Kincaid: A Paranormal Casebook
William F. Nolan
Rocket Ride Books
Trade Paper, 212 pages, $15.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Remember The Norliss Tapes? It’s a 1973 made-for-TV movie that features a protagonist who bears a role resemblance to Carl Kolchak, the fictional investigative reporter of The Night Stalker. Norliss, however, possesses greater depth, is far better looking, and appears only in flashback: His experience with the uncanny unravels through listening to a tape recorded account. William F. Nolan wrote the teleplay (Fred Mustard Stewart provided the story.) Nolan’s disappointment that the show wasn’t picked up as a series didn’t halt his relationship with Norliss. Fourteen years after penning the character, the writer resurrected him – in altered form. David Norliss morphed into David Kincaid, sleuth of the supernatural. The three adventures that chronicle his occult investigations are compiled in Kincaid: A Paranormal Casebook. The novellas range in years from 1987, 1991, and 1998; they reflect the respective periods. And serve as a reminder of a time when ubiquitous themes of baroque global danger wasn’t the horror du jour. Simple and highly satisfying, the collection lets the author strut his consummate literary stuff. He does so with accomplished acumen and a fine flair for the dark side.
Up first is Pirate’s Moon, in which sacrificial rituals of New Guinea reach the shores of Southern California. The natives of Papua are indeed restless, and aren’t at all concerned if their rites are wrong. An extremely small, but apparently largely lethal, subculture of Los Angeles, they engage in beheadings and cannibalism. The practitioners of the malign folk magic are fond of a heart-y meal. Kincaid is brought into the murder investigation at the behest of his friend Mike Lucero, a police detective. Lucero generally pooh-poohs anything woo-woo, but is at a loss with this case: A decapitating serial killer, who leaves an exotic feather as a crime scene signature, goes beyond the limited skill of a Malibu cop. Soon Kincaid, through his various contacts in the realm of the arcane, is hot on the trail of the terrifying tribe. The victims and intended victim of the cult have the same last names as a trio of well known horror writers. It is a tip of the hat (or rather, of the head) and a heartwarming genre gesture.
The second piece has more meat on it. Hellhunt works the Raymond Chandler City of Angels vibe: “The weather reflected my mood; the day had suddenly darkened. Heavy clouds from the Mexico tropics had rolled in like a host of towering, bloated figures in soot-black clothing. A rain storm was brewing, unseasonable for August in L.A.” In the yarn, Kincaid is commissioned to locate an astray adolescent girl. While the gig isn’t something that intrigues him, the five grand retainer is a strong motivator to accept the job. During the course of the search there is a gruesome find: “She was in the tub. What was left of her, that is. Much of her body was missing, whole chunks of it, as if a Great White had been at her, slashing and devouring. Gobbets of flesh had plugged the drain and the corpse was literally swimming in blood.” A loathsome lineage is the crux of the mystery: A pedigree that is exceedingly eerie; not quite Rosemary’s baby, but damn spooky.
Hellhunt is followed by The Horror of Winchester House, which disappoints after the previous entry’s intensity. Mike Lucero again seeks his friend’s expertise, but now it’s personal. Mike is worried about an estranged sibling who, since childhood, sustained an unhealthy interest in the occult. Kincaid goes up and down California’s coast following leads about her, culminating in an unearthly showdown at historic Winchester House in San Jose. The tale, while obviously padded, contains vibrantly accurate and atmospheric descriptions. The locales are easy to envision as a result of the excellent depiction.
William F. Nolan’s writing style is accessible without being condescending. His talent has been acknowledged with acclaim and awards; including a 2010 Life Achievement honor from HWA. In the introduction to Kincaid: A Paranormal Casebook, he states that the future of David Kincaid is uncertain. Whether or not the author decides to visit David again, Kincaid has thankfully re-surfaced through this vastly enjoyable volume.