ORIGINS OF PARANORMAL DETECTIVE STORIES
– The Blending of Two Genres
I love occult detective stories. My first ever speculative fiction story acceptance was for one (although sadly the market closed before its publication), and I've completed a novel that incorporates both occult detective and urban fantasy.
THE PARANORMAL DETECTIVE is the title of the panel I'll join at Boskone 56 tomorrow evening, Friday February 15th, with distinguished award-winning authors BRENDAN DUBOIS, author of the Lewis Cole mystery series, DANA CAMERON, author of the Emma Fielding Mysteries (and their television movie adaptions, the newest, More Bitter Than Death just premiered February 10th on the Hallmark channel!), SARAH SMITH, author of the Alexander von Reisden mysteries and of Chasing Shakespeares which has been developed for the theater, and THOMAS SNIEGOSKI, author of the Remy Chandler urban fantasy series, the Fallen young adult series adapted as movies for ABC Family television, and the Magic Zero quartet that is being developed by Universal motion pictures. This is only a partial list of their many works and accomplishments.
And then there is yours truly. (′ʘ⌄ʘ‵). The new "kid."
Still, in preparation for our panel discussion, I delved into the origins of Paranormal-Occult Detective fiction, from the purported first "detective" stories by Edgar Allen Poe and similarly the first tales (excluding folklore) of "supernatural horror," and the subsequent blending of the two genres beginning in the latter 19th century and early 20th century. And nearly all of it is in the public domain -- i.e. free to read! So get your spade and your wolfsbane and electric pentacles and click on the links below to enjoy a graveyard full of the earliest adventures into mystery and occult detective fiction.
I. DETECTIVE / MYSTERY:
· Edgar Allen Poe – [C. Auguste Dupin]: Poe is credited with creating the first “detective” before the word and subsequent genre of tales were coined. Dupin solves mysteries through his power of “ratiocination” (i.e. deductive reasoning).
o The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), widely considered the first fictional detective story.
o The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842)
o The Purloined Letter (1844)
· Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – [Sherlock Holmes]: The Hound of the Baskervilles possesses all the trappings of a Gothic horror mystery, one that is inevitably unveiled and overcome by Sherlock Holmes’s unyielding logic and his power of deductive reasoning
o The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-1902)
II. GOTHIC HORROR / GHOST STORIES
· Horace Walpole – He wrote the first novel of “Gothic Horror,” combining a medieval setting, romance, tragedy and death with elements of the supernatural and horror.
o The Castle of Otranto (1764)
· Mary Shelley
o Frankenstein (1818)
· M. R. James – A medievalist scholar who wrote ghost stories in contemporary settings where the supernatural elements are unequivocal and often related to antiquarian objects.
o Ghost Stories by an Antiquary (1904)
III. EARLY OCCULT DETECTIVES – VICTORIAN TO EDWARDIAN (GOTHIC HORROR-MYSTERY)
· Sheridan Le Fanu – [Dr. Martin Hesselius ]: Le Fanu is credited with creating the first occult/paranormal detective, Dr. Hesselius. Hesselius’ investigation and encounter with the lesbian vampire Carmilla predates Dracula by 26 years. Many stories are told via his medical secretary in a “frame narrative” device that became common in both detective (e.g. Sherlock Holmes’s Dr. Watson) and paranormal detective fiction (e.g. Carnacki’s Dodgson; and Prince Zaleski’s M.P. Shiel and Lucius Leffing’s Joseph Payne Brennan – i.e. the authors of these stories).
· M. P. Shiel—[Prince Zaleski]: The prince is an exiled Russian nobleman who spends his days smoking cannabis and opium among his collection of curios from antiquity in his half-ruined abbey in Wales. Here, the author visits him seeking his help to solve mysteries that have baffled the greatest minds in England. Tales of ghosts, murder, severed fingers, inexplicable suicides, and cursed gems.
o Prince Zaleski (1895)
o Review Link
· Bram Stoker—[Dr. Abraham Van Helsing]: Helsing is an aged brilliant Dutch doctor of medicine, of law, of letters with a string of letters after his name as long as his arm. When Seward, a former student of Van Helsing, calls for his help regarding a mysterious illness that has beset Seward's love, Van Helsing diagnoses that she's a victim of vampirism. And the hunt begins.
o Dracula (1897)
· E & H Heron—[Flaxman Low]: The creation of the mother and son team whose real names are Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard and Kate O’Brien Ryall Pritchard, Low is described as “one of the leading scientists of the day” and an expert in the occult and that newfangled science: “psychology.” The authors are credited with creating the first psychologist detective as opposed to the first psychic detective.
o Ghosts (1899); also as Flaxman Low, Occult Psychologist, Collected Stories
· Algernon Blackwood—[John Silence]: Blackwoods’ prose is rich and evocative. Silence is an independently wealthy physician who takes cases, pro bono, that interest him, particularly those who suffer from psychic affliction. Where Flaxman Low and Thomas Carnaki make use of science to battle back the darkness, and later occult detectives like Lord Darcy, Titus Crow, and Harry Dresden employ magic, Silence employs the power of his mind like his natural detective predecessors Dupin, Hesselius, and Holmes and his gift (or learned skill: ”training at once physical, mental, and spiritual”) of psychic sensitivity
· William Hope Hodgson—[Thomas Carnaki]: Despite his Edwardian-steeped manners, diligent to the social hierarches and customs of his day, I submit Thomas Carnaki as the first “common man” occult detective. Not to say the refined bachelor of 472 Cheyne Walk is of overly modest means or unrefined, but he demonstrates relatable emotion, particular fear as appropriate to the soul-harrowing encounters to which he applies not only his power of deductive reasoning but both the science of his day, employing flash photography and electricity (e.g. the electric pentacle) as well as spiritual magic (e.g. the Signs of the Saaamaaa Ritual and rituals from the 14th century Sigdmund manuscript). Hodgson’s conception of cosmic horror strongly influenced Lovecraft and his “Circle,” while the transitional Carnaki served to influence authors of the “modern” paranormal detectives of the 20th century like Seabury Quinn(Jules de Grandin), and Manley Wade Wellman (John Thunstone), and others.
