Richard Jeperson and The Diogenes Club

Richard Jeperson and The Diogenes Club

Richard Jeperson as envisioned by Paul McCaffrey

Here’s how these stories happened.

In the 1990s, Stephen Jones edited an anthology called Dark Detectives: Adventures of the Supernatural Sleuths, dedicated to the sub-category of weird tale in which detectives, in the traditions of Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe, tackle cases which involve the supernatural or the strange. The book represented William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone, Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour and Jay Russell’s Marty Burns. Also in the magnifying-glass-and-wooden-stake business are Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, Anthony Boucher’s Fergus O’Breen, Bram Stoker’s (and Chris Roberson’s – but not Stephen Sommers’s) Van Helsing, The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully, Jeff Rice’s (and Dan Curtis’s, Richard Matheson’s, Darren McGavin’s and David Case’s) Carl Kolchak and a run of comic book or strip characters famous (Dr Strange, Batman in a certain mood), middling cult (the Phantom Stranger, Zatanna) or obscure (Cursitor Doom, anyone?[1] Dr Thirteen?).

Steve asked me to contribute to the book. I’ll let him describe what happened next. ‘After I had explained to Kim that the book would be themed along a loosely assembled chronology, we came up with the concept (probably over glasses of wine and beer) that it would be fun to have one serial-like case which would be investigated across the centuries by many of the characters he had created in his earlier novels and stories. These episodes would then be interspersed amongst the contributions from other writers to the book.’ Since part of the point of doing sleuth stories is that you can do a whole series – unless, like E.C. Bentley, you kick off with a book called Trent’s Last Case [2] – my plan was to have the serial that wound up being called ‘Seven Stars’ feature detectives I’d written about in earlier stories or novels. The Victorian section (‘The Mummy’s Heart’) revisits adventurer Charles Beauregard and journalist Kate Reed, who were in Anno Dracula; a WWII-set Los Angeles interlude (‘The Trouble With Barrymore’) uses the anonymous narrator (plainly, a version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe) who’d been in a Lovecraft-Chandler pastiche called ‘The Big Fish’; the ‘contemporary’ 1990s section (‘Mimsy’) is a semi-sequel to my novel The Quorum, featuring London private eye/single mum Sally Rhodes, etc.

The Man from the Diogenes Club‘The only problem,’ Steve says, ‘was that Kim did not have a psychic investigator for the period covering the 1970s. Of course that was no problem for Kim, who simply went back to his very first efforts at fiction while still a schoolboy and revived the character of ostentatious amnesiac Richard Jeperson, along with his striking associate Vanessa and ex-police constable Fred Regent. Inspired by such TV characters as Jason King, The Avengers, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who and the novels of Peter Saxon and Frank Lauria, Jeperson made his official debut with the novella ‘The End of the Pier Show’ in my 1997 anthology Dark of the Night: New Tales of Horror and the Supernatural.’ Since then, Jeperson has made further appearances in the stories collected here. Thanks and credit are due to Steve and other editors who have commissioned, edited and published (and republished) them. The Man From the Diogenes Club isn’t quite the complete Richard Jeperson. I’ve omitted ‘The Biafran Bank Manager’, the episode of ‘Seven Stars’ he was revived for in the first place: it features significant moments in the history of the Diogenes Club (the death of Richard’s mentor, Edwin Winthrop), but is too tied in with the overall story to work as a stand-alone. ‘Seven Stars’ appears in the companion collection from Titan, The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, and Dark Detectives has also been reissued, so it’s easy enough to fill in the gap. Furthermore, continuing my habit of presenting alternate versions of my characters (blame Michael Moorcock for this, or else those DC Comics ‘Imaginary Stories’), Richard and the Diogenes Club feature in alternate timelines in ‘The Man on the Clapham Omnibus’ in The Second Time Out Book of London Short Stories, edited by Nicholas Royle (reprinted as an extra in the Titan edition of Jago), and the Anno Dracula novel Johnny Alucard.

To backtrack, where did Richard Jeperson come from?

As Steve said, my very first efforts at fiction. In the 1970s, I was growing up – which is probably obvious from this book. As a schoolboy and later a university student, I wrote essays, plays, stories, attempted novels, pastiches, humour, sketches, long letters, scripts, comic strips, gossip, filmographies, book and film reviews, articles, fanzine filler, song lyrics, a pantomine, monologues, musicals, etc. Almost all this stuff was disposable, though I showed some of it to friends. By the early 1980s, I was getting plays performed and songs sung, even as I segued into more or less above-ground publication. None of this is unusual: you learn to write by writing, and you need to produce millions of words of rubbish before you get anywhere. I started early on my rubbish. You may not think much of me now, but – trust me – the juvenilia was much, much worse.

