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Literature / Diogenes Club

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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 secret servicenote . 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 cult that sacrifices its victims 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 privatization 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 (1960s), 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, Thirties, 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.

According to Newman's comments on Twitter, the Diogenes universe also (loosely) encompasses other entries in his oeuvre including Angels of Music and The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.

Stories in this series with their own trope pages include:

Other stories in this series provide examples of:

  • Afterlife of Service: In "Egyptian Avenue", it is discovered that an Egypt-obsessed Victorian businessman set up some of his servants to be entombed alive with him... and his even wealthier son is plotting to do the same with all of his employees with secret mechanisms that will hermetically seal his business's skyscraper headquarters.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In "The Case of the French Spy", Violet addresses the supposed French spy in French, which is not translated, although it's easy to work out from context and the presence of their names that she's introducing herself and her companions. The story also contains several untranslated passages in the Richard Riddle Detective Agency's official secret code; since it's a schoolboy cipher, it's pretty easy to crack, and doing so gives the bonus of learning the appropriate word that Dick chose as the cipher key.
  • 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.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration: Our heroes manage to do this without putting on any black ties in "Soho Golem". When showing up at a fashionable party, Zarana Roberts dresses in the most glamorous clothes she can find, and Richard and Fred pass themselves off as an artist and his assistant; since they look like they might be famous, they're not stopped at the door.
  • 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. Newman himself has indicated that he considers the "future" segments of "Seven Stars" to be possible futures rather than the settled end point of the Diogenes Club universe.
    • 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.
  • Call-Forward:
    • Alastair Garnett, the hapless government functionary Richard gets briefly saddled with in "You Don't Have to Be Mad..." and again in "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train" and who is said to be of the group in government who want the Diogenes replaced with something more regular and bureaucratic, first appeared in Jago as the official government liaison to IΨT, the NGO that replaced the Diogenes after that group got its way.
    • In the scene in "You Don't Have to Be Mad..." where Garnett and Richard meet, Richard is listening to music by a band called the Heat, who stage a comeback tour in Jago.
  • Character Name Alias: In "The Big Fish", the protagonist at one point uses "Lovecraft" as an alias, which is both an Inspiration Nod (the story draws heavily on H. P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth") and an opportunity for the Femme Fatale to make a suggestive comment about 'love craft'.
  • 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.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: In "The Case of the French Spy", Violet covers her young cousin Ernest's eyes while the villains get their gory come-uppance.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Newman once explained that one of his objectives with this series was to create a "pulp universe" which would feel much larger than the stories themselves; this is his primary method of doing so. The largest examples are in the Time Skip chapters towards the end of the Drearcliff Grange novels, which provide a window into the adult lives and adventures of Amy and her friends in the form of full pages listing off references to weird mysteries and encounters with supervillains which happened in the interim.
  • Dad's Off Fighting in the War: In "The Case of the French Spy", Ernest is staying with his cousin Violet because his father is off fighting in the Second Boer War.
  • Death by Childbirth: Pamela Beauregard died this way in India, as did the baby. Charles had to be restrained to keep him from killing the incompetent drunk of a doctor who attended.
  • 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.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: "Another Fish Story", essentially a Villain Episode for Derek Leech, has Leech sabotage an attempt to bring about the end of the world — not because he wants to save the world, but because it's unsubtle and uncreative, and his own plan for the end of the world is much better.
  • Expy Coexistence: Derek Leech is based on Rupert Murdoch. "You Don't Have to Be Mad..." reveals that Rupert Murdoch also exists, and was basically created by Leech.
  • Extranormal Prison: The Undertaking's Mausoleum.
  • Fantastic Noir: "The Big Fish" features a private eye (implied to be Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe) whose latest case has him cross paths with the Deep Ones.
  • 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.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: In "Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in The Case of the French Spy", Orris Priory is set on fire to hide what took place there — by the Kid Detective protagonists, who realise that a mysterious fire is going to cause less trouble in the long run than an intact building where all the inhabitants have had their heads eaten by a vengeful Fish Person.
  • Fish People: In "Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in The Case of the French Spy", Dick Riddle is on holiday in a seaside town with legends of occasional fish-people sightings. In the course of the adventure, he and his friends get to meet one.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Genre Throwback: The Man from the Diogenes Club is a throwback to Spy Fiction from sixties and seventies shows. From there, practically every short story nods to some genre, ranging from Enid Blyton's child detective stories to modern day superhero comics.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lon Chaney Jr. and Charles Manson in "Another Fish Story".
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Just reading about the retina-blistering color combinations of Richard's 1970s outfits can make readers' eyes water.
  • 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.
  • 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 relative of Blackfist of the Splendid Six, from "Clubland Heroes".
    • Implied to be the case for the villainous Great Enchanter, in that a new one (Leech) pops up the day after his predecessor (Colonel Zenf) dies in the Mausoleum.
