Today the names of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, and Clark Ashton Smith, all regular contributors to the pulp magazine Weird Tales during the first half of the twentieth century, are recognizable even to casual readers of the bizarre and fantastic. And yet despite being more popular than them all during the golden era of genre pulp fiction, there is another author whose name and work have fallen into obscurity: Seabury Quinn.
Quinn’s short stories were featured in well more than half of Weird Tales’s original publication run. His most famous character, the supernatural French detective Dr. Jules de Grandin, investigated cases involving monsters, devil worshippers, serial killers, and spirits from beyond the grave, often set in the small town of Harrisonville, New Jersey. In de Grandin there are familiar shades of both Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and alongside his assistant, Dr. Samuel Trowbridge, de Grandin’s knack for solving mysteries—and his outbursts of peculiar French-isms (grand Dieu!)—captivated readers for nearly three decades.
Collected for the first time in trade editions, The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin, edited by George Vanderburgh, presents all ninety-three published works featuring the supernatural detective. Presented in chronological order over five volumes, this is the definitive collection of an iconic pulp hero.
The fourth volume, A Rival from the Grave, includes all the stories from “The Chosen of Vishnu” (1933) to “Incense of Abomination” (1938), as well as an introduction by George Vanderburgh and Robert Weinberg and a foreword by Mike Ashley.
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Keeping the Golden Age Alive
by Mike Ashley
EVEN THOUGH THE FINAL Jules de Grandin story appeared over sixty years ago, the series remains the longest running occult detective series — ninety-three stories in total, including one complete novel and several of novella length. Curiously, however, when the subject of occult or psychic detectives arises in discussion, it's unlikely that Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin will be the first to be mentioned. He might not even enter the discussion at all, despite the fact that the series remains the longest-running of all occult detective series, with ninety-three stories in total, including one complete novel and several of novella length, all of which appeared over sixty years ago.
Instead, one will think immediately of Algernon Blackwood's John Silence or William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki or Joseph Payne Brennan's Lucius Leffing or, of course, more recent TV examples such as Kolchak in The Night Stalker or Mulder and Scully in The XFiles. But the occult detective has a long history and a rich tradition, and what is frequently overlooked is the pivotal role that Quinn's de Grandin stories played in developing and even rescuing the character from premature decay — they poured life and vitality into a character role that was becoming dangerously stereotyped and, perhaps more importantly, too closely tied to the British establishment. Indeed, it was Quinn who popularized the psychic sleuth in the United States and gave the archetype a whole new lease on life, as Jules de Grandin's adventures spanned those years between the decline of the traditional British supernatural sleuths at the end of the 1920s and their re-emergence in the 1960s.
The occult detective in Britain has its roots in the medical profession, an approach which has proved ideal for many other detectives — or their companions. Samuel Warren's long-running series, Passages from the Diary of a Late Physician, which began in Blackwood's Magazine in August 1830, has the nameless first-person narrator investigating all manner of maladies, especially nervous disorders. Many of the stories are macabre, and a few verge on the supernatural, such as "The Spectre-Smitten" (February 1831), in which a patient's madness has arisen out of his apparently seeing the ghost of a recently deceased neighbour. The series proved very popular, not least because Warren's identity was also kept anonymous and many readers believed these were genuine cases.
Even before Warren's series began, the German writer E. T. A. Hoffmann had included an investigative doctor in "Das Ãde Haus" ("The Deserted House") in the second volume of NachtstÃ1/4cke in 1817, but, as this story was not translated into English until 1855, it did not have the impact of Warren's series, which had helped establish the physician as a natural investigator of strange happenings, whether genuine hauntings or delusions. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu introduced the German physician Dr. Martin Hesselius in "Green Tea," serialized in All The Year Round (23 October — 13 November 1869), whose investigations were recorded by his anonymous medical secretary. As with Warren's stories, "Green Tea" considers the extent to which hauntings might be psychosomatic. Although Hesselius does not appear in any of Le Fanu's other stories, his casebook was used as a framing device when Le Fanu collected some of his best weird tales as In a Glass Darkly (1872).
