing at 4,000 feet, then dangles from a rope to get to the cockpit of the other plane. Suddenly the planes collide and, locked together both go into a tail spin. The plane Houdini and the girl are in crashes and a horrified crowd rushes over to the smoking wreck. Out of the cloud of smoke, Houdini emerges carrying the unconscious damsel. The sequence is striking even by today’s standards. It owes its realism to the fact that the planes really DID accidentally collide! The director had the presence of mind to order the cameraman to keep rolling and, miraculously no one was killed. When the picture came out, a New York film critic enthused, “There is more excitement in one reel of The Grim Game than in any five reels of celluloid I have ever watched.”
After a spectacular rescue, Houdini gets the girl at the finale of The Grim Game.

After a spectacular rescue, Houdini gets the girl at the finale of The Grim Game.

Island natives get the better of Houdini in Terror Island.

Island natives get the better of Houdini in Terror Island.

The serial Terror Island (1920) was just as action-packed, and gave Houdini ample opportunity to showcase his prowess as an underwater swimmer. He stars as Harry Harper, the inventor of a submarine recruited by a young woman to help her rescue her father from an uncharted island. He hopes to find sunken treasure there that can be used to care for impoverished children. Houdini must contend not only with the island’s savage cannibals but also with a gang of ruthless villains determined to get their hands on the treasure. In one memorable scene, the natives stuff the heroine in a safe and drop it over a cliff into the ocean. Houdini swims underwater from the sub, cracks the safe and rescues the girl.
"Ha, Ha! The white devil will never escape from this!"

“Ha, Ha! The white devil will never escape from this!”

The Man from Beyond (1922) was the only feature over which Houdini had complete creative control, and he chose to make a rather quirky and cerebral film. Indeed, his own publicity materials described it as “the weirdest and most sensational love story ever told on screen.” Houdini plays Howard Hillary, a sailor who is frozen in the Arctic for more than one hundred years then revived by explorers. He becomes convinced that a professor’s daughter is the reincarnation of his lost love. The man from the past is so obsessed he interrupts the woman’s wedding and as a result gets committed to a mental hospital—from which, of course he has no trouble escaping. The highlight of the film is a scene in which Houdini struggles in the rapids close to the edge of Niagara Falls.

Haldane of the Secret Service (1923) also features few escapes, but there are other forms of movie action galore. Houdini plays Heath Haldane, a government operative assigned to bring to justice a band of counterfeiters who murdered his father (also a Secret Service agent). Anticipating the Bond films of today, the hero is something of a globe-trotter. His quest takes him from New York’s Chinatown to London and Paris. In one of the handful of escapes, the hero tracks the gang to their lair, an old monastery where the bogus monks capture him and tie him to the spokes of a giant waterwheel.

Bound to a waterwheel, Houdini must escape or drown in Haldane of the Secret Service.

Bound to a waterwheel, Houdini must escape or drown in Haldane of the Secret Service.

Houdini took his acting very seriously and instinctively perceived the difference between stage and screen acting. He eschewed the broad gestures that look so silly to modern audiences in favor of more subtle facial expressions. He also had a sure understanding of how to adapt his physical talents to the medium for which they were so well suited.

MORE FROM THE WRITER OF THIS ARTICLE…

The legendary magician and the creator of Sherlock Holmes probe a paranormal mystery in new novel.

The legendary magician and the creator of Sherlock Holmes probe a paranormal mystery in new novel.

Check out new Houdini thriller HERE.

Arthur Conan Doyle & Houdini Probe a Mystery in New Novel

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In my new novel Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House, the two extraordinary men team up to solve a paranormal mystery.

The plot in a nutshell:

The year is 1922. A respected judge inexplicably vanishes in a decrepit mansion and two of the world’s most remarkable men are summoned to investigate: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Houdini, the world’s greatest escape artist.

Aided by a beautiful young psychic, the unlikely partners probe a mystery that becomes murkier and more perilous at every turn and brings them face to face with evil incarnate. To solve the riddle of The Spook House—and to survive its dangers—they must call upon all of their extraordinary mental and physical powers. The story draws upon the real-life friendship of Conan Doyle and Houdini, two vastly different men brought together by their fascination with the paranormal.

