Literature / Diogenes Club
A series of short stories by Kim Newman
First, a paragraph of historical context and disambiguation: The Diogenes Club was created by Arthur Conan Doyle
for a Sherlock Holmes
story, in which it was an eccentric gentleman's club catering to gentlemen who wanted access to the facilities of a club but didn't get on well with other people; Holmes's brother Mycroft was a member. The movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
proposed that the Diogenes was a front for, and Mycroft Holmes a senior official of, the British
. Kim Newman used this interpretation in his novel Anno Dracula
, in which an agent of the Diogenes Club investigates Jack the Ripper
and discovers a conspiracy leading to the highest levels of government.
In these short stories, Newman presents a somewhat different Diogenes Club: Not the British secret service, but a
British secret service, devoted to investigating the weird and improbable, from the return of Zombie Hitler
to an insane murderer who devotes his kills to the goblins Snap, Crackle, and Pop
The main sequence of stories range from Victorian Britain
, when Mycroft Holmes presided over the Club in its familiar form, to The '80s
, when dark behind-the-scenes forces used the British government's enthusiasm for privatisation to have the Club officially dismantled and replaced by a tame band of paranormal investigators with electronic detectors and a silly acronym. Each story is a stylistic pastiche of the investigator of the unknown and/or secret agent fiction of the period in which it's set, with much Lampshade Hanging
and other playing with tropes. (And then there's The Serial Murders
, featuring a Show Within a Show
soap opera, which explicitly lampshades a whole new set of genre tropes.)
The period that gets the most attention is The '70s
, when Richard Jeperson, psychic detective and glam fashion enthusiast, was the Club's best agent, ably assisted by the elegant Vanessa
and the down-to-earth Fred Regent. These stories homage British TV series such as The Avengers
, Adam Adamant Lives!
, and Jason King
(to whom Richard is explicitly compared at least once — discussing who will play a fictional version of him, he mentions that "the name Peter Wyngarde keeps coming up.")
Other featured periods include Victorian Britain
, with Charles Beauregard and Kate Reed (alternate versions of whom featured in Anno Dracula
); and The Twenties
, and Forties
, with Edwin Winthrop and Catriona Kaye (who had previously appeared as supporting characters in the nominally standalone novel Jago
, which also introduced the paranormal investigators with the silly acronym).
If the Richard Jeperson stories are episodes of a 1970s TV show, "Swellhead
" is the inevitable 21st-century backdoor-pilot revival telemovie, in which Richard is called out of retirement to face a problem only he can solve, picks up a new able assistant, and decides it's past time he resumed his adventures.
...and that's where the series ends. For now.
Originally published in a wide variety of places, most of the stories have been collected in a series of books: The Man from the Diogenes Club
, Secret Files of the Diogenes Club
, and Mysteries of the Diogenes Club
. New stories still occasionally appear.
Stories in this series with their own trope pages include:
Other stories in this series provide examples of:
- Alternate Universe: To the Anno Dracula series, with which it shares quite a few characters (particularly among the members of the Diogenes Club), with subtle and sometimes less-subtle differences.
- Anal Probing: Happens to one of the characters in "Angel Down, Sussex", but since the alien visitors' appearance and actions vary depending on the expectations of the people they encounter, this really says more about him than about the aliens.
- Animal Theme Naming: In "You Don't Have To Be Mad..." the staff at the Retreat are Dr. Myra Lark, Miss Dove, Miss Wren, Miss Robin, Miss Sparrow and Sergeant-Mistress Finch. Dr. Mrs. Myrna Swan in The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School may or may not be related.
- Army of the Ages: The armies of Shadow London in the story "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch". The Great Enchanter has all the mythical Barbarians at the Gate: "Vikings, French infantry, Roman legionnaires, ragged cavaliers, fire-spreaders, shaggy Anglo-Saxons, Martian squid-vampires, rowdies from the country and Prussian Uhlans". The good guys have "redcoats with muskets, knights in armour, tommies in tin hats, roundheads and cavaliers shoulder to shoulder, bloods and blades, pearly kings and queens, costers, tarts, loafers, brawlers, football fanatics with scarves and rattles, the haut ton and the demi-monde, air-raid wardens, firemen, peelers, bobbies, Bow Street Runners, Chelsea pensioners, dandies, strollers and — yes! — Dick Whittington's Cat."
