W. H. Hodgson’s sleuth Carnaki is in answer to the fad for detective stories that came about after the success of the Sherlock Holmes stories. But Carnaki is not a regular detective. He is a psychic detective who investigates hauntings. The Casebook of Carnaki the Ghost Finder is a collection of nine Carnaki stories.
These stories all follow the same format. Carnaki summons a group of friends to his house for dinner. He speaks very little before and during dinner and will not talk about what he’s been doing. After dinner, he relaxes into his favorite chair and relates his latest case. This format is very common in earlier genre mysteries. Unfortunately, it removes some of the immediacy of the story.
These stories are straight wonder tales. There is no attempt made at characterization, of Carnaki or anyone else. The stories are simply meant to amaze and puzzle and so have more in common with earlier gothic stories than with Sherlock Holmes. The puzzle of whether the mystery will be of human or occult causes is probably the most interesting part of the stories.
I actually found one of these stories to be quite chilling. That was “The Gateway of the Monster.” In that story, Carnaki is called to investigate the Grey Room in a very old house. Although the door of the room is locked every night, it is slammed continually all night long. Each morning, the bedclothes are found jerked off the bed. Since three people were killed there years before, no one has slept in the room.
Unfortunately, Hodgson cheats by waiting until the end to tell us a key piece of the story. Also, this haunting, along with some of the others, runs more along the lines of something like The Castle of Otranto than a more modern ghost story, and I find things scarier that are more feasible.
In “The Thing Invisible,” Carnaki is summoned to figure out how the butler could have been struck with an ancient dagger when there was no one around him and he was in full view of everyone. This story is marred, too, because one person there understood what had happened and would never have summoned Carnaki.
Still, this book is full of haunted castles, spectral horses and pigs, a ship pursued by strange weather, and other wonders. It can be quickly read and should offer most folks some pleasure on a rainy afternoon (or a dark and stormy night).