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Literature / Clubland Heroes

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"Clubland Heroes" is a short story by Kim Newman in the Diogenes Club series. It is set in the 1920s, and features Catriona Kaye.

In a sleepy English village, a murder has been committed. An ordinary sort of murder — a man killed with a blunt instrument, apparently after interrupting a burglar — but with one extraordinary aspect: the village is also home to the Splendid Six, England's homegrown team of superheroes. The Diogenes is asked to make a quiet investigation in case there turn out to be sensitive details, and Catriona is dispatched to learn the truth about the death.

This story contains examples of:

  • Amulet of Concentrated Awesome: Blackfist, the leader of the Splendid Six, has an amulet which gives him super strength and physical invulnerability.
  • Asshole Victim: Peeter Blame was 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 beat his brains in as if he was an insignificant insect.
  • Beware the Superman: Cat notes that she's always felt a bit afraid of the Six despite herself, because what could the world do if they went rogue? The Club's answer? Turn them into laughingstocks. It works.
  • Break the Haughty: The Splendid Six experience this at the end. One of them murdered Peeter Blame, several of the others helped to cover it up, and even those who weren't directly involved kept silent about it, and all of them acted in the supreme confidence that no matter what, their public reputation and status would protect them. So since the Diogenes Club couldn't officially identify the guilty party or prove their involvement, they punished them by either exposing other dirty laundry they had or withholding their protection when others found it out, thus leading to their collective public disgrace and disbanding. They learn the hard way that no one is untouchable.
  • Brownface: The Mystic Maharajah, one of the Splendids, is actually an Englishman in brownface. Catriona takes some pleasure in realising that "Clever Dick" Cleaver, who gave her an embarrassingly thorough Sherlock Scan when they first met, is completely fooled by the Maharajah. It's not clear if the rest of the team knows.
  • Child Prodigy: Richard "Clever Dick" Cleaver, one of the Splendids, is an 11-year-old genius who's already graduated from university and secured an independent income from the patents on his inventions.
  • Contemporary Caveman: Lord Piltdown, one of the Splendids, is a protohominid who was found frozen in a glacier as a child and raised as an English gentleman. His manners and dress are impeccable, and he's reputed to write good poetry, but he never speaks.
  • Continuity Nod: Catriona mentions a period she spent pursuing fraudulent psychics, part of which is depicted in "Angel Down, Sussex".
  • Dem Bones: Partway through the story, the Splendid Six have an offscreen battle with skeletal warriors animated by a geas.
  • A Dick in Name: Riched "Clever Dick" Cleaver is an arrogant, bigoted jerk.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: Catriona reflects at one point that the Splendid Six aren't really suited to solving a murder mystery because they're more used to dealing with the kind of adversary who highjacks the airwaves and tells you exactly what they're going to do before they do it.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Richard "Clever Dick" Cleaver, the precocious Kid Detective member of the Splendid Six, suffers from rhotacism.
    "Last Whitsun half-holiday, I wecovered the Cwown Jewels. They had been stolen by Iwish oiks."
  • Faking and Entering: It doesn't take long for everyone to agree that the signs of an interrupted burglary were probably faked by the murderer to obscure the motive. Catriona eventually concludes that it served an additional purpose: the mess in the victim's study, and the extremely obviously stolen file, hide the more subtle absence of all the paperwork that would have substantiated his feud with the Splendids.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Peeter Blame spent much of his time taking people to court for trivial reasons; not frivolous in the strict sense, since his complaints often made it into court and when they did he usually won, but overreactions to situations that most people would have seen as not needing a court case to settle. Deconstructed; as Catriona investigates, she gets a picture of him as a man with an active mind and a strong drive to action who was deprived of a good cause into which to channel them, and gains some sympathy for him (balanced, however, by her sympathy for all the people he caused undeserved hardship for). And it turns out that the dispute that led to his death was one in which he had genuine, serious cause for complaint.
  • Grade Skipper: "Clever Dick" Cleaver is an extreme case; he graduated from Oxford with a double first in Chemistry and Oriental Languages at the age of ten.
  • Genre Refugee: Characters seem to unconsciously realize that the Six don't really.. "fit". All their missions play out like very badly-written comic stories (Clever Dick only appears intelligent because every non-Cat person around him misses incredibly obvious clues) and somehow they're publicly fighting massive supernatural threats in the same world as the Diogenes Club... which is keeping the existence of supernatural threats secret from the public.
  • High-Class Glass: Lord Piltdown wears a monocle.
  • Historical In-Joke: The story makes a point of the utter insignificance of the village where the Splendid Six are based, and how no traveller ever goes there. At the end, it's mentioned that the Splendids' now-abandoned base has been reclaimed by the government and turned into a military airfield — the airfield that in real life eventually evolved into London Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.
  • Horny Vikings: The Splendid Six reminisce about a fight against skeletal viking warriors. Clever Dick boasts that he could tell that they weren't real vikings because they were wearing helmets with horns on.