- Asshole Victim: Peeter Blame in "Clubland Heroes". He's a small-minded, pompous little busybody whose hobby was apparently suing almost everyone he came into contact with, and who seemed to take great pleasure in getting the law imposed as harshly as possible on people for even the mildest of infractions. Subverted, however, in that it is made abundantly clear that being a small-minded and pompous little man isn't an offence punishable by death and his personality does not make it okay for someone to dismissively bludgeon him to death as if he was nothing. Not even if said murderer was one of the finest heroes in the land.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: Of a sort; the Richard Jeperson stories frequently suggest that British commercial television broadcasting is literally run by the Devil (or a being who is as close as makes no real difference) and that advertising is akin to evil mind-controlling. Most of the 1970s TV shows that influence the Jeperson stories, however, were themselves broadcast on British commercial television.
- Blitz Evacuees: An unpleasant childhood experience of being a Blitz evacuee comes back to haunt one of the characters in "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train".
- Broad Strokes: Newman's typical attitude to continuity. For instance, "Seven Stars" was apparently written with the continuity of "The Original Dr Shade" in mind, in which Shade is a pulp fiction character owned by Leech. Later Diogenes stories have him as a real person. So by the end of "Seven Stars", Genevieve has apparently forgotten meeting his sister (in "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch") and son (in "Cold Snap") and thinks of him as entirely fictional.
- The Diogenes Club can change between stories from a society of paranormal investigators who handle psychic phenomena to an "ordinary" espionage agency whose adventures just happen to be pretty bizarre and campy. "Swellhead" seems to reconcile this by suggesting that it's a parallel universe thing.
- Canon Welding:
- While Kim Newman has seeded connections between his books since the beginning, "Cold Snap" seems to be a concentrated effort to tie them all together. Apart from featuring characters whose Alternate Universe selves appear in the Anno Dracula novels, it adds characters from his early work such as Jago, and even features the villain from his Doctor Who novella Time and Relative.
- Cool Car: The Rolls Royce ShadowShark, only five of which were ever made — Sinister vigilante Dr. Shade had one, Corrupt Corporate Executive Derek Leech has one, and Richard Jeperson has three. (Richard also has a Peel Trident, although whether that counts as a cool car depends on one's viewpoint and particularly on whether one has ever had to cram into it alongside Richard.)
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Derek Leech, physical embodiment of global consumerism — think Richard Branson's evil twin. In the Diogenes Club stories, he appears mostly as a lurking presence, The Man Behind the Man behind some of the threats the Club faces; his big starring moments mostly come in other Kim Newman stories set in The '80s, after the Club disbandment (which he is implied to have engineered).
- Costume Porn: Richard Jeperson wears a different eye-searingly-1970s outfit in every story, and each is described in loving detail.
- Cross Through: Seven Stars, a sequence of novellas in which various generations of the Diogenes Club one after the other have to deal with the same cursed artifact.
- Deconstruction: The stories are more-or-less loving homages to the various styles of popular fiction from the eras that they are set in (Victorian 'boy's own' adventures, 1930s and 1940s pulp adventure novels, 1970s 'glam' detective TV shows, etc), but generally tend to feature a bit more social commentary and focus on the darker side of things around the time. The genres themselves also tend to be deconstructed, either through judicious use of Expys or, when an original character shows up, exposing their rougher edges.
- Direct Line to the Author: Sometimes hinted at in the author's notes; one mentions that a particular detail has been withheld at the request of the current head of the Diogenes Club, implied to be Vanessa.
- Enemy Mine: "Cold Snap" has Derek Leech and the Diogenes Club joining forces to save the world.
- Empathic Shapeshifter: The creature in "Angel Down, Sussex". Of three investigators who get a look at it, the starry-eyed spiritist from Edinburgh sees a fey changeling, the gleefully-depraved occultist sees a succubus which proceeds to anal-probe him, and the skeptic just sees it as a hoaxer. At the end someone wonders what it might appear as to someone decades from now.
