With three exceptions—“Ghost of a Crown,” “The Father’s Tale,” and the last story—all the stories take place within the interwar period or during World War II. They often refer back to times that are now invested with an exotic magic. All the locations seem realistic as places for Ffellowes to have traveled, more than half being within the old British Empire. Sterling Lanier has researched his task thoroughly and carries conviction in each of his backgrounds. From the hills of Kenya to those of Belize, and to the Swedish and Sumatran coastlines, all the locations are credible, adding considerable weight to the stories. Lanier’s most effective creation, however, is the storyteller himself.
Ffellowes, born about 1908, is in retirement in New York. It is clear from comments made at various times that he keeps in close contact with the intelligence community. He has strong affinities with Lord Dunsany’s character Mr. Jorkens, yet he is the epitome of British sangfroid. In Lanier’s appeal to the slightly distant past, his use of a relatively impotent narrator (Jim Parker, a younger American stockbroker), and his protagonist’s almost sinister power to hold listeners, appearing unexpectedly and leaving tracelessly, the author is heavily influenced by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. He acknowledges this by giving the great detective a dominant, though pseudonymous, role in “The Father’s Tale,” which concerns, of all...
(The entire section is 602 words.)