Thursday, October 8, 2009



This collection of 25 short fiction pieces based around stamps and stamp collecting is a strange little collectors item. Published in 1998, my mail-order copy came with a cigar box full of interesting, if relatively worthless, ‘mystery box’ of stamps, adding a nice flair and favor to the package.

Intrigues & Enigmas

A vanished ship and a fabulous cargo await the reader in The Mystery Box.
Drawing upon a real-life encounter with a tantalizing legend, Frederick Highland’s The Mystery Box offers an illustrated story collection that caries us to exotic places and across the boundaries of time. Each mystery tale is inspired by images from the world wide postage stamps discovered by the author in a ‘mystery box’ while in the Portuguese colony of Macao during the Vietnam War. This box has a curious link with the 1851 disappearance of a merchant vessel belonging to Sir James Brooke, the legendary ‘White Rajah’ of Sarawak, a remote and fabled kingdom on the north coast of Borneo.

“I held on to the mystery box through many years of sailoring and travel, and… I would go back to ponder the curiosities it contained. Ach time I would linger longer, for it seemed these arresting images from places as remote as Nyasaland and Aden, from the Maldives and Paraguay, were instilled with a curious hold on me, a power to transport me to different lands and climes…”

“Each stamp was a miniature puzzle with a mystery inside,” adds the author. “It was as if the strange box had been placed in my hands to write down the stories it contained.”

These stories are as diverse as the postage stamps that inspired them. A murderous alter ego pursues his victim across time in ‘Chain Letter.’ An escaped slave makes a plea for freedom in ‘Never,’ a story that takes us to the African nation of Sierra Leone and the conundrum of nineteenth century abolitionist law. In ‘The Emperor’s Tomb,’ a former Maoist Red Guard has a terrifying encounter with the past.

Included in the collection are several non-fiction pieces, or enigmas, based on provocative images collected in the mystery box from Macao.

Enter the legend… With fine reproductions of the stamps in each story and commentary on the stamps themselves, The Mystery Box is an original blend of memorable writing and evocative imagery that will be treasured by all those who enjoy well-told tales.

Okay, I was sold by the hype, which the book (and the writing) lives up to in many ways, although the overall effect is more academic than pulp.

It’s also no surprise author Fredrick Highland lists himself as a member of Mystery Writers of America AND the American Philatelic Society. Clearly he is indulging his passions.

A very cool overall package, which I enjoy having on my shelf. If you are a stamp lover this is a package worth seeking out. A quick Internet check turned up Highland’s interesting associated website.


1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

What a strange but wonderful little volume.