  • Human Popsicle: Lord Piltdown was found frozen in a glacier.
  • Inventor of the Mundane: "Clever Dick" Cleaver is said to be independently wealthy from his patent on a new more efficient kind of paper clip.
  • Kid Detective: One of the Splendids is Richard "Clever Dick" Cleaver, an eleven-year-old genius crime-solver.
  • Landmarking the Hidden Base: Mention is made of a vigilante called Dr Shade who has a secret lair in the Big Ben clock tower. Catriona remarks that she doesn't see the point of a hidden lair that everyone knows the location of.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Before getting recruited as a Splendid, the Mystic Maharajah was a stage magician. It's doubtful if he's really a wizard, though.
  • Mirroring Factions: During Catriona's debriefing, it's acknowledged that the villains' downfall is one that the Diogenes Club also has to guard against. In the heightened world of clubland heroes and criminal masterminds, it's easy to find a slippery slope or to forget the importance of the everyday people in whose defence you're supposedly acting. Part of Catriona's value to the Club is that she's never been a soldier or a spy and has no paranormal leanings; she's just an ordinary person, with the strength of character to speak on behalf of her fellow mundanes if she feels they're being overlooked. And the Chairman already knew, or strongly suspected, the truth of Peeter Blame's death, but sent Catriona to investigate because he wanted her unbiased opinion about what the Club ought to do about it.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The Mystic Maharajah's real name (at least, the name he tells people is his real name) is Chandra Nguyen Seth. In Newman's Dark Future novels, the Big Bad was a cult leader named Nguyen Seth.
    • Near the end of the story, it's mentioned that the Splendids' fame has been eclipsed by a new costumed crimefighter — or rather an old one, "the original Dr Shade" returning to active duty. Dr Shade appears in several other stories by Newman, not all in continuity with the Diogenes Club series, and debuted in a story titled "The Original Dr Shade".
  • The Notable Numeral: The Splendid Six. They were the Good Fellows Four before the two newest members joined; at the end of the story, as members leave due to scandal or personal troubles, they become the Splendid Five, then the Splendid Three, before disbanding entirely.
  • Orgy of Evidence: The scene of Blame's death is quite blatantly set up to implicate one of the local cops, yet only Cat seems to realize the sheer obviousness. Clever Dick rushes to the perp's intended conclusion without noticing how meticulously set up it all is, and the residents of Heathrow treat his "deductions" like strokes of genius. Of course, Dick probably helped plant the evidence in the first place.
  • Phony Psychic: The Splendid Six's resident magic-worker, the Mystic Maharajah, may be a fake; Catriona recognises him as a former showman who used to appear on stage as Woozo the Wizzard, who she encountered while investigating fraudulent psychics. Perhaps significantly, however, she doesn't specify whether he himself was one of the frauds. "Clever Dick" is convinced that his magic is all trickery, although the Aviatrix counters that she doesn't care whether it's trickery, because the important thing is that it's always worked when they needed it.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Blackfist, the Blue Streak, and Clever Dick, the Splendids who were probably most directly involved in the murder and cover-up, are sexist toward Catriona and their own colleague the Aviatrix, and racist toward the Mystic Maharajah, who also comes in for some Gendered Insults belittling his masculinity.
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Splendid Six are reputed to meet sitting around the Round Table that formerly belonged to King Arthur.
  • Shaped Like Itself: One of the indications that Blackfist, the leader of the Splendid Six, is not a particularly sophisticated thinker is the occasion when he's reminscing about a battle against an army wielding "axes like, well, like big axes".
  • Sherlock Scan: Clever Dick shows off by doing a lengthy and detailed scan of Catriona when they first meet, ranging from what she had to breakfast to her family history, marital status, who tried to kill her most recently, which key is broken on her typewriter, and the fact that her purse was gift from someone Canadian.
  • Smart People Play Chess: "Clever Dick" boasts of his skills as a chess player.
  • Smug Super: Most of the Splendid Six were from privileged backgrounds, one way or another, even before they developed or acquired their abilities, and the disregard they show for the less gifted is a major theme of the story.
  • Superhero Paradox: Lampshaded when Edwin points out that various superheroes and villains keep popping up out of nowhere, but seem to balance each other out so that nothing ever gets dramatically better or worse.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: "Clever Dick" Cleaver, the Kid Detective, is disturbingly blasé about violent death.
  • Two-Fisted Tales: The adventures of the Splendid Six are of a kind with the pulp adventure stories of the Twenties, with the various Splendids representing different subgenres. Apart from the Action Prologue, though, their adventures happen off-screen; the story itself is about examining what they do when they're not adventuring, deconstructing what kind of person would make a lifestyle of such adventures, and showing how detached the life of the Splendids is from ordinary people.
  • Weird Historical War: In a twist on comic book status quo, superheroes started showing up during World War... One?
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: It's noted that there's no point asking who might have a motive to attack Peeter Blame, because his litigious habit has put him on the wrong side of pretty much everybody in the village and surrounding areas — even the local police are celebrating his death, because he recently got several of them fired for a technical dereliction of duty.