I’ve finished sprucing up the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives, checking links, proofreading linked pages, and making some barely noticeable trims. I also added a few new works. For instance, Charles May’s “The Haunted House, from 1831, now sits as the second-oldest piece of occult detective fiction. Some might consider it a stretch, though. On first glance, it might strike a reader as a simple “dare to spend a night in a haunted house/room” story, a tradition that reaches from Pliny the Younger’s first-century account of Athenodorus to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House — and probably beyond.
That reader might wonder if May’s 1831 tale is really occult detection, especially with Cuthbert Forster, the protagonist, being as poorly prepared for the supernatural events that happen. I declare: yep! While such characters are what I term novice-detectives, they dare to resolve the mystery of the haunting (even if that means debunking it) and they do so with the standard investigative strategy of surveillance or, more colorfully, a “stake out.” Those are both pretty detective-y, if you ask me.
And as soon as this clicked in my head, I started to realize just how many other works on the Bibliography also fit this “dare to spend a night” master plot: from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Haunted and the Haunters” (1859) to W.W. Jacobs’ “The Toll-House” (1909). B.M. Croker’s “Number Ninety” (1895) especially has interesting parallels with May’s “The Haunted House,” so many I wonder if there isn’t a direct influence. After all, in both stories, a skepical investigator arranges to spend the night in an allegedly haunted house. There, he is confronted with an invitation to a dinner — what turns out to be a ghostly and even demonic dinner! He wisely, if panickedly, vanquishes the unsettling devils with an invocation. Still, in the end, he is devastated by the whole experience. In Croker’s version, John Hollyoak mets with the ultimate devasation.
My next step in regard to the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives is to slowly pick through a long list of works, graciously sent to me last year, to see if they qualify. Naturally, if I find any particularly noteworthy tales or novels, I’ll blog about them.