Saturday, March 21, 2015
THE CASEBOOK OF JULES DE GRANDIN, by Seabury Quinn
Interestingly, Harrisonville, NJ (the center of de Grandin's universe) doesn't quite serve as a Hellmouth, spewing forth supernatural evil, but it does seem to attract it, as most of the menace here is transplanted. In "Children of Ubasti," a pair of strange immigrants come to Harrisonville, who turn out to be man-eating inhuman creatures, some sort of felinoid creature passing for human, who may have been the inspiration for the ghuls of Middle Eastern lore. It does end with an eyebrow-raising rant from de Grandin about how America is too tolerant of immigrants, which is a bit odd coming from a character who is an immigrant.
"The House of Horror" is a fairly grisly tale of how de Grandin and Dr. Trowbridge stumble on a mansion inhabited by a mad surgeon who enjoys operating on...and mutilating...beautiful women. It has the two facing an interesting ethical conflict, but all is resolved by a too-convenient deus ex machina ending.
"The Silver Countess" has de Grandin squaring off against a vampire who inhabits a medieval statue brought to the country by a collector. "The Corpse-Master" is unsurprisingly a tale of a man using voodoo to raise zombies, in this case to get vengeance on those who slighted him. (Some of these villains seek vengeance for very petty reasons...)
"Ancient Fires" is a rather nice little story that starts off as a haunted house tale, but ends up being a a love story with its origins in a Victorian romance that crossed racial boundaries; despite a pat ending that makes things acceptable to the American reader of the time, it does have a surprisingly progressive view of ethic relations.
"The Serpent Woman" is the least story of the collection, in which a seeming case of a baby kidnapped by a monster has a rather dull, mundane solution. But the last, "The Chapel of Mystic Horror," is the best. A well-off family buys a mansion that was imported stone-for-stone from Cyprus, after the people who brought it over died mysteriously. A house party is stricken with strange events, including an artist who finds herself painting scenes she's not intending to paint. A joking seance leads to even more menace, and an ancient evil that comes from the very stones themselves turns out to be at fault. It's a story with some nifty macabre touches and a reasonable solution.
All told, it's like other Quinn works. It's pulp nonsense, but it's fun pulp nonsense that's still readable today. If you can, seek it out.