Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Casebook of Carnacki: Ghost Hunter

William Hope Hodgson
(Wordsworth Editions)

Edited with an Introduction by David Stuart Davies 'I saw something terrible rising up through the middle of the 'defence'. It rose with a steady movement. I saw it pale and huge through the whirling funnel of cloud - a monstrous pallid snout rising out of that unknowable abyss. It rose higher and higher. Through a thinning of the cloud I saw one small eye... a pig's eye with a sort of vile understanding shining at the back of it. Thomas Carnacki is a ghost finder, an Edwardian psychic detective, investigating a wide range of terrifying hauntings presented in the nine stories in this complete collection of his adventures. Encountering such spine-chilling phenomena as 'The Whistling Room', the life-threatening dangers of the phantom steed in 'The Horse of the Invisible' and the demons from the outside world in 'The Hog', Carnacki is constantly challenged by spiritual forces beyond our knowledge. To complicate matters, he encounters human skullduggery also. Armed with a camera, his Electric Pentacle and various ancient tomes on magic, Carnacki faces the various dangers his supernatural investigations present with great courage. These exciting and frightening stories have long been out of print. Now readers can thrill to them again in this new Wordsworth series.

A year or so ago I heard the ‘Weird Tales for Winter’ version of ‘Gateway of the Monster’ and shortly after that I read ‘The Whistling Room’ as a back-up story in one of the Doctor Who novellas – ‘Foreign Devils’ by Andrew Cartmel – these sent me looking for the full anthology.

The two I already knew are amongst the best of the 9 Carnacki stories here. ‘The Hog’ was also pretty fab as was ‘the Horse of the Invisible’ even if part of the ending was maybe a little poor.  'The House Among the Laurels’ was a silly but fun Sherlockian short. ‘The Find’ was too brief by far and felt undeveloped. ‘The Haunted Jarvee’ had its moments but didn’t really go anywhere.  ‘The Thing Invisible’ was another basic Sherlock investigation and ‘The Searcher of the End House’ had nothing to offer in the end to live up to the build-up.

At best Hodgson was a journeyman writer. There are some nice ideas in there and the fact that Carnacki doesn’t always come across supernatural causes to the crimes he investigates is very satisfying. The stories though, often feel underdeveloped and the character himself is too dry and stunted and just doesn’t have the personality to truly carry the story, he really needs a Watson. Perhaps if Hodgson had survived WWI he would have developed his style and the character. It would have been interesting to see how his experiences would have influenced his words. Alas it was not to be.

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