Review by Stephen Theaker
In his introduction Mark Valentine describes the inspiration for these 23 stories as those of Prince Zaleski, Mr Dyson and Carnacki. I’ve only met the last of those gentlemen, but these stories are not at all shamed to be mentioned in the same breath. Yet where Carnacki is immensely practical, an almost scientific investigator of the paranormal, The Connoisseur rather experiences events, or provides an understanding of them. The clue’s in the name: he is a connoisseur of the weird, as well as the lovely. Occasionally he gives events a nudge towards a conclusion, but more often he’s there simply to witness the moments of sadness or glory or terror offered by his mysterious world.
One other thing that sets these stories apart from Carnacki, and gives the book a territory wholly its own (at least in my limited experience of the genre) is their focus on the arts; literature, sculpture, architecture, poetry, music, woodcarving and metalwork all give rise to fascinating mysteries. The stories are generally very short, leaving the reader with a chocolate box dilemma – wolf them all down, or force oneself to save some for later? I’d recommend wolfing them down, since unlike chocolates you can return to a book a second time, and the flawless writing here deserves a second, careful reading, free from the consideration of what-happens-next. Very much recommended.
The Collected Connoisseur, Mark Valentine and John Howard, Tartarus Press, pb, 306pp