"There are many doors to Fantasia, my boy. There are other such magic books. A lot of people read them without noticing. It all depends on who gets his hands on such books."- Mr. Coreander, The Never-Ending Story (1979).
I always had a weakness for crossovers. It's difficult to explain where this fascination came from, but there's something positively thrilling about watching two different universes collide with one another and merge into one – and a character from one book acknowledging a character from another book, as an actual person, is enough to send a tingling down my spine. It's for this reason that I enjoy Rex Stout's non-series detectives as much as the ones he wrote featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. They are jam-packed with places and secondary characters that make it very clear they all inhabit the same universe, but, to my great sorrow, Wolfe, Fox and Hicks were never destined to cross paths.
So you can imagine my glee when, a few years ago, I discovered that Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice had collaborated on a bunch of short stories, collected in The People vs. Withers and Malone (1963), in which their series detectives actually worked together on half a dozen cases (was there a god, after all?)!
But as great and fun as the stories were, and the experience of reading them, they somewhat pale in comparison to what happened after I turned over the final page. This is not a book review, but an account of the night I stepped through one of the Fantasia's hidden doors and met Hildegard Withers and John J. Malone face-to-face. ;-)
|I swear, they're sneaking up on me!|
I vividly remember the night that my conscious mind dislodged itself from my sleep-wrapped brain, entered an alternate dimension, and walked into a dimly-lit room, dressed sharply like a 1930s gumshoe (think Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin, but I felt more like Sam Tyler at that moment), and there, on the floor, was the body of a man. Near him lay a revolver that hadn't given up smoking yet.
Well, here was a unique opportunity to prove my prowess as the cerebral detective I always fancy myself to be, and went down on all four to methodically study the remains and the murder weapon, when, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Hildegard Withers and John J. Malone burst onto the crime-scene. They grabbed me, each under one of my arms, and started dragging me out of the room. The police were on there way, they told me, to arrest me for this murder, but rest assured, they would prove me to be innocent of this dirty deed – and all this time I was kicking and screaming that I didn't want their help, because they always make things worse than they already are.
Then the dream cuts to a bizarre, almost surrealistic car chase with a few dozen patrol cars. I'm locked in the trunk by the dynamic duo, banging and screaming to be let out, and lurched over the steering wheel (with a gleam of madness in her eyes) is Hildegard Withers – while Malone hangs out of the side window, with an half empty bottle of whiskey, hollering a song about pretty girls and booze.
And then I woke up... but was it all a dream? Well, I can tell you it was one of the most realistic and lifelike ones I ever had in my life. Withers and Malone weren't vague, dreamy images but actual, three-dimensional human beings. I remember the pressure of their grip on my arms. Heck, I even smelled the booze on Malone's breath!
This means one of the following things: a) my brain couldn't fully comprehend that I had just read an actual GAD-crossover, and as a result I was having a full-sensory hallucination b) the stories were so epic that they ripped a hole in the time-space continuum and allowed me to travel to a parallel universe were detective stories are the reality c) for a brief moment, my sleep induced mind figured out how to open one of the doors leading to Fantasia.
But what do regular visitors who haunt this blog think?