Arkham Detective Agency - A Lovecraftian-Noir Tribute to C.J. Henderson
Edited by Brian M. Sammons
Cover Artist: M. Wayne Miller
Review by Sam Tomaino
Dark Regions Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781626412569
Date: 26 November 2017
Arkham Detective Agency is an anthology of stories subtitled as a Lovecraftian-Noir Tribute to C.J. Henderson. In his introduction to this book, editor Brian M. Sammons pays tribute to the late C.J. Henderson and talks about how much he wrote and the characters he created. The last character created by Henderson was tough guy Franklyn Nardi, a retired New York City policeman who has moved to the quiet college town of Arkham, Massachusetts and has set up a private detective agency. Of course, those of us familiar with the writings of H.P. Lovecraft know that, as Sammons puts it, "quiet does not mean dead" and "In Arkham's case, even death does not equal death". So, this volume includes the four stories that Henderson wrote and fifteen more written by other authors, including Sammons.
The volume begins with Henderson's first Frank Nardi story, "The Idea of Fear". We learn that Nardi had been a New York City policeman for twenty years and retired with a pension. He was not married and had no interest in having a wife. although he liked women fine for having commitment-free sex. Five years earlier, he and three other retired cops, Tony Balnco, Sammy Galtoni, and Mark Berkenwald, had opened a detective/security agency in Arkham, Massachusetts and were doing well. The people in the town liked the New Yorkers take-charge attitude. In this story, Berkenwald had committed the agency to "desensitize" a house that might be haunted. This was a very lucrative line in Arkham, even though Frank thinks it's all a crock of you-know-what. So he's spending the night in the house that a young couple had bought so he can certify that it's clean, filling out the official Nardi Security Occult Clearance Form. He is being assisted by a medium calling herself Madame Renee, whose real name is Brenda Goff. He has set up motion detectors, tape recorders, etc. The medium uses all her tricks to call out the supernatural and found nothing. Nardi tries something else, he gets literally naked and bears his soul, revealing his deepest, darkest secret (and it's something pretty bad) and finds nothing. But is the house, spook-free? What do you think? Very good start for this character and a good start for this book.
In Henderson's second Nardi story, "Cruelty", he is called in by Harold Clemmens, president of Miskatonic University. Nardi Security had been hired to protect the valuable collection of rare occult material that's in the university library. They weren't physically guarding the library, just keeping their eyes and ears open in the underworld. They had been at this a year and nothing had happened. The university's Exhibit Museum was planning a big show and Tony Balnco, one of the agency's operatives, had been overseeing things. But something bad has happened and Clemmens is very distressed. News has somehow got out and many outsiders have come to gawk. Nardi finds out what has distressed Clemmens and it is truly horrifying. Nardi has to deal with more than the supernatural in this very unsettling story.
"The Nest of Pain" is the third of Henderson's story and a direct sequel to the first (with a reference to the second). It seems the house in the first story was not as clean as Nardi thought. It's been more than a year and Edward Douglas, owner of the house wants a refund or some kind of satisfaction. Something has happened to his wife, Julie. Nardi, Madame Renee, and Nardi's partners, Sammy Galtoni and Mark Berkenwald, in what is now being called the Arkham Detective Agency, investigate and things are even more complicated than they thought at first. Things do not go easy in another great story.
The book continues with the stories written by other authors in tribute to Henderson with the first being "Slaves for the Slaughter Sect" by Robert M. Price. A man calling himself "Arlan Hellison" comes to Nardi saying that he is an author working on a novel about the occult and wants to do research by tagging along with him on a case. He shows him a newspaper article about people disappearing. Could it be some sort of slave ring? Nardi is skeptical until a pretty librarian whom he just met disappears. He investigates and brings Hellison along. Nice twist in this one.
"Call and Response" by William Meikle -+- Nardi is in Scotland in 2009 investigating a text decoded from cosmic microwaves. They have led him to a detective named Derek Adams who, it turns out, has some old film that might presage The End of the World. Told from the point of view of Adams, this results in a nice little story with some interesting historical details.
