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Literature / Seven Stars

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Seven Stars is a novella/series of linked short stories by Kim Newman, part of the Diogenes Club series (more or less).

The plot revolves around an Artifact of Doom, a large blood-red gem called the Seven Stars, which resurfaces at various points in history. Each chapter is set in a different decade and features a different set of Newman's characters, opposed by successive generations of the villainous Mountmain family.

  • "In Egypt's Land": A prologue, set in Ancient Egypt at the time of the biblical Plagues, which are attributed to the Seven Stars.
  • "The Mummy's Heart": 1897. The jewel is discovered in an Egyptian tomb by explorers from Victorian England, and people associated with it start dying in mysterious circumstances. Charles Beauregard and Kate Reed investigate.
  • "The Magician and the Matinee Idol": 1922. The filming of John Barrymore's Sherlock Holmes movie becomes entangled with an attempt to steal the jewel from the storeroom where it was stashed in Victorian times. Edwin Winthrop and Catriona Kaye investigate.
  • "The Trouble With Barrymore": 1942. John Barrymore is dead, and various factions converge on California to try and acquire the jewel he had become custodian of. An unnamed private detectivenote  investigates, along with Edwin Winthrop and Geneviève Dieudonné.
  • "The Biafran Bank Manager": 1973. Edwin is facing the consequences of the choices he made to secure the jewel in 1942. Richard Jeperson cleans up the mess, in partnership with a Mountmain who doesn't take after her forefathers.
  • "Mimsy": 1998. Mimsy Mountmain, daughter of Richard Jeperson and Maureen Mountmain, goes missing, taking the jewel with her. Sally Rhodesnote  investigates, along with Geneviève Dieudonné.
  • "The Dog Story": 2026. In a cyberpunk future, Mimsy Mountmain is the head of Seven Stars, the world's most notorious cyberterrorist organisation. Jerome Rhodes investigates.
  • "The Duel of the Seven Stars": In the aftermath of Seven Stars' ascension, it is time for the final confrontation, requiring a bringing-together of those who have changed and and been changed by the jewel — including the ones who have been dead for over a century...

Originally published in the anthology Dark Detectives, Seven Stars has been republished in two collections, Seven Stars in the UK and Mysteries of the Diogenes Club, which each package it with a selection of stories introducing the featured characters.

Seven Stars contains examples of:

