Sunday, March 20, 2011

Act of Providence

If you're not familiar with author Joseph Payne Brennan's Sherlock Holmes-like sleuth Lucius Leffing, you're probably not alone. Leffing is sometimes included in the same breath with other fictional occult detectives like Jules de Grandin and Carnacki and John Thunstone, but Leffing's cases which involved the supernatural only made up a small portion of his career. According to Brennan this was because he wanted Leffing to sell to the regular mystery magazines, and in this Brennan was successful. The majority of the Leffing tales appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne Magazine.
But among Leffings adventures that did involve the supernatural is a strange novella called Act of Providence. What's strange about it? Well to begin with most of the supporting cast are real people who attended the first World Fantasy Convention, in 1975. Such familiar names as L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, Manly Wade Wellman, Jeff Jones, and Karl Edward Wagner make cameos in the book. Robert Bloch has one extended scene, and a fellow named Bob Booth, (Who I know absolutely nothing about but who I know was a real guy because I checked) ends up driving Leffing and his assistant around Providence. Of course Leffing's assistant through all his cases is a real guy too, Joseph Payne Brennan, who used himself as the 'Watson' to Leffing's Holmes. (And yes, Brennan was at the 1975 Con. I've seen pictures.)
Anyway, the other strange thing is that events in the story eventually lead to the real life 'Shunned House' that served as the model for H.P. Lovecraft's short story, The Shunned House. In fact, Act of Providence is almost a sequel to Lovecraft's tale of horror. I won't give away what lurks beneath the house but it's both eldritch and gibbous, and maybe a tad squamous.
This is a fun, if odd book, and now I'm a little curious as to how it came to be written. It came out in 1979 from publisher Donald M. Grant and Grant appears as a character too. The book is actually credited to Brennan and Grant, which strikes me as a bit odd. I'm wondering what Grant had to do with it.
As always I am fascinated by the line where fiction meets reality and Act of Providence is one of those books that makes the line hard to spot. To make things more fun, writer Chet Williamson, who was himself at the convention, has posted 61 photographs from WFC 1975. Link provided below. What I wouldn't give to travel back in time to that Con.


Anonymous said...

Hi Charles. I don't know this for a fact, but it sounds like "Act of Providence" is the kind of story that might have been written expressly for a World Fantasy Convention program book. They often run fiction from the various guests and Brennan might have written an original story for that year's convention. I don't have a program book from that con to check.

Curt Phillips

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Very possible, Curt. I have seen things of that nature in Con program books. Thanks for the input!

Paul said...

Great pointer - this I have got to read.