While hunting for ghosts on the Web, I came across a site titled simply: Ghost Stories. It’s “a blog to discuss, present, curate and review classic ghost stories, Gothic fiction and Weird Tales,” and it’s managed by Tony Walker.
Tony is also a writer, and the plot of his novel Unreal City is introduced this way: “Hard-boiled detective Christian Le Cozh is hired by a man who thinks his wife was killed by a vampire. Le Cozh is sceptical but he needs the money. He accompanies his client to a graveyard at midnight to persuade him to get medical help. Then things go wrong and he has to hunt the beasts, before they hunt him.”
Given that Le Cozh clearly qualifies as an occult detective, I subjected poor Tony to the four questions I ask of any writer who 1) is currently working in this cross-genre and 2) is kind (or unwary) enough to reply to my request.
#1-Using three similes—and as many sentences as you like—describe your occult detective character(s).
Christian Le Cozh is a man I know well. In fact, I’ve known him for years – when we first met we were the same age, but now I’m considerably older. Wherever he goes, Le Cozh is like a fish out of water, he never quite fits in where he is. His father was a Breton nationalist who forbade young Le Cozh to speak French at home. Le Cozh rebelled against his father and joined the French Army, becoming an interrogator in the First World War. He served briefly in intelligence then set up as a private detective in Paris, moving to London for personal reasons. Wherever he is, he doesn’t fit in. Le Cozh is like a burned out cigarette stamped on the sidewalk. He has been ground down by life but there is the promise of fire within, if someone can just rekindle it. Le Cozh is an iron fist in a velvet glove. He prefers to use his charm to get what he wants, but when charm doesn’t work, he can play rough.
#2-While reading about a fictional world where a vampire travels to, say, a city that is recognizably Victorian London or small-town Maine, a reader might look up suddenly and wonder what was that noise? However, while reading about a fictional world where a vampire enters a tavern that’s frequented by zombies, werewolves, and ghosts, a reader escapes to far-flung fantasy-land and probably ignores that noise altogether. How close is your fictional world to the world of reader?
This is an interesting question and it makes me think of the Tarantino film From Dawn Till Dusk, where the first part is a tense real-life hostage movie where blood-letting is minimum and then it turns into an undead slaughter, where we see the most gory things without turning a hair. I wanted to start the story in the real world so the reality is 1925 London, where I hope all the details are historically correct; I researched them to be so. The supernatural comes in quietly, and I wanted to preserve the doubt for the longest time, so that the reader would be: “Are they real? Or is it in the character’s head?” Then – they come.
#3-I see occult detective fiction as a cross-genre of mystery and supernatural fiction. Do you agree with this, and if so, do you lean more into one genre than the other? If you don’t agree, what’s your problem?
I agree (phew). Christian Le Cozh was inspired by the hard-boiled 1920s-1930s detective, that’s why he has to have an American accent, even though he is French and lives in London. There were some gymnastics to bring that about – his mother is from Kansas and met his father who was a professional musician while the latter was touring with an orchestra in the States. Yes, definitely influenced by Dashiell Hammett and Phillip Marlowe. As such he got dropped into a supernatural mystery. So it was a clash of genres. I guess also, I don’t know if you’ve played, but one time I was really into Call of Cthulhu. The popular characters to play in that game are professors (check), aristocrats (check) and private detectives (yes, sir.)
#4-What are your plans?
Well, Christian survives through three books traveling through 1920s Europe to find his evil adversaries – London, Paris and Vienna. He has been thwarted in love a few times and had significant losses. I guess he deserves a little peace after what he’s seen. But then there’s his sanity…