A fictional occult detective created by English fantasy/horror writer William Hope Hodgson.

Thomas Carnacki was the lead character in six stories published in the early 1910s in "The Idler" and "The New Magazine" and later published together in a book called, natch, "Carnacki the Ghost-Finder" in 1913. In 1948, August Derleth's Arkham House publisher reprinted the book, with the addition of three more of Hodgson's Carnacki tales.

Carnacki had a number of similarities with a much more famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Like Holmes, Carnacki lived in a bachelor's flat, and his adventures were recounted by one of his friends, a man named Dodgson. The stories generally took a similar formula: Carnacki invites Dodgson and three other friends over for dinner and a recounting of his latest adventure. He insists that no one discuss or speculate about his tales while they eat dinner. Once they've eaten, they retire to a sitting room, Carnacki lights his pipe, and he tells his latest story, with absolutely no discussion or interruptions permitted while he's talking. After he's done, he answers a few questions about the case, then kicks his friends out.

Yeah, Carnacki sounds like a bit of an asshole, doesn't he?

Nevertheless, the framework of the stories isn't particularly important -- the tales themselves are worthy of more attention. In each case, someone suffering through some sort of haunting contacts Carnacki and asks him to investigate the case and dispel the ghosts. He uses a few unusual tools in his investigations -- chiefly, his electric pentacle, which combines a traditional magic circle with electric wires and vacuum tubes to create superior protection from ghosts and evil spirits.

But the thing that really makes the Carnacki stories interesting to me is the solutions he arrives at. See, there are two kinds of solutions that an occult mystery can arrive at. You can either have a classic Scooby-Doo conclusion, where the ghosts are really crooks wearing disguises, or you can have the heretical "13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo" conclusion, where the ghosts are real ghosts. But in the Carnacki stories, you never know what the conclusion will find, because sometimes, the ghosts are real, and sometimes, the ghosts are hoaxes. This makes the stories a lot more interesting and suspenseful, because you never know when Carnacki is facing a real and deadly supernatural menace or a criminal with a talent for trickery.

Carnacki's somewhat surprising popularity has meant that he's appeared periodically in other stories by other authors. He's a supporting character in several different tales from Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" comics, he shows up in a 2002 novella called "Doctor Who: Foreign Devils" by Andrew Cartmel, in which he helps the Second Doctor solve a mystery, and he joins forces with Sherlock Holmes to battle the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos in a story by Barbara Hambly in the "Shadows Over Baker Street" anthology. He was also portrayed by Donald Pleasence in an episode of the 1970s British TV series called "The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes."

Reading the book


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