Review by Stuart Douglas
Occult detectives don’t always get the credit they deserve. Certainly, in comparison with the likes of Sherlock Holmes they’re all but forgotten, but then again, so are most things. But even amongst fans of detective fiction, how many readers know the name of Flaxman Low, never mind Jules de Grandin? Even the term itself feels stuck in something of a ghetto, weighted towards the white man in late Victorian era, when London séances were all the rage and Conan Doyle wrote about fairies and spiritualism with unashamed enthusiasm.
The newly launched Occult Detective Quarterly intends to address these problems. With a mission statement which promises that the editors are ‘seeking out stories of those folk who investigate strange, occult and supernatural phenomena’ and a promise to seek out only the best written and most interesting stories, and feature investigators of every creed, colour and culture. And by the end of this first volume, I’m hard pressed to do anything but agree that the editors more than fulfil on their opening promise.
Starting with a private investigator who’s also a gorilla certainly helps. David T. Wilbanks and William Meikle’s ‘Got My Mojo Working’ kicks the collection off with a bang, a hard-nosed PI story which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Dashell Hammett book, were it not for the primate smoking the Lucky Strikes – and the demon, of course.
And that’s just for starters. Contained within the magazine’s substantial 101 pages are detectives of all shapes and sizes, from Baron Samedi in New Orleans to the dimension jumping Nick Nightmare, and various points in between. Every story has something to recommend it, but my own personal favourites were Ted Grau’s “MonoChrome”, a long, beautifully paced piece, written by an author who clearly delights in language (and featuring the best line in the book – ‘So, the Park Plaza Hotel just ate four people.”) and Willie Miekle’s second contribution, part one of what promises to be a round robin serial, ‘The Nest’.
Rounding the magazine off are two interesting non-fiction articles, a handful of informative and useful reviews (I wasn’t aware Big Finish had done Carnacki, for a start!) and a variety of illustrations of differing degrees of quality.
One small criticism is that each story is set in the UK or the States – but the editorial makes it clear that future editions will feature tales told elsewhere than those two staple settings for detective fiction.
In summary, an excellent first volume, and one which makes me extremely keen to see the second.