- The Fair Folk: The antagonists in "The Gypsies in the Wood".
- FBI Agent: The heroes' American counterparts, seen in "The Big Fish" and "Moon Moon Moon", are FBI agents. "Moon Moon Moon" explains that they're agents of a federal bureau of investigation, which is not the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- Footnote Fever: All the more recent stories include footnotes or endnotes explaining obscure historical or cultural details that might not be familiar to foreign readers. The cultural notes are pretty reliable, but the historical notes are written from an In-Universe perspective and have a habit of not distinguishing between genuine history and Shout-Outs to other works of fiction.
- Framing Device: In "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", Richard Jeperson tells Fred Regent the story of his first major mission for the Diogenes Club, and his first meeting with Vanessa, on the eve of what turns out to be Vanessa's departure.
- Fun with Acronyms: The organisation that takes over when the Club is put out of business in the '80s is the Institute for Psi Tech; its official abbreviation is IΨT, pronounced "Eyesight".
- Gadget Watch: It's strongly implied that there's something interesting about Charles Beauregard's pocket watch "with the intricate crystal workings." The Undertaking refuse to let him into their HQ while carrying it, and he certainly refuses to let them look after it while he's there. Sadly, the glossary page explaining what it does has been censored by the current Diogenes chairperson.
- Gas Leak Cover-Up: In "Moon Moon Moon", the area around a magical working is cordoned off by police because of an "anthrax spill". Jeperson comments to his American counterpart that if every anthrax spill in Britain was genuine, the whole country would be awash with the stuff. She replies that her superiors prefer "experimental nerve gas"... unless it is experimental nerve gas, in which case they blame it on foot-and-mouth disease.
- Goofy Suit: "The Gypsies in the Wood" features a Victorian children's book entrepreneur who has invented Souvenir Land fifty years early. Charles Beauregard has to go undercover as a teddy bear called Sir Boris de Bruin.
- Hypothetical Fight Debate: Parodied in the story "The Gypsies in the Wood", where Uncle Sat's Faerie stories have an insanely complicated class structure as an essential part of the text, leading to kids have similar arguments about orders of precedence.
- It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: Adam Onions, the ineffectual psychic researcher who appears in several stories, is constantly having to explain that his surname is pronounced "o-NYE-ons". This does nothing to help the general impression most people have of him that he's a smug prat.
- Just Think of the Potential: The Institute for Psi Tech's main failing is that, as the name suggests, it approaches the paranormal with the question "What technological applications can we derive from this?" instead of, for instance, "What are the chances that playing around with this will get everyone killed?"
- Kid Detective:
- Richard Riddle, Boy Detective, who assists the Diogenes Club in "The Gypsies in the Wood", and in whose honour Richard Jeperson was named.
- A darker version appears in "Clubland Heroes" with Richard "Clever Dick" Cleaver; he's an off-the-scale genius who, unlike the more pleasant and engaging Richard Riddle, is also a snide, stuck-up and humourless little snot. And then when he appears in "Cold Snap" following the ignominious end of his child-detecting career, he's let bitterness warp him into a genocidal maniac.
- Legacy Character: "Cold Snap", set in the 1970s, introduces Jamie Chambers, son of 1930s vigilante Jonathan "Dr. Shade" Chambers. By the end of the story, he's considering going into the family business as Jamie Shade. An author's note adds that the current holder of the Shade Legacy is Christine Chambers, aka Lady Shade.
- Another author's note says the current Diogenes includes Lady Shade, Ghost Lantern Girl III (the original gets mentioned in The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School), and Karl Rattray, presumably a descendent of Blackfist of the Splendid Six, from "Clubland Heroes".
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: Referenced not only in regard to Newman himself and Arthur Conan Doyle, but the other fictional characters that cameo; for instance in "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch" Winthrop bumps into the Earl of Emsworth unleashing a Cluster F-Bomb and reflects how much P. G. Wodehouse has to clean up the Earl's language.
- Lives in a Van: In "Cold Snap", Jamie Chambers is living the back of his van when Vanessa tracks him down. This is contrasted with his famous ancestor, Jonathan Chambers aka Dr Shade, who was a successful vigilante with a secret base in a major London landmark.
