Time for another budget of (mostly ebook this time) reviews, featuring ghosts and scholars, mythological creatures and occult detectives. Really, the only thematic commonality here is that I’ve read all these books (and one magazine) recently.
Occult Detective Quarterly #1
Sam Gafford and John Linwood Grant, editors
This is the first issue of what promises to be a fun magazine, featuring short fiction, essays, and reviews in the genre of occult detection. This debut issue featured some detectives I had encountered before (Josh Reynolds’ Charles St. Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass), some new-to-me detectives to learn more about, and some apparently brand new ones I hope to see more of. A hard-boiled occult detective in 1950’s Los Angeles, who happens to be a talking gorilla? Yes, please (and thank you David T. Wilbanks and William Meikle). Also Oscar Dowson’s Doctor Crow and Miss Woolfinder (and the nameless narrator); I thought “The Adventure of the Black Dog” captured the Sherlockian feel, or a least a Victorian feel, quite well, and it seems to be the beginning of a series. I’m looking forward to more.
I have to call out T.E. Grau’s “MonoChrome”– a well written, engaging, and really smart homage to Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow. And I dislike The King in Yellow. Blasphemy, I know, but can you imagine how I’d feel about the story if I had liked Chambers’ work?
All the stories, including the ones I have no room to mention here, gave this issue a pleasing variety, and the essays by Charles Rutledge and Tim Prasil were fun and interesting, too. I’m looking forward to the next issue.
The Holmes-Dracula File
I picked this one up as an ebook, on a lark. I mostly know Saberhagen for his Berserker science fiction series, which I greatly enjoy; he also wrote a 10-volume series of Dracula novels, told sympathetically from the Count’s viewpoint. This was the first one; it was fun, but I expect I’ll stop here. The story of Dracula meeting Holmes is told alternately in Dracula’s and John Watson’s voices. In addition to getting a revised account of the events detailed in Bram Stoker’s novel, we also get the story of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, as mentioned by Conan Doyle in “The Sussex Vampire.” Saberhagen also gives us a novel explanation of Holmes’ ancestry, that explains his brilliance and his other almost superhuman abilities. Though I have to say, the theory still doesn’t quite explain the supposedly more brilliant Mycroft….
Saberhagen didn’t get the feel of a Holmes story or of Watson’s voice, in the way that, say, Oscar Dowson did in the story I mentioned above (even though that wasn’t a Holmes story). But since he was mostly interested in Dracula, that’s okay. A pleasant afternoon’s read.
A Chimaera in my Wardrobe
I saw a teaser for this collection while flipping through a back of issue of Supernatural Tales, and I like Tina Rath’s stories, so why not? A free-lance “supporting artiste” (film/TV extra)/model/aspiring novelist discovers a chimaera in the back of her wardrobe one evening. In exchange for honeydew and mist and the use of the apartment sitting room while our SA is at work, the chimaera “pays rent” by telling stories. These are those stories.
Really delightful. The stories are heavily folklore/myth inflected; what other kinds of stories would a mythological creature tell, after all? And mostly lighthearted, too; chimaeras prefer happy endings, and so do I. I loved them all, but I especially liked the stories featuring Sergeant Prendergast and PC Oliver. The good Sergeant seems to be one of those near-retirement-age older cops who just wants to eat doughnuts and sip tea until his shift is done, but he’s quite in touch with the secret mythological side of life. PC Oliver, not so much (“Don’t they teach you these things in school?” asks the sergeant). I would read more Prendergast and Oliver stories. In fact, I’m wishing for international versions of these two. Can you imagine the cool mythological things that Sergeant Mukherji and PC Singh might run into on their beat? Or their Japanese or Chinese or Finnish equivalents?
But until someone writes those stories, I’ll read these.
Shadows at the Door: An Anthology
Mark Nixon, Caitlin Marceau & Kris Holt, editors.
There’s a lovely looking hardback edition here, but I got the ebook from Amazon. Thirteen beautifully written, atmospheric ghost stories, all different, all haunting in their own way, with great illustrations by Barney Bodoano. I really appreciated the variety in mood and voice and locale. I’m having a hard time deciding what I want to call out, because every story had something interesting or special about it, to me. But here’s an attempt:
“Under Shiel Croft” by Pete Alex Harris, for its voice. “Quem Infra Nos” by Mark Nixon, and “The Watchmaker” by Helen Grant, because I like good antiquarian-themed stories. “The Gallow Glass” by Christopher Long, because it didn’t go where I thought it would, at all; “A Little Light Gets In” by Daniel Foytik, because it did. “Deep” by M. Regan, because it took me a while to figure out where it was going. Also because it was like a fairy tale, or a myth. And, well, all the other stories, too.
If you like stories of the supernatural or macabre that are as much about mood and atmosphere — and language — as they are about plot, I think you will like this collection. Recommended.
Amazon suggested this to me when I bought the Shadows at the Door anthology; I bit. All these articles appeared originally in the Ghosts and Scholars newsletter, and are collected here for the benefit of people (like me) who don’t subscribe and can’t otherwise read them. Grant writes about visits to the locales of various M.R. James stories (“The Treasure of Abbot Thomas,” “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook,” “Number 13”), the possible inspirations for “The Ash Tree,” and the connection between “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook” and The Testament of Solomon (which is an interesting read; I write a little about it here).
I especially liked the essay about Father Nikola Reinartz and the Steinfeld Abbey stained glass. Fr. Reinartz was an outspoken opponent of the Nazis, and sounds like quite a brave and principled man.
Grant also includes her completion of the unfinished M.R. James story “The Game of Bear,” originally published in the Ghosts and Scholars newsletter, and in Grant’s collection The Sea-Change and other stories (recommended!). I really like how seamless the transition from James’ story to Grant’s completion is; the story as a whole feels completely “Jamesian.”
This is mostly a collection for M.R. James nerds like me, but if you are one, and you haven’t read these essays, do pick this up.
Top image: Reading, Sergey Solomko, 1895. Source: WikiArt.
Because I always put on lots of jewelry and a formal crown-like headdress before I sit down to read, don’t you?