"Miskatonic Contradance" by Konstantine Paradias -+- Frank is working with Nerea Yeboa, some sort of woman ghost who can send her spirit to possess people or things as needed. There's a reference also to her organization called the Bureau which I assume is another Henderson creation. They are after a junkie named Donnie Kiernan who had got a hold of a very unholy bible and has called up a god called Tiamat/Mother Night/Asag.Asag-Thoth, which along with a reference to "Pnakotic", is as close as we have been to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos thus far. Nardi and Yeboa must find a way to save the world and that is not an easy thing. Good story.
"Family Tradition" by Edward Morris -+- One day, Mark Berkenwald is alone in the office. Frank Nardi is at an extended lunch with their replacement for Tony Balnco, a tall Tennesseean named Johnny Thunstone "whose daddy kept everything that Jules de Grandin ever annotated". One assumes that daddy is the character created by Manly Wade Wellman. A reference to his father's old adversary, Rowley Thorne, seals that. Well, in the waiting room is a tall redneck whose name is Dennis W. Whateley who twangs "Junior got Daddy and he ate him dead" and wants to talk with Naldi. When Naldi gets back, Whateley, sounding a lot more intelligent, tells him what happened while the other two, and eventually, Sammy Galtoni, overhear it all. Lots of Cthulhu Mythos references here and an amusing ending. It's possible "Dennis Whateley" is a play on the name of British horror writer "Dennis Wheatley".
"Light a Candle, Curse the Darkness" by Paula R. Stiles -+- Our narrator is a woman, who has supernatural powers named Johnson, being interviewed by Naldi about a certain old property in the middle of Arkham. Some thirty years ago, on July 21, 1986, Johnson had been the driver of an ambulance who got a call about a possible cardiac victim at the site. While she is parking the vehicle, her co-workers rush in. When she gets out of the vehicle, the house is gone and there is only a hole with stairs leading down. She enters the hole and finds herself in a cellar with rotting-rat-urine-soaked newspapers and a litter of three kittens. She tells Nardi that the house had been burned down in witch trial days and had an evil reputation. What happens next determined her subsequent profession. Good story with a nice twist at the end.
"Il Segno Giallo" by David Dunwoody -+- Nardi gets a late-night phone call from a woman whose voice is familiar. She asks him to meet her in an hour at a former hotel now a pub called the Riverside Arms. She tells him that it is important and that people have died. When he gets there, he recognizes her as an old friend from New York, Isabella Andora. She shows him some music for a piece called Il Torrente Forte (The Log Torrent) by Gio Pastore. Isa, a cellist, had been one of eight musicians with Pastore as conductor who had performed it once. She does not remember playing the third movement. Pastore has disappeared and the other musicians have all committed suicide. She asks Frank to stay with her while they sort things out so that she does not do the same. He fails her but gets her some justice. A sad, bittersweet tale. The title means "The Yellow Sign". I won't say more except read the last paragraph of the story.
"Echoes of a Distant Scream" by Lee Clark Zumpe -+- Tisha Hewitt's brother disappeared thirty-five years ago. A talk with Frank Nardi, investigating another disappearance, has brought it back to her. She had been an investigative reporter in Chicago until returning to Arkham to run Arkham Ghost Tours. She looks through a file her mother had kept with accounts of other unsolved disappearances and she talks to her brother's closest friend. This leads her to Hill Street, an abandoned mansion and a revelatory experience. Good solid story.
"Closure" by Glynn Owen Barrass -+- Our unnamed narrator is stalking Frank Nardi and means to kill him. Why? I won't spoil that but it's good and this story is too.
"Witch Fire" by Scott T. Goudsward -+- When a huge hole opens up in the middle of Arkham, police officer Eddie Suarez is one of the Arkham police on the scene. He notices that there is part of an old ceramic pipe at the bottom. A conversation with Frank Nardi piques his interest. When a second hole opens up, he's hooked. Pretty good.
