Rudyard Kipling’s Detective Story: ‘The House Surgeon’

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews Kipling’s foray into the mystery genre with a psychic detective story

Previously, I’ve blogged about the intriguing micro-genre of the psychic detective story, a crossover short story genre which fuses the ghost story or weird tale with the mystery, or detective fiction. Arguably beginning with the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1869 story ‘Green Tea’, the form was pioneered by the late Victorian writing team of E. and H. Heron with their Flaxman Low stories, but became really popular during the Edwardian era, with characters such as Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence and, shortly after this, William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki and Alice and Claude Askew’s Aylmer Vance.

The genre never exactly attracted a plethora of writers, in the way that the out-and-out detective story did, following the phenomenal success of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. But it did attract the attention of some more famous and talented writers than the ones already mentioned. Perhaps the most famous of them all was Rudyard Kipling.

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Flaxman Low: The First Psychic Detective

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the Victorian world of a neglected ‘psychic detective’

The popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, published in The Strand magazine from 1891 until the 1920s, led to many imitators. As well as such creations as Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados, the blind detective, and the psychological detective, Dr John Dollar (created by Doyle’s own brother-in-law, Raffles creator E. W. Hornung), a mini sub-genre of fictional detective also emerged: the psychic detective or paranormal investigator. Flaxman Low was not the most successful of these, but he is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable.

Although numerous scholars of the ghost story and psychic detective tale have traced the fictional paranormal investigator back to Dr Martin Hesselius, the creation of the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu (whose 1869 story ‘Green Tea’ remains popular), it was not until the turn of the century, and in the first few years of the twentieth century, that the fictional psychic detective really took off. This was partly, as I explore in my academic study Bewilderments of Vision, a result of

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