Fear and the Occult Detective

Fear is one of our oldest emotions — if not the oldest. And fear of the unknown is one of our greatest fears.

I don’t know what I don’t know, and that lack of knowing scares us. It is primal, that fear of the unknown.

Playing on our Fears

Fear, and playing on our fears, is the stock in trade of the writer of the macabre. Those spinners of stories that parade our fears before us and scare us to death — and we love it.

For all of our façade of sophistication, biologically speaking we are no different than our ancestors from 300,000 years ago. We may no longer be afraid of thunder and lightning, and we may have outgrown our fear of what’s under our beds — we are, however, still controlled by our fears.

Just look at the nightly news. Listen to David Muir’s tone of voice. He’s playing into our fears. And how often do we say, “I’m afraid…” — no matter the context?

Is it any wonder that the tale of terror, the horror story, has never lost its appeal with readers?

Enter the Occult Detective

The Occult Detective sub-genre had its beginnings in mid-1800s, and picked up steam in the wake of the success of Sherlock Holmes.

I’ve developed a great liking for the Occult Detective. The combination of horror and the whodunit are right up my alley. A blending of my two favorite reads.

For contemporary stories featuring occult detectives, I turn to the pages of Occult Detective Magazine. You can find their website here. They are the only publication totally devoted to the Occult Detective genre. It’s one super magazine, and I heartily recommend it.

Then there are the classics. Those occult detectives that began appearing in the 1890s and perhaps reached their peak in the 1940s and 1950s.

Occult Detective Classics

Flaxman Low probably started the subgenre, at least in the form that we know it today. He was the creation of E and H Heron. The stories are pretty good, although some readers might find them somewhat slow going. Ghosts: Being the Experiences of Flaxman Low is the only current edition I’ve found (both free and for purchase) that contains all of the stories. It is priced at present for less than $2, and that is a steal.

Thomas Carnacki, the creation of William Hope Hodgson, is perhaps the most famous of all occult detectives, and Carnacki pastiches abound. You can find the original stories at Carnacki the Ghost-Finder for free. Marcus L Rowland also provides a publishing history.

If you want the stories in book form, you can find them all in The House On The Borderland And Other Mysterious Places, which is volume 2 of The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson.

Thus far, my favorite among our Fighters of Fear is Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin.

Quinn wrote some 500 stories for the pulp fiction magazines. He was Weird Tales’s most popular writer and was paid at a higher rate than any other writer published by the magazine.

Today, Quinn is little known. Which is a shame. He was an engaging, entertaining, and talented writer.

However, a large selection of his work is available for free on the Internet. And publishers are finally starting to reprint his stories. All I can say is that it’s about time.

All of the Jules de Grandin stories have been collected in 5 volumes by Night Shade Books. You can find the books on Amazon.

Flaxman Low, Thomas Carnacki, Jules de Grandin, and Occult Detective Magazine. That should be enough to get you started enjoying the spooky and sometimes terrifying weird world of the occult detective.

Comments are always welcome. And until next time, happy reading!

One response to “Fear and the Occult Detective”

  1. Right you are, and I’ve come to love this stuff and the characters who come with it. We are the product of 300,000 years of evolution, most of that time spent as prey animals. Our pure genetic fear was of being killed and eaten, and while most of us don’t have to worry about being eaten anymore, people get killed every day. That fear remains, and when it flares up, it’s half a billion years of evolution telling us, “don’t go in there,” “don’t do that,” but most of us do anyway. Not specifically too bright.

    But having those inbred fears strummed by a master storyteller is a thrilling treat for a horror fan, and we’re lucky to have so many deft hands lining up to service our needs. Thank you for a wonderful tour of one of the many “golden ages” of horror and the occult detective.


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