Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World. You may recall me mentioning the name Teddy London before. If not, allow me to bring you up to speed. Theodore “Teddy” London is a New York City PI who has the ill-fortune to be the foretold “Destroyer,” a champion chosen by fate to stand between unspeakable cosmic evil and the fragile existence of the human race. He’s the central protagonist (though far from alone; he has an appreciable support group of friends and allies watching his back) of a series of novels and short stories by author CJ Henderson. Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to meet with Mr. Henderson and speak with him, and me being the mad bibliophile I am, drop three times what I intended to on books at his table. As most of my experience with Teddy London’s adventures has been in the form of the short stories (my local library did have The Sleep That Refreshes, a mid-series novel), I made a point to pick up the first two Teddy London novels for my shelves. These would be, respectively, The Things That Are Not There (2002) and The Stench of Fresh Air (2004), which have just come back in print in the US for the third time.
As you might imagine, I pretty swiftly devoured these two novels. As an added bonus, this printing pairs each novel up with a short story featuring one of the supporting cast.
After Carl Kolchak, Theodore London is my favorite investigator of the occult. I’ll take him over Fox Mulder, or Harry Dresden, or any of Lovecraft’s wildly interchangeable protagonists (though C.J. Henderson has also written some AMAZING linked short stories starring Lovecraft’s Inspector Legrasse) any day of the week. And I think London and Kolchak share one particular feature that makes me appreciate them more. They’re both regular schmoes trying to put in a day’s work for a day’s wage, when unreality intervenes and sends that plan ass over teakettle.
In The Things That Are Not There, London’s ready to hang up his PI license and find a new line of work. He’s sick of tailing cheating spouses or checking up on potential employees, and a final straw comes when a lightning strike destroys his office and ten years’ worth of files. As he’s sitting in the wreckage of his office and wondering what to do next, he’s approached by a young woman, Lisa Hutchinson, who’s convinced she’s being followed, possibly by agents of her over-strict, fundamentalist father, whom she’d run away from. As she tells her story, a bat-winged, frog-faced humanoid comes fumbling through where London’s window used to be, clawing at Lisa. Once London (or more accurately, his wisecracking janitor, Paul) dispatches the beast, he realizes that this is the case of a lifetime. Unfortunately, fish-frog-bat-men are the least of London’s worries when he sees what’s trying to use Lisa as a conduit to break into our dimension…
The Stench of Fresh Air finds London a scarred, beaten, and broken man, physically, mentally, and emotionally in the wake of Q’talu’s rampage across New Jersey. His first day back on the job as a PI brings him a job that leads him and Paul, now his partner in investigation, deep into the heart of Chinatown and into a mystery stretching back 5,000 years. Along the way, London has to deal with a crippling sense of survivor’s guilt, overwhelming PTSD, and a burgeoning case of psychic and metaphysical powers, courtesy his position as the Destroyer and having opened himself up to dimensions beyond the ones most of humanity deals with. He’s skeptical of his client’s claims of vampiric harassment, until she’s torn limb from limb in her own home. As London takes the fight to the nosferatu, he’s left to wonder if his life will ever go back to normal, or if there’s even any normal for him to go back to.
CJ Henderson’s prose here is every bit as terse as one could hope for in hardboiled detective fiction, with an authorial tone that would do Chandler proud. At the same time, he does an amazing job of balancing London as both superhuman and all-too-human. He may have unlocked his racial memories and walked the Dream Plane, but he still has his scrambled eggs and bialy like the rest of us, and I think that ongoing tension between normal and paranormal is one of the series’ strongest points.
And seriously — when was the last time you saw a character in paranormal fiction sporting realistic, believable psychological trauma? London’s struggle to cope with existence in the wake of the Q’talu incident rings resoundingly true, especially his self-loathing and self-recrimination as he fights to come to terms with the fact that he lived through Q’talu, while nearly two million people did not. I would not be surprised to learn that CJ worked from accounts by war veterans and retired police in composing the personal aftermath of London’s pyrrhic victory.
I’ll be continuing to pick of the series as they’re reissued, so look for more reviews of Teddy London’s adventures. Also, CJ Henderson agreed to an interview, so hopefully we can get that going pretty soon as well. I’m excited, Brothers and Sisters, and you should be too.