Hercule Poirot meets Fox Mulder in these 19 pulpy tales from 1929-30, the second of five volumes reprinting the complete adventures of occult sleuth Dr. Jules de Grandin.
H.P. Lovecraft, whose contributions to Weird Tales were less frequent and popular than those of Quinn (1889-1969), disdained his rival’s stories, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike Lovecraft’s uncompromisingly baleful fables of the monstrously evil Cthulhu, Quinn’s maintain one foot, sometimes more than one, in the mundane life of Harrisonville, New Jersey, where de Grandin receives an endless series of visits from victims of mysterious thefts or assaults and guests violently bereaved of their beloveds. The unfolding of each mystery is unremittingly formulaic. De Grandin listens sympathetically to the circumstances, often posing an uncanny explanation that’s rejected out of hand, then investigates more closely, finds shocking evidence of witches, werewolves, hierophants, druids, ghouls, curses, or cults, generally menacing comely young women whose strategically scant attire provided grist for the covers of Weird Tales, and vanquishes them in hand-to-hand combat. The formula extends to the dialogue: de Grandin’s incessant combination of fractured English and French tags—“You annoy me, you vex me, you harass me, Friend Trowbridge,” he tells his long-suffering amanuensis during a characteristic fit of pique—sounds like Poirot on steroids, a kinship made abundantly clear in the first volume of this edition (The Horror on the Links, 2017). And Quinn’s setups are almost without exception more gripping than his climaxes, which are often marred by perfunctory or incomplete explanations. Yet several reworkings of this material—“The House Without a Mirror,” “Stealthy Death,” and the title story—are gruesomely effective, and purists who object to detective stories with paranormal elements will find that the moment each story crosses the border to the supernatural raises genuine shivers.
An editorial introduction suggests that these memorable doses of fustian are best enjoyed “over an extended period of time,” say one story a week. That’s excellent advice: binge-reading de Grandin’s battles with diverse monsters can give you the sort of stomachache associated with too much fruitcake.