Reviews - What do customers think about In the House of Secret Enemies (Mongo Novellas)?
The 9th Mongo book - short story collection May 19, 2005
"There is a bad grouping in Scorpio, the sign of the occult. There are a number of other afflictions indicated, including a bad conjunction in the house of the secret enemy. I would say that whoever this is has reached a most important crossroad in his life, and the situation is fraught with danger." - a friend interpreting a horoscope for Mongo in "Falling Star"
IN THE HOUSE OF SECRET ENEMIES is the first Mongo short story collection. Each was written for magazine publication, mostly in the 1970s. Most were first published in ALFRED HITCHOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE (AHMM) or MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE (MSMM). Apart from the introductory essay, they appear in publication order, each with an introduction outlining its origin and relationship to later Mongo novels.
Consequently, this collection contains massive spoilers for AN AFFAIR OF SORCERERS (1979), and some references to THE COLD SMELL OF SACRED STONE (1988) and THE FEAR IN YESTERDAY'S RINGS (1991). Proceed with this review at your own risk.
Overall, Chesbro's storytelling seems more effective at novel length, but these are worth reading.
"The Birth of a Series Character" (THE WRITER, March 1989) A where-do-you-get-your-ideas essay. How Chesbro's attempts to compete with the giants of mystery writing led to the notion of Mongo as a dwarf, then to Mongo's circus performer background, and finally (to exorcise the idea before developing a *serious* character) to the first story herein.
"The Drop" (MSMM, October 1971) Mongo is hired to deliver a message to a young artist touring Italy with his girlfriend, on behalf of a relative concerned that they're headed for big drug-related trouble. In later years, of course, Mongo will learn to distrust simple assignments like this...
"High Wire" (AHMM, March 1972), like CITY OF WHISPERING STONE (1979), begins with a friend from Mongo's circus days asking for help, but Bruno wants a friend's support rather than an investigation. Weak character development, too much 'tell' rather than 'show'. Clumsy build-up of tension at the end (if Mongo had used his brain, there could've been a quick, quiet resolution). Characteristic Mongo moments: working despite health issues.
"Rage" (AHMM, February 1973) Garth refuses to seek help for some serious emotional difficulties until he's testified in an upcoming industrial espionage case. Elements of this story later appear in the Valhalla novels, but in exposition rather shown directly as in "Rage". Garth's police colleagues are generally underdeveloped as characters.
"Country for Sale" (MSMM, June 1973), like "The Drop", showcases Chesbro's travel notes. In the midst of a European tour, in the tiny republic of San Marino, Statler's circus faces an unexpected takeover. The new owner claims that Statler sold out and left without a word to anyone. But why would an outsider want to seize control of a circus? THE FEAR IN YESTERDAY'S RINGS later takes the basic question in a different direction.
"Dark Hole on a Silent Planet" (AHMM, November 1973) was absorbed into AN AFFAIR OF SORCERERS. The novel slows the development of this subplot but handles the build-up better, when Mongo does his homework before visiting the Nobel prize-winning fellow faculty member he's been asked to discreetly investigate. This works better as an independent story than as part of AFFAIR; it's too different from the other elements to fit smoothly, even though AFFAIR's version revises some out-of-character actions taken in the short story.
"The Healer" (AHMM, August 1974), of the four short stories absorbed into AFFAIR, benefited least from the revisions incorporating it into the novel. In some ways, this is a weaker version of "Book of Shadows". The goal is to get non-traditional help for a dying girl whom conventional medicine can't save, here a young woman who depends on a psychic to alleviate her cystic fibrosis. The psychic has been jailed after tangling with the medical establishment; Mongo's job is to discreetly straighten out the problem without embarrassing the girl's father, a senator. The patient is undeveloped as a character; the final resolution, not shown, is provided by exposition.
"Falling Star" (AHMM, November 1974) is the pop singer "Harley Davidson", once a student of Mongo's university (although in this version, the kid was a colleague's ex-student rather than one of Mongo's). The star's ex-agent/promoter hires Mongo to help pry the star out of the clutches of an unscrupulous psychic. The short story ends abruptly, given the build-up, and like "Book of Shadows" contains more occult aspects than the author was comfortable with in the ensuing novel. More interesting as this short story than as a subplot of AFFAIR, although AFFAIR better develops the characters.
Kathy (the small daughter of a neighbour of Mongo's) hires him to find her father's missing "Book of Shadows" (MSMM, June 1975) - his spiritual journal as a witch. As in AFFAIR, Kathy falls into a medically inexplicable coma as a result of her parents' activities, but the responsibility for her condition, its causes, and the solution differ here than those in AFFAIR. The short story more deeply explores the possibility of an occult explanation for Kathy's condition than does the novel. The parents are underdeveloped as characters (something fixed by AFFAIR), while the mother's brother is more deeply developed.
"Tiger in the Snow" (MSMM, March 1976) Mongo's old friend Sam has left his circus job, and Statler wants him accounted for quick. The mystery involves how Same came to leave when the blood in his cage indicates that he was forced to by someone else.
"Candala" (AN EYE FOR JUSTICE: THE THIRD PRIVATE EYE WRITERS OF AMERICA ANTHOLOGY) is an obsolete term from India's caste system, never used in polite company. When a fellow professor indicates to young Pram that Pram may have been born a candala, Mongo attempts to intervene when the young man begins falling apart. Interesting story, since the real problem is that the young man is prejudiced against himself.