A Progress Report on Ghostly Clients & Demonic Culprits: The Roots of Occult Detective Fiction

The research and selection process for Ghostly Clients & Demonic Culprits: The Roots of Occult Detective Fiction is complete. This will be the third volume in my Phantom Traditions Library, a series of anthologies that explore “forgotten” genres of fiction primarily from the 1800s and early 1900s. GC&DC is slightly different, though. First, it stops at the end of the 1800s because I figure that, by the time E. and H. Heron’s Flaxman Low appeared in 1898, occult detective fiction had definitely sprouted. Second, since my emphasis is on roots, it reaches back to ancient Roman literature and includes a couple of legends about vicars in Cornwall solving ghostly mysteries and doing battle with otherworldly villains in the 1600s.

Apparently, there was a veritable club of Cornish clerics reputed to banish ghosts in that century. One of them, the Reverend Richard Dodge, earned a place on my Ghost Hunter Hall of Fame quite a while ago.  But his colleague, the Reverend John Rudall, was inducted just last week. This addition resulted from my research into accounts of Rudall’s dealing with a ghost named Dorothy, also known as the Botathen Ghost. For GC&DC, I’ll be using the oldest source of the legend that I’ve been able to find: Duncan’s Campbell’s Pacquet, published in 1720. Sure enough, R.S. Hawker’s “The Botathen Ghost,” first published in  1867, is a more detailed and, in key ways, better told version of the legend — but it’s also quite likely that Hawker turned folklore into literary fiction, à la Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales. And I went with the older version because, after all, I’m looking at roots in this book.

William Rudall
The Reverend John Rudall (?-1699), from S. Baring-Gould’s Cornish Characters and Strange Events

Along with those legends, I’ll be featuring several works from the 1800s that chart the evolution of occult detective fiction and that challenge the notion that there’s a clear-cut, single starting point for this cross-genre. There is no first occult detective, in other words. (In the past, claims about “the first” have been made about Flaxman Low, Le Fanu’s Dr. Hesselius,  and a few other characters.) The anthology will also illustrate how occult detective characters don’t really belong to a sub-genre of modern mystery fiction, if by that we mean a “branch” emerging from a solid “trunk.” Rather, occult detectives were there at the start — beside and before Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin — and, indeed, such tales lent an important hand to the establishment of mystery fiction as we know it today.

I’m now in the compiling and editing phase of Ghostly Clients & Demonic Culprits: The Roots of Occult Detective Fiction. If all continues to go well, the volume will be released this summer by Brom Bones Books.

 

 

2 thoughts on “A Progress Report on Ghostly Clients & Demonic Culprits: The Roots of Occult Detective Fiction

  1. Have you discovered Carnicki the Ghost Finder short stories by William Hope Hodgeson? They are works of fiction, but it’s fascinating to know there were actual paid paranormal investigators even back then.

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    1. I certainly have heard of Carnacki! He’s kind of the Sherlock Holmes of occult detective fiction–a good place to start if you’re new to the genre and a benchmark in its history.

      Was Carnacki paid for his services? It’s been too long since I’ve read them to remember. Even if he was, I guess that doesn’t really mean paranormal investigators were paid in real life. I mean, I’m pretty sure there isn’t an actual X-Files office in the basement of the FBI.

      Then again . . . who knows?

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