Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 10, 2016


The Frankenstein Factory by Edward D. Hoch (1975)

Edward D. Hoch was the amazingly prolific author of nearly a thousand short stories, nearly all of them in the mystery field, creating fifteen separate series.  Hoch was that extreme rarity:  a writer who made his living through short stories.  For Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine alone, Hoch had at least one story in every issue for 35 years.  His stories won one Edgar and two Anthony Awards.  He was named a Grand Master by The Mystery Writers of America and was gien Lifetimetime Achievement Awards by both The Private Eye Writers of America and by the annual mystery convention Bouchercon.  Hoch also was editor of The Best Detective Stories of the Year series (later titled The Best Mystery and Suspense Stories of the Year) from 1976 through 1985 (the 30th to 39th annual collections), as well as several other anthologies.

With all the above, it's easy to forget that he also wrote five mystery novels, all paperback originals.  The Shattered Raven (1970) involved a murder at the Mystery Writers of America.  The Blue Movie Murders (1973, written under the "Ellery Queen" pseudonym) featured Mike McCall, a trouble shooter for the Governor of his state.  Hoch also wrote three science fiction mystery novels featuring the Computer Investigation Bureau (also known as the "Computer Cops"), a government agency that reports directly to the President:  The Transvection Machine (1971), The Fellowship of the Hand (1973), and The Frankenstein Factory. (The Computer Cops first appeared in a self-titled story in Hans Stefan Santesson's 1969 anthology Crime Prevention in the 30th Century; for the book series the time was changed to the early 21st century.)

The Frankenstein Factory is Hoch's homage to both the Mary Shelley novel and to Agatha Christie's And Then There None (a.p.a Ten Little Indians and -- in a much more unenlightened time -- Ten Little Niggers).   Ten people are gathered on an isolated island off Baja California -- seven of them to perform an historic medical operation, the eighth an elderly woman who has heavily financed the cryogenics company involved, the ninth to record the proceedings on film, and the tenth a deaf and dumb Mexican servant woman.  The operation is to reanimate a cryogenetically frozen corpse, a man who had "died" a quarter of a century earlier from brain cancer.  Because the cancer had also lead to the destruction of other organs, reanimation involves multiple organ transplants -- all taken from other frozen bodies -- including a brain (and, yes, it turns out that it is the brain of a murderer).  Because of this one of the doctors dubbed the island facility the "Frankenstein factory" and group names the patient "Frank."  The operation is a success, at least partially.  The patient has a normal heartbeat and temperature, but appears unable to rouse himself from a coma-like state.  One of the doctors fear there might be brain damage.

Then the old lady disappears, her room covered in blood.  A search of the island does not discover the woman nor her body.  The next day, one of the scientists is murdered, then another, then the Mexican housekeeper.  All possible communication to the outside world is sabotaged, as are all means to get off the island.  More people are killed and the reanimated "corpse" goes missing, only to be found later shambling around the island.  Is the danger from this Frankenstein's monster, or is it from someone else?  That's the question facing Earl Jazine, the computer cop who assumed the role of the photographer to investigate the facility.

Hoch plays fair (as he always does) with the clues and their are enought red herrings and plots twists to keep the reader guessing.  All this adds up to a minor, and sometimes mediocre, mystery novel.  Hoch is not his best in a science fiction setting and the novel length does not play to his skills, which never included great character depth.  A number of his characters do and say dumb things.  The scene is just stage setting; no great effort was made to involve us with the location or the atmosphere.  Too many references to the past are to the mid-Seventies (when the book was written) although the book was set in the early 2000s.  ("As far back as the mid-Seventies...", "in the early Seventies when the Wtaergate...", "I was born in the late Seventies, so I don't remember what had happened earlier that decade...", etc.  By the way, the offices of the Computer Investigation Bureau are on the top floor of the World Trade Center.)  Hoch's two straight mystery novels are much better reads, especially The Shattered Raven.

So why read this book at all?  Well, despite everything, it's a fairly entertaining read.  It's also a short read:  190 fast-moving pages so many of us will get through it in three hours or so.  And Hoch is damned good on plotting.

This book won't appeal to everyone and the reader would be better served with any of Hoch's short story collections.  But, if you are curious to see what Hoch can do with a broader canvas as well as a science fictional one, The Frankenstein Factory wouldn't hurt.

1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed all of Ed Hoch's short story collections. Most people who love Hoch's wonderful mystery stories don't realize he also could write effective Science Fiction, too.