I’ve been researching the history of occult detective fiction for well over a decade, and I’ve made some curious discoveries. When I started, the general consensus of critics who discussed the origins of this cross-genre was that “real” occult detective characters didn’t appear until the 1890s, after Sherlock Holmes became a smash hit. Either L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace’s serial ghost-debunker John Bell from 1897 or E. and H. Heron’s serial ghost-believer Flaxman Low from 1898 led the pack. Any earlier characters, such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Dr. Hesselius from 1869, were worthy precedents, but not the real thing.
As I did my digging, I started finding several Dr. Hesseliuses or, more correctly, characters who solved supernatural mysteries with detective methods that were comparible to fictional criminal detectives of their era. I had to really think about what qualifies an occult detective to be an occult detective. Surely, the characters didn’t need to be in a series. And requiring them to be professional detectives specializing in occult cases seemed a bit unfair and unrealistic. (Are Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin or Christie’s Miss Marple not detectives because they don’t solve crimes for a living?) Eventually, I began publicizing my findings on the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives, and hopefully I’ve inspired at least a few folks to re-think how these characters evolved. Indeed, they seem to have been around since the earliest glimmers of mystery fiction and contributed to the development of this tradition.
At long last, I’ve compiled my findings into Ghostly Clients & and Demonic Culprits: The Roots of Occult Detective Fiction. It’s now available at the Amazons in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and I suspect elsewhere.
Readers should not expect a standard anthology of clearly recognizable occult detective stories, however — at least, not as they took shape in the twentieth century. In the hopes of clarifying what to expect, let me post the Table of Contents:
Introduction — Tim Prasil
Part One: Ghostly Clients
“To Sura” (transcribed c. 100) ─ Pliny the Younger
“A Remarkable Passage of an Apparition” (transcribed 1720) ─ Anonymous
“The Haunted Homstead” (1840) ─ Henry William Herbert
“The Ghost of Stanton Hall” (1868) ─ Anonymous
“A Needle in a Bottle” (1874) ─ Anonymous
“The Open Door” (1885) ─ Charlotte Riddell
“Sister Maddelena” (1895) ─ Ralph Adams Cram
“The Brown Hand” (1899) ─ Arthur Conan Doyle
Part Two: Demonic Culprits
“From The Lie-Fancier; or, The Unbeliever” (c. 150) ─ Lucian of Samosata
“The Spectral Coach” (transcribed 1865) ─ Thomas Q. Couch
“The Mystery of the Deserted House” (1817) ─ E.T.A. Hoffmann
“The Haunted Shanty” (1861) ─ Bayard Taylor
“Wanted—An Explanation” (1881) ─ Anonymous
“The Mark of the Beast” (1890) ─ Rudyard Kipling
“The Shining Pyramid” (1895) ─ Arthur Machen
“The Mystery of Djara Singh” (1897) ─ Alexander M. Reynolds
Appendix: The Strange Case of the Drummer of Tedworth (1700) ─ Joseph Glanvill
Those works are mostly creative fiction, but the three marked “transcribed” are folktales. This reflects the fact that this book explores the deep roots of occult detective fiction. Readers are encouraged to spot signs of things to come. Each of the book’s lead characters grapples with a supernatural mystery — most of them successfully — but it’s how they do so that’s intriguing. Conducting surveillance and tracking suspects? Plenty of that. Interrogating witnesses and consulting historical records? You’ll certainly find this. Carefully reading physical clues? That’s there! Remaining obective and applying logic? Uh-huh. You’ll find writers drawing on a range of these investigative methods in this anthology.
And you’ll find two “supplemental” stories — a couple of relevant and historically interesting tales that I felt simply aren’t strong enough to include in the book — on the Ghostly Clients & Demonic Culprits page of this site. Purchasing details are there, too.
Remember, if you wind up enjoying the book, please post a review at Amazon.