by Hereward Proops
222 pages, Kindle Edition
Review by Paul Fenton
Imagine if Fox Mulder were transported in time back to Victorian Era London to work as a police detective. You there? (As an aside: if you're too young to know who Fox Mulder is, you sicken me.) Now, beef him up a bit, make him taller and more brawny. Naturally with all that extra muscle he's going to have a bit more testosterone running around his body, making him gruffer, less patient and more violent. Now, pick up a big cricket bat, the heavy kind favoured by West Indian batsmen, and swing it as hard as you can straight into the middle of his face.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Detective Edmund Forrester.
Forrester is a magnet for strangeness. If you've read Proops's novel starring the same character – the Sound of Shiant – you'll already know that Forrester has a reputation for dealing with certain odd cases. Unconventional crimes where the perpetrator doesn't necessarily need to be locked up. No, what they usually need is a good killing, if that's at all possible. Strange Cases contains eleven short tales chronicling some of his less conventional assignments, and to really appreciate them I'd recommend also reading the Sound of Shiant; the stories run chronologically, beginning with early cases in London and progressing to Forrester's adventures in America, and in the middle of this time-line sits Shiant. Reading the novel first will provide some more context for the latter half of the collection, where Forrester is travelling Caine-like through the United States ... though very little would be lost by reading them as a standalone collection.
The detective is an uncomplicated man with a clear sense of right and wrong and with very little tolerance for anyone who sits on the wrong end of that see-saw. Murder someone? That's a killing. Trick people out of their savings? That's a killing. Terrorise a community in the form of a horrific and mythical creature from some vile dark corner of the Never-never? You better believe that's a killing. Forrester's ace in the face of all this weirdness is that he just doesn't give a damn. Maybe he can't always take down the bad guys with his fists or his guns, but by God he'll give it a solid shake.
The first half of the book establishes Forrester's pedigree as an investigator who isn't perturbed by a bit of strange. The opening tale concerns the murder of an Englishman in Venice by Count Emile de Ferrante; the squirrelly part of the case being he was in another city at the time of the crime. (The Count co-stars in another story post-Shiant, in which Ferrante is determined to take Forrester down in a western-style showdown with a supernatural edge. The fool!) Forrester takes on case after case in a fashion reminiscent of the old "monster of the week" X-Files episodes: cursed emeralds, flesh-eating mists, monster-men, oh my! Then there's a shift in tone as an older and beaten-down Forrester heads off to the United States, sacked from Met and uncertain of his place in the world. Weirdness, however, cannot be escaped by boat, and he soon finds more strange cases landing at his doorstep. It's a different flavour of odd than he faced in the UK though, card sharks and snake-oil salesmen and thieves. These are opportunistic crimes, motivated by personal gain rather than unknowable supernatural urges or basic evil ... until we reach the final story, the Snallygaster, in which Forrester is confronted by a threat which just about eclipses anything he dealt with in Shiant.
Strange Cases is a solid collection of rollicking adventure stories, and I can't help wondering if Proops might be using it as a bridge to another Forrester novel, this one set in the States. If I had to pick a favourite story, it'd be the Terror of London – the character of Spring-Heeled Jack could easily support, I believe, a longer story (which is helped by him actually surviving his encounter with Forrester). This Victorian Mulder knows the truth is out there, but he knows equally well it would be best off it stayed the bloody hell away from him. And the Scully in the story? Scully would just be the name of his gun.