The Secret Files of the Diogenes ClubAt the age of eleven, in 1970-71, I wrote ‘plays’ – cursory adaptations of Universal or Hammer horror films roughly put on in drama lessons at Dr Morgan’s Grammar School. Don’t be too hasty to sneer – Stephen King started out by handing round his ‘novelisation’ of Roger Corman’s Pit and the Pendulum on his playground. Like Universal and Hammer, I got into sequels quickly: after a one-page Dracula, I followed up with Dracula Returns. This wasn’t an adaptation, though originality was not a strong suit: the plot featured a honeymooning English couple menaced by Dracula (another long-running character in my work) in Transylvania. I described a certain castle as having ‘turrets reeking of evil’, which explains why I’m not reproducing any more of my teenage prose here. Our heroes were Richard Jeperson, occultist know-it-all, and his new wife, Vanessa. Watched by some classmates, I played Dracula, and Brian Smedley – who later wrote the music for some of my theatrical efforts, including The Gold-Diggers of 1981 and the near-legendary “Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock” (with Eugene Byrne and Neil Gaiman) – was Richard Jeperson. Dr Morgan’s was an all-boys’ school, so it’s no wonder the player cast as Vanessa didn’t make enough of an impression for me to remember who he was.

In the early 1970s, I typed up a book’s-worth of Richard Jeperson stories, in which he mixed with more vampires, mummies, a golem, a zombie in a bikini (I should get round to rewriting that one), a secret society, lost civilisations, etc. In these, he picked up some of the supporting cast who’re still around – sidekick Fred Regent, gloomy Welsh Inspector Price, exotic Zarana (originally an Ancient Egyptian princess, though I like her more as a stripper) – and the idea that he was part of an extended ‘family’ of ghost-hunters. In 1973, I even wrote a novel, The Amazing Dr Leon Theodore Karell, in which he was a supporting character: the lead was a music hall magician revived a hundred years on as a heroic vampire (I was mixing the premises of Adam Adamant Lives! and Blacula). The best thing to be said about this effort was that I finished it – I even sent it to a publisher (who sent it back). After that, I got on with other things. I doubt if I gave a moment’s thought to Richard until Dark Detectives came up – though, now I come to think of it, Charles Beauregard, hero of the Anno Dracula books, was in the flashback sequences of The Amazing Dr etc, so this stuff has been creeping back into my work through the years. The lesson is: never throw anything away.

Mysteries of the Diogenes ClubBesides me being grown-up and less impressed by reeking turrets, things had changed for Richard between 1973 and 1997. I decided he and Vanessa weren’t married, for a start: because I wanted them to have one of those Steed-and-Mrs Peel relationships. And I had a backer for his adventuring. In the Anno Dracula books and other odd stories (like ‘Angel Down, Sussex’), I’d been working out a history for the Diogenes Club, sponsor of several generations of my investigative characters. This was especially useful for the ‘pass the parcel’ plot of ‘Seven Stars’. The Club comes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories (read ‘The Greek Interpreter’, if you want to check out its first appearance [3]) but my version was specifically inspired by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, where it’s a covert, high-handed British secret service responsible for passing off an experimental submarine as the Loch Ness Monster. Like Alan Moore in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I was influenced by Philip José Farmer’s Tarzan and Doc Savage biographies, with their complex family tree of other people’s fictional characters. There’s less of that in these stories than in the Anno Dracula books – though score extra points for ticking off Carnacki, Flaxman Low, Sir Henry Merivale and one or two others, not to mention knowing where in my work you can meet Myra Lark, General Skinner, Stacy Cotterill and Heather Wilding. Borrowed folk who pop in here and have been in other Newman (or Newman-Byrne) efforts include Colonel Moran and Sergeant Grimshaw.

