Occult detective fiction  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Occult detective stories combine the genres of the detective story with 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.


The first fictional occult detective was Dr Martin Hesselius, five of whose cases are featured in Sheridan Le Fanu's short story collection In a Glass Darkly (1872). The next prominent figure in this tradition was Dr. Abraham Van Helsing from Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) followed closely by Flaxman Low by E. and H. Heron who featured in a series of stories in Pearson's Magazine (1898-99); by Algernon Blackwood's Dr. John Silence and William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, the Ghost Finder. The adventures of Carnacki have been continued by UK writer A.F. Kidd in collaboration with Australian writer Rick Kennett in 472 Cheyne Walk: Carnacki, the Uncollected Stories (2000). Sax Rohmer's collection The Dream Detective features 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), the psychic adventures of the 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 is Neils Orsen.

Though never large, the occult detective sub-genre 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 two 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.

Modern writers who have used the occult detective theme as a basis for supernatural adventures include Peter Saxon with his 'The Guardians' series, John Burke (Dr Alex Caspian), Frank Lauria (Dr Owen Orient) and Joseph Payne Brennan (Lucius Leffing). The occult detective theme has also been used with series characters devised by such contemporary writers as Steve Rasnic Tem (Charlie Goode), Jessica Amanda Salmonson (Miss Penelope Pettiweather), David Rowlands (Father O'Connor), Rick Kennett (Ernie Pine),Robert Wallace (The Phantom Detective, Robert Weinberg (Sydney Taine) and Steve Niles (Cal Macdonald).

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 starring Alexandra Bastedo 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; 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 Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1972) with Darren McGavin which was made into a short-lived television series, as well as two movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler scripted by Richard Matheson. Kolchak's adventures have been continued in books by Jeff Rice and in the comicbook Kolchak Tales. Matheson's Kolchak Scripts have also been published. More recently, The X-Files picked up these same themes.

Other examples are Doctor Spektor from Gold Key Comics, Hellboy from the series of same name and John Constantine from the comic book series Hellblazer, Constantine, a film inspired by the comic, and Majin Tantei Nōgami Neuro, a Japanese manga, as well as the Japanese animes YuYu Hakusho, Ghost Hunt and Ghosts at School. The occult detective team of Syd Deadlocke and Doc Martin features in Pulse of Darkness and other comics by Chris G.C. Sequeira.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Occult detective fiction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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