- Magicians Are Wizards: The Great Edmondo in "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch".
- Meaningful Name: The psychiatrist in "You Don't Have to Be Mad..." is Dr. Ballance, which sounds like a good name for a psychiatrist — but a slightly fuller rendition of his name reveals him as Dr. I. M. Ballance — imbalance.
- The Men in Black: "The Undertaking", an Edwardian British group of MIBs, who are a rival organisation to the heroes (the Diogenes is, essentially, UNIT to the Undertaking's Torchwood). They have Code Names like Mr. Hay, Mr. Bee and Mr. Sea, which is probably a Shout-Out to the names in Men in Black.
- Mister Strange Noun: The Undertakers.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: In "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", it's mentioned that as a schoolboy Richard Jeperson was horrified by how many of his teachers fantasized about massacring their students; after a while, he realised that the fantasies were a form of stress release and that the really dangerous ones were among those who didn't.
- Morality Pet: A common thread throughout the stories is that the various agents of the Diogenes Club we encounter often feel they need a 'normal' person around both to represent the everyday people whom the Club are battling their various evils in defence of and to prevent said agents from going down a slippery slope that could see them become the things they fight against. Kate Reed fills this role for Charles Beauregard in the Victorian stories, Catriona Kaye for Edwin Winthrop in the 1920s stories, Fred Regent for Richard Jeperson and Vanessa in the 1970s stories, and so forth.
- Mythology Gag:
- "Moon Moon Moon" mentions that the Diogenes Club was aware of Dracula's activities but correctly concluded that Dr. Van Helsing could handle it without their assistance. Anno Dracula shows what might have happened if they were wrong.
- In "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch", Charles Beauregard is going through the Club's collection of contingency plans created by the late great Mycroft Holmes, and finds one labelled "In the event of the marriage of the sovereign to an evil consort with supernatural powers". In the Anno Dracula series, an alternate version of the Diogenes Club faced just such a contingency, and Charles Beauregard was a key player in Mycroft Holmes's plan for dealing with it.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- "You Don't Have To Be Mad..." features a Bedlam House where inmates are taught to focus their insanity in specific ways, the Big Bad believing that madness will be a way of life in The '80s, and his patients will be the leaders. In the asylum they're known by nicknames based on their real names and their particular insanities, including the sociopathic Mrs. Empty (M.T. - Margaret Thatcher); the egomaniac Rumour (Ru-Mur - Rupert Murdoch), and the quiet killer Peace (P.S. - Peter Sutcliffe).
- "Soho Golem" has an in-universe example, with Fred encountering a trashy paperback novel about the exploits of a trio of ghost-hunters named "Robert Jasperson", "Clitoria", and "Bert Royale".
- Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: "The End Of The Pier Show' skewers nostalgia for World War II; a group of old veterans have used magic to force an old seaside town to be as it was during the war because they don't like modern times and preferred the war, when everyone 'pulled together' and things were 'much better'. Curiously, the 'modern times' they can't get the hang of are the 1970s, and the hero bluntly tells them that whilst the decade isn't perfect, they have to suck it up and move on; they have no right to force their outdated ways on the present just because they can't get the hang of decimalisation. He also notes that in their rosy-eyed view of the war years, they've conveniently forgotten the rather nasty group of people over the channel who were the whole reason for the war in the first place — and who also have a presence in their little fantasy-land...
- Occult Detective: A role commonly taken by members of the Diogenes Club.
- Only One Name: Vanessa. "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train" reveals that she was a foundling child, who knew her given name but not her surname or anything about her family; in the same story, she goes looking for her past, and doesn't find it, but settles the surname question by falling in love and getting married.
- Phantasy Spelling: Mocked in "The Gypsies in the Wood", featuring a series of children's stories about faeries (including The Aerie Faerie Annual). One character rhetorically asks what's wrong with the word "fairy".
