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Literature / Simon Ark

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Simon Ark was the protagonist of a series of short stories by Edward D. Hoch.

Simon Ark looks to be an ordinary man in his sixties but he claims he is actually over 2000 years old, a Coptic priest who travels the world looking for evil—specifically, Satan. It is said that he is cursed by God, that when Jesus carrying the cross wanted to rest, Ark refused him rest and in turn has never known rest himself, doomed to wander the globe forever. The narrator of the Ark stories, Simon's publisher, believes that the immortality story is just something Simon came up with to make himself sound mysterious, but he does admit that Simon has not visibly aged in all the years he has known him. The immortality element is not played up in any way and is just incidental to the stories.

The Simon Ark stories have supernatural themes, although the crimes in them are always found to have been committed by mundane means.

The Simon Ark stories contain examples of:

  • Amateur Sleuth: Simon claims to be a Coptic priest. Of course, he also claims to be 2000 years old, and searching for works of the devil. What he finds is usually more mundane.
  • Anachronistic Clue: In the short story "The Weapon Out of the Past", Simon identifies a diary supposedly written during the French and Indian War as a forgery because it uses the word "silhouette", an eponym not coined at the time.
  • Animal Assassin: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", Simon's friend Ceritas Vats is sent a black widow spider inside a hollowed-out book. Simon thinks it was intended more as a warning than a serious attempt on his life: pointing out the sender could just as easily have placed a bomb inside the book as a spider.
  • Apocalypse Cult: The first Simon Ark story, "The Village of the Damned", deals with the mass suicide of members of a doomsday cult. In the anthology The Quests of Simon Ark, Hoch notes that in 1955—several decades before the Jonestown massacre—several editors rejected the story as they considered the premise too far-fetched.
  • Arms Dealer: In "The Dying Marabout", the Victim of the Week is an arms dealer using a gathering of a friends called by a dying mystic as cover for arranging a shipment of arms to North Africa.
  • Beneath Suspicion: In "The Dying Marabout", the murderer turns to be the marabout's tall, bald servant. As Simon explains during The Summation, the murderer had to have been someone present at the monastery before the invitations were sent out, which was only the marabout and his three servants. The marabout was murdered and of the servants, only one of them was tall enough to have impersonated him.
  • Burn the Witch!: Discussed in "The Witch is Dead". When the eponymous witch is found burned to death inside her locked trailer, The Watson wonders if she was burned for being a witch like at Salem. Simon points out that the witches at Salem were hanged (with one pressed to death).
  • Cutting the Knot: In one story a magician doing an escape trick is placed in a wardrobe that is chained and padlocked shut. To ensure no tampering with the padlock, a matchstick is snapped off in the keyhole and wax poured over the top. When the wardrobe is opened the next day, the magician has been murdered and the lock is untampered with. Simon later explains the devastatingly simple method the killer used. The killer cut the lock off, then replaced it after the murder with an identical looking padlock: snapping off a matchstick in it and sealing it with wax to replicate the original. With the matchstick and wax, there is no way to verify that original key actually fits the lock.
  • A Deadly Affair:
    • The motive for murder in "The Man Who Shot the Werewolf" turns out to be a high profile politician discovering that his wife was having an affair with a much younger man. The werewolf story was something that the politician, an experienced hunter, concocted as part of an elaborate double-bluff cover-up.
    • In "The Weapon out of the Past", one half of an adulterous couple decides to murder the wife of her lover and make it appear to be supernatural.
  • Dying Clue: In "The Witch of Park Avenue", a man who is dying trapped inside a revolving door knows he only has seconds to live and writes the name "MARIE" on the glass with a felt tip pen. Although this seems to implicate a woman named Marie who is involved in the case Simon determines that the victim and Marie had never met, so he could not have known her name, nor would she have reason to kill him. The actual killer was Dr. Langstrom, who had just married the eponymous witch. Langstrom's name was too long for him to write in the time he had left, so he tried to leave a short word that would nonetheless implicate Langstrom. However, while dying, he instinctively reverted to his native language, French, and wrote "marie", the French for "bridegroom".
  • Faking the Dead: In "The Gravesend Trumpet", two conspirators fake the death of the one of them, making it look like the work of an ancient curse. However, one of conspirators is planning to later murder the other, taking advantage of the fact that everyone already thinks they are dead.