When I created Richard, I gave no thought to him as a ‘typical’ character of the 1970s. This wasn’t just because I was eleven: I didn’t think of Sally Rhodes as a 1980s/90s character when I created her, but the stories she appears in now seem to me rooted in those decades. When I went back to Richard, I saw that he was a very 1970s fellow, and I spotted all the influences Steve later pointed out, and made an effort to work in even more. A few remain well-enough known to need no further explanation: The Avengers, a 1960s show well-remembered in the ‘70s (and sequelised in The New Avengers), and various inacrnations of the Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who or James Bond franchises (even Scooby-Doo’s Mystery, Inc.). But also in the mix that informs Jeperson and his world are less often-repeated UK TV series: psychic detective efforts like Ace of Wands (little Neil Gaiman’s favourite – about a mystery-solving magician named Tarot and his owl Ozymandias) and The Omega Factor (ESP and spy stuff from 1979) and Victoriana like The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (with Donald Pleasence in one episode as Carnacki) and Robert Muller’s Supernatural (about a tale-tellers’ institution, the Club of the Damned). While Columbo, McCloud, Kolchak, Rockford, et. al., were busy in America, British television had ‘tecs, cops and spies like Jason King (played by Peter Wyngarde in Department S and the sillier sequel series Jason King), Marker (Alfred Burke in The Public Eye), Callan (Edward Woodward – Best Spy Show Ever, it’s official!), Barlow and Watt (Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor, who started in realistic shows like Z Cars and Softly Softly, then moved to poring over historical evidence about Jack the Ripper and Richard III), Paul Temple (Francis Matthews), The Incredible Robert Baldick (a terrific one-off by Terry Nation, starring Robert Hardy), Eddie Shoestring (Trevor Eve) and The Professionals.

Also, the racks at W.H. Smith’s were loaded with 30p-a-throw paperbacks mingling mystery and the occult, often with a vaguely counterculture tinge and under 120 pages: Robert Lory’s Dracula series (which began, like Richard Jeperson, with an instalment called Dracula Returns), Frank Lauria’s books about Owen Orient (Doctor Orient, Lady Sativa), Philip José Farmer’s racy Image of the Beast and Blown, Peter Saxon’s ‘Guardians’ series (The Haunting of Alan Mais, The Killing Bone, etc), Michael Avallone’s ‘Satan Sleuth’ series (The Werewolf Walks Tonight, Devil, Devil), Richard Tate’s lone ‘Marcus Obadiah Mystery’ For the Dead Travel Fast, anthologies edited by Michel Parry and Peter Haining, Demons by Daylight by Ramsey Campbell (who’d started writing when he wasn’t much older than I was then – and was much better at it), and pulpy New English Library one-offs like Night of the Vampire or Village of Blood. These were the things I read in the 1970s, and which percolated — along with fashions, music, food, politics, jokes, interior design (we had inflatable chairs in our living room, which was papered with pictures clipped from Sunday supplements), attitudes, haircuts, scandals, slang – in my subconscious for the years I wasn’t thinking of writing about Richard Jeperson. When I came to him again, all this stuff bubbled up, and filled out his world. Most of the stories started with me thinking about aspects of the 1970s or vintage occult mystery fiction I wanted to play with – left-over seaside arcades (I remember working dioramas exactly like the execution collection in ‘End of the Pier Show’) and the brand of hooliganism found in NEL books popular at my school (Skinhead, etc, by Richard Allen – author, under another name, of Count Dracula and the Virgins of the Undead), the changing tone of British smut, brainwashing camps in picturesque countryside retreats like in The Prisoner, something set on a train (a 1960s TV serial had Laurence Payne as Sexton Blake solving a mystery on a train), the huge underground installations blown up at the end of every Bond film, etc.

The 1970s were bright, but grim: glam rock and the three-day week, moon missions and Watergate, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Star Wars. I didn’t ‘get’ a lot of it while it was going on, but I keep being pulled back there – I suspect everyone feels that way about the decade they spent between the ages of ten and twenty, but the 1970s really were an up-in-the-air era, between the openness of the Swinging Sixties and the oppression of the Iron Eighties.

Richard Jeperson was there. He knows what really happened. And now, so do you.

1: Cursitor Doom investigated occult mysteries in Smash! comic in the early 1970s. Some reprints renamed him Amadeus Wolf or Septimus Drood. After appearing in Moore, Moore and Reppion’s Albion series, Doom returned to Smash! in a story scripted by Maura McHugh, webmistress of this very site! His return makes him a bit less obscure than when I first wrote this introduction.

2: Guess what? Twenty-three years after Trent’s Last Case (1913), Bentley did produce a sequel – Trent’s Own Case. And some short stories collected in Trent Intervenes.

3: This story, in which Holmes screws up the case completely, also introduces Sherlock’s brother Mycroft – which tends to eclipse the fact that it features one of Doyle’s best female characters, Sophy Kratides, who progresses from imperilled damsel/doormat to assassin. Sophy has shown up in my Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles and Angels of Music and her daughter Moria is in the Drearcliff Grange books.

Kim Newman, London, 2005 (rev. 2015; footnotes 2020)

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