A SPECIALIST IN SPOOKS
The lineage of the supernatural sleuth or psychic investigator is a rich one. Dating back to J. Sheridan Le Fanu and his tales of Martin Hesselius and reaching into the present with characters such as John Constantine. Of course, Hesselius is more of an interested scientific observer than a man of action, but his descendants include such luminaries as Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, Kate and Hesketh Prich-ard’s Flaxman Low, Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone and of course Uel Key’s Arnold Rhymer. The stories of Uel Key occupy an interesting and important place in the evolution of this genre; and until the publication of this volume have rarely been granted the consideration that they are due as an important part of this genre.
And it’s Uel Key’s wonderful tales of Professor Arnold Rhymer that we are concerned with here. The creation of the Rev. Samuel Whittell Key, Arnold Rhymer plied his trade in the pages of Pearson’s Magazine in the closing days of WWI and for a few short years thereafter. He thus forms an interesting and important bridge between the cerebral Edwardian psychic detectives such as Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki and the American pulp characters like Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone and Donald Wandrei’s I.V. Frost. The stories contained in this book contain much of the ratiocination that one would expect, but these are also vigorous tales of action and suspense that would not have been at all out of place twenty years later in a US pulp magazine.
All told, this expanded edition includes everything but the novel, The Yellow Death, which we hope to bring you someday. The two stories “The Inaudible Sound” and “Buried Needles” were written after the publication of the original edition and have remained unreprinted until now.
While the stories of Arnold Rhymer were apparently popular with the readership, the series was somewhat short-lived. With the June, 1922 issue of Pearson’s the author’s interest in the character had apparently faded and no further Rhymer stories were published. Is it possible that there were more? Possible, but highly unlikely. Uel Key’s stories seemed to be a hit with the readership and there’s certainly no reason to think that further tales of Arnold Rhymer would have been rejected. Far more likely that with his varied interests, the Rev. Key simply lost interest in the psychic detective genre and turned his energies elsewhere.
Uel Key was also avidly interested in painting and creating art novelties. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate any examples of his work. It’s quite likely that somewhere in an attic (or perhaps several attics) in Fulford Vicarage, where Key lived the last two decades of his life a trove of collectibles is stashed away. However, not only have I been able to unearth any examples of his artwork, I’ve been unable to find anything like a catalogue or ledger indicating just how much work was produced and where it may have gone. After nearly ninety years, the trail has gone somewhat cold.
Reverend Key also wrote at least two other books including The Material in Support of the Spiritual: One Hundred and Three Similes or Illustrations for Use in the Prepara-tions of Sermons, etc. (S.P.C.K., 1916; 92pp.) and The Sol-ace of the Soul: a Sequence of Gems on the Study of Prayer, etc. (Skeffington’s 1919). In addition to these volumes he contributed a number of articles to various London and regional publications such as the London Magazine, Pictorial Magazine, and others.
During the Great War Key served as a chaplain in the Royal Armoured Corps and at least one of his two sons served in and was killed in the war. This event was no doubt responsible for the virulent anti-German sentiment that somewhat mars some of these tales. Certainly the Germans were not popular with the British during these years, but Key’s general depiction of the German people is on a par with some of the most over-the-top propaganda pieces churned put by the US and UK media and about as subtle as the portrayal of Herr Doktor Krueger in the G-8 novels of Robert J. Hogan. I apologize in advance to our customers in Deutschland and hope that no one takes undue offense at these tales which (at least in this respect) are very much of their time.
Where Uel Key’s stories make an interesting departure from the traditional (at least to that time) psychic detective tale is with the incorporation of scientific improbabilities with the supernatural. Each story presents an intriguing mystery which is solved by Professor Rhymer utilizing “science” to pierce the veil of mystery. Key was one of the first to combine science and the supernatural to find solutions to the most perplexing of mysteries.
While there had been previous characters that at least touched on this, (most notably William Dean Howells, with his stories of Dr. Wanhope systematically debunking the tales of ghostly doings related by his fellow clubmen.) The important difference in the tales is that the Howells stories were in effect anti-supernatural tales where the scientific method was utilized to provide a rational explanation to the seemingly unexplainable occurrences. Key has Rhymer shifting easily between the scientific and the supernatural as the situation merits. This approach results in a series that is filled with surprises and if the plots sometimes veer into the realm of the implausible, they still make for vastly entertaining reading.
It is our hope that you enjoy the resurrection of this little known, but important member of the brotherhood of supernatural sleuths as much as we have enjoyed unearthing these long un-reprinted tales.