Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Collected Connoisseur

Mark Valentine & John Howard
Tartarus Press

Following in the footsteps of M.P. Shiel's exotic savant Prince Zaleski and Arthur Machen's Mr Dyson, Mark Valentine and John Howard's The Connoisseur - aesthetical detective extraordinaire - unravels a cornucopia of arcane mysteries in these twenty-three tantalising tales. Collecting together all the adventures in previous Tartarus volumes In Violet Veils and Masques and Citadels, along with four further tales published elsewhere, this volume provides the lover of esoteric mystery and adventure fiction with the complete Connoisseur casebook.
Venturing from his fire-lit study in an English cathedral city, The Connoisseur encounters, among other phenomena, strange masquerades in country houses; a Scottish island whose Prince may not be named; a poignant relic from the Black Sea region, sought after by a ruthless order; a secret account of the first crossing of an Arctic land and an Art Deco cinema which may retain resonances of its mysterious former occupants. From your own fireside, follow The Connoisseur into the delicate shading between this world and other realms of wonder, tragedy and trepidation.

I've been intending to tackle this book for a while now and the enforced immobility of this summer seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The Connoisseur is an investigator into the arcane, or as the book blurb has it, 'aesthetical detective extraordinaire', who, from his home in an English cathedral city, relates his accounts of his investigations to his chronicler, Valentine; a format that immediately ties this modern work in with classics of the genre such as Hope-Hodgson's 'Carnacki' stories, Algernon Blackwood's 'Dr John Silence' and even the Sherlock Holmes tales.

Where The Connoisseur differs from these others is in the things he investigates and experiences.  The supernatural is often nearby but the weird and the inscrutable is aways closer to hand.  Folktales, psychometry, summonings and magic of all hues are explored by this most enigmatic of antiquarian sleuths via the mediums of art, literature, music, performance, architecture and more.  He relates tales of an other worldly Prince and the family beholden to him, of shattering aeromantic divinations, of art, of memory, of obsession and of love.

These aren't tales of adventure; for the most part they do not seek to excite. Instead they intrigue, they entice and they beguile; they are, simply, magical.


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