The book’s getting a great response. And folks from the many Sherlock Holmes societies and other fans of Conan Doyle are chafing at the bit to read it. Here’s what the first reviewer said:

The Adventure of the Spook House is an exciting mystery full of twists, hair-breadth escapes and feats of derring-do. The author brings Conan Doyle and Houdini back to life as fully fleshed out characters who make splendid heroes. Thanks to Forsyth’s exhaustive research, the reader truly feels immersed in the 1920s. The novel captures the obsession with the supernatural that Conan Doyle shared with his friends like H.P. Lovecraft and my own great grand uncle Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.”
—Dacre C. Stoker, co author Dracula the Un-Dead, Bram Stoker’s Lost Journal

I came up with the idea after stumbling across the intriguing fact that the two legendary figures were friends—and later bitter enemies—in real life. Writing the book took over a year of research, as I tried to capture the personalities of each historical figure as well as, of course, get the details about them and the time period right. I pored over their autobiographies, books on how Houdini managed his escapes and a huge volume of the more than 1,500 letters written by Conan Doyle’s letters. It really helped me to get a handle on how the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories thought and spoke.

I learned that each man was, in his own right, brilliant and remarkably athletic—perfectly suited for an adventure of this type. I would be hard pressed to think of a real-life writer and an entertainer who would make better heroes.

The official release date of the book is March 24, 2014 but advance copies of the paperback and Kindle editions are already available at Amazon.com. You can find all other eBook formats, including Nook, at Smashwords.com

The Horror Stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

SPOOKY tales abound in collectionl

SPOOKY tales abound in collection.

By C. Michael Forsyth

Every reader knows of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Fewer are aware that he also invented Professor Challenger, whose visit to a plateau frozen in prehistory in The Lost World was a forerunner to Jurassic Park.

But hardly anyone knows that Doyle also wrote many horror stories and was a brilliant master of the genre. A collection of these can be found in The Horror of the Heights & Other Strange Tales. And what a delightful treat these tales are!

I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised that the father of literature’s most enduring character would bring considerable creativity to bear. But it’s remarkable how Doyle invented many of the staples of supernatural fiction.

His story “The Great Keinplatz Experiment,” anticipates the many body-swapping movies Hollywood has churned out, such as Freaky Friday, 18 Again, Prelude to a Kiss, and Rob Schneider’s surprisingly hilarious The Hot Chick.

Conan Doyle's mummy tale preceded the 1932 movie.

Conan Doyle’s mummy tale preceded the 1932 movie.

His “Lot 249” introduces the shambling, homicidal mummy that would decades later send chills up the spines of movie goers in The Mummy. Another story, “The Ring of Thoth,” precedes The Mummy’s theme of an immortal Egyptian driven by love spanning the centuries.

The story “The Horror of the Heights,” is about an airplane menaced by a monster that dwells in the clouds. It would be echoed in the classic 1963 Twilight Zone episode in which William Shatner, recovering from a nervous breakdown, is the only passenger aboard a plane to see a mysterious creature tampering with the engine.

As a writer, I’m often frustrated at how often I’ll come up with what I believe to be an original idea for a supernatural story, only to discover that The Twilight Zone got there first. Well, again and again, Conan Doyle beats Rod Serling to the punch.

William Shatner discovers planes can be more dangerous than spaceships in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Terror at 20,000 Feet."

William Shatner discovers planes can be more dangerous than spaceships in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Terror at 20,000 Feet.”

The most truly fascinating thing about these stories is that each includes a clearly outlined mechanism for the supernatural occurrence, lending the tales unusual realism.

Remember, Conan Doyle was an ardent believer in the occult. He vouched for mediums and ascribed to their pseudoscientific cosmology (ectoplasm, astral planes and the like). He believed in telepathy, psychometry, clairvoyance — and even fairies, championing those dubious “fairy photographs” as legitimate.

In most modern horror novels and movies, the supernatural element requires total suspension of disbelief. We are simply supposed to accept that there are vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies or whatever, with the why and how left unanswered. In occult-expert Conan Doyle’s stories there is always a logical explanation for the supernatural events, no matter how fantastic. For example, in the body-switching story, the spooky fun starts when a professor and his assistant, sitting side by side, simultaneously attempt out-of-body projection.

And in “Horror of the Heights,” the denizens of the upper atmosphere are life forms that one might reasonably believe could inhabit the sky — unlike the lumbering, Abominable Snowman-like “gremlin” of The Twilight Zone episode.

Long before Boris Karloff appeared in The Mummy, Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of a tragic, immortal Egyptian obsessed with an ancient love

Long before Boris Karloff appeared in The Mummy, Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of a tragic, immortal Egyptian obsessed with an ancient love


Beyond that, the twisty, sometimes grimly humorous stories deliver the requisite scares. There were none that I didn’t like. My favorite was “The Parasite,” in which a hypnotist’s parlor exhibition at a cocktail party leads to harrowing consequences for the subject. This tale features a storyline you definitely WON’T recognize from Hollywood movies. And it builds up to a nail-biting climax even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t foresee.

This article was written by the author of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world's greatest magician probe a paranormal  mystery in new thriller.

The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world’s greatest magician probe a paranormal mystery in new thriller.