A Completist’s Guide to Occult Detective Books

Unearthing the UnearthlyI put together Giving Up the Ghosts: Short-Lived Occult Detective Series by Six Renowned Authors as either an introduction to occult detective fiction — or an addition to a seasoned completist’s library. After all, regarding the latter, Giving Up the Ghosts features six complete series that weren’t long enough to fill a book by themselves. It’s part of Coachwhip Publication’s impressive series of supernatural detective reprints. These reprints are especially valuable in that a reader can have the complete stories of Carnaki in the same volume as the complete stories of John Bell.  All of Aylmer Vance’s cases are coupled with all of Moris Klaw’s.  There are three more selections that similarly combine two occult detectives in one book — all reasonably priced.

dyson chroniclesI also had a hand in Coachwhip’s volume of all of Arthur Machen’s fiction featuring his distinctive occult detective, Mr. Dyson. It’s titled The Dyson Chronicles, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first anthology to offer the three short stories and one novel that Machen wrote about that character.

in-a-glass-darklyCompletists might find an interest in some other volumes, too.  First, I nudge fans of occult detective fiction toward the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly. For many years, Le Fanu’s Dr. Hesselius had been named as the first occult detective,  though my Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives has inspired some reassessment of that claim. Hesselius actively participates in the novella “Green Tea” but serves only as a framing device in the remaining four tales. Still, those tales — especially “Carmilla” — are, as Oxford suggests, world classics.

simon-iffThose on a budget might prefer the Wordsworth Editions reprint of In a Glass Darkly. Wordsworth also offers the complete Simon Iff stories in Simon Iff Stories and Other Works, by Aleister Crowley. I confess that, while I own this book, I haven’t yet read it — or any of Crowley’s other fiction.  Until then, I recommend this review by Mark Anderson.

Wordsworth also offers Carnacki and Aylmer Vance among their  remarkable and remarkably affordable Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural series.

john-silenceReaders can find the John Silence stories, by Algernon Blackwood, just about anywhere, including online for free.  I suggest those who prefer to have Silence on their bookshelf to purchase the Dover edition, if only for its introduction by renown supernatural literature critic S. T. Joshi.

There are a couple of other more recently released works worth noting.  The first is Altus Press‘s ongoing reprinting of The Complete Cabalistic Cases of Semi Dual, the Occult Detector.  I say it’s ongoing because, so far, only the first two volumes have been published, and Altus seems to taking its time in releasing these. Semi Dual is a creation of authors J.U. Giesy and Junius B. Smith, and Altus’s first volume comes with an introduction written by Garyn Roberts, Ph.D. Even the paperback edition is considerably more expensive than the works I mention above, but Altus does a handsome job in resurrecting and presenting pulp characters for a new generation.

john-thunstoneI’m sorry to report that my final recommendation is out-of-print and only high-priced used copies seem to be available. Introduced by Ramsey Campbell, it’s The Complete John Thunstone, written by Manly Wade Wellman and published by Haffner Press. The Thunstone stories first appeared in the pulps in 1943, and I’ve focused my literary digging on occult detectives introduced before then. Nonetheless, this review by Paul Di Fillipo and this review by Steven Harbin tempt me to keep an eye out for a cheap copy.

It’s certainly encouraging to see that publishers are counting on finding readers for occult detective characters such as Semi Dual and John Thunstone. Perhaps this is a sign that more complete editions of such characters will appear in the future.

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3 thoughts on “A Completist’s Guide to Occult Detective Books

  1. Joseph Allegretti

    I was just thinking that I wanted to read the “classics” of occult detection so this is a great and timely post. I’m ordering some of these tonight. Thanks.

    Like

    1. That’s great, Joseph. Remember that my Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives provides plenty of links to online novels and short stories — but I’m still one of those who likes the paper versions. (And my apologies for the delay in responding. I was vacationing in New England.)

      Like

  2. Joseph Allegretti

    I could kick myself! I remember when Haffner put out the Thunstone book. I considered buying it but didn’t know anything about the character so I let it pass.
    joe

    Liked by 1 person

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