Here’s a thought. Astonishingly, there are more stories written in homage to Carnacki the Ghost Finder than there are of any Victorian or Edwardian detective save Sherlock Holmes. That’s not just occult detectives, that’s all of them, from the amateur investigator to the perspicacious policeman. He may be a niche interest to some, but he’s an impressive one. His creator William Hope Hodgson would probably be shocked, and H P Lovecraft a little puzzled (he wasn’t fond of Carnacki).
There were rumours of C Auguste Dupin (from Edgar Allan Poe) in the side-wings, but as you’ll see below, I think we can show that Carnacki has the distinct edge over any other detective of the period. We’re discounting multi-authored characters such as Sexton Blake or Nick Carter. Sexton Blake first appeared in 1893, and was a ‘house’ character written by dozens of people (including even the SF author Michael Moorcock, later on) for various magazines.
Nick Carter, first appearing in 1886, was the same, a ‘house’ character with at least a dozen authors, though this series does bear the distinction of being one of the first of its kind to have one or two female authors contributing over the years.
Last October we had a month-long celebration of William Hope Hodgson, in which we ran a series called The Inheritors, covering writers who had taken his themes or characters and written new, related fiction. Today we’re concentrating only on the Ghost Finder and those who follow in his footsteps. You’ll find some cracking stuff below, if you haven’t already been there before us.
We’ve argued elsewhere why Carnacki might be so popular, so here we’re only going to do a head-count. But given that we’ve pitted Carnacki against Holmes, it may be worth reminding ourselves of their approaches, which must be part of the attraction. Both Great Detectives believed in:
- Looking for logical, realistic explanations for unusual or unlikely events
- Utilising the latest scientific methods when pursuing a case
- Drawing on a collection of monographs and papers for key aspects of their work
As to their views on investigation and the supernatural:
“I am what I might term an unprejudiced sceptic. I am not given to either believing or disbelieving things ‘on principle,’ as I have found many idiots prone to be, and what is more, some of them not ashamed to boast of the insane fact. I view all reported ‘hauntings’ as unproven until I have examined into them, and I am bound to admit that ninety-nine cases out of a hundred turn out to be sheer bosh and fancy. But the hundredth! Well, were it not for the hundredth, I should have few stories to tell – eh?”
Thomas Carnacki, The Thing Invisible
“If Dr. Mortimer’s surmise should be correct, and we are dealing with forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature, there is an end of our investigation. But we are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses before falling back upon this one.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Holmes does not state that such things cannot be (although he debunks much superstition as nonsense in other stories). He says that it is outside of his concept of scientific deduction. The crucial difference, of course, is that Carnacki believed that you could apply deduction to a situation where ‘forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature’ were at work. He categorised and studied what he called ab-natural phenomena, and investigated them, when they were genuinely present, with the same keen eye. Holmes Plus, as it were.
(You can find more reflections on Holmes issues and pastiches in this posts: shades of sherlock holmes )
There are stories written since which include both characters. In Kim Newman’s short stories about the Diogenes Club, from the Holmes stories, it is mentioned that Carnacki was a member of the Diogenes Club as a special occult investigator; when he retired, his position was taken by Newman’s character Richard Jeperson. Carnacki is also mentioned as having investigated several cases alongside Sherlock Holmes.
Barbara Hambly and A F (Chico) Kidd have both written stories which feature Carnacki aiding Sherlock Holmes in occult investigations (The Adventure of the Antiquarian’s Niece and The Grantchester Grimoire respectively, whilst Spanish author Alberto López Aroca wrote the short story Algunos derivados del alquitrán (Some Coal-tar Derivatives) which apparently featured Carnacki visiting a retired Sherlock Holmes in Fulworth.
Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God (2011) is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel by Guy Adams which concerns a mystery involving the supernatural deaths of people. In the course of his investigation, Holmes meets Aleister Crowley and Thomas Carnacki.
But back to the main Inheritors. Since we last brushed on this, the number of stories has grown yet again, and so we’ll freshen our ab-natural glasses. We won’t mention comic book or graphic novels appearances today, except to remind you that we recently featured M S Corley, who is producing a new illustrated series specifically about Carnacki, with some spectacularly stylish artwork. More about that when it’s available (you do, however, have a chance to get an M S Corley mini-poster if you support the Kickstarter for Occult Detective Quarterly – see end of article).
Let’s see if we can do some number-crunching. We’ll have to re-mention people we’ve covered over the year, but we’ve added latest tallies and publications.
