Since I was a little kid, I’ve suffered from insomnia. In the late, late hours of the night, I usually read, and a few years ago, my wife bought me a back-lit e-reader. (It’s a fancy, name brand machine, but I don’t like to play favorites…) I don’t have to turn on a light to read (which can wake the boss up,) and I still get to immerse myself in creepy worlds and gothic adventures when all the world is quiet and dark. My most recent bout of sleeplessness took me back to an old friend, the supernatural detective, Carnacki!
William Hope Hodgson – Carnacki, The Ghost Finder (1913)
William Hope Hodgson was a prolific British writer and all around interesting character, whose massive body of work I’ve only really sampled through his supernatural detective character, Carnacki. The book that I read, Carnacki, The Ghost Finder, collects six of this character’s stories, which had originally been published in a couple of different magazines of the day. (Because there are only six stories, I am assuming that the version I have is a digitization of the 1913 work. A second edition came out in the 1940s, a couple of decades after Hodgson’s death, which had three additional stories that I’ve never read. But that’s pretty cool, in the sense that there are more Carnacki tales for me to read someday!)
Each Carnacki story is a framed tale in which a first-person narrator, the cleverly named “Dodgson,” receives an invitation to visit his friend, Carnacki, who feeds him and a few select individuals a nice dinner, then regales them with the details of his most recent mysterious encounter. Carnacki is some kind of professional investigator who specializes in weird (we would say “paranormal”) cases. He is armed with a deep knowledge of obscure lore, a keen analytical mind, and a small arsenal of specialized equipment with which he busts ghosts and solves complex mysteries. (Considering the fact that these stories are over 100 years old, Carnacki himself seems remarkably modern in his choices of equipment and his methods.) At the close of each story, and after revealing as much of each mystery as he is able, Carnacki ejects Dodgson and his other guests with a jovial, “Out you go!” and the tale ends.
The stories are well told, including wonderful details, strange situations, some moments of genuine suspense, and they can even be downright creepy at times. (Reading them at 3:00 in the morning might help amplify the mood—I recommend it, if you can manage it.) Without giving away too much, Hodgson, does “Scooby-Doo” a tale or two, having Carnacki’s investigations reveal not a ghost or demonic presence, but mundane human trickery, but despite this occasional (though always well written) twist, I find every single adventure in this collection entertaining. And, as I said, Hodgson’s writing is so strong, and his details so well stated, that the reader can at times actually feel Carnacki’s panic and be swept up in the terror of the situation. (The only other author that I’ve read in the last few years who creeped me out as well as Hodgson was Poe, especially in The Fall of the House of Usher, where the sense of decay and otherworldliness really got to me one night…) Hodgson is good is what I’m saying here.
Probably my favorite stories in this collection are “The Gateway of the Monster” and “The Searcher of the End House.” The first, “The Gateway of the Monster,” finds Carnacki investigating a room in a haunted mansion where the door slams, repeatedly of its own accord and the room seems tempest tossed each morning, and where anyone who attempts to sleep in the room is strangled in the night. In the course of his investigations, Carnacki cracks out an electric pentagram of his own design, which he sits inside of on the floor to protect himself from supernatural forces. It’s a weird story. The other story, “The Searcher of the End House” has Carnacki investigating his mother’s house where strange sounds have begun to occur in the middle of the night, doors are opening and closing, and strange, misshapen, wet footprints appear in various rooms. This story actually moves into some interesting multi-dimensional directions with different characters perceiving different phantom forms. It’s a great, weird tale.
If you’re a fan of Clive Barker or the Saw films, these stories will probably not be gruesome or disturbing enough for you, and the language and pacing are a bit old-school. However, I really enjoy this book. The mysteries are odd enough to keep a reader guessing, and the supernatural elements are well described and, at times, wonderfully freaky. I should mention that people who are sensitive to animal cruelty will not enjoy a few of the stories here, as dogs and cats tend not to survive the tales once they are introduced. But if you can stomach that type of unpleasantness and enjoy weird, paranormal mysteries, Carnacki will be right up your alley!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)