The discussion of pastiche writing the other day — and how even the original authors didn’t always excel with their classic characters — spurred the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook to send in additional thoughts:
Well, if we’re going to pick out the best of the work by the creators of famous characters, then by all means there are probably a half dozen great Conan stories, another half dozen very good stories and a third half dozen potboilers, plus a couple duds (“The Vale of Lost Women” and “The God in the Bowl”).
Burroughs ranks about the same with a half dozen excellent Tarzan books, a half dozen very good books, a half dozen potboilers and a few left over duds.
With Sherlock Holmes there are two great short story collections, Adventures and Memoirs, and one great novel.
Ranking The Return of Sherlock Holmes is the hardest because the quality of the stories varies so much, but some people would choose it as a third great collection. I would not. The rest, mostly potboilers.
With that topic in mind, there is a review of Skull-Face and Others in the UK’s Fantasy Review # 1 (February-March 1947) where the reviewer, Arthur F. Hillman, castigates Derleth for leaving out “Red Nails” and “The People of the Black Circle” — “among the finest in the [Conan] series” — from the collection.
Hillman would have tossed “Skull-Face” in exchange for the two Conan novelettes.
He also notes, “For Howard’s imagination was soaring on stronger pinions as the years passed, and his earlier tales do not, in my opinion, compare with the promising epics he produced before his untimely death cut short his career.”
I bought a set of Fantasy Review and it is interesting to read what critics of that time thought and wrote about these books 75 years ago.
The funny thing is that Hillman might very well have come up with the same list of the half dozen great Conan stories then, as we would today.
You’ll find the review of Skull-Face on pages 12 & 13 of the zine — but the whole thing is worth browsing for historical interest. And if anyone is in doubt about which novel is the standout of the Sherlock Holmes series, I’m pretty sure Kevin intends The Hound of the Baskervilles. Has to be, right?