Years ago at a science fiction convention a kindly book dealer introduced me to William Hope Hodgson and Carnacki the Ghost Finder. I had picked up a copy of House on the Borderland for my collection and he suggested I might enjoy the Carnacki stories. He had a nice copy of the 1947 edition edited by August Derleth, of Arkham House fame, which was reasonably priced because it was missing the dust jacket. He had created a duplicate because he thought the book should have the cover art. This was perfectly acceptable to me. As you can see at left, the cover art by Frank Utpatel is beautifully atmospheric. The dealer was right, I loved Carnacki. All the stories are in this volume which is now available in newer printings. The stories influenced later horror and fantasy writers, notably Seabury Quinn and Algernon Blackwood, both of whom had their own supernatural detective characters.
Carnacki famously lives at 427 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea in London where he periodically invites a group of young friends to dinner. Forbidden to question him while they eat, after the meal he relates his latest adventures in the art of ghostbusting, Edwardian style. These tales are narrated by to the reader by one of the men, Dodgson, reporting Carnacki’s narration in a very unobtrusive manner. Each of Carnacki’s Stories tells of his investigation into an unusual haunting, which Carnacki is usually hired to identify and to end.
The various phenomenon are detailed in well crafted stories in which Carnacki uses a logical progression of tests and a variety of scientific methods in his investigations. He employs technologies such as photography and he firmly endeared himself to me when he produced his scientific improvement on the traditional protective magic circle with the Electric Pentacle. What I loved was that Carnacki always uses evidence to draw his final conclusions. Carnacki was perfectly fine with finding a natural explanation for these things, but also perfectly equipped to accept the supernatural if it came up and fight fire with fire. Carnacki uses a fictional ancient text, the “Sigsand Manuscript”, as a resource to protect himself against supernatural influences. In some stories he decides the haunting is real, while in others it is staged or faked by an adversary for various reasons. This variety makes the stories suspenseful, as the audience is never sure if the ghosts are real or not. Sometimes the phenomena are produced by both in the same story, the plots are not at all simplistic. Carnacki also has a dry sense of humor about his missteps and close calls which give his character a human touch.
The book contains contains the following tales:
- “The Thing Invisible” A chapel attached to an Edwardian manor house contains an ancient, cursed dagger that has just apparently almost murdered someone of its own accord.
- “The Gateway of the Monster” In an ancient mansion, the bedroom known as the Grey Room was the site of a grisly murder generations ago. Carnacki is summoned to investigate a noisy spirit that tears off the bedclothes and slams the door(s).
- “The House Among the Laurels” In an ancient mansion, the bedroom known as the Grey Room was the site of a grisly murder generations ago. Carnacki is summoned to investigate a noisy spirit that tears off the bedclothes and slams the door(s).
- “The Whistling Room” When a chamber in a mansion manifests a loud, eerie whistling, Carnacki is called to investigate. He makes an exceedingly thorough search of the room, but can find no explanation until he climbs a ladder to look into the room through a window during an episode.
- “The Searcher of the End House” Carnacki investigates a haunting in his own mother’s house. Among other phenomena, A strange mildew smell is in the bedroom. Carnacki investigates the house, including the three cellars, but can find no explanation at first.
- “The Horse of the Invisible” According to Hisgins family tradition, any first-born female will be haunted by a ghostly horse during her courtship. This story has been long considered a legend, but now for the first time in seven generations there is a first-born female, and her fiancee has just suffered a broken arm after an attack by a mysterious assailant.
- “The Haunted Jarvee” Carnacki decides to go for a voyage aboard the Jarvee, his old friend Captain Thompson’s antique sailing ship, for purposes of rejuvenation, but also to investigate the ambiguous complaints of ghosts his friend had been making for some time.
- “The Find” Carnacki investigates a seemingly impossible book forgery.
- “The Hog” This story was first printed in Weird Tales (Jan 1947). Carnacki employ scientific methods to fight a frightening supernatural entity resembling the named animal.
If these seem interesting, here are links to text and audio of the stories at free resources.
- Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder at Project Gutenberg
- Carnacki, the Ghost Finder public domain audiobook at LibriVox