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The Hypnotic Tales of Rafael Sabatini

Edited by Donald K. Hartman

Rating: ****

The Hypnotic Tales of Rafael Sabatini, edited by Hartman, contains two stories originally published in the early 20th century by Rafael Sabatini, a writer who gained immense popularity in the 1920s and 30s for his swashbuckling romances.

These earlier stories deal with hypnotism, a theme he did not revisit in his career although he introduces the character of Dr. Roger Galliphant, an eminent authority on hypnotism, to help solve the mysteries posed within each tale.

I read Hartman’s other book containing two Victorian-era stories dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism* and found the volume thoughtfully put together and immensely readable.  The Hypnotic Tales of Rafael Sabatini continues that trend.

Hartman opens his book with a concise overview of Sabatini, followed by a background piece regarding, “Trilby” a popular stage play adapted from Gerald Du Maurier’s wildly successful novel which introduced the term “Svengali” into common usage.

Trilby” is discussed at the beginning of the first of Sabatini’s stories and Hartman’s consideration to enlighten the reader as to the importance of Du Maurier’s book and its context is a thoughtful touch and nicely sets the tone for Sabatini’s stories.

The first of which is The Avenger. It’s gently archaic as one would expect yet thoroughly accessible and enjoyable. Personally, there was a whiff of Sherlock Holmes about the narrative and some achingly lovely period detail and language.

Galliphant is one of those marvelous twinkly-eyed, seemingly avuncular characters (despite being under forty) whose amateur sleuthing disguises a razor-sharp intellect, prodigious talent, and a dogged tenacity to uncover the truth, no matter what.

Among many other concerns and capabilities, Galliphant has cultivated an open-minded yet thorough interest in hypnotism and, resultingly, is at the forefront of The Avenger although it’s written from the first-person perspective of his Watson if you will, friend Martin Scholes.

It’s a clever, gently twisting story that, whilst offering no huge surprises in its reveal, is simply nice to sink into and lose an hour or two. Reassuringly well-crafted and unashamedly writerly, the reader is there in the room, listening to the crackle of the open fire and creak of the leather wingback armchair as Galliphant deliberates.

The second tale, The Dream, is darker and snappier. The malevolent character of Stanley Bickershaw is immediately apparent and the opening scene with his Uncle Anthony Orpington is a wonderfully studied piece of writing, not only in the sense of sinister unease it conveys but also, in the sharply drawn, precise detailing of both men’s physical characteristics and surroundings.

Bickershaw becomes quite chilling, to the extent that I think Sabatini could have done a little more with him. Nonetheless, this story’s conclusion is not so obvious as The Avenger, the reader is not too sure which way Sabatini will settle it, and, combined with the silky elegance of the prose, I struggled to put it down.

Hartman has sourced another duo of beautifully bygone and beguiling tales with care and consideration in The Hypnotic Tales of Rafael Sabatini. Well worth a read.


*Click here for my review of The Hypno-Ripper.

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