When Grant Allen started his writing career, masquerading as J. Arbuthnot Wilson, he had two medical students undertake a scientific analysis of a ghost in "Our Scientific Observations on a Ghost" (Belgravia, July 1878). Allen was already parodying a genre which had barely got off the ground, but the story highlights the public's growing interest in a thorough investigation of ghosts and the occult. There had been a growth in curiosity about spiritualism and psychic phenomena since the 1850s, notably in the demonstrations given by the Scottish medium Daniel Dunglas Home. This had led to the formation of various spiritualist bodies, such as the British National Association of Spiritualists in 1873, and through these developed the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1881.
The rigorous investigation of psychic phenomena had already been used to great effect by Edward Bulwer-Lytton — who had witnessed some of Home's activities — in one of the best mid-Victorian ghost stories, "The Haunted and the Haunters," also in Blackwood's Magazine (August 1859). With the formation of the SPR, though, scientific investigations of hauntings soon featured regularly in fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle, who was cautious early in his career but would later champion the cause of spiritualism, showed how the power of the mind might challenge science in his novella The Parasite (1894), wherein the investigator, Professor Gilroy, almost succumbs to the mental strength of a formidable woman.
Although Doyle also wrote other stories of occult investigation, such as "The Brown Hand" (The Strand, May 1899), which refers to the SPR, he introduced no recurring investigator, unlike his stories of Holmes and Watson, which had set a new template for detective fiction. One of the pleasures of encountering the occult detective is in pursuing his many and varied explorations and it is the appearance of regular character series that marks the emergence of the field as a distinct sub-genre.
One might point to Arthur Machen's Dyson as the first continuing character, as he appears in four stories, starting with "The Inmost Light" in The Great God Pan (1894). But Dyson isn't an investigator by profession; he's a rather dissolute author with a side interest in the scientific understanding of the outrÃ©, and he gets dragged into investigations by his colleagues. Much the same applies to Arabella Kenealy's Lord Syfret, who has a sort of sixth sense in detecting the unusual, but whose cases, related in "Some Experiences of Lord Syfret," are only borderline supernatural at best. That series, eleven stories in all, ran in The Ludgate from June 1896 to April 1897, but only seven were collected in Belinda's Beaux in 1897.
A better example of the first regular-character occult detective is L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace's John Bell, the Ghost Exposer, whose adventures were serialized in Cassell's Magazine starting in June 1896 and collected as A Master of Mysteries in 1897. A man of private means, Bell has devoted his life to exploring the weird and mysterious and has become an exposer of ghosts. Although these stories are therefore non-supernatural, they are full of atmosphere and challenge the reader to see if they can understand the mundane solution. Bell, then, was an investigator in the true tradition of the SPR.
These precursors lead, at last, to the first true genuine example: the cases of Flaxman Low, a psychologist who, like Bell, has devoted his life to understanding psychic phenomena. When the first set of six stories, written by Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard and his mother Kate O'Brien Ryall Prichard under the pseudonym "E. & H. Heron," were published in Pearson's Magazine from January to June 1898, they were presented under the heading "Real Ghost Stories," with each story illustrated by a picture of a haunted house. Low also writes up his investigations for the SPR, giving the stories more than a veneer of verisimilitude. A second series ran in Pearson's the following year, and all twelve stories were collected in the landmark, and now quite rare, volume Ghosts (1899).
With Flaxman Low, the occult-detective field was ready to blossom. The magazines saw there was a winning formula in feigning veracity, and repeated the guise with Allen Upward's "The Ghost Hunters" in The Royal Magazine in 1905 and Jessie Adelaide Middleton's "True Ghost Stories" in Pearson's in 1907.
These ushered in a true Golden Age, which really began with John Silence, Physician Extraordinary by Algernon Blackwood in 1908. With the Silence stories, the two threads of the occult detective come together; he's both a psychic investigator and a doctor, or "physician extraordinary." Like John Bell and Flaxman Low, Silence has devoted years to studying — or perhaps experiencing would be the better word, since he hid himself away from the world for five years — the occult. But, like Samuel Warren's investigator, Silence is also a genuine doctor, interested in psychic afflictions, though he has no consulting rooms!
