This collection, combining crime and the paranormal, was by the husband-and-wife team of Alice and Claude Askew, both of whom perished when their passenger ship was torpedoed during the Great War in 1917. The protagonist is Aylmer Vance, who undertakes investigations on behalf of the ‘Ghost Circle’ and regularly exposes false mediums and the like. But here we are presented with those cases he couldn’t explain, rationally …
I submit this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge; Patti’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, today hosted by Todd Mason at his fab Sweet Freedom blog; and Carl V Anderson’s Once Upon A Time IX Challenge.
“I was conscious that Nature guarded innumerable secrets from men – secrets which she was loth to give up” – The Invader
Originally published in 1914 between 4 July and 22 August in The Weekly Tale-Teller, the stories were belatedly collected into the current volume in the late 1990s by Jack Adrian. None is especially frightening though all have a memorable atmosphere, usually doing a fine job in their depiction of crumbling country houses or the woods that surround them – indeed, the Askews focus very heavily on nature, providing a strong parallel in the sense of continuity and solidity of centuries-old woodland and the spirits dwelling therein, or nearby.
- The Invader
- The Stranger
- Lady Green-Sleeves
- The Fire Unquenchable
- The Vampire
- The Boy of Blackstock
- The Indissoluble Bond
- The Fear
In the opening story Vance meets Mr Dexter while on holiday. The two, bound by a strong attraction to the power of the night-time, strike up a friendship and Vance decides to recount some of his adventures. Most, it has to be said, don’t have a very happy ending and indeed see Vance as a somewhat ineffectual investigator – yes, he usually discovers what is behind various hauntings and possessions, but proves, for the most part, singularly unsuccessful in affecting events, ultimately just standing back and letting them run their course.
“The laws of this world are not the laws of the hereafter. Some day the truth will be revealed.” – The Indissoluble Bond
In The Invader Vance investigates a case of possession involving a good friend, in which an attempt to contact the dead leads to his wife having her essence stolen by a long dead witch. The finale is tragic but is given an extra punch when Dexter tells us that he is certain that Vance had in fact fallen in love with the woman. There is in fact usually a woman central to each story and they are usually extremely beautiful, often with a somewhat ethereal quality about them. This gets its lightest treatment in Lady Green-Sleeves in which Vance once again succumbs to the charms of a young woman – who turns out to be long-dead. A nice development though sees Dexter discovering his own latent psychic powers, which very much come into their own in what may be the best story of the collection, The Boy of Blackstock, in which the duo investigate ‘poulterghesit’ activity and a much more down-to-earth case involving secret passages, blackmail and infidelity. It is the combination of mystery and the supernatural that really makes this story work, though all the titles in this brief collection have points of interest.
“Am I to understand that I am conversing with a ghost?” – Lady Green-Sleeves
The stories have often been compared to the Holmes and Watson adventures – to a degree, this is superficially apparent from the structure of the tales as Dexter narrates the adventures of his friend in a somewhat Watson-like mixture of awe and bafflement. The fifth story, The Vampire, which has generally been the most anthologised, is the one that makes the Holmes and Watson comparison extremely clear. Having ended his fishing holiday in Sussex, Dexter decides to find a room in the same lodgings as Vance so that he can further develop his new-found skills as a clairvoyant. From now on they act as a team, highly reminiscent of the Baker Street duo, though Vance resides in Dover Street, near Piccadilly. That doesn’t stop Vance making some very Holmesian pronouncements however:
“You ought to know by now, Dexter,” he said, “that I never jump to conclusions.” – The Boy of Blackstock
My blogging chum Karen over at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings first pointed me to this book, for which many thanks. I thoroughly enjoyed the somewhat strange offerings, especially for their almost pantheistic fascination with the environment and its impact on those who dwell in it – either from this world, or the next …
I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘spooky’ category: