“Worlds of Weird: Paul Green on Weird Detectives” by Ali Moosavi

Murdoch Mysteries (CBC, 2008- )

“So, what constitutes a ‘Weird Detective’? Some are legendary figures such as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who is listed under Dracula as the ‘vampire hunter and occult detective‘ and Sherlock Holmes. Some are fiction characters belonging to real cases, such as Inspector Frederick Abberline, played by Johnny Depp in From Hell….”

I belong to the generation for whom one of the primary sources of knowledge and information were the encyclopedias. These days with the internet, Google, Wikipedia, and so on, the usefulness of having an Encyclopedia, whether in print or electronic form, becomes questionable.

Having said that, a simple search on Amazon shows that there is still a considerable appetite for encyclopedias. There are the usual encyclopedias, such as Animal Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Birds, Encyclopedia of Gardening, Wine Encyclopedia; to more specialized ones such as Marvel Encyclopedia, The Official Pokemon Encyclopedia, James Bond Movie Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of American Film Serials, Encyclopedia of Card Tricks, to highly specialized and weird ones such as Encyclopedia of Political Record Labels, Encyclopedia of Occultism, Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Encyclopedia of Haunted Places, Gangsters Encyclopedia. A new challenger to the ranks of weird and wonderful encyclopedias is the Encyclopedia of Weird Detectives by Paul Green (McFarland, 2020).

So, what constitutes a “Weird Detective”? Some are legendary figures such as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who is listed under Dracula as the “vampire hunter and occult detective” and Sherlock Holmes. Some are fiction characters belonging to real cases, such as Inspector Frederick Abberline, played by Johnny Depp in From Hell (The Hughes Brothers, 2001), investigating the Jack the Ripper murders.

The really weird detectives include characters such as detective Russell Logan, played by Lou Diamond Phillips in The First Power (Robert Resnikoff, 1990) who tracks down a “resurrected Satanic serial killer who can disappear into thin air and possess his victims.”

There are some entries which will make the aficionados of classic vampire and horror novels to reach for their laptop or mobile and place an order, such as the novel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss. Its description reads,

The Athena Club comprising of Mary Jekyll, her half-sister Diane Hyde, Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein travel through the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their mission is to rescue Lucinda Helsing from the vile experimentations of her father. On their journey they meet Count Dracula and finally confront the secretive Alchemical Society.

In some entries, the existence of the traditionally accepted “detective” is questionable. For example, one of my favourite horror films, Dennis Weatley’s The Devil Rides Out (Terence Fisher, 1968), with a script by Richard Matheson.

Flicking through the encyclopedia, I was reminded of some of my old, long forgotten favourites, such as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).

The film entries are a mix of the well-known, such as Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) to the less well-known such as The Reaping (Stephen Hopkins, 2007), to the obscure, such as the Hong Kong movie, Satan Returns a.k.a. 666: Mo gui fu huo (Wai-Lun Lam, 1996) in which Royal Hong Kong police officer Chan Shou-Ching is told by a serial killer named Judas that she is the daughter of Satan, and he sets out to prove it.

Video games are also included, one example being Psychic Detective (1995), an interactive movie game centered on San Francisco psychic and magician Eric Fox. Laina Pozik hires Fox as private detective to find out how her father died by probing the minds of the people who attend his wake.

I chatted to the encyclopedia’s author, Paul Green, a Northern Englishman residing in Virginia, USA.

Where did the idea of this encyclopedia come from, and ow would you categorize a Weird Detective?

I’ve got a list that covers the weird category; there’s the Psychic Detective who’s got psychic powers, the Occult Detective who investigates the occult but has no powers, the Medical Detective which was very popular in Victorian times where the patient came in and told them a story that was afflicting them and was hugely supernatural based, the Amateur Detective who just thought just decides to detect themselves like Scooby-Doo, the Professional Detective who’s basically a police inspector or CIA agent, the Investigator Reporter who is a journalist who investigates the supernatural, the Unearthly Detective who actually have powers of their own and might be able to transform into a cat or become invisible, and the Magical Detective like John Constantine who actually uses sorcery to investigate the supernatural. These are the main categories of Weird Detectives.

How did you do the research for your book?

“I think the short story medium is the best
medium for the weird detective genre rather
than the novel….” (John Silence by Algernon
Blackwood)

There’s already an encyclopedia of detectives which partly inspired me to write this book. I did a lot of the research just on the Internet, finding books and comic books, watching films. I’ve got a list of all the various sub-entries are in the book, which include animated film, audio drama, comic book titles and characters, films, juvenile books, novels, pulp fiction, short stories, stage adaptations, TV and video games, so all of those categories have got a list of all the various weird detectives within them. I also researched a lot of the Victorian short stories and the magazines like Harper’s and Collier’s and stuff from the early 20th century and they were the first magazines to feature weird detectives. I think the short story medium is the best medium for the weird detective genre rather than the novel. I’ve got favorite authors like Algernon Blackwood who created the investigator character, John Silence.

After a bit of a slump, TV resurrected the genre with shows like The Night Stalker which was a big influence on The X-Files. There was a favorite film of mine from the 1950s, Curse of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) with Dana Andrews about an American scientist who gets involved with an occult practitioner. Another effective film is The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) about a Scottish detective who goes to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl and then becomes involved with a sacrificial cult. I also liked 1408 (Mikael Håfström, 2007), based on a story by Stephen King, about the slow mental disintegration of an author in a hotel room who goes from being skeptical to someone who’s just frayed. I should also mention Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) because it was so influential on the supernatural market.

How much of the material in your book did you actually watch or read?

I have watched most of the TV shows and read most of the comic books that are in the book. I haven’t read all the novels, but I’ve read a lot the short stories. With animated films, I’ve watched some Manga. I’ve watched a lot of the 1930s movies because I prefer older movies.

A friend of mine, Mark Henwick, writes books that feature a female vampire detective. So maybe in the second edition of your book, you can add more entries.

Yes, also someone just sent me a list of all the things I missed that I can include in a second edition, but I’ve found that second editions don’t attract as many readers as first editions, because people think well I’ve got the first edition why do I need to buy a second edition? You do feel compelled to keep it up to date, but you have to usually wait a few years so people have got a chance to discover the first book.

Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).

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