The most prolific author is Willie Meikle, who has now written nearly forty stories of Carnacki, with more on the way. Willie says of this work:
“Carnacki resonated with me immediately on my first reading many years ago. Several of the stories have a Lovecraftian viewpoint, with cosmic entities that have no regard for the doings of mankind. The background Hodgson proposes fits with some of my own viewpoint on the ways the Universe might function, and the slightly formal Edwardian language seems to be a “voice” I fall into naturally. I write them because of love, pure and simple.”
We’ve featured Willie before, but you can now find a full list of his Carnacki stories here:
His latest collection, Carnacki: The Watcher at the Gate, has just been released in e-book format.
BALLPARK TOTAL: 40
Joshua M Reynolds is the other most prolific writer in this area, having started with Carnacki and taken the concept further with his tales of Charles St. Cyprian, The Royal Occultist, who is Carnacki’s successor in that role. Josh has produced, so far:
- Several pure Carnacki stories
- Three tales of Carnacki and St Cyprian
- A host of stories going through 1919 to 1925, revolving around St Cyprian and his ‘assistant’ Ebe Gallowglass
“I first came across Hodgson in an anthology called Grisly, Grim and Gruesome. The story was “The Horse of the Invisible”, which is still perhaps my favourite Hodgson story – Hodgson’s descriptions of the sounds the eponymous phantom makes still creep me out a bit, even today. Even then, I was drawn to the idea of someone investigating a haunting as if it were a mystery. I credit that story with sparking my love of not just Hodgson, but occult detective fiction as a whole, really.”
Joshua’ latest full-length Royal Occultist novel is The Infernal Express.
You can find a fairly exhaustive and useful list of Royal Occultist adventures, including Carnacki’s direct appearance, here:
BALLPARK TOTAL: 45
Brandon Barrows wrote The Castle-Town Tragedy last year, three novellas covering new exploits of Carnacki (illustrated by the terrific Dave Felton), and has further Carnacki stories in the pipeline. We recently asked Brandon what his Ghost Finder roots were:
“One of the reasons I wanted to write Carnacki was that, while he’s very much steeped in the occult, he was first and foremost a man of science. He went in wanting to DISBELIEVE and only allowed himself to consider the supernatural when all other options were pushed aside. So many classic occult-detectives seem like little more than vehicles to get to whatever neat demon or ghost the writer has thought up, but with Carnacki, WHH brought an element of real detective work into the mix that I’ve always found immensely satisfying.”
Castle-Town is a great read, available as a limited edition first run at the moment, but we hear that it may also be available in e-book next year, along with a possible trade-paperback.
BALLPARK TOTAL: 5
Chico Kidd and Rick Kennett have separately or in collaboration written more than a dozen Ghost Finder tales, the bulk of which are collected in No. 472 Cheyne Walk.
BALLPARK TOTAL: 15
John Linwood Grant, late as always, has written a number of Carnacki stories, and is in process of writing and getting published a rather larger number of his Tales of the Last Edwardian stories, which concern the activities (and fates) of the four men who listened to the Ghost Finder’s own recounting of his investigations all those years ago at Cheyne Walk.
BALLPARK TOTAL: 10
So from six authors alone, we have some 115 stories related to Carnacki. That’s not counting further works in the pipe-line, the Holmes/Carnacki crossovers mentioned at the start, or those writers who have written individual Carnacki stories for other anthologies. If we add Carnacki: The New Adventures, and Carnacki: The Lost Cases, anthologies edited and published by Sam Gafford, we have maybe another 25 entries by numerous authors.
And we could add in David Langford’s excellent Carnacki parodies, with his character Dagon Smythe, for another 5.
We’re talking 150 or more stories which are either specifically Carnacki in action, or which continue his work in the early part of last century and reference him regularly. Given that the larger part of these were written a century after Hope Hodgson penned his original stories, we think we proved that The Second Great Detective deserves a certain amount of recognition.
It would be foolish not to point out that some of the above authors will be appearing in the forthcoming Occult Detective Quarterly – advertising rarely hurts – and that there may even be a story or two relevant to this article.
If you support the Kickstarter, not only will you be in at the start with generous subscription offers, but there are some excellent rewards available, including an M S Corley mini-poster and FREE e-books from 18thWall Publications (see Kickstarter Updates), who have published both Joshua M Reynolds and the tragic John Linwood Grant.
Pledge now, and get happy…