Friday, October 10, 2008


Secret Services: The Diogenes Club

Now we come to a particular favorite of mine in the list of secret services.

The Diogenes Club was first introduced in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "The Greek Interpreter." Holmes's smarter brother Mycroft Holmes was a member of the club, about which Sherlock said, "The Diogenes Club is the queerest club in London, and Mycroft one of the queerest men." We learn little about the club in that first appearance, getting only the following description from Sherlock:
"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."
Later, in the "The Bruce-Partington Plans", Holmes and his assistant John Watson have the following exchange:
I had some vague recollection of an explanation at the time of the Adventure of the Greek Interpreter. "You told me that he had some small office under the British government."

Holmes chuckled. "I did not know you quite so well in those days. One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state. You are right in thinking that he is under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British government."

Aside from these tantalizing hints, Doyle never revealed much more about Mycroft's clandestine role in the British government, or about the Diogenes Club itself.

In the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Billy Wilder offered an explanation--the Diogenes Club is revealed to be a clandestine intelligence agency for the British government, with Mycroft as its head. It was a clever idea, and one that other writers of Sherlockian adventures would pick up and run with.

Enter Kim Newman.

In his 1992 novel Anno Dracula, the first in the series of the same name, Newman introduced Charles Beauregard, a member of the Diogenes Club and player in the "Great Game," a secret operative of Her Majesty's Government. The novel is, of course, set in a world in which vampires are real, and in which Bram Stoker's Dracula was a bit of wishful propaganda. In this world, Count Dracula has ensconced himself as Victoria's new prince consort, and vampires are the new ruling class in Britain. In later installments in the series, Beauregard and other operatives of the Diogenes Club play a central role. (If you haven't read the Anno Dracula novels, for god's sake, what are you waiting for?!)

One of Newman's strongest gifts as a writer, I think, is his ability to rework and repurpose characters from his own work (and from that of other hands) in new and interesting ways, remixing familiar elements in unfamiliar ways. The Diogenes Club is perhaps the best example of that. Beginning as Doyle's club for silent misanthropes, expanded by Billy Wilder into a clandestine government agency, and then staffed by Newman himself by Beauregard and a host of other operatives, it was with the multipart-novella "Seven Stars" that the Diogenes Club finally took shape.

"Seven Stars" is set not in the vampire-infested alternate history of Anno Dracula, but in a history more closely resembling our own. But, like the characters in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse and DC Comics' "Imaginary Stories", which Newman cites as early influences, the characters from Newman's stories have a habit of spawning off alternate versions in other realities, and the Diogenes Club is no exception. In a history more like ours, then, the Diogenes Club is not merely a clandestine government agency, but is a clandestine government agency that handles all of the cases that the normal authorities can't--the paranormal, the occult, the strange. And that earns them a spot of honor on this list of "secret services."

Here's Newman explaining the story's origins in his own words (from the afterword to The Man from the Diogenes Club, about which more in a moment).
In the 1990s, Stephen Jones edited an anthology called Dark Detectives: Adventures of the Supernatural Sleuths, dedicated to the subcategory of weird tale in which detectives, in the traditions of Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe, tackle cases that involve the supernatural or the strange. The book represented William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone, Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour and Jay Russell’s Marty Burns. Also in the “magnifying glass and wooden stake” business are Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, Anthony Boucher’s Fergus O’Breen, Bram Stoker’s (and Chris Roberson’s—but not Stephen Sommers’) Van Helsing, The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully, Jeff Rice’s (and Dan Curtis’, Richard Matheson’s, Darren McGavin’s and David Case’s) Carl Kolchak and a run of comic book or strip characters famous (Dr. Strange, Batman in a certain mood), middling cult (the Phantom Stranger, Zatanna) or obscure (Cursitor Doom, anyone? Dr. Thirteen?).