  • Blatant Lies: In "The Mummy's Heart", Charles finds one of Declan Mountmain's mooks in Declan Mountmain's house, dying of a wound matching those of the other victims of the apparent Curse of the Pharaoh. Mountmain claims the man is a complete stranger who happened to be hit by a carriage outside his house; Charles mentally notes that he's making no effort to come up with a plausible story or to present it in a plausible way, because he knows Charles won't believe him anyway and doesn't care.
  • Brand X: In the near-future setting of "The Dog Story", there's a mention of a retailer called Banana Democracy, presumably a future version of clothing retailer Banana Republic.
  • 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. Other Diogenes Club stories written later 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.
  • Call-Forward: In "The Mummy's Heart", during a discussion of morally-questionable occultists, Mycroft Holmes reminds Charles that "you've heard me remark that the mountaineer Aleister Crowley is a young man worth watching". In 1897, Aleister Crowley was just beginning his interest in the occult, but would go on to be an extremely notorious example of a morally-questionable occultist — and an antagonist to Charles's successor in "Angel Down, Sussex".
  • Can't Move While Being Watched: The animated shadows from "The Biafran Bank Manager". They're also flat, forcing Richard to hastily remove the carpeting so the first one to enter the house won't be free to roam beneath it.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: In "The Trouble With Barrymore", the detective narrator says that the mortuary attendant reminded him so strongly of the kind of seedy character played by Milton Parsons that he's not convinced it wasn't actually Milton Parsons picking up some extra work.
  • Character Name Alias:
    • In "The Magician and the Matinee Idol", it's mentioned that Catriona is fond of the movie Les Vampires and uses the name 'Irma Vep' as her Go-to Alias.
    • Mrs Rochester, the invalid who lives in Edwin's attic in "The Biafran Bank Manager", has an alias homaging the Madwoman in the Attic in Jane Eyre.
  • Conveniently Precise Translation: Averted in "The Trouble With Barrymore". There's a prophecy (in French) that says the jewel will next resurface at dawn on a particular day in the "Maison Blanche", which translates as "white house". But nobody's sure whether that means a white house, or something called "white house" in English, or something with a name in some other language that can also be translated as "white house". Edwin has associates covering every possibility they can think of, including the White House in Washington DC and Casablanca in Morocco. It turns out to be referring to Casablanca — not the real one in Africa, but the soundstage where Warner Brothers have recreated the town for a certain Humphrey Bogart movie.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Derek Leech, physical embodiment of global consumerism — think Richard Branson's evil twin.
  • Crossover-Exclusive Villain: The Mountmain family was created for Seven Stars, to have an opposing force that could reappear from decade to decade and century to century. (Individual Mountmains have subsequently shown up in other works, such as Tyrone Mountmain in The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.)
  • Cross Through: Seven Stars is a sequence of novellas in which various generations of the Diogenes Club one after the other have to deal with the same cursed artifact.
  • Curse of the Pharaoh: In "The Mummy's Heart", the jewel is found in a mummy's sarcophagus in Victorian times, and what follows plays out as a mummy's-curse story. The prologue, however, shows that the jewel possessed its inimical power long before it ended up in the tomb.
  • Cyberpunk: The near-future setting of "The Dog Story".
  • Dead Person Conversation: In "Mimsy", one of the consequences of the jewel's reactivation is that Connor, the dead father of Sally's son, appears to her with a cryptic warning.
  • 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.
  • Detective Patsy: In "The Dog Story", Jerome is apparently hired by Geneviève to help her find Mimsy Mountmain's secret lair; his client is actually Mimsy, using him to locate Geneviève's secret lair.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: The unnamed detective in "The Trouble With Barrymore" has one when Geneviève mentions that they don't even know if the key part of the prophecy is a translation nor if so from what language.
    This was what it was like. When you saw it, and nobody else did. This was what made a detective.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: Diabolical Mastermind Derek Leech, once the story gets up to his portion of the timeline, is opposed to the jewel and eventually joins an alliance to deal with it once and for all, because if the world's going to end he wants it to be on his schedule.
  • Externally Validated Prophecy: In "The Mummy's Heart", during a discussion of morally-questionable occultists, Mycroft Holmes reminds Charles that "you've heard me remark that the mountaineer Aleister Crowley is a young man worth watching". In 1897, Aleister Crowley was just beginning his interest in the occult, but would go on to be an extremely notorious example of a morally-questionable occultist.
  • Fantastic Noir: "The Trouble With Barrymore", narrated by a private eye who is implied to be Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Geneviève makes a brief appearance in "The Mummy's Heart" but plays no part in the events then; she becomes a significant character in later chapters (and the story of what she was doing in 1897 is eventually told as part of "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch").
    • In "The Mummy's Heart", Mycroft Holmes compares the jewel to the eponymous jewels of "The Green Eye Of The Little Yellow God" and The Moonstone. Both are stories about remarkable jewels plundered by English adventurers, whose former owners seek to regain them by any means necessary — and so is "The Mummy's Heart".
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Geneviève, as always.
