“We Know that There Is Here at Work a Supernatural Agency”: B.L. Farjeon’s Ned Emery

There is the telephone, but you cannot carry a telephone about with you in a little pocket case.

This line from B.L. Farjeon‘s 1893 novel The Last Tenant has next to nothing to do with the plot. I just found it amusing. I suppose that, if Farjeon had been writing Wellsian “science romance,” then perhaps the novel’s protagonist, Ned Emery, actually could have carried a telephone in his pocket. Instead, Emery finds himself swept up into two other genres: first, Gothic horror — and then crime mystery.

In fact, The Last Tenant plays with genre in a clever way. It starts out as a conventional haunted house tale with Emery reluctantly accompanying his determined wife on a search for a new place to live. Weary and frustrated, they decide they’ll end their hunt by visiting No. 79 Lamb’s Terrace. After all, the house there comes with a surprisingly low rental rate. But also an unkempt lawn. And allegations of being haunted. And, as it turns out — a translucent ghost girl! And let’s not forget the skeleton cat that only Emery can see!

Benjamin Leopold Farjeon (1838-1903)

So they decide against taking the house.

Wait — what? That’s right, after just a few chapters, Farjeon smashes the old main-character-moves-into-a-house-that-turns-out-to-be-haunted chestnut by bringing the ghosties onstage as the prospective renters are still giving the place an initial once-over. It’s a nice twist, and it allows the novel to jump genres. You see, that skull-and-bones kitty winds up prompting Emery to suspect that something is very much amiss at 79 Lamb’s Terrace. Something that needs investigating!

At this point, Emery becomes an amateur detective. His boyhood buddy, Bob Millet, joins him as a sort of Dr. Watson. Together, they make fairly impressive sleuths, though they do enlist the aid of a couple of professional detectives along the way. The focal character remains Emery, however, and since he is the only one who can see the spectral cat — which acts vaguely like a feline form of clairvoyance — he alone achieves the status of occult detective.

Go to the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives — 1800s page.

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close