The wonders of Poundland…..one of my favourite current book trawling locations where the cheap Wordsworth anthology above was available for yes a pound.
Today’s gem is a tale from 1895 by Arthur Machen who thanks to Wikipedia I now know has been an influence on a diverse range of writers including John Betjeman, Javier Marias, Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore!
The tale ‘The Red Hand’ attracted me because of its title and because Arthur Machen featured in the current British Library exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’.
Heavily indebted to both Conan-Doyle and Stevenson the tale is a galloping, coincidence led ambulation around Bloomsbury with a wealth of London detail ( explaining Sinclair and Ackroyd’s link to Machen) indeed the plot denouement depends on the criminal’s habit of walking the same route. One can feel Machen’s own interests in a proto-psychogeography here.
Once I got used to the use of the unlikeliest plot-forwarding coincidences which almost comical at times as Machen dispenses with what does not interest him. A sequence of a drunken woman depositing the key ‘mystic tablet’ into the investigator’s hands in a pub is by far the most ridiculous. One can still enjoy the chase and the atmospheric conclusion where the ‘supernatural’ finally intervenes. The devilish artifact ‘Pain of Goat’ referred to is actually a line from a sacred text to the Great God Pan and links to other stories by Machen a devout Christian by the way.
So if a fan of Sherlock Holmes or Stevenson…and leaning toward the macabre and supernatural Machen is your man. Not sure if I will be a major fan but there enough beautiful extraneous detail to prompt further investigation. For neo-gothic and fantasy types it essential. A cheap introduction thank you Poundland I shall be back especially as they had virtually the whole Wordsworth Supernatural series.
Here Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian on the man: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/10/arthur-machen-white-people-review
There is also a good article in The Quietus here:
On a final note Mark E. Smith of The Fall a huge fan and apparently peppers his lyrics with obscure Machen references so now you know:-)