Blackwood's publisher, Eveleigh Nash, gave John Silence huge publicity, which led to not only significant sales and the chance for Blackwood to become a full-time writer, but also sealed the reputation on the occult detective. The floodgates opened and, over the next two decades, almost every popular magazine featured a psychic sleuth.
The Idler ran William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder in 1910. The New Magazine featured Sax Rohmer's Moris Klaw in 1913 (later collected as The Dream Detective in 1920). The Weekly Tale Teller ran Alice and Claude Askew's Aylmer Vance in 1914. Uel Key's Dr. Arnold Rhymer, the Spook Specialist, appeared in Pearson's Magazine in 1917. The Premier Magazine featured the first female occult detective, F. Tennyson Jesse's Solange Fontaine, in 1918, followed in 1919 by Mrs. Champion de Crespigny's Norton Vyse. Then, Ella Scrymsour's Sheila Crerar appeared in The Blue Magazine in 1920, Elliot O'Donnell's Damon Vane in The Novel Magazine in 1922, and Dion Fortune's Dr. Taverner in The Royal Magazine in 1926. Even Agatha Christie explored the territory with her character Harley Quin in 1926's The Story-teller. The difference here was that Quin was not the investigator, but somehow seemed to influence events off stage.
The link in name between Harley Quin and Seabury Quinn was, of course, entirely coincidental, although it is another interesting coincidence that Seabury Quinn's first appearance in a British publication was just three months before the publication of the first Harley Quin story. The first Jules de Grandin story, "The Horror on the Links," was reprinted from its original October 1925 Weird Tales appearance in September 1926's More Night at Night, the second volume in what would become the legendary Not at Night series of anthologies edited by the redoubtable Christine Campbell Thomson. Although a hardcover book series, it was treated, contractually, as a British edition of Weird Tales, although it also published its own original material and other reprints. Thomson also reprinted two other de Grandin stories, "The House of Horror" and "The Curse of the House of Phipps," in You'll Need a Night Light (1927) and in At Dead of Night (1931), respectively, although the Not at Night series ran for a further four volumes until 1936.
It was an indication that the occult detective character had virtually run its course in Britain. A. M. Burrage had contributed his series about Francis Chard to The Blue Magazine in 1927 and, rather fittingly, F. Tennyson Jesse brought back Solange Fontaine for a final series in The London Magazine in 1929, but the magazines were starting to fold, and the future of the occult detective in Britain, such that it was at the time, was moving to books.
L. Adams Beck, for example, introduced Dr. James Livingstone in The Openers of the Gate in 1930. He was a specialist in nervous disorders, just as Samuel Warren's doctor-detective had been a century earlier. Sydney Horler reintroduced Sebastian Quin in two novels, The Evil Messenger (1938) and Fear Walked Behind (1942). E. Charles Vivian, writing as Jack Mann, switched his detective Gregory George Gordon Green, known as Gees, from investigating mundane cases to supernatural ones with Grey Shapes in 1937 and managed to sustain a series of novels over the next few years, but these were exceptions.
The main reason for the gradual disappearance of the occult detective in Britain was because the magazines were themselves fading and there was no suitable market for a continuing short story series. It was not until towards the end of the Second World War that Dennis Wheatley introduced Niels Orsen in four stories in Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts (1943) and Margery Lawrence presented the cases of Dr. Miles Pennoyer in Number Seven, Queer Street (1945), though, again, these were exceptions. It would be nearly thirty years before the occult detective truly began to re-emerge in Britain.
But there was also another reason for the loss of interest in psychic sleuths, and that was a lack of originality. Apart from the interesting variations introduced by Agatha Christie and F. Tennyson Jesse — and, to be fair, these were initially only borderline psychic detectives rather than ghost hunters — all of the other series followed a traditional, almost Holmesian, format. Even Carnacki, the most physically active of the ghost finders, still had his consulting room and invited his circle of friends round so he could relate his latest adventure. Some of the detectives had their own special skills: Moris Klaw slept at the scene and dreamed a solution, Norton Vyse had such psychic abilities as psychometry, and Lord Syfret could sense the unusual, rather like Solange Fontaine, who was aware of evil. But despite these skills, the stories still follow a traditional form.
