Thursday, March 26, 2015

Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder (William Hope Hodgson)

Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder
William Hope Hodgson
Project Gutenberg
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy/Horror
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In the early days of the 20th century, Carnacki investigates all manner of peculiar events commonly referred to as hauntings. From the terror of an over-protective family relic to a malevolent whistling room, he relates six of his adventures here.

REVIEW: Reading like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and The X-Files, Hodgson's investigator Carnacki tackles several chilling cases here. (There is another version which includes three more tales; the public domain title on Project Gutenberg, however, only has the original six.) He walks into each investigation with "open-minded skepticism," striving to rule out natural or human causes yet never neglecting the possibility of occult forces. To the latter end, he has his own arsenal of knowledge (much of it merely alluded to, in references to obscure treatises and terminology), not to mention his Electric Pentagram - a modern update of an ancient defense that saves his life at least once. Some of his cases turn out to be mundane, others diabolical, and a few mix both. Even Carnacki cannot definitively say what he witnesses, save that it extends beyond the bounds of the mundane into the murky, shadowy realms beyond. It almost lost half a point for the contrivance (somewhat common in early 20th century tales) of Carnacki relating events after the fact, this time to a group of four friends who seem to have little relationship with him other than as willing ears for his stories... which is especially irritating when he deliberately obscures information in the retelling to artificially increase the punch of the reveal at the end. Some of the conclusions also felt slightly unsatisfying in their vagueness, and his references to other cases (particularly the infamous Black Veil) made me wish Hodgson had lived to write more titles in the series. His peculiar situations and spine-tingling descriptions of the various hauntings, be they man-made or otherwise, just managed to keep this one at four stars. I'll have to see if I can track down the rest of Carnacki's adventures. (Incidentally, some digging on Amazon reveals that the longer collection is available; I linked to the six-story version, though, as that's the one I read.)

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