Pop Quiz: Which author was the most frequently published in the pages of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales? If your answer is the obvious one, H.P. Lovecraft, guess again. Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Robert Bloch? Still wrong. Surprisingly, the answer is Washington, D.C.-born Seabury Quinn, who, during the 279-issue run of Weird Tales, dating from 1923 – ’54, managed to appear no fewer than 165 times, or in more than half of all those issues. And of those 165 Seabury Quinn appearances, 93 of them featured the author’s most popular character, Jules de Grandin, a blond-mustachioed, French gentleman, late of the Surete, now a sort of detective specializing in occult and macabre doings, and based in – of all places – Harrisonville, NJ.
While lodging at the home of his close friend, Dr. Samuel Trowbridge (the narrator of all 93 tales, and a fill-in, of sorts, for Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson), de Grandin faced off against a remarkable roster of evil nemeses, from his first appearance in October 1925’s “The Horror on the Links” all the way to his last, in September 1951’s “The Ring of Bastet.” Unlike Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot character (who made his first appearance in 1920’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and whom many feel was an inspiration for Quinn’s character), de Grandin did not only solve cases of mere domestic murder, but rather, of homicides perpetrated by agents of the satanic, the exotic and the arcane. (This was Weird Tales magazine, after all!)
But of those 93 Jules de Grandin stories, 92 of them were just that — short stories. The Devil’s Bride was something else again. The only full-length de Grandin novel, this one initially appeared as a six-part serial in the February – July 1932 issues of “The Unique Magazine”; the February issue even featured cover art by the famed C.C. Senf, depicting the crucifixion scene from the story. The Devil’s Bride was the 46th of those 93 de Grandin tales, and thus comes precisely at the midpoint of the Frenchman’s legendary career. Combining as it does Satanism, kidnapping, ancient legends, a worldwide conspiracy, Black Masses, strong violence, romance, hints of the supernatural, and even African jungle adventure, the novel can almost be seen as the ultimate Jules de Grandin outing (I’m guessing about this, actually, only having read perhaps a dozen of those other 92 stories), and is thus required reading for all fans of this highly amusing character. Fortunately for those, the book can be had today in a nice-looking, trade-size, 2012 edition from Scorpionic Books. This edition, although featuring more typos than any one volume might be expected to have (and not just simple misspellings … words are often missing from sentences, punctuation is often a hash), is yet a reasonable deal for $14.95, and just might be your best recourse if you do want to read this fun and pulpy adventure.
But as to the story itself: It is one that defies a brief synopsis, but I will endeavor to do so. As the tale opens, we find de Grandin and Trowbridge about to attend the wedding rehearsal of John Davisson and Alice Hume; Trowbridge had delivered Alice into the world and had been a friend of the Hume family for many years. But when Alice is mysteriously abducted in a cloud of yellow dust, in full view of all her family but to nobody’s recollection of the event, de Grandin jumps into full investigative mode. He learns that one of Alice’s remote female ancestors hailed from the Yezidee tribe in northern Iraq, and that their modern-day, Devil-worshipping descendants have abducted Alice to be their high priestess, after a formalized marriage to the Devil himself! But matters quickly go from bad to worse when Alice’s mother is killed, a young woman is found naked (hardly the first such woman to be found thus, in this de Grandin outing!) and crucified in a convent garden, several young boys are reported missing, and a young schoolgirl is horribly mutilated.
Trowbridge and de Grandin are soon joined by an old Surete buddy of the latter, Renouard, who reports on a generalized outbreak of European church desecrations, an increase in the African slave trade, a rising trend of drug and alcohol abuse by formerly well-bred women, and mounting activity centered near Mt. Lalesh, the fabled center of the Yezidees … all organized by a party of Russians, no less. During a daring infiltration of a Black Mass ceremony near Harrisonville, our heroes encounter another gentleman who contributes some new and tantalizing information. This gent, Ingraham, a British member of his government’s military secret service based in Africa, tells of a huge upswing in the activities of the dreaded Leopard Men, who have resumed their aggressive and cannibalistic ways. Long story short, Alice is indeed rescued from that Black Mass ceremony, only to be kidnapped again and brought to Sierra Leone, where a convocation of all the Devil worshippers and assorted nasties from around the world will soon be taking place, deep in the primeval jungle. And so, can de Grandin, Trowbridge, Davisson, Renouard and Ingraham — a nicely international quintet — do anything other than to follow?
