I'd never read any of William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki ghost stories, so before I checked out the main story, I decided to skip to the extra feature that this book contains -- an appendix featuring "The Whistling Room", an original short story from 1910 starring the early ghostbuster. I really enjoyed it. So much so that I definitely plan to seek out some more from Hodgson.
In any event, after getting a brief introduction to this character and his universe, I started reading the main story of the novella itself, a neat crossover of sorts between the Doctor Who world and the Carnacki world. Cartmel's story doesn't have the same creepy, oppressive atmosphere of the Hodgson work, but I found it good on its own merits.
It's always interesting to see how an author attempts the notoriously difficult task of rendering the Second Doctor in print. I've caught a few broadcasts of the Troughton serials on MPT recently, so I had his Doctor fresh in my mind. I think Cartmel did a decent, if not quite wonderful, job of capturing him. He doesn't exactly leap off the page, but I think if you have a good image of the character in your head, Cartmel's prose will just manage to coax him to the forefront.
For Jamie, Cartmel amusingly just removes him from the story and focuses his attention on Zoe. This was a really good idea. I don't know if his Jamie could possibly have been as entertaining as his Zoe. Her stint as a Victorian maid is quite amusing. It's a cliché to have the futuristic (or modern) character(s) complaining about conditions for women and/or the lower classes when in historical settings, but Zoe's grumblings and the situation she gets herself into was too funny for words.
As for the story itself, it felt to me much more like a supernatural-tinged detective tale than the chilling, disturbing ghost story of "The Whistling Room" (however, I have no idea if "The Whistling Room" is typical). But I appreciated its pace as the mystery was slowly revealed. As a whole, it doesn't quite hold together completely at the end. The individual set pieces are good, but the ending doesn't have the full impact that it should.
Still, while FOREIGN DEVILS isn't a great book, it is a good one. It's absorbing and well written. As a crossover, I'm not sure it's a complete success. Carnacki doesn't seem to have the same impact on the story as, say, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson do in Andy Lane's ALL-CONSUMING FIRE. Still, he makes for a decent addition to the cast, and his inclusion gives me a series of stories to track down. FOREIGN DEVILS isn't as good as Cartmel's best work, but it is better than his worst.