The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, by Kim NewmanFebruary 12th, 2011 at 21:27
I fell hard in love with The Man From the Diogenes Club, by Kim Newman, some years ago. This collection of short stories was based around the premise that Mycroft Holmes’ gentleman’s club was a secret society of crimefighters, dealing with bizarre and unclassifiable crimes through history. The original collection centred mostly around the 70′s, and took its inspiration from any number of cult TV shows of the era.
Cat Sparks, a fellow fan of 1970′s cult TV, remembered my adoration and got hold of a copy of the next book in the series for me, from World Fantasy, complete with the author’s autograph. Thanks largely to my two year phase of reading little but YA, I failed to read it until now. I’d liked the first one so much that I had got quite paranoid about chancing the follow up. But there’s a third now, so time to read the second!
The Secret Files is another selection of mostly previously published stories, featuring members of the Diogenes Club and their associates. The stories cover a wider time period than the first one, starting in Victorian times and making its way forward until the final novelette/novella which is set in the 70′s once more. I enjoyed the first four stories the best, as they led quite neatly into each other, and I could see the relationship between them, even as the protagonists shifted around. After a few I was less keen on, Newman brought it all together with a written-for-this-collection piece which hit all the beats I had been hoping for, and tied up many characters and loose ends. I had been floundering a little in the last few stories, trying to grasp the point of it all, and the final story really gave me what I wanted, a satisfying conclusion that made it feel like a true and complete story suite rather than just a bunch of stories loosely connected by their central concept.
In “The Gypsies in the Wood,” the first story in the collection and my favourite of the bunch, a family is devastated by two recently missing children, and bemused when an adult man emerges from the forest, claiming to be the little boy lost. As Charles Beauregard investigates, the lost daughter is also recovered – only, there’s something very wrong about her. I loved this take on the changeling myth, which benefits from being told over several acts, following up the future of a family made up of a man who escaped the fairies, and his creepy sociopathic changeling sister. The story references all manner of historical pop culture, from the illustrations of Arthur Rackham to the career and life of Walt Disney, with all manner of real historical details jumbled up with amusing fictions.
“Richard Riddle, Boy Detective,” and “Angel Down, Sussex,” both follow up the story beyond “The Gypsies in the Wood,” showing the further adventures of several characters, and introducing new ones.
Another brilliant piece was “Clubland Heroes,” set in 1919, a murder mystery which delves into the world of the Splendid Six, very British superheroes which feel as if they have leaped out of the pages of a Boy’s Own Magazine of the period.
Far more than the first volume, this one sets up the Diogenes Club as a secret history, and what a history it is! I especially enjoyed the characters of Kate Reed, Daredevil Victorian Lady Reporter, in “The Gypsies in the Wood,” and Catriona Kaye, freelance agent, in “Angel Down, Sussex” and “Clubland Heroes.” The entire concept, of Avengers style mystery/fantasy investigations throughout British History, is a fascinating one with all manner of possibilities, and I look forward to seeing how it’s followed up again in the third volume. Newman’s writing is elegant and funny, and he is excellent at hooking in the reader with a strong character’s perspective, which is my favourite kind of short story.
Completely worth the wait!
(and now I totally want to go and rewatch a bunch of old Avengers episodes)