Seabury Quinn’s de Grandin tales just might be an acquired taste, perhaps dished out in small doses, and a full-length novel may indeed be a bit much for some folks to take. Quinn was an author with a propensity to overwrite (whereas another author might tell us that de Grandin walked into an abandoned liquor store, here, our hero enters “an emporium dispensing spirituous, malt and vinous liquors…”), while de Grandin himself is a big of a braggart and a blowhard (“How I shall do it I cannot tell, but that I shall succeed I am assured. I am Jules de Grandin, and I do not fail,” he tells us) … albeit a lovable one. And, oh, those crazy exclamations that he utters, in both English and French! Some of my favorites here: “beard of a green rat,” “name of a billy goat,” “God of dogs,” “name of an umbrella,” “pains of a most dyspeptic bullfrog,” “name of a cauliflower,” “by the beard of a red fish” and “dewlap of a raven”! Some folks might find this constant barrage of wacky expressions tiresome, and ditto for de Grandin’s incessant mangling of the English language, while others, such as myself, may have fun with it.
Personally, I find these de Grandin stories are best read slowly, with a good dictionary, atlas and the Interwebs handy, so as to be able to tackle the many unusual words and references that the extraordinarily well-read Quinn is always ready to throw at us … unless, that is, you know what such words as “pentice,” “yclept” and “highte” mean, for example. And, oh, I may never figure out what de Grandin’s oft-repeated expressions “pardieu,” “cordieu” and “mordieu” mean! The Devil’s Bride, as was the case with many of the other de Grandin tales, is guilty of casual racism (the superiority of the colonial powers of Europe is taken as a given, for example), not to mention healthy doses of violence and risqué nudity, but I suppose that these must all be taken as symptomatic of the era in which these stories were written.
And this novel really does have quite a bit of graphic violence to dish out. Alice’s hanged mother and that crucified woman are both lingeringly described (Senf, in his cover artwork, softened the impact of the latter scene by showing the woman tied to the cross, rather than spiked on); little children are put to death at the Black Mass; and that mutilated little girl has her hands cut off, her eyes gouged out and her tongue removed (if the author was trying to show us just how wicked those Satanists are, he sure did succeed admirably!). In one grisly sequence, de Grandin and Trowbridge attend the electrocution of Grigor Bazarov, the chief Russian mastermind of the international intrigue, and later disinter his coffin to have another look at him (there was reason to believe that he was still alive … don’t ask!). The book, faithful to its Weird Tales readers, also packs in decided bits of outré strangeness, such as the African bulala-gwai drug, the nightmares that the Yezidee priests are able to engender from afar, the ability of Bazarov to control and command wild wolves, and the truly bizarre sight of Alice, in full priestess garb at that jungle gathering, and with Devil horns surgically implanted to the top of her skull!
And this de Grandin novel provides the reader with any number of thrilling sequences, the infiltration of the Black Mass and the infiltration of the African marriage ceremony of course being two of them, both of which are painstakingly described by the author. Jules, I might add, has perhaps never been shown in a suaver light than when he rescues Alice at the end of this book; almost comically suave, as a matter of fact. And we even get to learn, in one surprising segment here, something of de Grandin’s tragic love history, and discover why he has remained a bachelor ever since. In all, The Devil’s Bride is a wholly satisfying Jules de Grandin adventure, its short final chapter tying up almost all the loose ends neatly (I’m still not clear who effaced the entries in David Hume’s 300-year-old diary, though) and ending on a very sweet note, indeed. For those with a taste for pulp fiction, this de Grandin epic just might fit the bill very nicely.
But wait … this Scorpionic volume is not quite finished! As if to make amends for the general sloppiness of its presentation, this edition also gives us an added treat: one more de Grandin adventure! The bonus tale here is “The House of Golden Masks,” the 27th de Grandin adventure, which first appeared in the June 1929 issue of Weird Tales. In this one, women are being kidnapped left and right from the streets of Harrisonville, and de Grandin and Trowbridge soon discover why: A gang of slavers from India has been at work abducting and then torturing and demeaning young women in a desolate country estate, preparatory to shipping them overseas. In a tense conclusion, our two heroes hide themselves in suits of armor and observe the bizarre goings-on, before putting paid to the dastardly scoundrels. It is a fast-moving, compact story, which form some readers might find preferable to the anomaly that is the de Grandin novel. Actually, I’d suggest reading the short story first, followed by the novel, so as to approximate the 1930s experience of seeing a cinematic short prior to the longer feature film. But however you read these two, and in whatever order, be prepared for some pretty way-out excitement. “By the love of a billy goat,” I have a feeling that you will enjoy them!