Occult detective fiction
Occult detective stories combine the tropes of detective fiction with those of supernatural horror fiction. Unlike the traditional detective the occult detective is employed in cases involving ghosts, curses, and other supernatural elements. He or she is often a doctor inclined to metaphysical speculation. Some occult detectives are portrayed as being themselves psychic or in possession of other paranormal powers.
It is difficult to settle on the very first of any fictional character type; however, Fitz James O’Brien’s Harry Escott is a contender for first occult detective in fiction. A specialist in supernatural phenomena, Escott investigates a ghost in "The Pot of Tulips" (1855) and an invisible entity in "What Was It? A Mystery" (1859). The narrator of Robert Bulwer-Lytton’s novella "The Haunted and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain" (1859) is another student of the supernatural who probes a mystery involving a culprit with paranormal abilities.
The next prominent figure in this tradition was Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), followed closely by E. and H. Heron's Flaxman Low, featured in a series of stories in Pearson's Magazine (1898–99), Algernon Blackwood's Dr. John Silence, and William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost Finder. The adventures of Carnacki have been continued by A. F. Kidd in collaboration with Rick Kennett in 472 Cheyne Walk: Carnacki, the Untold Stories (2000) and by William Meikle in Carnacki: Heaven and Hell (Colusa, CA: Ghost House Press, 2011). Other supernatural sleuths in fiction dating to the late nineteenth century include Alice & Claude Askew's Aylmer Vance and Champion de Crespigny's Norton Vyse.
Sax Rohmer's collection The Dream Detective features the occult detective Moris Klaw, who utilises "odic force" in his investigations. The occultist Dion Fortune made her contribution to the genre with The Secrets of Dr Taverner (1926), consisting of psychic adventures of the Sherlock Holmes–like Taverner as narrated by his assistant, Dr Rhodes. Aleister Crowley's Simon Iff featured in a series of stories, some of which have been collected in book form. Dennis Wheatley's occult detective was Neils Orsen.
Though never large, the occult detective subgenre grew to include such writers as Seabury Quinn (with his character Jules de Grandin); Manly Wade Wellman, whose character John Thunstone investigated occult events through short stories in the pulps, collected in The Third Cry to Legba and Other Invocations (2000) and in the novels What Dreams May Come (1983) and The School of Darkness (1985); and "Jack Mann" (E. C. Vivian), who chronicled the adventure of his occult detective Gregory Gordon George Green, known as "Gees", in a series of novels. Pulp writer Robert E. Howard created stories about Steve Harrison, an occult detective, in the Strange Detective Stories magazine. Margery Lawrence created the character Miles Pennoyer in her occult detective stories collected in Number Seven, Queer Street.
Modern writers who have used the occult detective theme as a basis for supernatural adventures include Peter Saxon (The Guardians series), John Burke (Dr Alex Caspian), Frank Lauria (Dr Owen Orient), Lin Carter (Anton Zarnak), and Joseph Payne Brennan (Lucius Leffing).
The occult detective theme has also been used with series characters devised by such contemporary writers as Douglas Adams (Dirk Gently), F. Paul Wilson (the Repairman Jack series), Steve Rasnic Tem (Charlie Goode), Jessica Amanda Salmonson (Miss Penelope Pettiweather), David Rowlands (Father O'Connor), Rick Kennett (Ernie Pine), Brian Lumley (Titus Crow), Robert Weinberg (Sydney Taine), Simon R. Green (John Taylor), Steve Niles (Cal McDonald), Mike Carey (Felix Castor), Mercedes Lackey (Diana Tregarde), Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake), and Jonathan L. Howard (Johannes Cabal). Jim Butcher's best-selling book series The Dresden Files is another well-known example. Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories and Dean Koontz's The Haunted Earth are examples in which occult detectives operate in a world where the occult is simply an accepted part of mundane life.
A useful recent anthology collecting specimens of the genre is Mark Valentine, ed., The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths (ISBN 978-1-84022-088-9), published by Wordsworth Editions in 2009. Earlier themed anthologies include Stephen Jones, ed., Dark Detectives: Adventures of the Supernatural Sleuths (Fedogan & Bremer, 1998) and Peter Haining, ed., Supernatural Sleuths: Stories of Occult Investigators (William Kimber, 1986).
Film and television
In the 1970s, there were a number of attempts at occult detective television series. While not overtly occult detectives, the heroes and heroine of the sixties series The Champions inherited occult powers from a Tibetan lama and used these powers to investigate crime. Other examples include The Norliss Tapes (1973) with Roy Thinnes as a reporter investigating the supernatural; Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970), starring Louis Jourdan as psychologist David Sorrell; Spectre (1977), starring Robert Culp and Gig Young as criminologists turned demonologists; The World of Darkness (1977) and its sequel, The World Beyond (1978), starring Granville Van Dusen as a man who battles the supernatural following his own near death experience; and a British production, Baffled! (1973), starring Leonard Nimoy and Susan Hampshire as a pair of ghost-hunters. The most successful effort of this period was the short-lived television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974), starring Darren McGavin; the weekly series was based on two backdoor pilots (The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler) produced by Dan Curtis and scripted by Richard Matheson, based on an unpublished work by Jeff Rice. Kolchak's adventures have been continued in books by Rice and in the comic book Kolchak Tales. Matheson's Kolchak Scripts have also been published.
More recent examples include:
- Angel Heart
- The Dresden Files
- The Exorcist III
- Lord of Illusions
- Penny Dreadful
- Special Unit 2
- The X-Files
Comics, manga, and anime
The comic book Hellblazer boosted the popularity and image of the occult detective fiction genre and shaped it to its modern form. Many modern examples of the genre such as Hellboy, Supernatural, Grimm, The Originals, and The Dresden Files have been influenced by it, and many imitators of both the series and its character flourished such as Criminal Macabre, Gravel, Planetary, and others. Its elements and style have been used countless of times in other works and many analogues of the cynical protagonist John Constantine have appeared.
Examples of occult detectives in comic books include Doctor Spektor from Gold Key Comics, Hellboy from the Dark Horse series of same name, Dylan Dog from the Sergio Bonelli Editore series, and Martin Hel a character created by Robin Wood. Two Hellblazer writers have gone on to write their own occult detective characters: Sebastian O also at Vertigo by Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis' Gravel from Avatar Press. 2000 AD has featured a number over the years in their own eponymous series: Bix Barton, Devlin Waugh, Ampney Crucis Investigates and Dandridge. The occult detective team of Syd Deadlocke and Doc Martin, featured in Pulse of Darkness and other comics by Chris G.C. Sequeira, also fits into this genre. There is also the comic book series Ruse, once owned by CrossGen and now by Marvel Comics.
Examples in video games include The Black Mirror series, Betrayer, Murdered: Soul Suspect, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the Gabriel Knight series, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die, The Adventures of Dog Mendonça & Pizzaboy, Memento Mori, Memento Mori 2, Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder, Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage, Condemned: Criminal Origins, The Wolf Among Us, the Blackwell series and Shadow of Memories.
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- Gustafson, Sarah. "Constantine: NBC drama brings the hellfire from its premiere episode". Channel Guide. September 10, 2014
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