The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder – William Hope Hodgson
Wordsworth Books – 2006 (First published in 1910)
This is a collection of short stories about a detective who specializes in the paranormal. The original edition, published in 1910 was limited to 6 stories, but most later editions include all 9 of the Carnacki tales that survive. Did Hope Hodgson write more? It seems as if he intended to; some of these stories contain references to other adventures that were never documented.
While I was reading the first story, I realised that the Duke De Richleau from Dennis Wheatley’s novels must have learned some of his techniques from Carnacki. I afterwards read the introduction to this Carnacki collection and saw that the editor had noticed the same thing. (Wheatley later confirmed the influence of Carnacki on his own writing by including the detective’s adventures as the fifth installment of his Library of the Occult series).
These tales reside in a bit of a strange place in the land of horror fiction. Most of them are fairly straightforward ghost stories, but there are these little descriptions here and there that seem more Lovecrafty than M.R. Jamesy. The last story, The Hog, was frustratingly drawn out, but it portrays a universe that is not only apathetic towards human life but actually hostile to it, and it’s little ideas like this that make this collection worth reading. You’ll be reading what seems to be a run of the mill ghost story and then come across a line or a paragraph that’s worded in such a way that it not only conveys the characters’ terror but actually imposes it on you.
While not absolutely brilliant, this is rather enjoyable stuff. Carnacki’s unique ghost finding arsenal is made up of an interesting mix of rituals, strange grimoires and modern technology, including an electric pentacle! I’ve mentioned similarities to the works of James, Lovecraft and Wheatley above, and I reckon that if you like the work of those authors (and who doesn’t?), you’ll probably enjoy this too. I also got a serious bang of Bulwer Lytton’s The Haunted and Haunters off some of these tales.
This book is perfect for reading on the bus into work or listening to while making dinner. The first 6 tales are available as an audiobook at librivox.com. I know I’m often a bit nasty about the lovely people on that site who dedicate their time to creating these audiobooks for free, but holy God, this one was something else. Two of the Carnacki stories are set in Ireland, and one of them features several lines of dialogue from an Irish character. This dialogue is written phonetically so as to give the impression of an Irish accent. Hope Hodgson was English, so he was probably familiar with Irish accents, and if you were to read the aforementioned dialogue aloud, it would sound fairly accurate. Unfortunately, the guy who read it for the audiobook tried to put on an Irish accent while he was reading the phonetic transcription of that accent. The result was an accent so stupid sounding that I had to turn to the physical book to finish the story. I simply couldn’t understand him. It was like a guitar player putting a guitar through two of the same distortion pedal. Add to that the fact that this lad’s Irish accent is a mix of Sean Connery and Count Dracula. Check it out:
While my edition of the book gives 2006 as its publication date, I believe it’s a bit newer than that. The Wordsworth Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural used their ugly old covers until at least 2010. The only complaint I ever had about this series was the awful cover art, and I have to say that these newer editions look much, much nicer. I’ve reviewed 9 of this series in total, and I have another 10 on my shelf. I’m sure I’ll acquire more at some stage in the future too. I love these books. They’re always cheap and nearly always amazing reads.
If you’re interested in reading more about Carnacki, check out this far more insightful post on this collection.