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Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini

3.32  ·  Rating Details  ·  85 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
Renowned mystery author Arthur Conan Doyle and famous illusionist Harry Houdini first met in 1920, during the magician's tour of England. At the time, Conan Doyle had given up his lucrative writing career, killing off Sherlock Holmes in the process, in order to concentrate on his increasingly manic interest in Spiritualism. Houdini, who regularly conducted séances in an at ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 22nd 2011 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2011)
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The List of Seven by Mark FrostThe Six Messiahs by Mark FrostMasters of Mystery by Christopher SandfordThe Arcanum by Thomas WheelerThe Swami Deheftner by Robert Steven Goldstein
Conan Doyle & Houdini
3rd out of 13 books — 5 voters
Ghost Hunters by Deborah BlumThe Darkened Room by Alex OwenTalking to the Dead by Barbara WeisbergLily Dale by Christine WickerA History of Ghosts by Peter H. Aykroyd
Non-Fiction on Victorian Spiritualism
11th out of 68 books — 7 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-29 of 451)
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Jul 11, 2012 Gregg rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. Thanks!

The story of an usual pair of friends. I struggled to become engaged at times, but wanted to finish the book. Beginning in the 1920's these two very different men formed a unique relationship, especially considering their later strongly differing views on Spiritualism.

Without wanting to give away details, both men were obsessed in their own way with contacting the dead, especially relatives that had passed, and this was the crux of the
Aug 18, 2015 TomF rated it liked it
The linking theme here is a bit overwrought, as these novelty biographies often are, but luckily the protagonists are interesting enough to bear the load. Doyle's surprising Spiritualism does paint him in a dotty & dogmatic light, and he suffers somewhat in comparison to Houdini's debonair debunking, but his avuncular erudition makes up for much of that. They both lived "a long life, which has touched every side", so it just feels a shame that some duller 'on message' material seems likely t ...more
Phil Schafer
May 02, 2016 Phil Schafer rated it really liked it
This book has a very honest subtitle.
Carol White
Apr 04, 2016 Carol White rated it liked it
I did not complete the book because, after a while, it seemed that the arc of the story had plateaued. The development of Houdini and Doyle in relation to each other was interesting and the degree of public enthrallment with the supernatural mind boggling. I see it again in the devolution of the scifi channel into the sifi channel, devoted to a great extent to ghost shows purporting to be real. Will our willingness to be duped by con men, tv ministers, new age gurus, and dr. Oz cure alls never c ...more
Jan 11, 2012 JoLynn rated it really liked it
I won this book through the Goodreads First Reads Program.

A meticulous study of the relationship between master illusionist Harry Houdini and the remarkable Arthur Conan Doyle, best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Both men shared a tremendous interest in Spiritualism, spending many years and much of their fortunes on trying to contact those who had passed on to the next world. However, as time passed, their paths turned sharply in different directions, with Houdini bent on debunking fak
Adrian McCarthy
Jul 07, 2012 Adrian McCarthy rated it liked it
This wasn't quite as entertaining a read as Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, but Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini by Christopher Sandford added dimensions to the era of spiritualism that the former book only touched on. I had never known that Doyle and Houdini had corresponded extensively despite their differing views on spiritualism. Nor did I know that, Doyle--creator of the scientifically-minded detective Sherlock Holmes--was an outspoke ...more
Vishnu Prasad
Sep 03, 2013 Vishnu Prasad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apart from the fact that Conan Doyle was the author of the flamboyant Sherlock Holmes and Houdini was a great magician,I never knew anything about either of these great men.What the book has left me with is a close familiarity with the lives and nature of these men,their ideals,journeys and what shaped them.
This book is about two men who stood grounded on their belief to as far extents of test it may have taken them and how they endured unshaken until their last breath as to which their mutual r
Elizabeth Russell
Very heavy going but I enjoyed it
Jan 09, 2013 Eileen rated it liked it
Reading this now... Another great find in the library's New Non-Fiction section.

I'm a fan of both Houdini and Conan Doyle and their respective works. I first heard about their friendship and philosophical disagreements at a presentation by Jamy Ian Swiss, the magician, lecturer, and mentalism myth buster. Intriguing! I heard about it again at the Houdini Museum in Scranton PA... Facinating!!

I've been eager to learn more and I hope this book will slant my thirst.

5/27 -- Only 20 pages in so far
Jan 15, 2012 Eric rated it liked it
Well-researched/-documented, but not all that interesting, summary of the spiritualist movement of the early 1900's. Part of my issue is that, unfortunately, with non-fiction, you can't fabricate an audience-pleasing finale. There never was an "a-ha" moment when the dupes of all the frauds find out how "used" they were. But, obviously, that's not the author's fault.

However, I did learn a lot about Houdini and Conan Doyle.
Evie Polkadot
Jan 24, 2013 Evie Polkadot rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. As a huge Houdini fan (and, I suppose a slight fan of Sherlock Holmes) I couldn't wait to read this book and when I started, I couldn't stop. It was fascinating and exciting.

As somebody who was raised with a spiritual belief, but who also allows myself to be somewhat sceptical, this book managed to satisfy my inner spiritualist as well as my inner sceptic on equal levels. Loved it!
Jan 20, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this biography, but I love Doyle and Houdini. The fact that they had similar backgrounds and were both interested in the spiritualism religion, albeit from opposing viewpoints was fascinating. Sandford did a great job of not only giving readers an unbiased look into the lives of these men and their families, he also incorporated the world history of the time. A really interesting read.
Sherrie Saint
Dec 08, 2011 Sherrie Saint rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads-book
I enjoyed this book tremendously. I was always aware that Conan Doyle was interested in the paranormal but this book gives a further depth of understanding on the man behind Sherlock Holmes. It was interesting to find out the relationship between Conan Doyle and Houdini. I recommend this book highly to fellow Sherlockians and fans of Conan Doyle. Mr. Sandford did a fantastic job.
Apr 04, 2012 Jacqueline rated it it was ok
I couldn't finish this one after reading a chapter and a half, It was very much a, then this happened, then this person did this, then this person did that, style of writing and it just couldn't keep my interest, because there was no real excitement to keep me reading.
Jan 21, 2014 Garris rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
could not get into this.
Jan 08, 2012 Barbara rated it liked it
Shelves: finished
I liked this book but didn't love it. I loved the information given about the two men. But didn't really see how the book wanted to tie them together. Rather interesting. Slow at times. I would give it three stars.
Peter Ackerman
Aug 25, 2013 Peter Ackerman rated it it was ok
Pretty dull, which is a surprise, based on the subject matter. The most interesting this ever got was in the early and later sections when the author went for a traditional bio on one of the two title subjects.
Nov 12, 2011 Theresa marked it as to-read
I received an ARC of this book from GoodReads on November 12, 2011. As I am also attending school right now, my leisure reading time is minimal. I will post a review as soon as possible... sorry for the delay.
Feb 27, 2012 Gail rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I just could not get too far with this book. After reading a couple of chapters, I stopped. I actually found it boring.
Feb 03, 2012 Colleen rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
enjoyable, though my guess would be that it managed to alienate fans of each man
May 20, 2012 Shannon rated it liked it
Very interesting but kind of hard to get through, maybe because I was on vaca.
Jan 07, 2012 Kat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Number 1 Xmas prassie!!!!!!!
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Christopher Sandford has published acclaimed biographies of Kurt Cobain, Steve McQueen, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, and Roman Polanski. He has worked as a film and music writer and reviewer for over 20 years and frequently contributes to newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. Rolling Stone has called him "the preeminent author in his field today."

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