You are no doubt aware that in recent years the month of November has been co-opted into a fundraising event known as Movember, in which men grow facial hair to raise money for a variety of causes, including mental health charities. For reasons that will be made plain if you click to read more, this is something I’d like to discuss today; if that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, feel free to pass this post over and I’ll see you on Tuesday for more of the usual.
A little while ago, while secondhand bookshop haunting as is my wont, I stumbled upon a copy of Paul Gallico’s The Hand of Mary Constable (1964) — a book I have recommended here before for the brilliant way it shows up the tricks of the séance through a combination of perspicuous writing and trusting its readers’ intelligence. My copy was a rat-eared, much-abused paperback and this was a lovely hardcover for a very reasonable price…and yet I vacillated for some time (like, a few weeks) before buying it.
Like a latter-day Edgar Rice Burroughs, Manly Wade Wellman’s Earthman-out-of-his-element story casts the protagonist as a near-superhuman saviour who is hated by the powerful, championed by the underdog, and treated to sweet, sweet lovin’ by an appreciative female who’s clearly never experienced this sort of hunkiness before. Think Jack Reacher of Mars for best (?) results.
Respected, iconoclastic patriarch of an isolated group found murdered in his bedroom one night when no-one else could have entered the house? Check. All members of the household cleared from complicity in his murder? Check. Amateur detective-cum-paladin called in against his will to investigate? Check. Cantankerous police riled by this effrontery in spite of the obvious specialised knowledge this amateur brings? Check. Honestly, Peter F. Hamilton wrote such a classic detective yarn with A Quantum Murder, it’s almost a surprise to find it on the SF shelves. But when your genius amateur is also a fully-functioning enhanced psychic empath I suppose you’re not really in Agatha Christie territory any more…
Following a recent post on John Dickson Carr’s The Lost Gallows over at The Green Capsule, I was reminded of just how much I love a séance in fiction. Now, to be clear, I’m with Charlie Brooker on psychics and other such manipulative awfulness, but have a real love of sleight of hand and up-close magic (as perhaps evinced in my enthusiasm for fair play detective fiction and impossible crimes therein) and a debunked séance is often a great way to explore the little ways a set of circumstances can be misrepresented, and often some fascinating insights come out of it.
So, here are five great séances from detective fiction, alpabetically by author.