  • Fictional Document: "The Vicar of Hell" is concerned with the search for a surviving copy of The Worship of Satan: a Tudor-era occult text that had been banned by the government and all known copies siezed and destroyed.
  • Fresh Clue: In "The Automaton Museum", Simon deduces the killer's identity when he discovers that the automaton in the victim's office has 23 minutes of time left on its spring, meaning it cannot have been running for more seven minutes after the murder.
  • Genuine Human Hide: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", Simon points out that the map which accompanies the Ripper's journal is made of five pieces of human skin stitched together.
  • Hanging Judge: "The Judges of Hades" takes its title from the nickname given to a trio of small town judges (two of whom end up dead). The DA describes their judgements as being devoid of human mercy.
  • High-Voltage Death: All of the victims is "The Avenger from Outer Space" are electrocuted.
  • Human Notepad: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", the mutilation of the prostitutes murdered by Jack the Ripper were actually a smokescreen to cover the theft of a patch of skin from each of them. These sections of skin each held a tattoo that, when stitched together, formed a Treasure Map.
  • Human Sacrifice: In "The Mummy from the Sea", it is speculated that the Body of the Week was killed as a sacrifice to the goddess of the sea. In reality, the killer dressed the body up to look like a sacrifice to disguise the actual time and cause of death.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In "The Avenger from Outer Space", the killer gives himself away when he mentions that the victim started to reach into the water with both hands. As the victim only had a burn mark on one hand, and the one witness did not recall that detail, only someone else present at the scene could have known that detail.
  • Interdisciplinary Sleuth: Simon claims he gains a lot of his investigative talent from his time as Coptic priest.
  • It Was There the Whole Time: In "The Vicar of Hell", Simon and his companions are searching for a surviving copy of a book which had been banned as blasphemous and all known copies destroyed. Although they cannot find it in the place where they have been told it is, Simon tells them its been here all along, and they have been staring at it. It is literally on the walls. In Tudor times, destroyed books were not necessarily burned. They were sometimes flocked and turned into wallpaper. The odd patterns on the wallpaper that had been commented on earlier were actually the remains of the book's illustrations that were still visible.
  • Jack the Ripper: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", Simon is called in by an old friend who is an antiquarian bookseller to authenticate a journal and map which purports to hold the solution to the mystery of Jack the Ripper. Inevitably, this leads to a murder in the present day.
  • Kill and Replace: In "The Mummy from the Sea", the murderer kills his brother and assumes his identity, taking advantage of the strong family resemblance: deliberately misidentifying the body when called in by the police.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: In "The Man from Nowhere", Simon explains that Douglas Zadig is an amnesiac who appeared in England at the end of World War II. He knew that his first name was Douglas but nothing else. The press gave him the surname Zadig because the only possession he had on him was a copy of the novel Zadig by Voltaire.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Many of the stories involve some kind of variation on the locked room mystery. The implication is usually that some sort of occult forces are involved. The reality inevitably turns out to be something much more mundane.
  • Man on Fire: In "The Witch is Dead", Mother Fortune is found burned to death inside her locked trailer with nothing else touched. Spontaneous Human Combustion is suspected, but it is actually murder.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Simon claims to be over 2000 years old and says that he was cursed by God for refusing to allow Jesus to rest while he was carrying the Cross. Whether this is true, a delusion, or an elaborate deception on Simon's part is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • No Name Given: The narrator is never named in the stories.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: In "The Man from Nowhere", the Victim of the Week is seemingly stabbed to death in the middle of the empty field. However, he was actually a Con Man who had been persuaded into Faking the Dead by bursting a blood pack under his shirt. However, his partner is the first to reach the 'body' and—under the cover of checking the body—stabs him for real using a spring-loaded bladed concealed up his sleeve.
  • Occult Detective: This is what Simon claims to be, or at least claims to be trying to be. It's not really his fault that the mysteries he uncovers aren't really all that occult after all, now, is it?
