Monday, November 23, 2020

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Horror on the Links

I find it hard to believe that, after more than two hundred posts in the Pulp Fantasy Library series, I've only ever written a single post about the writings of Seabury Quinn. What makes it so unbelievable is that Quinn was a prolific writer, penning more than 500 pieces of fiction during his 80 years of life, most of which were published in the pages of Weird Tales – including the story I'll be discussing in this post.  

Quinn himself was quite an unusual individual. To the extent that anyone remembers him at all today, it's as a pulp writer, which might have surprised him, since he considered fiction writing to be a sideline to his "real" professions of journalism and law. His legal specialty was, believe it or not, mortuary law. Consequently, he knew a great deal about funerals, funeral homes, embalming, and related subjects that he put to good use in his fiction. He also served as the editor (and occasional writer) of several funerary magazines. 

Quinn created several long-running series of stories, the most successful of which were the tales of French occult detective Jules de Grandin (Grandin being Quinn's middle name). His first appearance was in the October 1925 issue of Weird Tales in a story entitled "The Horror on the Links." The story begins with Dr Trowbridge being awakened in the night by a phone call from Mrs Maitland, informing him that "something dreadful" has happened to her son, Paul, after he returned from a dance at at the country club with Gladys Phillips. 

Physicians' sleep is like a park–public property. With a sigh, I climbed out of bed and into my clothes, teased my superannuated motor to life and set out for the Maitland house.

Young Maitland lay on his bed, eyes closed, teeth clenched, his face set in an expression of unutterable dread, even in his unconsciousness. Across his shoulders and on the back of his arms, I found several long incised wounds, as though the flesh had been raked by a sharp pronged instrument.

Paul Maitland briefly awakens under Trowbridge's care, crying out, "The ape-thing–the ape-thing! It's got me! Open the door; for God's sake, open the door!" Trowbridge uses a sedative to calm Paul and then returns home to catch up on his own sleep. 

The next morning, he awakens to "the front page of the paper lying beside my breakfast grapefruit," announcing "Body of Young Woman Found Near Sedgemore Country Club Mystifies Police." Reading the story, Trowbridge learns that the mutilated body of Sarah Humphreys, a waitress at the country club, was discovered lying in one of the bunkers of the club's golf course. Since Paul Maitland had also been at the same club, Trowbridge immediately assumes a connection between the murder and what happened to the young man.

The doctor's housekeeper, Nora McGinnis, interrupts his reading of the paper to announce that Sergeant Costello and "a Frinchman, or Eyetalian, or sumpin" were both waiting for him downstairs "ter ax ye questions about th' murther of th' pore little Humphreys gurl." Alarmed that he might be considered a suspect, he rushes to meet them. Costello quickly reassures him that this is not the case, only that he wishes to ask him some additional questions about Paul Maitland – and to introduce him to Professor Jules de Grandin of the Paris police. 

De Grandin introduces himself, explaining that, while he does work with the Paris police, his "principal work is at the University of Paris and St. Lazaire Hospital; at present [he] combine[s] the vocation of savant with the avocation of criminologist." Trowbridge admits that he knows De Grandin by reputation and this pleases the Frenchman, who explains his interest in Paul Maitland. Together, they go to the recovering young man and ask him about what he experienced the previous night.

Maitland tells them that he had come across a woman's body, lying across the path. He started toward it and was surprised by a rustling in the trees overhead, as something dropped right down in front of him. He had no idea what the thing was but was sure it was not human, being shorter in height than himself but twice as wide. He carried a .22 automatic in his pocket and repeatedly pointed the weapon at the thing, threatening to shoot if it did not identify itself. The creature was unimpressed and leapt at him, grabbing the gun from his hand and snapping it in half before grabbing him and rending his flesh. Maitland had no idea what the creature was but repeated that "it was hairy as an ape." It's at this point that the true investigation begins, with Trowbridge and De Grandin working side by side for the first time.

"The Horror on the Links" is by no means a story for the ages, even by the standards of pulp literature. It's full of clichéd characters and situations and the ultimate resolution of the story's central mystery is disappointing, to put it mildly. Yet, for all that, there's still something fun about it. Perhaps it's the melodramatic verve with which Quinn presents it all, especially when it comes to De Grandin and Trowbridge and their Holmes and Watson dynamic by way of Thomas Carnacki and Hercule Poirot. There's a strange charm to whole mess of this tale that, for me anyway, almost overcomes its narrative deficiencies. I suppose, too, that I'm simply so fond of the occult detective genre that I'm willing to overlook the flaws of "The Horror in the Links." Even so, no one should read this post and think I am unaware of the story's many issues. Instead, the takeaway should be that there are many metrics by which one can judge the quality of a story – particularly a pulp one – and simple enjoyment is one of them. I enjoyed "The Horror on the Links" and maybe that's enough.


  1. As a resident of New Jersey (where the Jules de Grandin stories are set), I've been circling the reprints of the Seabury Quinn stories ever since the Bad Books for Bad People podcast (hosted by Jack Guignol and Tenebrous Kate) covered it. Quite an enjoyable episode (if I recall correctly) in a very enjoyable and informative series!

    (And, yes, Jack Guignol is the fella behind "Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque.")

  2. Fans of audio books (which I like for travel and while painting and modeling) can find quite a bit of Quinn's work online with some poking around. Many of them are unfortunately quite poorly done (the biggest block I've found is all TTS device "robot voice" work) but if you can suffer through the readers the plots hold up well - and I've heard a few I never encountered in text form.

  3. I just read the first volume of Night Shade Books's de Grandin reprints. Although this first story is fun, I don't consider it among the best of the ones I've read so far.

    The Isle of Missing Ships is a very fun story with some nasty business involving cannibalism. The White Lady of the Orphanage is another cannibalism story that has some very effective moments. And The House of Horror is a very mean story about a madman disfiguring young women through surgery. On the whole, I've found the series entertaining, although it is mostly formulaic, as many have said.

    Quinn did write Roads, which is one of my favorite Christmas stories. He definitely had talent.

  4. I remember "Horror on the Links" fondly. My father may have read it aloud to me. "