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July 13th, 2016

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03:07 pm - The Incense of Abomination

Premise: Jules de Grandin, and his friend, Dr. Towbridge "investigate" incidents that involve the preternatural.

Story:  A police detective tells Jules de Grandin about some curious recent deaths:  well to do young men are being found dead, by their own hands, even though they have nothing to despair over.  At the scenes of the crimes, the detective has noted the exact same, distinctive incense.  De Grandin has encountered a similar scent in the course of his travels and adventures.  De Grandin and Towbridge, a little later, happen to encounter and stop a man from committing suicide by throwing himself off the bridge.  They experience the smell that had previously been described.  The young man provides the backstory:  in his youth, he and his friends were involved with a satanic cult.  During a cult ritual, a young woman who was participating in the ritual, abruptly died of a heart ailment.  The four youths had tried to cover up the death by weighing down her body, and tossing it in a nearby river.  Now, she has reappeared to each one of them in turn, her presence betokened by the smell of the diabolical incense that was used at the ritual that she was involved in when she died.

Can de Grandin resolve the torment, and save the souls, of this one remaining former satanist .... and the troubled soul of the girl, to boot?


  • A fairly well-paced narrative

  • Lurid, pulpy incidents (which provide a wonderful excuse for lurid, pulpy graphics like the one to the right -- click on the image to be taken to a page that showcases the internal illustrations).

  • A curiously hopeful outlook:  de Grandin insists that there is no such thing as an "unforgivable sin", and does everything he can to save the two people -- one living, one dead.


  • The characters are more than a tad two dimensional.

  • Jules de Grandin reads like a parody of Hecule Poirot, down to the prominent moustache and the constant interpolation of French expressions

  • The whole premise is strongly premised, and presumes, an acceptance of a number of the notions of Christianity.  The irony is that is justifies rather lurid descriptions on the very basis of that Christianity .... it seems the author feels like he can get away with descriptions of decadence and indulgence, so long as he comes up with an excuse to save the souls of the various characters enmeshed in the satanic cult.

  • The long arm of coincidence:  de Grandin doesn't so much solve the case, but, rather, by sheerest coincidence, just happens to encounter and save the one person who knows the cause of the mysterious suicides.

Well .... its not as if the pretext of Christianity has never been used before to justify portrayals of decadence -- I refer you to the popular cycle of Biblical epic movies from the 50s and 60s that operated on a similar basis.  The story does move at a good pace, and dares to take a stand in favor of the possibility of redemption even for characters who, by the standards of the time, have engaged in irredeemable acts and practices.

Qualified recommendation:  it was a fun story, but the worldview expressed is, ultimately, rather conventional.  At the same time that Seabury Quinn was publishing in Weird Tales, the "Weird Tales" trio of Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard were creating works that were far more daring, innovative, and worthy.  Still:  there is a good reason why Seabury Quinn was, actually, much more popular than them at the time:  if his stories aren't quite as inventive, they are, at least, entertaining, and by buying into conventional morality, comforting to those who do so (and provide an excuse to, vicariously, and briefly, partake of transgressive acts, without having to pay the price, or have moral culpability for doing so).

So ... if you want to be passively entertained with lurid stories of the preternatural, without any challenges in terms of philosophical outlook or innovative narrative structures or any such demands .... this will fill the bill.  (I'll probably read a few more of these stories if I can find them!)

Link: Incense of Abomination

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 14th, 2016 07:01 am (UTC)
I've read a few of Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin stories and I've enjoyed them a good deal. I do agree with your overall assessment though - Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard were more ambitious and more interesting writers.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2019 08:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your input!

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