I read almost no fiction these days, and I have little sense of how to review it, either. However, there is very little fiction out there written by serious Mages, so when I get a chance at some of that, I generally take it. Such is certainly the case with the fiction of the redoubtable Dion Fortune, initiate of the Golden Dawn and founder of the Society of the Inner Light.
It is clear that much of the occult fiction that came after this owes it a great debt. The Secrets of Dr. Taverner was first published in 1926.
These ten short stories featuring the wizardly Dr. Taverner and his able sidekick Dr. Rhodes are briskly-paced, well-structured, and very enjoyable. I have to confess, when I got this book in the mail for the Weiser Book Club discussion on Twitter (August 3rd at “Noonish” ET, hashtag #WBC9), I dropped my other books and gobbled this one up.
There are vampires, thoughtforms, Black Lodges, the Fae, believable death-spells, and probably a few other shadows going bump in this collection of occult detective fiction — and all of them are described as primary, old sources would have them, not as they sometimes appear in modern fiction.
There’s also a very strong sense of homage to Holmes and Watson. In case anyone thinks I’m seeing things, here are some quotes:
Taverner: “You know my method.”
Holmes: “You know my methods, Watson; use them.”
Taverner: “There is nothing so misleading as a preconceived opinion; one is apt to twist the facts to fit it.”
Holmes: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Whereas Holmes, the eminently sensible and skeptical consulting detective, sees primarily the cases where Scotland Yard has gone off the tracks, Dr. Taverner picks up the cases of which the available medical and psychiatric practitioners can make no sense.
The great delight of the book is watching the development of Dr. Rhodes. Suffering from a significant case of shell shock from the Great War, he thinks signing on as Dr. Taverner’s assistant will be a restful interlude. After all, Taverner is running a rest home, more or less; what could be easier? As the stories unfold, so does Dr. Rhodes; but not another word about it will you get from me! Read it yourself! Read under the covers with a flashlight until hours past your bedtime! But definitely read.
This edition features a campy and delightful cover picture by Owen Smith, and another good Foreword by Diana L. Paxson. Make sure not to skip any of the front matter; there are no regrettable spoilers this time and it’s all worthwhile.
The edition I reviewed is not available any more; see this link: The Secrets of Dr Taverner
[Complimentary review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, usw.]