Weapons of MysteryDecember 11, 2012
I keep reading Christmas stories that aren’t Christmas stories, but I guess I can’t blame The Weapons of Mystery or Joseph Hocking for the mistake this time. Project Gutenberg claims it’s a Christmas book — they list it on their Christmas bookshelf — but as far as I can tell no one else does.
There are a lot of things I can blame this book and its author for — terrible prose, extreme stupidity, racism, etc. — and I spent maybe the first third of Weapons of Mystery coming up with mean things to say about it. But the more I read, the less inclined I was to make fun of it. It never stops being terrible, and simultaneously predictable and insane. But it also has a weird appeal, and I say that as someone who had no intention of being appealed to by it. There was the stilted prose, for starters. And Joseph Hocking (a Methodist minister) had named his villains Herod Voltaire and Miss Staggles, which was, to say the least, unsubtle.
I was impatient and uncharitable all through Justin Blake’s trip to his friend Tom Temple’s Christmas house party, his meeting with Miss Gertrude Forrest, with whom he instantly falls in love, his deep and instinctive dislike of the handsome, sinister Mr. Voltaire, and his introduction to mesmerism. I was also uncomfortable, because the narrative kept signaling that things were going to get worse, and I hate that. But then something happened — maybe the plot kicked in, or something — and all of a sudden I couldn’t put Weapons of Mystery down. Not only that, I was actively rooting for Blake to shed Voltaire’s mesmeric influence, and for Miss Forrest not to be prejudiced against him. And I don’t know why, because it’s not like The Weapons of Mystery ever stopped being stupid.
It’s hard to single out good bits, too. On one hand, the parts where Voltaire is exerting mental pressure on Blake are sort of atmospheric, but they’re also still ridiculous. And Blake’s agonizingly slow race to find someone who may or may not be dead is exciting, but it’s also still super predictable. When I started Weapons of Mystery I was pretty confused by Hocking’s popularity, and I kind of get it now, because he was very good at something, I just don’t know what it is.
Hopefully Joseph Hocking is not exerting a mesmeric influence on me from beyond the grave.