“He was shot, staked through the heart and buried at a crossroads, after the burning of Columbia. . . . Or he might’ve gone to San Francisco. No one really knows.”
This passage has next to nothing to do with the main plot of Josh Reynolds’ delightful novel The Whitechapel Demon (Emby Press, 2013). It’s fairly telling of the work’s tone, though, which manages to balance the dark and gruesome with the light and witty. And this entertaining tone strikes me as one of Reyonds’ greatest strengths as a writer, his ability to make a reader cringe on one page and then snicker on the next.
Those comic moments are particularly welcome, given that the story’s primary villain is a demonic doppelgänger of no less than Jack the Ripper. I say primary villain because there are variations on villainy in this story, some of which are entirely human.
This book chronicles the first novel-length adventure of Reynolds’ occult detective Charles St. Cyprian. With the feisty (read: prone to violence) Ebe Gallowglass at his side, St. Cyprian battles supernatural evil on behalf of the British Crown shortly after the Great War. Perhaps because of Reynold’s ear for the repartee of the time and place, I can’t help but hear an echo of Bertie Wooster in St. Cyprian’s banter. But there’s also a touch of James Bond in his good looks, fast car, and relationships with women. Again, Reynolds holds the balance between Bertie and Bond exactly where it should be.
Mostly, though, St. Cyprian exhibits the traits of occult detectives such as Carnacki, who happens to have been main character’s mentor. In a sense, this hero is more occult than detective. (At one point, he admits to hating mysteries.) His inherited supernatural arsenal, especially something called the Monas Glyph, plays a more important role in how he does business than does, say, prudent interrogation or sharp analysis of the inner workings of human behavior.
In fact, I’m hoping the inner workings of St. Cyprian, Gallowglass, and/or some other key character is given a bit more attention in the subsequent novels that appear to be part of Reynolds’ plans. What drew St. Cyprian, for instance, to his peculiar career? “One does not choose. One is chosen,” he quickly mentions to Gallowglass. Still, being chosen to battle monsters comes with a weight that even Buffy the Vampire Slayer has trouble dragging. While St. Cyprian’s world comes with a fairly intricate history, I finished the novel wanting to know more about the man himself.
And that’s fantastic! There are several hints of untold stories, including Gallowglass’s disdain for cats, St. Cyprian’s relationship with Roberta Wilde, or that cad who was either staked through the heart or went to San Francisco. These teases have done their work. I’m looking forward to getting know these characters better.