A few months back, I did a post on ‘psychic detectives’ in fiction, discussing the classic detectives such as John Silence and Thomas Carnacki as well as some lesser-known and more modern detectives.
My list was not complete, however, and I’m still running across ‘ghost hunter’ compilations! I just finished reading Ghost Stories, by E. and H. Heron, and I thought I’d add their ghost hunter Flaxman Low to my list!
E. and H. Heron were the pseudonyms of Hesketh V. Pritchard (1876-1922) and his mother Kate. Their stories about Flaxman Low were first published in 1899, and have been reprinted a number of times since.
Flaxman Low himself is a psychic detective of a pure Sherlock Holmes-ian style: he investigates and solves psychic mysteries with no tools other than his immense knowledge of supernatural phenomena and his keen powers of observation.
The tales themselves have not the poetic beauty of the John Silence stories nor the bizarre twists of the Thomas Carnacki stories, but they possess a macabre flavor which is all their own. More than once I found myself giving a little shudder at the twisted secrets behind the phenomena. The ‘personalities’ of the hauntings are much more subtle than the more familiar psychic detective stories, but are clever enough to merit a read. It is hard to describe the stories in detail without giving away their secrets, but here is an attempt at a (spoiler-free) description:
1. The Story of the Spaniards, Hammersmith: Low is called in by an old friend to investigate a house haunted by a suffocating, bladder-like presence.
2. The Story of Medhans Lea: Low investigates a house plagued by a child’s crying, and a sinister figure dressed in black with a horrifying laugh.
3. The Story of the Moor Road: Low crosses paths with a sickly, coughing spirit which assaults travelers on the Moor Road.
4. The Story of Baelbrow: When the ephemeral, harmless ghost of Baelbrow takes on a material, deadly form, Low risks his life to find an explanation. This story is my favorite of the collection.
5. The Story of the Grey House: Low’s curiosity is piqued by the history of the Grey House, where numerous residents have been found mysteriously hanged, even though no rope is ever found.
6. Story of Yand Manor House: Low brings a friend, French philosopher Thierry, along on a curious case. The Yand House dining-room is possessed by a malevolent spirit which cannot be seen or heard: only felt and tasted.
In summary, I find Ghost Stories to be a charming collection of haunted tales. Those interested in more traditional tales of ghosts and hauntings will find the collection right up their metaphysical alley.
For completeness, I add the following entry to my collection of supernatural detectives:
7. Flaxman Low
Chronicler: E. and H. Heron
First appearance: 1899
Cases: The Story of the Spaniards, Hammersmith, The Story of Medhans Lea, The Story of the Moor Road, The Story of Baelbrow, The Story of the Grey House, Story of Yand Manor House
Collection: Ghost Stories
Preferred tools: encyclopedic knowledge of the supernatural, incredible observational skills
Opponents: malevolent spirits
Success rate: Above average
Affectations: Always has a theory, but hardly ever shares it
Quotation: “Yet I can assure you that if you take the trouble to glance through the pages of the psychical periodicals you will find many statements at least as wonderful.”
Assessment: Low is a moderately good psychic investigator, though a relatively passive one. He allows skeptical and unprepared bystanders to accompany him on dangerous cases far too often. Furthermore, he is often slow to act, to such an extent that people often die before the problem gets resolved. Still, he knows his supernatural phenomena, and he generally puts an end to the troubling manifestations.