Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Man From the Diogenes Club [book]

The cover of The Man from the Diogenes Club by Kim Newman
Imagine, if you will, a blend of The New Avengers, The Prisoner, Jason King and Tales of the Unexpected. Possibly stir in a bit of Sapphire and Steel. You might just come close to imagining The Man from the Diogenes Club.

The Diogenes Club first pops up in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but Kim Newman has taken the idea of a secret organisation and run with it in many of his novels. Throughout the Anno Dracula series (I've reviewed Anno Dracula and The Bloody Red Baron already) he features the Club as a sort of secret service, defending humanity from the supernatural and strange. Naturally The Man From the Diognes Club features the Club, with many of the same faces, though it's not quite the same as in the Anno Dracula books – this is an alternate reality to Newman's alternate reality.

The stories are all set in the 1970s and early 1980s, apart from the last one which brings Jeperson into the present. In the first one, young policeman Fred Regent has infiltrated a skinhead gang, but when they break into the derelict building at the end of a pier and discover demon Nazis, things are getting very weird indeed. Fred manages to escape, and the Diogenes Club, in the shape of flamboyantly-dressed Richard Jeperson and his minxy redheaded woman of action, Vanessa (no surname) enter the proceedings. Jeperson feels very Jason King – if you've ever seen that show, or even just a photo from it, you'll picture Peter Wyngarde every time Jeperson is described. Vanessa is harder for me to picture; I mostly end up with one of Pan's People in my mind! Together the three of them tackle a sinister clinic, voodoo assassinations, the Soho Golem, and other bizarre enemies. Along the way they encounter the likes of soap stars, strippers and businessmen obsessed with Egypt.

Newman's 1970s is a colourful place, probably bearing the same relation to the real 1970s as Austin Powers did to the real 1960s: it's brighter, more exciting, more flamboyant. His 1980s is grimmer than his 1970s (and possibly the real decade), steelier, a hard era driven by greed. While the book is a series of short stories and you could read each one on its own, in sequence they do form a narrative. The changing relationships between the characters, and the way the world around them changes over time, gives these ostensibly lightweight, playful chapters an overall sense of depth and, dare I say it, melancholy. You'll find yourself thinking about Fred, Richard and Vanessa far more than you might expect to, and what at first seems cartoonish leaves a lasting impression.

4 comments :

  1. Ooohhh...sounds interesting! I'll be adding them to my to-read list.

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    1. It's very good! Anno Dracula is my absolute favourite, but they're all fun.

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  2. I like that this is an alternate reality of Newman's original alternate reality. That made me giggle!

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    1. It annoyed me years ago, but now I quite like it. So many writers tie themselves in knots with backstories and long, ongoing sagas. Newman is happy to slot his characters into stories that suit their personalities even if it doesn't gel with the rest of the stories.

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