Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Dark Detectives: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries

Stephen Jones (ed)
Titan Books

Eighteen stories of supernatural detective fiction, featuring sleuths who investigate fantastic and horrific cases, protecting the world from the forces of darkness. Each writer offers a tale of a great fictional detective, including Neil Gaiman’s Lawrence Talbot, Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour, and the eight-part “Seven Stars” adventure by Kim Newman (Anno Dracula).

I do love a psychic / supernatural detective.  whether it be Van Helsing, John Constantine, Carnacki or even the Doctor back when they were having fun with gothic escapades back in the mid 1970s.  I've always liked that sort of stepping outside of the normal world that weird and macabre fiction gives but equally I love a good mystery and through the years have devoured Sherlock, Marlowe and, lately, Marple adventures with relish.  So the supernatural sleuth is one of my happy places.

Jones has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable assortment of variations on the theme although with the focus very much on work produced in the later part of the 20th century,  the exception to this being one of William Hope Hodgson's Thomas Carnacki tales, 'The Horse of the Invisible'.

Kim Newman
Interwoven through the book is a serial of shorts by Kim Newman featuring various of his creations such as Charles Beauregard, Edwin Winthrop & Genevieve Dieudonne most of whom are in some way connected to his Diogenes Club books (which hopefully Titan Books will rescue from overpriced eBay hell and reissue sometime soon).  The serial travels from ancient Egypt to the near future and traces the impact of a 'jewel' named the 'Seven Stars'.  Newman is always a fun read and never more so than when he's playing with his penny dreadful / pulp novel toys and twisting them into new shapes.  This serial alone makes the book worth the cover price and it's only 'one' of the many delights inside.

The book itself opens with a fabulously informative essay on the theme of the 'dark' detective by Jones and the prologue of the 'Seven Stars' serial before we are cast into the strange world of the uncanny, except we sort of...well...aren't.  Newman's scattered story aside, of the first three tales, and with the exception of the very end of the Carnacki story, all turn out to have mundane, if not essentially identical, denouements.  Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma story, 'Our Lady of Death' and Basil Copper's Solar Pons story 'The Adventure of the Crawling Horror' both confronted by the inexplicable only to unmask it Scooby Doo style, as does Carnacki but at least there we get a fleeting and murderous clopping of hooves.

Brian Lumley
So, it's up to the marvellously monickered Manly Wade Wellman to launch us into the supernatural sphere with his tale 'Rouse Him Not' featuring his sword cane wielding occultist John Thunstone.  It's a fairly light but fun affair taken straight from the Robert E. Howard school of brawn and brawling fantasy writing.  Much more interesting is Brian Lumley's Titus Crow story 'De Marigny's Clock' (which proves to be an enjoyable little tale of crooks, clocks and comeuppance.

Pausing only swivel around Mr Newman who by this point is romping through the groovy spy-fi of the 1970s we arrive at what, for me, was the revelation of the book, R. Chetwynd-Hayes' 'Someone is Dead'.  It's not so much the story, the plot is fun and lively but the utter joy of the two investigators,  Francis St. Clare & Frederica Masters, who just burst from the page in a riot of wit and sparkle.  I adored this and wanted to read it again as soon as I'd finished it.

Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes
Brian Mooney's 'The Vultures Gather' featuring his scruffy, immoderate and slightly lazy investigator, Reuben Calloway,. alongside his priestly compatriot, Roderick Shea.  the pair are drawn into the investigation of a rich man's death thanks to a postprandial promise made by Calloway some years previously.  It's entertaining but suffers from coming after the Chetwynd-Hayes story - anything would - as it just can't match it's predecessors joie-de-vivre although I suspect a re-read will prove it's merits.

There are a couple of authors whose popularity mystifies me as I find them almost entirely unreadable, Clive Barker is one of those and he's up next. I've tried reading him on and off for 20 something years now and have always had friends who are big fans but his stuff does nothing for me and a few years ago I swore off him for good.  Today though in the shape of a short Harry D'Amour story called 'Lost Souls' I broke my promise and I'm glad I did.  There's nothing here to make me want to read more but what is here is an enjoyable pulp noir, hard boiled detective story that maybe feels a little too much part of a larger story to entirely get the juices flowing but it's fun nonetheless.

A quick leapfrog over Mr Newman as his endearing but slightly hapless Sally Rhodes investigates a missing person brings us to a rather inconsequential story about John Wayne's transvestite proclivities by Jay Russell about which I'm going to say it's brief, it's not terrible but it is brief.

Neil Gaiman
The book closes with two Newman's sandwiching a Gaiman.  In 'Bad Wolf' the eminent Neil provides a prose poem about a lycanthropic investigator named Lawrence Talbot who is hired to rid a beach of an unwelcome visitor.  Truthfully it isn't classic Gaiman but even off form he's always well worth reading.

The final two Newman's are in many ways a single piece that sees many of the story's previous characters re-united in a final climactic assault on the malevolent jewel in a cyberpunk near-future wasteland.

Jones is an anthologist with an impressive history and it shows .  With only a couple of moments where I felt his choices were a little off topic this proved to be a terrifically readable collection that had me hooked from the off and has given me lots of pointers for where to go next for more of the same.

But it here - Dark Detectives: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries

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