By S. L. Edwards
John Linwood Grant has had a rapid ascendance in the horror field. Known for his blog “greydog tales” and his position as an editor for Occult Detective Quarterly and 18th Wall Productions, he is also quite the prolific author. Two years after publishing his first batch of stories in 2015, he is now the author of over thirty published and forthcoming works. His first collection, A Persistence of Geraniums and Other Worrying Tales, showcases only a sliver of his work, but it is a sliver which demonstrates considerable care and immense talent.
Grant makes great pains to explain what A Persistence of Geraniums and Other Worrying Tales is and what it is not. It is not, the author explains, a collection of previously published tales (though three stories have been published before) nor is it a comprehensive collection of stories centered on a single character. Instead, the collection is a slim portrait of a world, a glimpse into the author’s preparation and approach when wading into the Edwardian era. The result is a thriving universe populated with diverse and interesting characters.
Before commenting on the stories themselves, something needs to be said for the style. From the introduction, it is clear that Grant is no mere tourist to the Edwardian era, this is someone who has done their research. He knows to pepper his vocabulary with the latest terms from the burgeoning science which would become psychology, to capture the anxiety and eagerness regarding the growing women’s suffrage movement and so vividly portray the teeming squalor of industrializing London. It is not easy to so effectively set not only your fiction, but your style in another time period, and that Grant does this so well demonstrates a love for detail.
A Persistence of Geraniums and Other Worrying Tales is in more than one sense, a work of love. The book is expertly formatted, and several stories are accompanied with haunting illustrations from artist Mutartis Boswell. It is a project which Grant had considerable say over, and just as the attention to detail manifests into his fiction it also is apparent in the layout of the work.
The first two tales set the mood of the collection. “A Persistence of Geraniums,” is a clever ghost story and commentary on the various religious and spiritual tensions of the Edwardian era. Parts of it are reminiscent of Saki’s stories, as a dry wit is mingled in with a singular dread. The dread is not only supernatural in nature, but also stems from the very reality that for many in the Edwardian age (and now) domesticity is a trap with teeth. How a certain character escapes from this trap, and the consequences of this escape are bookended with a clever frame narrative that will leave the reader smiling sadly. “His Heart Shall Speak No More,” is equally tragic if not more standard Edwardian fiction. There is a long, cold grey shore, a warning from a thickly accented sailor and an alluring “young woman” just out of sight from all but one main character. But when saying “standard” I do not mean to diminish the quality of the tale. Indeed, like the scent of salt, it lingers. Grant can evoke sensation and imagery just as well as the best writers of the Victorian and Edwardian age, and “His Heart Shall Speak No More,” could stand alongside any work from these more well-known masters.
The tale, however, does not contain as much originality as those concerning Mr. Dry.
“Geraniums” is full of complete, realized characters, but Mr. Dry towers above them all. The Deptford Assassin is a plain, cold man. There is nothing too remarkable about his features or his mannerisms save for a lethal dedication to cleanliness and professionalism. He takes on his clients and his targets, is uninterested in morality or justifications and is zealously dedicated to his own sterile reputation. His code will sometimes appear to be honor or mercy, but this is just a consequence of circumstance rather than the morality of the assassin himself. And Dry proves himself quite versatile in the collection, parading through tales of murder, madness and even the supernatural without ever appearing out of place or superfluous.
The short piece “A Word with Mr. Dry” is particularly revealing, written as an interview with a reporter and the notorious assassin. It almost reads as an exercise in character development, something a writer would do to better get to know their character before unleashing them upon a fictional world. And Dry does not disappoint as he exits his interview and enters London in “The Workman and his Hire.” He then encounters Occult Detectives Henry Dodgson and Abigail Jessop in “The Intrusion.” “The Intrusion,” is a particularly potent display of Grant’s craft, as multiple compelling characters star without any one dominating the other. The relationship between Miss Jessop and Mr. Dodgson is not spelled out, but is a compelling and emotional one. As interesting as Mr. Dry is, Abigail is an unforgettable standout as a gun-wielding woman of iron and grit. And, in the true fashion of a connected Universe, the characters meet and then diverge once more.
“A Loss of Angels” introduces Dr. Alice Urquhart, a pioneering alienist in her field as she navigates the mystery of a murderer’s supposed insanity. Here we are treated to a thorough understanding of the imperfect but developing science of the Edwardian age, as insane asylums and the offered treatments within are the full focus of the tale. The story is tightly plotted, a cross between a tale of life at an asylum and a mystery. Though no traditional detective, Urquhart’s story in this volume has all the markings of the best sorts of murder mysteries, though the question in this instance is not the guilt of the murderer but rather his sanity.
The collection concludes with “Grey Dog,” a tale starring William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki. Grant is an outspoken fan of Hodgson, and is without a doubt an expert practitioner of the occult detective sub-genre. But we are given not a story of occult detection, but of an occult detective. The Carnacki in this story is not out to solve a mystery, but to ponder one. It is an introspective story of a man preoccupied with something he knows is real but cannot explain, of mortality peering from the dark ends of long hallways. The result is a fascinating one, a great detective revealed to be a man just like any other. One cannot help but feel a little sadness for Carnacki, nor can they stave off the lingering feeling that they are in the same situation.
As of now, John Linwood Grant’s fiction has not come together in a collection. For many readers, this will be the best opportunity to get a sampling of his Edwardian fiction. I advise them to be careful and to be prepared, as laughing at can leave you off guard. One may be smiling at playful ghosts in one instance but then find themselves staring down a professional murderer who does not care for their laughter or their excuses. In the foreground, they may catch a glimpse of a ghostly, grey hound resting just before the limits of their sight. And then, they will know it is just a matter of when, not if.
Buy A Persistence of Geraniums and Other Worrying Tales HERE
Buy Turn to Ash HERE
Connect with S.L. Edwards HERE