Monday, December 7, 2015

just plain fun: Giving Up the Ghosts: Short-Lived Occult Detective Stories by Six Renowned Authors (ed.) Tim Prasil

If it isn't already obvious, I have developed a deep and abiding love of vintage horror/supernatural tales -- the more obscure the better, since a huge part of my enjoyment is in discovering works I've never read before. That is the appeal of this particular collection:  with the exception  of Algernon Blackwood (whose work I just love), the rest of the authors in this book are all new to me. Giving Up the Ghosts focuses on  "short-lived" series featuring occult detectives whose  time span in the public eye was quite brief before sort of fading into obscurity.  

Coachwhip Publications, 2015
300 pp

This collection begins with two stories by Fitz-James O'Brien, a prolific writer whose occult detective Harry Escott first appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine November, 1855 in "The Pot of Tulips."  In March, 1859, "What Was It? A Mystery" followed; both take place in houses  with "the reputation of being haunted."

Next up are three stories featuring Enoch Garrish, who was created by Gelet Burgess of "I never saw a purple cow" fame:  "The Levitant", "The Spectre House" and "The Ghost-Extinguisher," all of which have a humorous, rather sarcastic edge.  Gerrish is a member of  the Society for Psychical Research, and has several supernatural encounters which he writes about in reports. The snark factor looms large here; Mr. Gerrish, it seems, is highly eccentric.

Gerrish's rather bizarre experiences are followed by those of Jim Shorthouse, created by Algernon Blackwood: "A Case of Eavesdropping," "The Strange Adventures of a Private Secretary in New York," "The Empty House," and "With Intent to Steal."

Leaving Blackwood, we come to the adventures of Diana Marburg, created by the extremely-prolific  L.T. Meade with Robert Eustace, where we make a slight detour from the world of ghosts to crimes in the physical world, but that's okay. Marburg, it seems, reads palms, and is very popular among the upper classes where her readings are in great demand. She lasted for three stories: "The Dead Hand," "Finger Tips," and "Sir Penn Caryll's Engagement."

A.M. Burrage makes an appearance next, with his hero Derek Scarpe, who appeared in only two stories in Novel Magazine. Scarpe is "not a medium," nor is he "any kind of a mystic." In "The Severed Head," he takes up the case of a client who has seen the apparition of a "head of a middle-aged woman" "Perhaps twenty or thirty" times at home in Dodfield Hall.  He returns in "The House of Treburyan" where the ghost of the client's uncle is driving everyone "mad."

Last, but by no means least is Conrad Richter's Matson Bell, "sometimes called the Spook Cop" who "only survived for two stories."  The brevity of Bell's career is a definite shame, since both of these stories have a mystery-like quality to them and are just plain fun, especially his "Monster of the Dark Places," which follows "The Toad Man Specter."

Kudos to Mr. Prasil for collecting these tales and rescuing them from oblivion. While Blackwood's work  is read widely and is very well known, Jim Shorthouse I knew only from "The Empty House." John Silence, of course,  is the much more popular and more well-known supernatural sleuth, a name much more familiar to readers of this sort of thing.  It's a lovely anthology, perfect for someone like myself who delights in these old stories -- not just in the reading, but also in the discovering.

Two things happened when I finished this book. First, I scoured the internet looking for more supernatural works by these authors since Prasil has definitely piqued my interest; second, I visited Coachwhip's  website and discovered that this press also specializes in obscure crime/mystery novels from the past, many of which were written by women. I see a lot of Coachwhip books in my immediate future.


  1. I'm very pleased that you appreciate my efforts, Nancy! Needless to say, I'm also a lover of the old, often-forgotten stuff.

    I confess I hadn't discovered your site until finding your review (and the link to here) on Goodreads. I promise I'll be back, though.


    1. I really do this to entertain myself, but thanks! I absolutely loved this book -- keep them coming; the more obscure the better. And by the way, the old mystery novels caught my eye and will be showing up on the crime page & on my newest project, Forgotten Women Found (starting in January). Thanks so much for putting this collection together!


Say what you will, but do it in a nice way.