  • Future Slang: Heavily used in "The Dog Story".
  • Ghostapo: In "The Trouble With Barrymore", the villain is said to be "in close with Hitler's crackpot mages".
  • Gun Twirling: In "The Trouble With Barrymore", Bennett Mountmain twirls his gun by the trigger guard as an intimidation tactic. The detective he's trying to intimidate, noting that the safety catch isn't on, privately marks him down as "a locked-room murder mystery waiting to happen".
  • Historical Domain Character:
  • Immune to Bullets: Declan Mountmain, during his brief possession of the jewel. When Edwin shoots him in the face, the bullet passes right through him without causing any damage.
  • Inspiration Nod:
    • The Seven Stars jewel is inspired by the eponymous jewel (which was Egyptian, mystical, and bad news but in a very different way) in The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker. In "Mimsy", Neil's research for Sally turns up the fact that in-universe Stoker's novel exists and was inspired by the rumours Stoker had heard about the events of "The Mummy's Heart".
    • One of the inspirations for "The Mummy's Heart" is The Mummy's Hand, which is mentioned among the Hollywood namedrops in "The Trouble With Barrymore".
  • Intrepid Reporter: Kate Reed.
  • Kaiju: One of the New Plagues in "The Duel of the Seven Stars" is the Plague of Dragons (aka the Plague of Godzillas), in which enormous monsters come out of the ocean and ravage the land.
  • Magic Meteor: In the prologue, the jewel is said to have fallen from the heavens, already in its current form and possessing its powers. If it was deliberately created, nobody in this world knows by whom or for what purpose.
  • The Mall: In the 20 Minutes into the Future chapter "The Dog Story", it's revealed that Britain became so fed up of American tourists expecting Pall Mall to be a shopping centre that they just made it into one.
  • MegaCorp: In "The Dog Story", there's mention of the Walt McDisney corporation, a "vastcorp" resulting from a series of corporate mergers.
  • Missing Reflection: In "The Duel of Seven Stars", while Geneviève is recovering, Jerome offers her a mirror to see how she looks and she points out that they don't work for her.
  • Mummy: In "The Mummy's Heart", the mummified priest in whose tomb the jewel was found reanimates and attempts to repossess the jewel.
  • Mythology Gag: In "The Trouble With Barrymore", there's a meeting between an unnamed private detective who's implied to be Philip Marlowe and an unnamed actor who's identified as the star of Casablanca (i.e. Humphrey Bogart, a few years before he played Marlowe in The Big Sleep). The narrator makes a point of mentioning that they don't look much alike.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: In "The Biafran Bank Manager", it's Maureen who's gone when Richard wakes up.
  • Occult Detective: The Diogenes Club and their associates.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: A set of prophecies by Nostradamus (the "suppressed quatrains") are a recurring plot point. They all come true, although sometimes in ways that are only clear once they've happened.
  • Public Domain Artifact: In "The Trouble With Barrymore" there's a discussion of artifacts that might be brought to bear on the war effort by one side or the other, including the spear of Longinus, the Ark of the Covenant, Excalibur and the Holy Grail.
  • Public Domain Character: "The Mummy's Heart" includes cameo appearances from Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade, Henry Wilcox, and Carnacki the Ghost-Finder.
  • Secret War: There are references to the two World Wars being visible consequences of a secret occult struggle that ran all the way through the first half of the twentieth century.
  • Silver Bullet: Bennett Mountmain shoots Geneviève in the chest with a silver bullet in "The Trouble With Barrymore". She survives, but doesn't make a full recovery for decades.
  • Spit Take: In "The Mummy's Heart", when Charles raises the topic of Declan Mountmain over a glass of brandy, Carnacki's response is a spit-take, though he retains enough self-control for the brandy to end up back in his glass rather than sprayed everywhere.
  • This Is the Part Where...: In "The Trouble With Barrymore", the unnamed private eye remarks during his interrogation that this is the part where he says he doesn't know what his interrogators are talking about and then they try to beat it out of him for a couple of hours — the point being, he tells them, that he really doesn't know what they're talking about and he doesn't want to waste their time.
  • A True Story in My Universe: Newman borrowed the Diogenes Club and its founder from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories originally. The corollary is that Barrymore's Sherlock Holmes film is Based on a True Story in-universe; the reason Catriona and Edwin are present at the filming in the first place is that they've been assigned by the Diogenes to make sure the film doesn't contain any truths that it shouldn't.
  • Unseen No More: Mimsy Mountmain is mentioned frequently through "Mimsy" and "The Dog Story" but only introduces herself at the end of the latter; up to that point, the protagonists have no idea what she looks like, as she's avoided the existence of any photos or pictures of her. The scene where she introduces herself is not the first scene in which she appears, but the earlier appearance is carefully set up so that neither the protagonist nor the reader realizes it's her.
  • Voodoo Zombie: In "The Trouble With Barrymore", Bennett Mountmain has a pair of zombies as bodyguards, mementoes of a trip to Haiti when he was learning his craft.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: The first-person LA private eye in "The Trouble With Barrymore" is never named, even when Geneviève is recalling him in the third person in a later chapter, but is heavily implied to Philip Marlowe. Also, when he first meets Edwin's taskforce, the ones who are out of copyright get named directly while a couple of others get hints accompanied by "I didn't catch his name" or similar.