In the United States, things were very different; until 1912, there had been no true occult investigator series, as in Britain. This all changed with "The Occult Detector," a short serial in Cavalier (17 February — 2 March 1912) that introduced Prince Abduel Omar, the wealthy son of a Persian nobleman and Russian princess, who lives in a penthouse suite in New York and is known to one and all as Semi-Dual. The odd name comes from the fact that he provides both a natural and a supernatural solution to his investigations, but his entire operation is awesome. Besides being a psychologist — we are back with the medical profession — he is also an astrologer with telepathic abilities. This means he need hardly leave his skyscraper suite, and can instead operate through the team of Bryce & Glace, Private Investigators. Not only can Semi-Dual communicate with them telepathically, but he can divine, via horoscopes, the likely outcome of events. This series, which stretches over twenty-two years through thirty-three stories, many of them short novels, was by the writing team of John U. Giesy, a physician and well-known pulpster, and attorney Junius B. Smith. Despite their length — which almost rivals that of the de Grandin tales — none of the stories was collected in book form until recently, which means they are still relatively unknown except amongst old-time pulpsters. Despite the unusual nature of the plots, or maybe because of them, the series does not fit easily into the occult-detective category. It was much more the progenitor of such hero-pulp adventurers as Doc Savage.
The next occult detective to appear in the United States was equally extraordinary, or even more so, since they were written by an Englishman, but not published in Britain. These were the Simon Iff stories by Aleister Crowley, published under the alias Edward Kelly in the magazine The International starting in September 1917. Iff is a Thelemic magician and uses his understanding of the Book of the Law (an occult treatise written by Crowley, purportedly under inspiration from an ancient deity) to psychoanalyse his criminals and to help him unravel the inexplicable, though there is no ghost hunting here, the occult element being solely in Iff's abilities. Crowley saw Iff as an extension of himself and thus makes Iff infallible, but the stories are written with a perceptive wit missing from many occult-detective stories. Crowley enjoyed writing them, producing far more stories than were ever published during his lifetime. Iff also appears as a lead character in his novel Moonchild (1929), where he leads a group of white magicians in a war with black magicians over the possession of an unborn child. It is not an occult-detective novel.
We can rapidly pass over Herman Landon's Godfrey Usher stories, which ran in Detective Story Magazine during 1918. Although they have all the atmosphere of supernatural sleuth stories, there is very little by way of supernatural setting, other than through Usher's preening of his experiences. Crimes are solved far too easily by intuition, and the stories fall flat both as crime fiction and weird fiction.
This background shows that whilst in Britain the psychic sleuth story was getting into a rut, in the United States it hadn't yet grasped its purpose. So, when Seabury Quinn entered the field, courtesy of Weird Tales, we could all give a huge sigh of relief.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Rival from the Grave"
Copyright © 2018 Estate of Seabury Quinn.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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Table of Contents
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IntroductionGeorge A. Vanderburgh and Robert E. Weinberg
Keeping the Golden Age AliveMike Ashley
The Chosen of Vishnu (Weird Tales, August 1933*)
Malay Horror (Weird Tales, September 1933)
The Mansion of Unholy Magic (Weird Tales, October 1933)
Red Gauntlets of Czerni (Weird Tales, December 1933*)
The Red Knife of Hassan (Weird Tales, January 1934*)
The Jest of Warburg Tantavul (Weird Tales, September 1934)
Hands of the Dead (Weird Tales, January 1935)
The Black Orchid (Weird Tales, August 1935)
The Dead-Alive Mummy (Weird Tales, October 1935)
A Rival from the Grave (Weird Tales, January 1936*)
Witch-House (Weird Tales, November 1936*)
Children of the Bat (Weird Tales, January 1937*)
Satan’s Palimpsest (Weird Tales, September 1937*)
Pledged to the Dead (Weird Tales, October 1937)
Living Buddhess (Weird Tales, November 1937*)
Frozen Beauty (Weird Tales, February 1938^)
Incense of Abomination (Weird Tales, March 1938*)
*Cover by Margaret Brundage
^Cover by Virgil Finlay