I’ve been having a blast flashing back to the past with this delightful short story collection from one of the best minds in the British fantasy/horror genre.
For anyone who loves The Avengers and their precursor Adam Adamant Lives!, the stories in The Man From The Diogenes Club will take you back to that Day-Glo era of impossible crimes solved with a stiff upper lip, a quick quip, a light sprinkling of sex and kink – and in this case, a hip wardrobe glam enough to make the Velvet Underground jealous.
THE MAN FROM THE DIOGENES CLUB
Introducing Richard Jeperson . . . in the 1970s the most valued member of a venerable institution, the Diogenes Club — least publicized of Britain’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies. His cases involve haunted trains and seaside resorts, murders in utopian communities and London’s vice district, voodoo and mind-altering therapies. His fashion sense is gaudy, his enemies deadly, and his associates glamorous.
As originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories, the Diogenes Club – established by Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft –was a place where anti-social gentlemen could gather to be left alone to read, relax, and escape human interaction. Talking was forbidden. It was director Billy Wilder, however, who first saw the club’s potential for intrigue when he placed it at the heart of his ‘70s film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
Since then The Diogenes Club has popped up in numerous Holmsian pastiches, gradually evolving through the hands of several writers into a front for the British Secret Service.
Newman’s stories in The Man From The Diogenes Club and other collections make full use of this conceit to chronicle the activities of various agents of the Club (described in his stories as "an institution that quietly existed to cope with matters beyond the purview of regular police and intelligence services") throughout the 20th century, particularly in the 1920s, 1940s and 1970s – a secret cabal dedicated to protecting England from menaces too bizarre for public knowledge.
As in The Avengers, Newman's stories most often revolve around plots of a paranormal or occult nature. In fact, there are times Newman appears to be channeling Avenger’s creator and head writer Brian Clemens, so close does he come to capturing the fluff and fun of that show.
Richard Jeperson (think Jason King from the British TV series of the same name), the titular hero of The Man from the Diogenes Club, is the organization's top agent during the 1960s and 1970s. He dresses and behaves like a glam rocker – much to the distress of some of the club's more traditional members. He is Steed by character, not wardrobe.
His partner Vanessa has equally mysterious origins and their ambiguous yet percolating sexuality echoes Steed and Emma Peel’s classic mod-spy adult relationship.
Heavily laced with references to British pop culture, Jeperson and Vanessa take on mind-control, supercomputers, reality-warping psychics, ritual murders, Egyptian curses, megalomaniacs, utopias, and more – every case giving a fresh twist to pulp-fiction tropes. The adventures ooze glam and mod stylishness. These are clever and amusing stories, true pastiches which never slip into parody or satire. Genuine thrills.
A second collection of Newman’s Diogenes Club stories was published in 2008 with a third collection set for this year. I’ll be digging out my matching outfit to Jespersen’s "floor-length green suede Edwardian motorist’s coat over tiger-striped orange-and-black silk shirt, zebra-striped white and black flared jeans and handmade zigzag-striped yellow-and-black leather moccasins,” and be settling in for a good read.