  • Pinned to the Wall: In "The Vicar of Hell", the Victim of the Week is found nailed to the wall of his flat with an arrow through the palm of each hand, and a third one buried in his chest.
  • Psycho Psychologist: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", the killer is a cold, emotionally distant and, as is ultimately revealed, deeply disturbed behavioural psychologist. Simon speculates that her mind was unbalanced by discovering she is a descendant of Jack the Ripper when she was too young to properly process the information.
  • "Rear Window" Witness: In "The Witch of Park Avenue", Simon and his publisher can only watch on as the Victim of the Week gets trapped in a revolving door and then keels over dead.
  • Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: In "The Unicorn's Daughter", the members of a commune all adopted the names of mythical creatures: Griffon, Phoenix, Chimera, etc. After the commune disbands, some of the members go back to their original names, while others legally change their surnames to the name of their mythical beast.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The series was using this as a standard device before the Trope Namer was born.
  • Self-Made Orphan: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", having exposed the murderer, Simon goes on to say that her first victims were almost certainly her parents, who died a house fire when she was 12.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target:
    • In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", it is revealed that the Jack the Ripper murders were a cover for the murder of five specific prostitutes: the mutilation of the bodies being designed to hide the theft of a patch of skin from each of the victims. Placed together, these tattoos form a Treasure Map.
    • In "The Avenger from Outer Space", a killer makes a carefully planned series of murders look like the work of a local lunatic.
  • Shout-Out: In "The Automaton Museum", the murder victim has his office laid out identically to the victim's in the Father Brown story "The Invisible Man".
  • Sinister Minister: In his first story ("The Village of the Damned") , Simon exposes the leader of a religous community who drove his followers to commit mass suicide.
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: In "The Witch is Dead", Mother Fortune is found burned to death inside her locked trailer with nothing else touched. Spontaneous human combustion is suspected, but it is actually murder.
  • Spooky Séance: In "Sword for a Sinner", Simon holds a seance in which he impersonates the voice of the dead man to spook the killer into revealing themselves.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: In "The Faraway Quilters", the Victim of the Week has her drink spiked with chloral hydrate, which causes her to pass out and fatally wreck her car.
  • Treasure Map: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", Simon is called in by an old friend who is an antiquarian bookseller to authenticate a journal supposedly written by Jack the Ripper and an accompanying map that claims to lead to a great treasure. The claim gains more credibility when Simon identifies the map as being written on human skin.
  • Voodoo Doll: In "The Witch of Park Avenue", a pair of European-style manikins are found in labeled with Lyle and Eric's names: Lyle's doll has a sliver of glass in its throat and Eric's has a pin stuck in his left arm where he was injected with cyanide. However, these were planted by the killer to make it look like the men had been hexed.
  • Wandering Jew: Simon claims to be over 2000 years old and says that he was cursed by God for refusing to allow Jesus to rest while he was carrying the Cross. Whether this is true, a delusion, or an elaborate deception on Simon's part is left as an exercise for the reader. Another story suggests Ark was instead the author of a fraudulent gospel so pious that God was unable to punish him with hell or reward him with heaven, and so left him on the Earth instead.
  • War Reenactors: In "The Weapon Out of the Past", a small town stages a reenactment of a minor battle of the French and Indian War: the most significant event to ever happen in the town. During the event, one of the reenactors is killed with a weapon seemingly launched 200 years earlier.
  • The Watson: Simon's publisher, who is also the narrator, fills this role.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: In "The Treasure of Jack the Ripper", Simon gets involved with a mystery involving a journal supposedly written by Jack the Ripper and a map to a treasure he is supposed to have stolen: a statue of a golden lion studded with fifty diamonds which was intended as a gift for Queen Victoria on her Golden Jubilee. However, when the statue is located, it turns out to be gilt metal and the diamonds glass. Simon theorises that the man who commissioned the statute was a Con Man: raising money from wealthy merchants and arranging for the fake statue to be stolen before it could be delivered while he pocketed the contributions.