Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 2, 2013


The Dream Detective by Sax Rohmer (1925)

Moris Klaw is Sax Rohmer's "Dream Detective," the author's contribution to the ranks of psychic detectives.  Klaw's main method of detecting is to sleep wherever the psychic vibrations he needs are -- certainly a unique means of solving crimes  And many of these ten stories involve crimes (in these he aids Inspector Grimsby of New Scotland Yard); the non-criminal adventures often involve difficulties with friends or friends of friends.

As to Klaw, he is old, stooped, and shabbily dressed.  He has a thin, colorless (ahem, I mean colourless) beard, a high, bald brow, and yellowish skin the shade of dirty vellum.  He wears a flat topped bowler and has a spray bottle of verbena hidden in the inside lining of the hat.  He constantly sprays his forehead with the vellum; it refreshes him.

Klaw is a curio dealer whose dusty shop is located at the end of a cul-de-sac on an abandoned street in Wapping.  (When someone enters the shop, a parrot screeches, "Moris Klaw!  Moris Klaw!  The devil's come for you!")  The shop never seems to have customers.  The living quarters behind the shop are completely different from its disreputable front:  large, comfortable rooms filled with ornate and expensive furnishings.   Klaw lives with his daughter (and assistant in his psychic investigations) Isis, a regally beautiful woman dressed in expensive and fashionable clothes and who is secretly longed for by the very proper Grimsby.

Klaw's origins are unknown.  He has travelled extensively to many strange places.  He speaks English well, but his speech patterns indicate that it was not his native language.  (His daughter Isis speaks French fluently and we can assume she was raised there.)  Several stories into the book, we learn that he is the anonymous author of the popular book Psychic Angles.

Klaw's "Watson" is Searles, an author who appears to have a lot of time to spare.  It is Searles who often brings cases to Klaw, either on behalf of Inspector Grimsby or on behalf of one of his many acquaintances. 

To Klaw, thoughts are things, especially the thoughts of a murderer and his victim.  To access those thoughts to his "negative" (his brain, which acts as a photographic negative), Isis brings to the crime scene an "odically sterilized" red cushion on which Klaw sleeps for an hour or so, capturing the thoughts on his negative.  Nature, it seems, does not like to waste anything, be it a person's physical appearance or and event.  In the first quarter of the last century, all this made exciting reading.  Today, not as much.

But it is interesting reading.  Rohmer has always been a clunky but inventive writer worth examining, and if Morris Klaw is not the literary equal of such occult detectives such as Martin Hesselius, John Silence, or Carnacki, he certainly occupies a lower tier belonging to Flaxman Low, Jules de Grandin, Dr. Taverner, and others.


For more of today's Forgotten Books go to sweet freedom.


  1. About once a year I need a Sax Rohmer fix. I'm a big fan of Fu Manchu, but THE DREAM DETECTIVE is fun, too.

  2. I suspect I would enjoy this better, as a different sort of Yellow agency (apparently literally around the forehead at least.

    Evocatively recounted! Thanks!

  3. Jerry, this is of interest to me as I've only read selected Rohmer and none of this character. Is this the only collection or novel with The Dream Detective? Like George, I like a shot of Rohmer once a year (or two) and this would make a good one to try.

    1. As far as know, Rohmer only wrote these ten stories about Moris Klaw. Rohmer had other detectives (neither one occult/psychic): P.I. Paul Harley, a London detective who appeared in several books, a number of short stories, and at least one stage play, and London police inspector Red Kerry, who appeared in two novels and several short stories. His other series characters include Dr. Fu Manchu (of course), Sumuru (sort of a female Fu Manchu), and Gaston Max, a French detective who is featured in four books.

      A fairly complete (although not recently updated)Rohmer site, The Page of Fu Manchu, can be found at
      (Not included are some new collections from Black Dog Books and Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.)