"Bonanza" by Sam Gafford -+- Our narrator had been a stringer for the Arkham Detective Agency brought in by Tony Balnco but he got involved with a beautiful fence for black market occult junk named Anna Eliza Cordell who was involved with a gangster named Big Phil McGurk. When he was discovered, Tony and Frank had thrown him out and McGurk had him beaten up. He had been living in Providence and a bottle ever since. Now, he's back chasing after a "Shining Trapezohedron". References are made to a "Haunter of the Dark" and a "three-lobed burning eye". Some nasty stuff happens to our narrator, whose name we are finally told is Mike Dolan. I would not be surprised if Gafford is establishing a character here for future stories and, as this one was pretty good, I'd like to see them.
"Reeling Back" by Tom Lynch -+- The hero here is a very unusual guy hired by the Arkham Detective Agency. His name is Sam Branson and he is a man of the Old West: "born over 150 years ago and thrown forward in time to the present day, after a brief trip through some mysterious fog and a disappearing valley". Nardi has hired him to look into the disappearance of three high school students. His investigation leads him to another high school student, a girl in a coma, a mysterious woman, a spider face, and some very scary dreams. This is all in one spectacular story and another character I'd like to see again.
"Those Folk Below" by Josh Reynolds -+- The university is holding an auction for a copy of von Junzt's Unaussprechlichen Kulten, the unexpurgated Dusseldorf edition with the Hasse illustrations, including the Parisian chapter on "those folk below". The owner is Count Anton Sforza, a university alumni and a rich potential donor. Nardi has an unsettling conversation with a government agent named Indrid Cold beforehand. At the auction, the bidders are Cecilia Holmwood, Lady Goldalming, for the Westenra Fund (Bram Stoker reference there), a Madam Amina Bera and the university itself. The auction is exciting but it's what comes after that gets really nasty. Good solid story.
"She Wore a Trench Coat" by Don Webb -+- This is the testament of Travis Matori, late of the Arkham Police Department. He had been assigned to watch who came in and out of the Arkham Detective Agency and report. He was also given odd monitoring equipment. One night, he sees a beautiful woman faint on the sidewalk and takes her to his car where she disappears under strange circumstances. He has a brief consult with Nardi but does not confide in him even though Nardi seems to know pretty much everything. He investigates a curious church but that does not go well. Classic story.
"Clear the Air" by Brian M. Sammons -+- Our narrator is a man with multiple names, one is Jordan, and is a contract killer for the CIA. He had been hired to infiltrate a group that's been blowing up cell towers and has now been ordered to blow them up. But their leader, a man calling himself Chang, isn't there and Jordan goes to take him out. He discovers Chang is older than he looks and has other reasons to blow up cell towers. Nardi only makes a brief appearance here but there is reference to a "Call" which makes this a Mythos story. Good story form the book's editor.
"A Walk in the Shadows" by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. -+- Our narrator is a former New York City cop now working divorce cases for Nardi. He is supposed to follow Annabelle "Cookie" Morganfield and find out what she's been up to. He finds out something startling and mind-blowing. Written in an odd, staccato style that works pretty well.
The book ends with C.J. Henderson's last story about Frank Nardi, "The Pleasure in Madness". Nardi is asked by Miskatonic University President Harold Clemmens to accompany Professor Piers Knight (another Henderson character) to Antarctica. The site of the Dyer and Danforth expedition of seventy-five years ago told in Lovecraft's The Mountains of Madness. The university had been asked by the government to go down there. Why? The pair immediately find things down there very strange, but that's only the start of the horror. Good follow-up to the original story and a good last story for Nardi.
This is a very entertaining anthology and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It makes me sad that C.J. Henderson will gives us no more stories of Franklin Nardi and the Arkham Detective Agency. I loved the modern Arkham setting and would love to read another anthology like this one. Maybe, if this one sells well, we'll get a follow-up.