  • The Legend of Chekhov: In "The Case of the French Spy", Dick is told several local legends about the seaside town where he's on holiday — the one about the mysterious "French spy" captured during the Napoleonic Wars, and one about mysterious "sea ghosts" sighted on the coast — both of which turn out to have elements of truth relevant to the plot.
  • Magic Dance: The secret weapon of the real villain of "The Soho Golem". In their words: "How many other strippers really can dance to raise the dead?"
  • Master-Apprentice Chain: For the Chairmen of the Diogenes Club, it's Mycroft Holmes > Charles Beauregard > Edwin Winthrop > Catriona Kaye > Richard Jeperson > Vanessa Coates, each of whom had a huge impact on the training and beliefs of the Chairman to follow.
  • 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.
  • Mister Strange Noun: The Undertakers.
  • 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.
  • Mundane Wish: At the end of "Another Fish Story", in payment for his services Derek Leech offers washed-up B-Movie actor Lon Chaney Jr. anything he wants with no strings attached. Chaney says Leech has already granted it by addressing him by his real name, Creighton. Given that Leech is planning to bring about the end of the world by exploiting people's greed, he's genuinely impressed.
  • Mundanger: "Tomorrow Town" and "You Don't Have To Be Mad" are devoid of any supernatural elements. Presumably the Club has to investigate all "impossible" crimes, and some are bound to turn out to be merely improbable. On the flip side, the "green ribbon files" are so otherworldly that even Club members don't have an explanation for them.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In "You Don't Have to Be Mad...", Vanessa uses the alias 'Vanessa Vail' for a mission. In Newman's first novel, The Night Mayor, the protagonist is the author of a tropetastic spy thriller featuring an implausibly glamorous red-haired secret agent named Vanessa Vail.
    • "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.
  • 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" (whose job is to convert a "heavily-knockered" ghost nun to "proper hetero shaggery" via vigorous application of his "mighty shaft"), "Clitoria" (a "tantric sex magickian"), and "Bert Royale" (who Fred is disappointed to discover has no role beyond getting "hot and bothered" as he spies on his boss getting intimate with beautiful women through keyholes).
  • Occult Detective: A role commonly taken by members of the Diogenes Club.
  • One-Steve Limit: Richard Jeperson is said to have been named in honour of Richard Riddle, Boy Detective, an earlier associate of the Diogenes Club. When Newman started writing stories featuring the latter, any potential confusion about having two series protagonists named Richard was avoided by the revelation that he kept "Richard Riddle" for formal occasions like business cards and was otherwise known to friends, family and the narrator as "Dickie" or "Dick". The same applies to Richard Cleaver, who Jeperson suspects was also named after Riddle, but who is universally known as Clever Dick.
  • Only One Name: Vanessa. She presumably started out life with a surname, but she lost it at some point and has never felt a need to acquire a new one.
  • Otherworldly Communication Failure: In the "Egyptian Avenue", Richard Jeperson investigates what appears to be a Curse of the Pharaoh in an Egyptian-themed tomb in a London cemetery. It turns out the unquiet spirits are the servants of the interred man, who took his pharaonic pretentions too far by having them entombed with him. And they're trying to warn that his son is going to do the same thing to an entire building of employees.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You:
    • 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.
    • Margery Device in "Moon Moon Moon", the current Witch of London. Richard makes clear that her name is pronounced more like "Davis".
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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, Sir Henry Merrivale, 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.
  • Puff of Logic: "Moon Moon Moon" tells of a sorcerer who has opened a portal to the Moon, or to a version of it in which all of human history's wildest surmises about what's on the moon are real. He and his associates are aware, however, that this moon is about to receive its first non-magical visitors (i.e. Apollo 11), who will prove that none of those myths or stories are true — at which point humanity's Clap Your Hands If You Believe effect will die down and everything but Luna's real barren wasteland will disappear. The effect has already started to dwindle; when the sorcerer's group quarreled over whether to kill the Apollo astronauts, the more idealistic ones (who welcomed the voyage) were assassinated, and without their belief the sorcerer's moonbase began to decay under an eruption of blue fungus.
  • Reference Overdosed: Bucketloads of characters and events from period- and (usually) genre-appropriate fiction are given the nod, whether veiled, name-dropped, or as outright cameo appearances.
  • 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.
  • Shoot Your Mate: "In You Don't Have to be Mad...", Vanessa is given a pistol and instructed to shoot one of the staff who is kneeling in front of her. Because of the conditioning she has been undergoing, Vanessa knows that this is a test, but is unsure if the correct response is to shoot the woman or to refuse to shoot her. She splits the difference, and fires past the woman's head, shooting her ear off in the process.
  • Sinister Minister: In "The Case of the French Spy", the Reverend Mr Sellwood is a bitter Young Earth Creationist who's obsessed with destroying anything that contradicts his beliefs, not hesitating to use violence where he considers it necessary. Technically, he's no longer a qualified minister; he was defrocked by the Church for advocating that Charles Darwin's works should all be burned and Darwin with them.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: The first-person LA private eye who gets knocked on the head a lot is never named, although the character list cheerfully notes that if he's not Philip Marlowe, it would be an astonishing coincidence.
  • While Rome Burns: Discussed and 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.
    Zarana Roberts: Ever seen that Vincent Price film about the fancy-dress ball?
    Fred: The Masque of the Red Death?
    Zarana: This is that, isn't it? Rich people makin' animals of themselves tryin' to have a good time, with the plague outside, ravishin' the countryside.
    Richard: And the Red Death approaches the castle doors.
    Zarana: It's time Death knocked here like bleedin' Avon callin'.
  • 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-". An exception is "Moon Moon Moon" which is expressly set in 1969, as the action centres around the first moon landing.
  • You're Insane!: In "You Don't Have To Be Mad...", Richard and Vanessa investigate a clinic run by Dr. I. M. Ballance which is turning people into functioning psychopaths. Dr. Ballance gives a Motive Rant about how Britain has always used mad people to achieve greatness, and how one day his madness will spread across the world.
    "I suppose it would be redundant to call you mad?" Richard ventured.
    Dr. Ballance giggled.