Occult Detective Countdown 16/20 — Robert E. Howard’s Steve Harrison

“Three unsolved murders in a week are not so unusual—for River Street,” grunted Steve Harrison, shifting his muscular bulk restlessly in his chair.

Thus read the first Steve Harrison story I stumbled upon — “Names in the Black Book” — a Robert E. Howard Occult Detective yarn that helped cement my love for the genre.

Other Harrison tales included “Fangs of Gold”, “The Tomb’s Secret” , “Graveyard Rats”, “The House of Suspicion”, “Lord of the Dead”, “The Black Moon”, “The Silver Heel”, “The Voice of Death”, and “The Mystery of Tannerhoe Lodge”.

Howard was not a fan of Detective Fiction and I think that’s why the Harrison stories appeal to me so much — because Howard’s instincts fight against the genre and we get a far different sort of tale.

Yes, they tend toward the “Yellow Menace” yarns prevalent in the pulps of the time, but Steve Harrison is the prototypical private eye, of the sort that guys like Spillane would churn out later, and Howard brings this square jawed tough to life as few others can. But what really makes these stories sing is that underlying supernatural threat that makes them solid occult detective tales, and the frightening figure of Erlik Khan, one of the great pulp villains.

I always wanted to see more about Steve Harrison. He was the sort of character that could have been picked up and ran with by any number of writers. Hell, it’s a task I would have been more than willing to undertake myself. Unfortunately, Howard left us early, so we never got to see where he might have taken Harrison. I suspect, based on pulp trends, Steve Harrison would have become a star in his own right…

But the thing is, there was another set of occult detectives, I found even more compelling from Howard’s well-worn Underwood. Maybe we’ll take a peek at them in a future installment.

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