Like many people, I’ve got a deep fascination with the pulp stories of yesteryear, and up until this point, I had thought I had read all of the occult detective stories that were out there that had been written in that time period. I marveled at the electric pentacle of Thomas Carnacki, and the Ghost Busters-Esque hauntings that he set out to solve. I mulled over the philosophical implications of the paranormal with John Silence, or Flaxman Low.
And then like a gift, a new occult detective stepped from the shadows; Seabury Quinn’s character, Jules De Grandin.
I discovered the fussy paranormal version of Agatha Christie’s Perot while reading Conan’s World and Robert E Howard by Darrell Schweitzer. Which sent me on a prolonged scrounge through my personal library to see if I already owned any of the stories in question. Often it is the case that I will acquire compendiums and collections for one or two particular works, and not ever get around to reading the thing cover to cover. Then, I came up with three De Grandin stories that had up until that point slipped quietly by me, nestled in Wildside press’s 25 Occult Detective Stories Megapack.
Needless to say, I plowed through them with great fervor. Here are my quick thoughts about each, there will not be spoilers.
The Jest of Warburg Tantavul
A solid introduction to the character of Jules De Grandin and his stalwart comrade Dr. Trowbridge (who at this point in time to me seems very much cut from the same cloth as Doyle’s Dr. John Watson). It’s a story that both depicts the rigid religious mindset of people at the time, with innovative ideas on how to deal with the supernatural. De Grandin’s French idioms are on full display, as well as his straightforward approach to things seemingly out of the realm of possibility. The story left me with questions about the nature of the supernatural elements, and the motivations of Warburg Tantavul, but resolved enough to feel satisfying by the end of it. Definitely my favorite of the three that I read.
Pledged to the Dead
Certainly an interesting read, and a concept that I didn’t see coming at the outset. Would I have liked to see more of the steamy streets of 1920’s New Orleans? Yes. Was it necessary for the story? I guess not. The supernatural element was inventive, and you get to experience a story that comes right up to being risque (or at least risque for the times). Like the story before it, you get to see a bit of how progressive Seabury Quinn was, presenting the reader with real-world problems (albeit not real-world causes) and a level headed set of characters responding accordingly.
The backstory as to why the supernatural shenanigans took place seemed weak and was not satisfactorily reasoned or solved in my opinion. Now granted not answering questions is sometimes done to great effect in horror and weird fiction. But this was a bridge too far.
Incense f Abomination
Definitely a story that showcases the pulp magazine’s desire to have racy vulnerable women on its cover. This story was fun to read for a number of reasons. Firstly it has a bit more of a detective element at the outset, with De Grandin taking action on the streets of Harrisonville New Jersey. It has a great set of exchanges between the character relating the story and De Grandin which shows the snappy wit of Seabury Quinn and the guile of his detective character.
What this story fails on for me is the murky rationale of the apparition that plays prominently at the end of the story, and the eventual proposed and enacted solution to the problem. De Grandin in the first two stories showed almost a scientific mindset, or at least provided a clear explanation of the world’s internal logic. But in this one it felt like things were rushed and not particularly well reasoned.
If you’ve read any of Seabury Quinn’s Jules De Grandin stories and have an opinion feel free to leave a comment below. I’m sure I will be delving into more of these stories in the future and will let you know as I go along. They are fun, easy reads that hit the right chords of action and memorable characters. Would definitely recommend.