There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Swindlers and seances: Review of The Adventures of Mr. Joseph P. Cray By E. Phillips Oppenheim (1925

The Adventures of Mr. Joseph P. Cray
By E. Phillips Oppenheim (1925).

A very peculiar and uneven book of linked stories.

Cray is a Seattle industrialist who returns to London after spending a year as a volunteer running a YMCA coffee and doughnut canteen for doughboys. He is in no hurry to return to the U.S., where his second wife is at the vanguard of agitation against liquor and tobacco. Cray is no abstentionist, and after a year of drinking only water in France, is very passionate about his cocktails and his appetite.

With his adult daughter, Lady Sara Sittingbourne, he turns his attention to the little crises and predicaments of his new social circle.

The Donvers Case
Donvers' problems are sewn-up crisply, but the reader is kept from crucial information until too late. Routine and sketchy.

The Two Philanthropists
Cray turns the tables on a couple of stock swindlers.

Pussyfoot in Mischief
Cray uses cocktails to smooth the way to marriage for friend Ed Wallin who is in love with a Prohibitionist.

The Reckoning with Otto Schreed
Schreed is a U.S. meat-packing baron in Europe to destroy evidence of all the food poisoning caused by his rancid bully beef.
Cary stymies his plans.

The Rift
Cary's son in law, a UK diplomat, lands in the soup over lost documents.

"Satan and the Spirit"
Here the collection takes a sharp left. Cray meets Christine Seboa and Major Hartopp.

....Mentally he tabulated the various questions as they had occurred to him.

1. Was Mrs. Hartopp simply a foolish and hysterical woman who had imposed even upon her husband, and who had attached herself to him out of caprice?
2. Was she really a medium and in direct communication with the world of spirit land, in which up till now he had had no—faith?
3. Was she a clever adventuress with fraudulent designs upon him? Against that, his pocket-book and jewellery were still untouched.
4. What was the position of Major Hartopp?
5. Had he really slept in his easy-chair and only dreamed of that brief period of unconsciousness?

Mr. Homor's Legacy
Cray meets Mr. and Mrs. Hartopp at a golf hotel in Hyères. Mrs. Hartopp, presenting herself as spirit medium Christine Seboa, conducts a seance and gets a lock on an inheritance. The Hartopp's spin enough stories within stories to cover their chicanery to give Miss Lally of Machen's The Three Imposters a run for her money.

The Past Life of Mr. Senn. Part I.
The Past Life of Mr. Senn. Part II.
These are the most "Machenesque" chapters I have read in any book by Oppenheim (with the obvious exception of the non-supernatural horror collection
The Terrible Hobby of Sir Joseph Londe, Bart.)

Mr. Cray crosses paths with the Hartopps again, this time in Monte Carlo. Mr. Johns, an old acquaintance, also appears. He is on the trail of a killer preying upon young women.

Cray then meets Mr. Senn, a dissolute and poverty-stricken gambler. Cray reignites Senn's soul by offering to front him f5000 for a visit to the casino.

"Mr. Senn," he said, "I am in the broadest sense of the word an adventurer. I go up and down the world, looking for places and people that interest me. Would you accept from me the loan of five thousand francs and try your luck behind the lights there?"

There are expressions even of joy which are horrible. Mr. Cray shivered, and he had a queer fancy that he sat hobnobbing with a wolf, leaping at its prey.

"You mean it?" his companion demanded raspingly.


Mr. Senn's right hand was upon the table—the hand of an aristocrat, but lean at the knuckle and talon-like at the finger-tips.

"Give me the money," he begged fiercely.

The chapters culminate in a seance conducted by Mrs. Hartopp (aka the medium Christine Seboa):

"There is someone coming. There is someone coming for a man here whom no one knows, whose name—but no, I cannot hear his name. . . . Wait. There are more than one. There are seven. One comes first. Wait."

This is where Mr. Cray began to lose hold of himself, for out of that windy darkness it seemed to him that a shape approached towards the window. By his side, he heard the breath of agony come whistling through the lungs of the man next to him, a sound like a sigh, and then a low voice....

Mr. Cray Returns Home
Cray returns home via passenger ship, giving Mr. And Mrs. Hartopp another chance to separate him from some of his money


6 March 2018

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