In his blog post Carnacki: The Second Great Detective author John Linwood Grant defines the occult detective story's characteristics:
1. Looking for logical, realistic explanations for unusual or unlikely events
2.Utilising the latest scientific methods when pursuing a case
3. Drawing on a collection of monographs and papers for key aspects of their work
This sums up the elements that make me dislike stories about occult detectives. The crimes, malfeasances, and violence of the mundane world, when thwarted in the pages of casebooks of Poirot, Wimsey, the Continental Op, Dr. Fell, Marlowe, and Nicholas Goode, fill me with satisfaction. Spooks need not apply.
"Utilising the latest scientific methods when pursuing a case" is the aspect I dislike the most. Nothing stales as quickly as yesterday's popular notions about science. E.F. Benson spoiled more than one of his stories by appeals to Einstein or etheric wave signals picked up on a narrator's new crystal set.
It's a distaste that has the same source as my dislike for Lyotard and his army of postmodernists who try to convince us that the material world is only a social construct. In opposing this as a materialist, Engels and Lenin have always stood me in good stead.
All of which is preface to pointing others to an occult detective story I just read and enjoyed: "The Grey Dog," John Linwood Grant. From the collection Carnacki: The Lost Cases Edited by Sam Gafford.
It's a spectral dog story, but it's has far from "Squire Toby's Will" as you can get.
Ancestral crimes, legal shenanigans, and dirty work at the crossroads are dismissed, and we are left with sane, strong men facing the prospect of mortality not as menace or melodrama but as a mortal foreshadowing, and learning how to live with it.
14 June 2017
A few excerpts from the ebook to tempt the reader:
...I always promise them the tale of my most recent case, which is why they come. Such an artifice, this idea of “cases,” with the hint of police formality. As if the events in our lives fitted into tidy manilla folders, to be opened and closed as you please. Ah, well. It pleases them.
....I prepared myself for the catalogue of strange occurrences which I usually hear, the suggested menace, the sounds in the night, ancestral vices, haunted houses. Sometimes they blur into one another, until I find myself fantasising. I imagine that I am a junior clerk in the City and have nothing more than columns of figures with which to concern myself until I drop dead of pleasant tedium. At a good age, of course.
....“But you feel, what, haunted by visions of a dog?”
“The grey dog.” His face stiffened. “I call it grey, but it is more the colour left when all others fade, a sort of ashen thing, tenuous, as if a strong wind might dispel it. Large, like an ancient hound from an earl’s hearth.”
“It menaces you?”
“No, not all. It waits. I see it in the fields, on an overcast day. Or in the kitchen here, standing by the back door with its tail down and its large grey eyes on me. It waits for me to die.”
....I felt only a deep, sure patience, and an almost overwhelming sense that I should leave, leave now and let Branford be, let the grey dog be.
....“Tell the doctor that I am not mad. Tell him that some things in the world . . . some thing s just are.”
....the one man who would take away nothing more than the knowledge of what is, where so many others would force their own interpretations on me.”
"The Grey Dog" John Linwood Grant
From: Carnacki: The Lost Cases Edited by Sam Gafford
Copyright © 2016 by Ulthar Press