“There is the telephone, but you cannot carry a telephone about with you in a little pocket case.”
This line from B.L. Farjeon‘s 1893 novel The Last Tenant has very little to do with the plot. I just found it amusing. I suppose that, if Farjeon had been writing Wellsian “science romance,” then perhaps the novel’s protagonist, Ned Emery, actually could have carried a telephone in his pocket. Instead, Emery finds himself swept up into two other genres: first, Gothic horror — and then crime mystery.
If fact, The Last Tenant plays with genre in a clever way. It starts out as a conventional haunted house tale with Emery reluctantly accompanying his determined wife on a search for a new place to live. Weary and frustrated, they decide they’ll end their hunt by visiting No. 79 Lamb’s Terrace. After all, the house there comes with a surprisingly low rental rate. But also an unkempt lawn. And allegations of being haunted. And, as it turns out — a translucent ghost girl! And let’s not forget the skeleton cat that only Emery can see!
So they decide against taking the house.
Wait — what? That’s right, after just a few chapters, Farjeon smashes the old main-character-moves-into-a-house-that-turns-out-to-be-haunted chestnut by bringing the ghosties onstage as the prospective renters are still giving the place an initial once-over. It’s a nice twist, and it allows the novel to jump genres. You see, that skull-and-bones kitty winds up prompting Emery to suspect that something is very much amiss at 79 Lamb’s Terrace. Something that needs investigating!
At this point, Emery becomes an amateur detective. His boyhood buddy, Bob Millet, joins him as a sort of Dr. Watson. Together, they make fairly impressive sleuths, though they do enlist the aid of a couple of professional detectives along the way. The focal character remains Emery, however, and since he is the only one who can see the spectral cat — which acts vaguely like a feline form of clairvoyance — he alone achieves the status of occult detective.
Ned Emery, therefore, qualifies as a novice detective on my Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives. (I thank John from Pretty Sinister Books for mentioning The Last Tenant to me. His website is a great source for people interested in popular genres and old books.)
Unfortunately, nary a character in Conall Cearnach’s collection The Fatal Move and Other Stories (1924) seems qualified to join that same legion. The closest thing to an occult detective is Ellingham in “Professor Danvers’ Disappearance” — and that’s all I’ll say about that. Nonetheless, the small book offers a few good supernatural stories along with a mix of some other genres. The last story, “The Rejuvenation of Ivan Smithovitch,” is especially interesting in bringing a sense of playfulness to alternate history and science fiction.
This collection of stories is a bit hard to find, though some copies are available at online used-book outlets. I made a (not especially good) .pdf file of it. It’s a fun collection — but probably something you’d only read once. Download it here: The Fatal Move and Other Stories.