by Hereward LM Proops
Cruel Harvest Books
Review by Pat Black
The spirit of the pulps is alive and well in Hereward Proops’ Inspector Forrester stories. A throwback to an era when thrills came at a penny a time, and the great heroes and villains leapt from the pages of The Strand Magazine and Weird Tales. Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, the uncanny horrors of HP Lovecraft and, of course, Conan Doyle’s peerless Sherlock Holmes are all welcome influences on Proops’ storytelling.
In The Casebook of Edmund Forrester, we are treated to three stories featuring the eponymous tough-as-nails Victorian detective. With his gruff demeanour and outrageously broken nose, our hero looks more like a prizefighter than the elegant Holmes. In his brusque put-downs and up-for-a-ruck coppering, I even detected a little bit of Gene Hunt yet-to-be.
The first story, “Strictly Business”, sees Forrester trying to solve the case of an Italian aristrocrat who appears to have been in two places at once – one of those places, unfortunately, having been the scene of an Englishman’s murder in a duel. Its tales of young Brits getting themselves in trouble abroad remind us that some things never change on the continent.
In “The Guardian of the Vaults”, Forrester is tested to the limit when he is asked to stand sentinel over a supposedly cursed emerald, sought by a shadowy Chinese league of assassins. Forrester must face off with a martial arts expert for possession of this gemstone, and the conclusion takes us to very strange places indeed. In its denouement, I sensed some of Robert E Howard’s preoccupations with magical jewels and forbidden plunder. All fine enough on its own, but I have to highlight a wonderful scene in which the assassin Tao Sen trails Forrester through London’s streets from the roof-tops, an Oriental spring-heeled Jack who uses his skills as an acrobat (jumping onto the roof of an omnibus at one point) to trail his quarry back to a museum. Definitely the high-point of the entire book, a brilliant visual scene involving literary acrobatics from its author. And in the use of Tao Sen as a villain, there’s also an affectionate nod to good old, bad old Fu Manchu.
“Red Mist” recalls the Hound of the Baskervilles in its odd, fog-enshrouded rural setting. But it has a weird atmosphere all on its own as Forrester trails three escaped convicts across the countryside – while a nasty pea-souper descends on the pursuers and pursued alike.
It’s heartening to notice that on e-book bestseller lists, the Sherlock Holmes stories feature very highly. Even allowing for the splendid new BBC series, interest in Victorian pulp thrills remain undiminished in popular culture. Surely the recent craze over vampires owes more than a little something to Bram Stoker and his infamous Count? My own favourites are the ghost stories from the great Victorian and Edwardian writers, ones that you still come across in anthologies to this very day. Hereward Proops’ taciturn Inspector Forrester is following on from a very grand tradition, and has little difficulty keeping up with his illustrious forebears.