Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience.

2012 Reading challenge, book 7: Carnacki the Ghost Finder

Title: Carnacki the Ghost Finder
Author: William Hope Hodgson
Publisher: N/A (public domain)
Rating: 2 out of 5
Format: eBook

Note: I downloaded my copy of Carnacki the Ghost Finder from Project Gutenberg. The edition I read contained only 6 stories, not 9.

This is the second anthology that I read this year, but it probably won’t be the last. All of the stories in it revolve around cases of supernatural occurrences that the main character, Carnacki, has been asked to examine, so they’re a neat mix of paranormal horror and Holmsian mystery. I was first introduced to Carnacki through Podcastle‘s production of “The Gateway of the Monster” and read the anthology on the strength of that story. Unfortunately, “Gateway” is the strongest work in it, and establishes a template that the subsequent stories follow very closely:

  • Carnacki invites his friends over for dinner, and they wait in anticipation for him to talk of his latest escapade. He starts speaking only after he’s had his meal, and entertains no mention of the topic beforehand. He then starts talking, and this monologue forms the body of the story.
  • He describes both the opening circumstances of the case in great detail and his firsthand experiences of the strange phenomena he’s been asked to investigate.
  • He examines the physical surroundings of the location and remains stumped.
  • He then sets up his equipment and faces the strange occurrences head-on, but those experiences generally put him in danger.
  • His equipment proves instrumental in saving his life and providing a crack in the case, as more often than not, he discovers a small but telling detail that allows him to solve the mystery at hand.
  • Carnacki’s narrative returns to the present day, where he answers any remaining questions his guests have and then sends them home.

Notable in all of the stories is Carnacki’s constant use of the word “queer” to describe things (sometimes as frequently as three times on a single page) and the rhetorical questions he repeatedly asks his listeners in order to make them empathize with him. Questions like “Do you see?” and “Can you understand that?” are liberally deployed in order to make his listeners comprehend the fear he felt during his investigations. Despite these tics, the stories hold up remarkably well in terms of pacing.

However, I was mightily disappointed by the fact that the majority of the mysteries ended up having a non-supernatural basis. There are six stories in total. In two of them, it turns out that while there are ghosts haunting the house in question, it is actually other people who are behind the supernatural situation Carnacki has been asked to investigate. In another two, it turns out that there are no ghosts at all.

All of this makes the “Ghost Finder” part of the title a sham. The collection was marred by the predictability of the routine mentioned above, and by the Scooby-Doo-like nature of the non-ghost stories. Of the six works included in Carnacki the Ghost Finder, I enjoyed “The Gateway of the Monster” and “The Whistling Room”  the most and would place “The Searcher of the End House” in the “honourable mention” category, but the other three were frustrating.

Next up: Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress