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An account of mysteries both horrible and queer
on 7 April 2007
There are nine short stories in this collection: four supernatural, two with just an incidental element of haunting and three that only seem to be spooky until properly investigated and found to be cases of mundane trickery. Comparisons have been drawn between Hodgson's Carnacki, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Algernon Blackwood's John Silence. In my opinion, as an admirer of Conan Doyle and Blackwood, these comparisons are misleading. Both Conan Doyle's and Blackwood's characters have depth, the stories are well constructed and elegantly written. Holmes employs sound, scientific methods and Silence uses recognisable and plausible (at least as described by the stories' narrator) psychic methods. Carnacki, on the other hand, uses pseudo-scientific techniques which he partly and vaguely explains using various made-up words, gobbledygook and mumbo-jumbo - a sort of 'psycho-babble' with added guns, electric pentacles and circles of psychedelic light. Strange stuff!
Hodgson certainly had a fertile imagination and all the tales seem quite original. If only the author had the writing skills to match his boundless imagination - and sufficient attachment to reality to be able to make some of the dafter elements of the stories more believable. The writing style doesn't sparkle. There's a monotonous repetition of the same words over and over. The word 'queer' for example, is practically worn out by over-use. Random initial capitals are scattered abundantly throughout the text. The characters are thin and flat. Each story is presented in the same way: Carnacki successfully concludes a case, then he invites four of his friends round to dinner, nobody mentions the case until they've finished the food and seated themselves comfortably in their customary chairs to listen to the story. Carnacki tells them what happened and when he's finished one or two might ask a question to clarify some point or other. The interrogator is usually Dodgeson, or occasionally Arkright. As far as I recall, Jessop and Taylor (the other two friends) never utter so much as a word. Then their host herds them unceremoniously out of his house. One of the four, Dodgeson, always narrates (like Sherlock Holmes's friend Watson). The pattern never varies.