Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Return of Kala Persad

The Divinations of Kala Persad (1895) by Headon Hill introduced possibly the first Hindu detective in Victorian fiction. The title character, however, is kept out of sight in a secret room. He listens to the cases brought to his friend Mark Poignand, and uses his mystic powers to see the solution. His enquiry agent colleague then goes off to find more orthodox proof. Kala Persad is thus most like M P Shiel's Prince Zaleski, an exotic visionary. It seemed to me that he had more potential and that it might be interesting to see how he would work as an independent character. The first episode in this career, "The Return of Kala Persad", will appear in Seventeen Stories from The Swan River Press, Dublin, next month. The story reveals that Kala Persad was not quite as depicted by Poignand, who did not fully understand his friend's powers: "When he would find me reclining idly, as he supposed, I was in fact transfixed in meditation, training my mind to that acute level of discernment which enabled me to solve his cases for him in a moment. And when I huddled close to the flames, it was not because I was cold, since I have long mastered matters of the body, but to sharpen my spirit by observing the golden dance of Agni, the fire-god." We also make the acquaintance of the seer's companion snake, the cobra Kalpa, an old soul, whose sudden emergence from his basket in a vegetarian restaurant startles a young and troubled Englishman. "The Return of Kala Persad" is one of three tributes to singular Victorian detectives in the book, along with "The Green Skull" (a Sherlock Holmes case) and "Prince Zaleski's Secret". In the latter, Shiel's refulgent sleuth pits his wits against decadent poet, mountaineer and occultist Anstruther Rook in a case threatening the delicate diplomatic balance between the Great Powers, indeed perhaps the fate of the Empire and the world. Other sets of stories offer Four Curious Books; Three Strange Places; Three Odd Societies; and Four Haunted Figures. Advance orders for Seventeen Stories are available now.

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