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May/June 2015
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The Judges Of Hades, By Edward D. Hoch (1971)

SIMON Ark, the "man from another age" who acts as occult investigator in these five novelettes, is apparently an erstwhile priest who's stalked the Earth for nearly 2000 years as the Wandering Copt. Like G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown, he has a nose for the devil's works and for resurgences of ancient evil. This is occult detection where the detective is occult but—once he's dispersed the atmospheric clouds of Mystery—his cases, like Father Brown's and a few of Carnacki's, have strictly rational solutions.

Though not collected until 1971, all the Ark stories first appeared in 1950s crime magazines. Our man's debut, "Village of the Dead" (1955), deals with a Jonestown-like mass suicide in the U.S. village of Gidaz, causing Ark to declare: "I am searching for the ultimate evil—for Satan himself. And perhaps, in Gidaz, I have found him at last." Clues include fragments of esoteric lore but lead to a modern fanatic inspired by…ah, who knows?

"The Hour of None" offers murder and madness in a monastery; "The Witch Is Dead" features a mass curse that works, with a borderline-sf explanation; "Sword for a Sinner" centers on an especially perverse cult of self-mortification; the title story comes last and is set in "HADES, THE HOTTEST LITTLE TOWN IN AMERICA." All share a special flavor of weird melodrama stemming from Simon Ark's unusual persona and viewpoint, spiced with occasional Latin tags and arcane lore.

Further Ark tales, the title novel plus two shorts, appear in City of Brass (1971). These too are eccentrically enjoyable.

—David Langford

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