Steve asked me to contribute to the book. I’ll let him describe what happened next. “After I had explained to Kim that the book would be themed along a loosely assembled chronology, we came up with the concept (probably over glasses of wine and beer) that it would be fun to have one serial-like case that would be investigated across the centuries by many of the characters he had created in his earlier novels and stories. These episodes would then be interspersed amongst the contributions from other writers to the book.” Since part of the point of doing sleuth stories is that you can do a whole series—unless, like E. C. Bentley, you kick off with a book called Trent’s Last Case—my plan was to have the serial that wound up being called “Seven Stars” feature detectives I’d written about in earlier stories or novels. The Victorian section (“The Mummy’s Heart”) revisits adventurer Charles Beauregard and journalist Kate Reed, who were in Anno Dracula; a WWII-set Los Angeles interlude (“The Trouble with Barrymore”) uses the anonymous narrator (plainly, a version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe) who’d been in a Lovecraft-Chandler pastiche called “The Big Fish”; the “contemporary” 1990s section (“Mimsy”) is a semisequel to my novel The Quorum, featuring London private eye/single mum Sally Rhodes, etc.

“The only problem,” Steve says, “was that Kim did not have a psychic investigator for the period covering the 1970s. Of course that was no problem for Kim, who simply went back to his very first efforts at fiction while still a schoolboy and revived the character of ostentatious amnesiac Richard Jeperson, along with his striking associate Vanessa and ex-police constable Fred Regent. Inspired by such TV characters as Jason King, The Avengers, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who and the novels of Peter Saxon and Frank Lauria, Jeperson made his official debut with the novella ‘The End of the Pier Show’ in my 1997 anthology Dark of the Night: New Tales of Horror and the Supernatural.”

It was with the creation of Richard Jeperson that the Diogenes Club really takes off, I think. Since "Seven Stars" Newman has returned to Jeperson time and again, with nearly all of the stories to date collected in the pages of MonkeyBrain Books' The Man From the Diogenes Club (and check out the spiffy John Picacio cover below).

Here's Newman again, on the origins of the character of Jeperson in particular:
When I created Richard, I gave no thought to him as a “typical” character of the 1970s. This wasn’t just because I was eleven: I didn’t think of Sally Rhodes as a 1980s/90s character when I created her, but the stories she appears in now seem to me rooted in those decades. When I went back to Richard, I saw that he was a very 1970s fellow, and I spotted all the influences Steve later pointed out, and made an effort to work in even more. A few remain well-enough known to need no further explanation: The Avengers, a 1960s show well-remembered in the ’70s (and sequelised in The New Avengers), and various incarnations of the Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who or James Bond franchises (even Scooby-Doo’s Mystery, Inc.). But also in the mix that informs Jeperson and his world are less-often-repeated UK TV series: psychic detective efforts like Ace of Wands (little Neil Gaiman’s favourite—about a mystery-solving magician named Tarot and his owl Ozymandias) and The Omega Factor (ESP and spy stuff from 1979—now out on DVD) and Victoriana like The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (with Donald Pleasence in one episode as Carnacki) and Robert Muller’s Supernatural (about a tale-tellers’ institution, the Club of the Damned). While Columbo, McCloud, Kolchak, Rockford, et. al., were busy in America, British television had ’tecs, cops and spies like Jason King (played by Peter Wyngarde in Department S and the sillier sequel series Jason King), Marker (Alfred Burke in The Public Eye), Callan (Edward Woodward—Best Spy Show Ever, it’s official!), Barlow and Watt (Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor, who started in realistic shows like Z Cars and Softly Softly, then moved to poring over historical evidence about Jack the Ripper and Richard III), Paul Temple (Francis Matthews), The Incredible Robert Baldick (a terrific one-off by Terry Nation, starring Robert Hardy), Eddie Shoestring (Trevor Eve) and The Professionals.

