I had the great pleasure to sit down with Josh Reynolds and discuss his installment in The Science of Deduction, “The Door of Eternal Night.” It’s a new installment in his wonderful Royal Occultist series.
M.H. Norris: Welcome, Josh! Would you like to tell us a bit The Door of Eternal Night and the Royal Occultist (to say nothing of his able apprentice; no,I’m sorry, assistant)?
Josh Reynolds: Hi, thanks for having me.
To answer your second question first, the Royal Occultist is the man–or woman–who stands between the British Empire and its occult enemies, be they foreign, domestic, human, demonic or some form of worm of unusual size. If there are satyrs running amok in Somerset or werewolves in Wolverhampton, the Royal Occultist will be there to see them off.
The current Royal Occultist is Charles St. Cyprian, who’s best described as Rudolph Valentino by way of Bertie Wooster. His assistant, Ebe Gallowglass, is Louise Brooks by way of Emma Peel. St. Cyprian is the brains and Gallowglass is the muscle; he likes to talk things out, and she likes to shoot things until they die. Together, they defend Jazz Age Great Britain against a variety of gribbly monsters, secret societies and eldritch occurrences.
“The Door of Eternal Night” finds a Harry Houdini seeking help from his old friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Royal Occultist with regards to an uninvited apparition in his hotel room. If you want to know how it all ties into one of Sherlock Holmes’s old cases and the deadly Cult of the Pyramid Bat, well, you should probably buy the novella.
MHN: What caught your interest about “Mr. James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world”?
JR: I think because I find the implications of Mr. James Phillimore’s final fate more strange than criminal, much like the case of Isadora Persano and his worm unknown to science or the giant rat of Sumatra. In my opinion, the best Holmes stories have a whiff of the weird about them, and the snippet implies that whatever happened to Phillimore, it was, at the very least, unusual.
MHN: You made great use of the story Harry Houdini and H.P. Lovecraft collaborated on, “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs.” What inspired you to write a sequel to that tale, and close off the loose ends Houdini and Lovecraft left behind?
JR: I’ve always been fascinated by this particular story–it’s got cults, ancient gods, animal-headed mummies, the whole shebang. Too, it’s a rough, but entertaining, start to what could have been an interesting collaboration, had Houdini’s life not been cut short in 1926. Imagine what other stories might have resulted, had their partnership continued…
MHN: The Door of Eternal Night–and, really, all of the Royal Occultist series–makes excellent use of the Jazz Age. What drew you to it, and how do you research it?
JR: I was drawn to the Jazz Age mostly through my enjoyment of some of the authors of that period, such as PG Wodehouse, Dorothy L. Sayers, Evelyn Waugh, John Buchan and Margery Allingham, among others, as well as the music. 1920s Jazz standards like ‘Limehouse Blues’, ‘Hard Hearted Hannah’ and ‘Snake Rag’ pop up regularly on my rotation.
As to research, well–more books, mostly. There’s a wealth of material, both fiction and non-fiction, on the Inter-War Period in Great Britain. Besides the authors I mentioned above, I have a stack of research books two feet high, mostly having to do with food, clothes, music and daily life in England during the 20’s and 30’s.
MHN: How do you think living through The Door of Eternal Night would have changed the real Conan Doyle and the Houdinis?
JR: I don’t think it would have changed them much at all, honestly. The events of “The Door of Eternal Night” would have only reinforced Conan Doyle’s belief in the spirit world, and I don’t see Houdini admitting that the supernatural was real (at least not in public). Though the contortions that Houdini would have to go through to justify the events with his world view might give even his escapology skills a run for their money.
MHN: What advice do you have for the authors in the house?
JR: Persistence counts for more than you think. Luck is great, skill is nice, but persistence keeps you in the game long enough for the one to happen and the other to be recognized.
MHN: Thank you so much for your time. Where can our readers follow you online?
JR: Thank you for having me! I have a blog which features links to my other work, and a complete bibliography.
There’s also a Royal Occultist-dedicated site which features free fiction, audio dramas and plenty of background on the world of the Royal Occultist, including a complete story chronology.