Thursday, December 10, 2015

THE DEVIL'S BRIDE by Seabury Quinn

Another adventure for occult detective Jules de Grandin!

"The Devil's Bride" is the only full-length novel to feature de Grandin, and is surprising in that it contains almost no supernatural content. Instead, de Grandin fights an evil cult with aims more political and earthly than otherworldly.

Pretty young Alice Hume is celebrating her upcoming marriage, but her happiness is only slightly marred by strange messages coming from a ouija board she and friends are toying with, giving messages saying "ALICE COME HOME." Madcap Alice also plans to marry while wearing a strange family heirloom, "the luck of the Humes," a strange jeweled girdle that was worn by Hume women for generations to marry. Alice shows off the girdle to her friends (including de Grandin and his Watson, Dr. Trowbridge), and recounts a story of an odd man who tried to buy it a few days before. And before the first chapter is over, Alice is kidnapped.

De Grandin reveals that he's seen girdles similar to that before; they're made of human skin and used by "Yezidee" cultists when choosing a woman for human sacrifice. And the strange cultists seem to use an arcane powder that causes paralysis and memory loss to cover their tracks.

And we're off on an adventure with de Grandin and Trowbridge battling cultists, infiltrating ceremonies, rescuing Alice, losing her again, and finally a climax in the jungles of Africa.

It's good, rip-roaring read, but the racial politics and views are sometimes appalling. Quinn depicts his "Yezidees" as a group of evil Satanists, but the real-life Yazidi people are a religious/ethic group related to the Kurds, with unique religious beliefs derived from Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian mythology, who are monotheistic but honor a "peacock angel" named Melek Taus who can be a bit ambivalent and ambiguous, and this has led to other groups, like Muslim fundamentalists and obtuse modern Christians, to assume the Yazidis are devil worshipers. Yazidis are quickly fleeing their homes in the Middle East and Central Asia for more tolerant refuges in the West; they are targets of present-day menaces like ISIL.

De Grandin also reveals that many of these Satanic schemers are being financed by Russia; obviously, since the commies are atheists, they want to undermine religion worldwide, and de Grandin cannily wonders if Christianity's more extreme elements are also being manipulated by the Reds....which would actually make sense, similar to those who suspect Donald Trump is really a liberal ringer trying to make Republicans look bad and guarantee a Democratic president.

De Grandin (and implicitly Quinn) do seem to equate battling Satanism with defending the American way, which reminds me of a book I read long ago, "Slayer of Souls" by Robert W. Chambers, which featured Secret Service agents who were more concerned with defending Christianity than they were with protecting the United States....or considered them equivalent. An early example of American exceptionalism?

One element of the story was a bit touching, of a woman who works for the cult, but eventually flees them after refusing to participate in an infant sacrifice. She is bumped off by the cult, but her history is later revealed by her brother, a tale of abuse and rejection by an intolerant religious maniac parent driving her to the arms of the Satanic cult. It's a nice bit of balance, with Quinn (through de Grandin) pointing out the destructiveness of Christian fundamentalism.

But, all in all, "The Devil's Bride" is a decent pulp read, despite some troubling political stances and sad ethnic ignorance...which was unfortunately common back in the days it was written. It's got overtones of Sax Rohmer here and there (Fu Manchu's cult honored a white peacock), but also with some unique Quinn flair. If you can find it, it's entertaining, but steel yourself for some outdated viewpoints.

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