Also, the racks at W. H. Smith’s were loaded with 30p-a-throw paperbacks mingling mystery and the occult, often with a vaguely counterculture tinge and under 120 pages: Robert Lory’s Dracula series (which began, like Richard Jeperson, with an instalment called Dracula Returns), Frank Lauria’s books about Owen Orient (Doctor Orient, Lady Sativa), Philip José Farmer’s racy Image of the Beast and Blown, Peter Saxon’s Guardians series (The Haunting of Alan Mais, The Killing Bone, etc), Richard Tate’s lone “Marcus Obadiah Mystery” For the Dead Travel Fast, anthologies edited by Michel Parry and Peter Haining, Demons by Daylight by Ramsey Campbell (who’d started writing when he wasn’t much older than I was then—and was much better at it), and pulpy New English Library one-offs like Night of the Vampire or Village of Blood. These were the things I read in the 1970s, and which percolated—along with fashions, music, food, politics, jokes, interior design (we had inflatable chairs in our living room, which was papered with pictures clipped from Sunday supplements), attitudes, haircuts, scandals, slang—in my subconscious for the years I wasn’t thinking of writing about Richard Jeperson. When I came to him again, all this stuff bubbled up, and filled out his world. Most of the stories started with me thinking about aspects of the 1970s or vintage occult mystery fiction I wanted to play with—leftover seaside arcades (I remember working dioramas exactly like the execution collection in “End of the Pier Show”) and the brand of hooliganism found in NEL books popular at my school (Skinhead, etc., by Richard Allen—author, under another name, of Count Dracula and the Virgins of the Undead), the changing tone of British smut, brainwashing camps in picturesque countryside retreats like in The Prisoner, something set on a train (a 1960s TV serial had Laurence Payne as Sexton Blake solving a mystery on a train), the huge underground installations blown up at the end of every Bond film, etc.

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a few familiar references in there. The Guardians, perhaps? Or maybe Omega Factor?

But the casefiles of the Diogenes Club have not been closed with the 70s adventures of Richard Jeperson and crew. Newman has continued to write stories about Beauregard and the other operatives of the Diogenes Club, and also visited Jeperson in later years and shown the agency in decline. Many of these were collected in MonkeyBrain Books second Newman collection, Secret Files of the Diogenes Club (and below Lee Moyer's amazing cover below), and there are still more coming out all the time. The novella "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch" in Marvin Kaye's new SFBC anthology, A Book of Wizards, is arguably one of the best of the sequence to date.

As I say, Newman's Diogenes Club stories are a particular favorite of mine, and a significant influence on my own work. I've cited them many times as one of the proximate inspirations for the Bonaventure-Carmody stories, for which reason Newman is one of the three authors to whom the forthcoming End of the Century is dedicated. And one of the principal motivations for starting up MonkeyBrain Books in the first place was so that I could publish collections of some of my favorite stories, the Diogenes Club tales among them. If you're looking for terrific stories about clandestine government agencies that investigate the occult, you'll not find better than Kim Newman's.


Nice, was thinking yesterday I was hoping you would do this one.

Wish I had one of those Dark Detectives books, that is for sure.
You know, I don't think I've ever even seen a copy of it. But thank heaven for Stephen Jones. If not for his annual Mammoth Book of New Horror series I probably would never have discovered Newman's Diogenes Club stories in the first place.
I'm really looking forward to checking this one out!
You won't be disappointed, Curt. And if you find a copy of either of the two MonkeyBrain editions, you'll probably want to snap it up. Both of them are currently sold out, and while we're investigating the possibility of doing additional printings, there aren't any immediate plans to go back to press.
I've been reading these stories for years and I have Seven Stars, Man from Diogenes Club, and Secret Files. So what other stories are out there that aren't in those three collections?

And most importantly, when will we see another collection?
There's a few related stories, characters from which have cropped up in Diogenes Club stories, like "The Original Doctor Shade," "Organ Donors" and "Going to Series", all of which are in Dinoship's Dead Travel Fast collection (but if you can find the earlier collection The Original Doctor Shade and Other Stories, I'd recommend it). And there's the aforementioned "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch," in the SFBC anthology (which may well turn up in a year's best anthology in 2009, I'd imagine).

As for another Diogenes Club collection, with any luck it won't be too far over the horizon...

(If you haven't read the Anno Dracula novels, for god's sake, what are you waiting for?!)

Well, their criminal unavailability is a factor in the reason why I've only ever managed to read ANNO DRACULA (and not the sequels).

FWIW, I thought it brilliant.
If anything, I think the later installments in the Anno Dracula series are even better than the first. (And the short stories that make up the as yet unpublished Johnny Alucard are some of the best of Newman's career to date. I wouldn't worry, though; those books won't be out of print forever.
I have both the Diogenes books, but have yet to read them (too many books on my pile!!!), though I do love his Anno Dracula series a lot (I do think the 2nd book is the weakest of the three).
I think you'll like the Diogenes stories when you get to them, Howard.

But as for Bloody Red Baron, leaving all other considerations aside, I'll give high marks to *any* book that has Kent Allard as a vampire flying ace!
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by 

Blogger. Isn't yours?