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Wednesday 4 April 2018

‘Supernatural Sherlocks’ edited and introduced by Nick Rennison

Published by No Exit Press,
24 October 2017.

ISBN: 978-1-84344975-1

This unusual collection of short stories opens with a Rudyard Kipling tale from 1890, The Mark of the Beast.  Set in India, the narrative relates how an unpleasant English colonial, called Fleete, disrespects a religious deity and reaps the ghastly consequences of his blasphemy.  The second text, In Kropfsberg Keep (1895), by Ralph Adams Cram, describes how two young artists, Rupert and Otto, decide to spend a night in the haunted keep of the title but are ill-prepared for what awaits them in the darkness.  Number Ninety was written in 1895 by BM Croker, the pen-name of Irish writer Bithia Mary Sheppard.  For ten years, estate agents have been unable to find a tenant for an old mansion, Sheppard’s short story explains why!  Dr Arabella Kenealy’s An Expiation was published in 1896, it recounts how Lord Syfret’s investigation into a wood shed exposes a grim history that reaches into the present.  The Blue Room (1897) was the last story ever written by Lettice Galbraith. When young Miss Wood is asked to spend the night in the Blue Room of Mertoun Towers tragedy follows.  Fifty years later Miss Erristoun and Mr Maxwell decide that the time has come to investigate what really happened on that fateful night.

The Story of Yand Manor House (1898) was written by Kate and Hesketh Pritchard, a mother and son team who adopted the pseudonym E and H Heron.  The supernatural sleuth investigating this mystery is Flaxman Low who, in company with a sceptical French philosopher, Monsieur Thierry, sets out to find out why the dining room at Yand House gives its diners indigestion - and worse!  The next tale, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Brown Hand (1899), relates how a psychical researcher, Dr Hardacre, is prevailed upon to investigate strange and disturbing appearances in the laboratory belonging to his uncle, Sir Dominick Holden.  In The Dead Hand (1902) LT Meade and Robert Eustace weave a murderous tale that begins when the celebrated palmist Diana Marburg reads something wicked in the hand of Philip Harman.  The Gateway of the Monster, by William Hope Hodgson (1910), sees his investigator, Carnacki, solve mysteries relating to a Grey Room, three dead bodies and a door that goes bump in the night!  Alice and Claude Askew’s The Boy of Blackstock (1914) is one of eight supernatural stories which the husband and wife team wrote together.  With a “psychic detective named Aylmer Vance” and a priory-haunting poltergeist this is a tale not to be missed!

Miss Hosmer is the protagonist of The Governess’s Story (1921) - an unusually poignant mystery by Amyas Northcote.  In stark contrast William James Wintle’s The Voice in the Night (1921) describes how a landowner, John Barron, is reluctantly pressed into fulfilling the role of investigator when a child on his estate is attacked by an unidentifiable beast.  In her 1922 story, The Death Hound, Dion Fortune explains how Dr Taverner, healer and supernatural sleuth, must solve the puzzle of a man who believes he is haunted by a black dog!  This story is followed by The Shunned House (1924), in which HP Lovecraft reveals a dreadful secret concealed within an old house on Rhode Island.  The final contribution is a 1930 work by Henry S Whitehead.  The Shut Room is narrated by Gerald Canevin who, along with his new friend, Lord Carruth, sets out to discover why things keep disappearing from an otherwise pleasant bed-chamber at The Coach and Horses Inn.

Nick Rennison’s book provides a fascinating glimpse into the weird and wonderful world of occult detective fiction through fifteen supernatural mysteries that thrill, horrify and perplex.  The work contains writings from a sub-genre that may be a less familiar to some, but Rennison’s understanding of the period and its authors guides the reader through the paranormal potpourri in a way that is both enjoyable and informative.  Supernatural Sherlocks fuses Victorian Sensation fiction with ghostly gothic and introduces a delightful array of extraordinary and eccentric detective-magicians.  An unsettling and entertaining read!
Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent

Nick Rennison is a writer, editor and bookseller with a particular interest in the Victorian era and in crime fiction. He has written several Pocket Essential guides published by Oldcastle Books including Short History of the Polar Exploration, Roget, Freud and Robin Hood. He is also the author of The Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to Crime Fiction, 100 Must-Read Crime Novels and Sherlock Holmes: An Unauthorised Biography. His debut crime novel, Carver's Quest, set in nineteenth century London, was published by Atlantic Books. He is a regular reviewer for both The Sunday Times and BBC History Magazine.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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