Friday, June 3, 2011

FFB: The Undying Monster - Jesse Douglas Kerruish

Originally published in England in 1922. The US edition was published in 1936 no doubt with intent to capitalize on the monster movie mania of the early 1930s.

Utterly fascinating from start to finish. Perhaps the best of the earliest attempts at combining a detective novel with a genuinely supernatural mystery. Most supernatural detective novels start with a bizarre murder that seems to have no earthly explanation, but this one starts with a curse that is firmly believed in and accepted by the family members. Features Luna Bartendale (the literature's first female occult detective) who puts John Silence, Carnacki and Miles Pennoyer to shame with her extensive knowledge of occult rites and practices and beats them all with her "super-sensitive" gift of being able to psychically connect with troubled souls and hypnotize them. She is far more colorful and interesting than Jules De Grandin who required Dr. Trowbridge's ignorance as a foil.

There are all kinds of amazing set pieces – the descent into the Hammand mansion cellars that house a 16th century alchemist's workroom, the discovery of the gruesome Hand of Glory buried in the wall, Luna's use of a divining rod to help her distinguish between benign and malevolent forces. In addition to all the supernatural lore and techniques, Luna is an excellent physical evidence detective. Her discovery and subsequent withholding of crucial evidence leads her to the identity of the murderer very early.

So much of this book served as the basis for the numerous werewolf stories that followed throughout the 30s and 40s. Most notably the doggerel curse used as a frontispiece in the US edition seems to have inspired that other well known rhyming curse that crops up in all the Universal werewolf movies ("Even a man who is pure in heart/And says his prayers at night...").

A movie version made nearly a decade after this was published in the US dispenses with Luna and instead gives us a CSI type doctor, circa 1940s, as the central detective figure. Swanhild is renamed Helga (thankfully!) but is no longer a believer in the supernatural and instead scoffs at all the legends and curses hanging over the family. Oliver is still a twit but toned down a bit. The story also eliminates all the Norse legends and the hypnosis. It's beautifully filmed and atmospherically designed. The sets inside the home and the exteriors of the moors are some of the best in a Hollywood monster movie. But the movie fails to thrill. It could've been far more interesting and original and might have been a real cult classic had it stuck to Kerruish's original story.


  1. Hey, John. No need to feel like you need to do one every week. God knows, I don't.

  2. A title I've come across over the years...shall eventually go looking for an accessible copy, I suspect (and certainly it seems wrong, somehow, that the supernatural mystery only arose in the early decades of the last century, as opposed to the fraudulently supernatural one or the more straightforward horror).

  3. Absolutely fascinating, and one I've not heard of. No time to read it nowk, and no place to put it, but I've added it to the list...

    By the way, I'm now a "follower" of your blog, the first blog I've done that with. Speaking of blogs, seems I've allen off your blogroll

  4. I know this is a little bit off-topic, but how or where do I enter a review for this Friday's Forgotten Books thingy?

    A few moments ago, my little critique of Bertus Aafjes' De vertrapte pioenroos (The Trampled Peony) went live and it's actually the first post I ever made on a Friday! So why not siege the moment and join the in-crowd, even though nearly every book I blog about qualifies as a FFB. :P

  5. TomCat -

    I was going to send you an email, but you don't have a link on your blog. So I'll simply tell you to contact Patti Nase at her blog. Click here and then click on her email link. She will be more than happy to add you to the ever growing list of FFB contributors.

  6. Rick -

    I was only adding crime and supernatural fiction blogs to the blog roll at the start. But that's since changed. I have your blog as a bookmark (and several others I read regularly) on my home computer. I've added you to the blogroll. It's the least I can do for one of my devoted "followers." (and now I sound like some kind of shifty tent revival minister, don't I?)

  7. Todd -

    Ash Tree Press reissued this in a limited edition hardcover. There are still a few copies left that you can order directly from them. But at $47.50 plus shipping from Canada it's not exactly affordable. There are two 1970s era paprerbacks of the book - a US one from Award and a UK one from Tandem. I found only one that I would consider affordable and reasonably priced, but the condition is not fully described. Says it's Good - but that could mean beat up and creased to death but still with all pages intact. Most of them are priced between $30 and $50. One is priced at an outrageous $63. Might as well buy the Ash Tree edition. At least it would be brand new. The book has achieved a sort of new cult status now that the movie is easily accessible on DVD. It was only released one year ago, I think. That's the only reason I can think of for all the crazy inflated prices.

  8. Hey, could you quote the curse from the book? I'm curious how it compares with the movie version.

  9. Evan -

    Here is the section of the book where they talk about it's significance:

    “It’s described in another rhyme,” said

    Where grow pines and firs amain,
    Under Stars, sans heat or rain,
    Chief of Hammand, ’ware thy Bane!

    Meaning that the Monster can only attack the head of the family on frosty nights near pines and firs.”

    There's also another one mentioned in passing: 'While the Monster is alive
    Hammand’s race shall live and thrive.’

  10. Kerruish's novel is now available in an affordable edition at In fact, it's coupled with six stories featuring Shiela Crerar, perhaps the only other female among the first wave of occult detectives!