Wednesday, 26 July 2017

John Silence

Algernon Blackwood
John Baker Publishers

One of the foremost British writers of supernatural tales in the twentieth century, Algernon Blackwood (1869–1951) wrote stories in which the slow accumulation of telling details produced a foreboding atmosphere of almost unendurable tension. Blackwood's literary renown began in 1908 with the publication of a highly successful collection of stories, John Silence — Physician Extraordinary, featuring a "psychic doctor."
This volume contains all five of the John Silence stories from the 1908 edition. The stories include "A Psychical Invasion," in which Silence is summoned to a house apparently haunted by former tenants. In "Ancient Sorceries," he encounters a man who tells of strange experiences in a small French town; and in "Secret Worship," an ill-starred character is rescued from spiritual and perhaps physical death. "The Nemesis of Fire," and "The Camp of the Dog," conclude this collection of spellbinding tales, which will delight any devotee of "weird" literature.

Over the last few years and in various anthologies I've read a few of Blackwood's stories concerning his occult investigator Dr John Silence, and they were a real treat.  I've been been hunting a nice old copy of this collection of most of the Silence stories for a while but as all the modern editions have pretty dreadful cover designs it took a while to find an older edition that I both liked and could afford.

Blackwood only wrote 6 John Silence stories, 5  of which were published together in 1908 (as is the case with this volume) with the 6th - 'A Victim of Higher Space' - not included because Blackwood felt it wasn't up to the mark.  It's actually my personal favourite but I do think it makes for a strange fit with the other 5.

John Silence is a medical doctor of independent wealth who uses his skills, both physical and psychical to help with and investigate interesting problems.  Over the course of the collection we find him in turn investigating a haunted house, listening to and commenting on a story of feline witchery, battling a mummies curse, rescuing an unsuspecting traveller from devil worshippers and match making for a lovesick puppy.

In each case he is both an enigmatic but powerful presence although in the case of  two of the stories he is very much a bit player.  In the other three - particularly the first - we get to see him in action and he is such a steely and knowledgeable character that he would, I think, be a rather tiresome presence to have always centre stage and so Blackwood uses him sparingly even in his own adventures and they are all the better for it.

As I mentioned above, I've been on the look out for a nice old copy for a few years now and this one turned up at just the right time to help sate my psychic detective hankering and even with only the one story that I hadn't previously read it was a welcome and very enjoyable read.

Buy it here -  John Silence: The Complete Adventures

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