A Grimoire of Eldritch Investigators: Arabella Letifer

My guest today is David Annandale, writer of “The Broken Choir”, featuring occult investigator Dame Arabella Letifer. He is the author of Crown Fire, Kornukopia, and The Valedictorians, thrillers featuring rogue warrior Jen Blaylock, as well as Gethsemane Hall. His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies of horror fiction. He teaches literature and film at the University of Manitoba and lives in Winnipeg. You can find out more at http://davidannandale.com/.


I must have been nine or ten when I read my first occult investigator story, and it was a formative experience. I had been voraciously consuming ghost stories, primarily in the Armada Ghost Book collections, and one day, despite my mother’s best efforts to convince me to buy Tom Sawyer, I spent my pocket money on Ten Tales Calculated to Give You Shudders. Despite being marketed as a children’s book, this collection had some pretty disturbing stuff in it. The first story was Robert Bloch’s “Sweets to the Sweet,” and reading that was so traumatic I put the book aside for many months. When I dared to pick it up again, I read William Hope Hodgson’s “The Whistling Room,” and that story would help shape my imagination to this day.

“The Whistling Room” is a Carnacki story, wherein he confronts a force that is essentially a wronged ghost that has festered into something utterly inhuman and evil. That concept gripped me, and its influence is clearly felt in my novel Gethsemane Hall.  As for Carnacki himself, I did not know at the time that this character had many other adventures, but his voice was so authoritative that when he said this haunting was scarily bad news, I believed.

So writing an occult detective tale has felt like something too long in coming, and an enjoyable way of repaying a creative debt. As for my detective herself, Dame Arabella Letifer’s direct inspiration is the character played by Beulah Bondi in The Invisible Ray (1936), perhaps my favourite Kaloff & Lugosi pic. Bondi’s Lady Arabella Stevens is no-nonsense, clear-eyed, and equally at home in the jungle or in high society. Her unapologetic colonialism is less endearing, of course, but she is, in many ways, a remarkable character for the period, and I think it says something that this supporting role stands out as much as it does in a movie where Boris Karloff glows in the dark and murders people with a radioactive touch.

Letifer is my thanks to Hodgson and to Bondi. And her story is something of a nexus point for my own fictional universe. She is the great-great-grandmother of Jen Blaylock, the protagonist of my first three novels (Crown FireKornukopiaThe Valedictorians). As well, “The Broken Choir” has ties to the revelations of Gethsemane Hall, and gesture toward the events of the books I have planned next in that cycle. This has been a wonderful chance for me to move my Great Evil Master Plan ™ forward. And so it seems I now have another debt of gratitude, and that is to Josh Reynolds for giving me the opportunity to write this story.

A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests: Occult Detective Monster Hunter,Volume 1, edited by Josh Reynolds and Miles Boothe, with an introduction by Bob Freeman, is now available in digital format. Trade and hardback versions are forthcoming. Grab your copy today, on Amazon.comand Amazon.co.uk.