o Carnaki, The Ghost Finder (1913)
IV. 20th CENTURY OCCULT DETECTIVES – EYES AND HEIRS, AND HEROS
· Ella Scrymsour—[Sheila Crerar]: Crerar is the first female occult detective - pulp heroine. Orphan nineteen year-old Sheila Crerar of Scotland makes her way to London to find work, discovers her her psychic abilities, and puts out her shingle as supernatural investigator. Lacking both the quiet reserve, knowledge, and especially financial means of her occult detective predecessors, Sheila combats specters, ghouls, and werewolves directly with Scottish wits, daring, and physicality. 1st appearance 1920.
o Sheila Crerar, Psychic Investigator (1920)
o Review Link
· Seabury Quinn—[Jules de Grandin]: Paris-born de Grandin, now of Harrisonville, NJ is like many of his occult detective predecessors a physician and a man of great knowledge, yet like Sheila Crerar, he is ruthless in the excising of evil, be they human or supernatural; and he trusts more in blade or bullet than any magic or ancient ritual or blessings –e.g. put a big enough hole in a werewolf, and it suffices. First appearing in 1925, Quinn’s de Grandin was the most popular and frequently published character in Weird Tales, with a total of ninety-three tales written through 1951.
o Sample Tale: Pledged to the Dead (1937)
o Review Link
· Robert E. Howard—[Steve Harrison]: Tales of weird menace faced head-on by the brawling police detective Steve Harrison.
o Steve Harrison: Detective of the Occult (2018), an ebook sampler of three tales
· H. P. Lovecraft & C. J. Henderson—[Inspector Legrasse]: Legrasse is even more “common man” than Carnaki in that he lacks the latter’s awareness and knowledge of the supernatural. He is a Louisiana detective, tough and dedicated in his opposition to crime who does not seek out the occult, and could not conceive of its existence if he did, until the occult comes inescapably to him in the form of nothing less than dread Cthulhu. Appearing in but the one eponymous tale of that Great Old One, Legrasse’s awakening to the cosmic horrors outside mortal ken results in a strain on all he has heretofore accepted as true and “normal.” The emotional impact of the occult on the average detective is chronicled by author C. J. Henderson in a series of successive encounters.
o The Tales of Inspector Legrasse (2005)
o Story: The Call of Cthulhu (1928)
o Review Link
· Manly Wade Wellman—[Judge Pursuivant, John Thunstone, John The Balladeer]: Thunstone is similarly the occult detective-pulp action hero, a protector of the Earth and humanity. Armed with knowledge, weapons, and determination, he seeks out supernatural threats and eliminates them. 1st appearance in 1943. Unfortunately, inexpensive collections of Thunstone are currently rare.
o Goodreads listings
o Review Link
· August Derleth—[Dr. Laban Shrewsbury]: Shrewsbury, a professor of anthropology and philosophy of Miskatonic University stumbles upon the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and takes the battle to them. Scarred and blinded in the fight, he perseveres using both his mind and magic, he accepts one small win at a time, temporary reprieves against malign powers so much greater than men. 1st story appearance in 1944.
o The Trail of Cthulhu (1962 )
o Review Link
· Joseph Payne Brennan—[Lucius Leffing]: Harking back to the tradition of the gentleman occult investigator who enjoys the comforts of his New Haven, CT home and has little inclination to room more than picking up pistol, blade, or enchanted paraphernalia to dispense justice upon evil. Leffing studies and unveils the mysteries of psychic disturbances, hauntings, and other supernatural disturbances with assured urbane proficiency and alacrity as told by his literary colleague, the author Joseph Brennan himself. 1st appearance 1962.
o Chronicles of Lucius Leffing (1977)
o Review Link
· Randall Garrett—[Lord Darcy]: For those who like alternate history with their paranormal detective where Richard the Lionheart’s descendants rule the Anglo-French Empire and the laws of magic have developed in place of the laws of physics up to the present day. 1st appeared in 1964.
o Murder and Magic Lord Darcy Volume 1 (2013)
· Brian Lumley—[Titus Crow]: Psychic sleuth and occult investigator Titus Crow is in manner, intelligence, learning, and distinguished appearance like John Silence yet versed in both the use of science and magic as Thomas Carnaki and faced with the same Lovecraftian cosmic malign powers as Inspector LeGrasse and Laban Shrewsbury. 1st appearance in 1971.
o Review link
· Lin Carter—[Anton Zarnak]: Zarnak’s past is a mystery and his moods are near-schizophrenic -- as is his residence that shifts from the exotic streets of London to New York to San Francisco by some unknown means. A physician, metaphysician, theologian, and musician, the breadth and depth of Zarnak’s knowledge is as uncanny as his appearance. At moments kind and at others caustic and ruthless, Zarnak is a catch-all of the best and worst qualities of the occult detectives that preceded him. 1st appearance 1989.
o Anton Zarnak, Supernatural Sleuth (2002)
o Review Link
OTHER LINKS: Tim Prasil of Brom Bone Books is an unequaled sleuth and depository of knowledge regarding occult/paranormal detective fiction as well as an author and publisher of the same. I heartily recommend the many well-researched articles at his website.