January 26, 2011


by Hereward LM Proops
66 pages, Cruel Harvest

Review by Pat Black

We’re back for another helping of Victorian villainies and derring-do courtesy of fellow Squawker, Hereward Proops. His Inspector Forrester stories are a fine example of the great pulp detective stories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and this second volume marks a welcome return for our favourite ursine, busted-nosed flatfoot.

Proops’ title character uses the guile of the streets – not to mention his bare hands – to crack his cases, which often involve strange supernatural foes as well as more commonplace cruelties. Volume one placed Forrester in a very Holmesian London, but part two of his adventures relocates him to the new world. He may be a few years older than the guy we read about following his retirement from the Metropolitan Police, but his skills in sniffing out trouble with that broken beak of his seem undiminished.

All four stories in The Second Casebook of Edmund Forrester situate the now-ex-Inspector in the wild frontier of the United States in the late 1880s; while he’s a little out of place on the prairies of the Wild West in the first tale, by the time the fourth unspools in New York City it appears that he’s adapted rather well to his surroundings.

In the first story, “Unfinished Business”, Forrester’s got a score to settle with Count Emile de Ferrante, the disappearing killer from the first volume. Ferrante has not only escaped custody since Forrester collared him for murder, but he’s also taken revenge on the police by killing Forrester’s boss, Chief Inspector Pardoe. So, after being contacted by Pardoe’s daughter, Forrester makes his way to the States for a showdown with his flamboyant foe. In the build-up to this brutal confrontation in the deadwood town of Gutter’s Run, I was reminded of that eerie stillness in Sergio Leone’s westerns, before it explodes into life in hot lead and blood.

Next, Forrester is enlisted by an enterprising brewer (is there any other kind?) who’s lost all his cash to a very unusual card sharp, in “Dead Man’s Hand”. It turns out that this card player’s abilities transcend the usual mendacity of games table tricksters – enabling him to turn the tables on his foes whether they have a royal flush or a loaded gun in their hands. Forrester, with a brutal pragmatism that put me in mind of Conan the Barbarian’s problem-solving skills, manages to fool the fooler in a manner that makes a grim pun of the story’s title.

“Snake Oil” references the health-drink peddling hucksters who roamed the old west, and sees Forrester charged with returning an ancient Chinese manual to its rightful owner after one such elixir-toting chancer has stolen it. This was maybe the weakest story in the collection, but it does have an excellent pay-off line.

Finally, there’s “The Panel Game”, which sees Forrester back in his element in a big city, New York, and eager to hunt down villains. He joins a Pinkerton-esque detective agency and is handed a baffling case where residents of a hotel are robbed by a cat burglar with the ability to walk through walls. Forrester is sceptical, and lies in wait for the thief in the night...

It ends on something of a cliffhanger, a taster of adventures to come for Forrester as he seems to stumble upon a far bigger conspiracy than simple thievery. I do hope there’s more to come on this; and is it too much to hope for a bigger collection of stories, with more foggy London and shadowy villains? That said, freed from the shackles of London, Hereward Proops’ tough son-of-a-gun could travel anywhere so long as a Victorian pension can sustain him; perhaps Australia or India’s climes could tempt the inspector – or how about the heart of Africa?

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