- Phony Psychic: Played for laughs in "Angel Down, Sussex"; a young woman, Catriona, visits a psychic after World War I, and the psychic divines that she is seeking contact with a soldier, Edwin; the psychic assures her that her soldier felt no pain when he died and that he sends his love to her from the afterlife, and a ghostly, indistinct image appears. After a moment, Catriona points out that there's one problem with the psychic's reading: Edwin, the soldier who the psychic has made such direct contact with? Isn't actually dead. Turns out Catriona's a particularly savvy paranormal investigator, and proceeds to deconstruct the psychic's act with devastating accuracy and reveal to her other patrons that she's a sham.
- The Power of Rock: The spell covering the town and creating the Demon Nazis in "The End Of The Pier Show" is weakened and ultimately broken by Jeperson arranging to have Let It Be and Abbey Road played through the town's civil defence system.
- Psychic Powers: a few characters have them and psychic phenomena are Diogenes' bread and butter in most stories.
- Richard Jeperson seems to predominantly have some kind of psychometry along with, occasionally, telepathy.
- Sewell Head in "Swellhead" is a contrast to Richard in that his power allows him to pick up facts instead of feelings, making him trivia champion of the world.
- Annette in "The Man Who Got Off The Ghost Train" is precognitive.
- Psycho Psychologist: Dr Myra Lark in "You Don't Have To Be Mad..." and other stories. Described in the character sheet of Secret Files of the Diogenes Club as more interested in the uses of the mentally disturbed than in curing them. Also her superior in "You Don't Have To Be Mad..." Dr. I. M. Ballance.
- Public-Domain Character: Several are named as past members or allies of the Diogenes Club, including Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and Dr John Silence. And then there's the Club's founder, who is more or less explicitly identified as Mycroft Holmes depending on the copyright situation in the time and place each story was first published.
- Rapunzel Hair: The actress known only as "Pony-Tail" in "Soho Golem". Given the kind of film she appears in, it often takes the role of Godiva Hair too.
- Rummage Fail: In "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", Harry Cutley has a waking nightmare in which he empties out his pockets to find his train ticket, pulling out more stuff than his pockets should easily be able to hold, including a book he knows he lost months ago and, at one point, a long string of colored handkerchiefs.
- Secret War: The various Weird Wars. Every so often an evil Great Enchanter arises, and it's the Club's job to put him down again.
If won, it would only be written of in the secret histories. If lost, there would be no more histories, secret or otherwise.
- Shame If Something Happened: In "Soho Golem", a local gangland boss attempts to secure Jeperson's cooperation in the investigation of the rather horrific supernatural execution of one of his colleagues by intimidating him with a threat of this nature. Jeperson's response is to cheerfully laugh in his face and to inform the gangster that his threats are meaningless; not only has Jeperson come across too many nastier things in his time to be intimidated by some thug, but the supernatural nature of the threat mean the rules the gangster lives by no longer apply here, and he's dependent on Jeperson's goodwill to remain in the land of the living, not the other way around.
- The villains in two of the earliest stories (by publication date) are named after two of Newman's fellow British dark-fantasy authors, Michael Marshall Smith and Iain Banks.
- The central MacGuffin of Seven Stars is The Jewel of Seven Stars.
- In "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", the express train's colorful history includes a notorious incident involving Colonel Sebastian Moran. The details are different, but this is a shout-out to Terror By Night, in which Moran is the villain, and which is likewise set on an express train to Scotland with a macguffin the heroes are guarding.
- Smug Super: The Splendid Six in "Clubland Heroes". In "Cold Snap" one of them has a Face–Heel Turn without his personality changing in the slightest.
- Souvenir Land: "The Gypsies in the Wood" features one in Victorian Britain, based on a best-selling series of children's books about faeries which may have been inspired by actual fairies.
- Two-Fisted Tales: "Clubland Heroes" is a deconstruction.
- While Rome Burns: Subverted in "Soho Golem"; the supernatural gangland murder investigation takes the heroes to a decadent party/orgy held by a local porn baron, where everyone is enjoying themselves immensely ... except the people who are under threat from recent events. All of whom, the heroes note, look very, very worried.
- Year X: Although it's always clear which decade a story is set in, they're generally vague beyond that point, and at least one of the stories is explicitly stated to be set in "197-".
- Youthful Freckles: Eight-year-old Vanessa in "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train".