?The detective genre has been around for at least three hundred years, with a few examples that date back even earlier. What you might not know is that the occult detective genre has been around just about as long. And with all due respect to Sherlock Holmes and his associate Dr. John Watson, to Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Sam Spade, the worst things they ever had to confront during their investigations were the result of human depravity. But sometimes there are crimes and criminals that go beyond even the outer limits of merely human evil, and it takes a special kind of detective to confront them. These are the detectives that never eliminate the “impossible” — they live the impossible every day. These are the detectives that plunge headlong into the supernatural, and sometimes all the way to the other side. This means using all the resources at their disposal, whether it’s drawing on their own supernatural abilities, pure bull-headed curiosity, using occult items or rituals or going straight into the depths of Hell itself.
So if you find yourself plagued by occult influences or have a magical mystery that needs solving, look no further than the characters contained in this list. Here, in no particular order, are eleven awesome occult detectives. Their methods and abilities may vary, but they get the job done.
11) Carl Kolchak, Kolchak:The Night Stalker
This seasoned reporter has seen a lot of things in his career, and not all of them have rational explanations. When he gets wind of a story though, he pounds the pavement in his grubby tennis shoes and funky straw hat to find out what’s going on. And when the situation requires it he doesn’t mind getting hands-on as well, which might include anything from electrocuting Jack the Ripper to exhuming dead arsonists to uncovering deals with the Devil. His greatest strength is his self-confidence – he has no problem with bouncing all of his pretty wild theories off of his editor, fellow journalists or police contacts.
10) James Stark, Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
?Friends don’t send friends to Hell. Hopefully, most of us don’t need to be reminded of this on a daily basis, but James Stark ends his eleven-year stay in the hot place and claws his way back to the surface to drive this point home to his former “friends”. Sure, he’s outnumbered and probably outclassed – his pals gained a lot of power when they dumped him downstairs – but Stark didn’t stay idle when he was in Hell. Years spent in servitude to a high-ranking demon honed him into a practically unstoppable killing machine with a massive chip on his shoulder. And he has a few things that no one else does: an interdimensional Key (stolen), a gold Veritas coin (stolen), and a black Hell-blade (not stolen, kind of). Stark is willing to kick in any doors he has to in order to track his targets down, and if that includes rubbing elbows with Hellions, Angels, or interrogating a severed human head, so be it.
9) Diana Tregarde, Diana Tregarde Investigates by Mercedes Lackey
?When it comes to battling evil occult influences, size doesn’t matter. At least, it doesn’t matter if you have a formidable amount of magical power and an enormous broadsword. Diana Tregarde may be built like a ballet dancer, but don’t underestimate her. Tregarde is a Guardian, which means that she’s been entrusted to protect those that need protection, and to offer her help to anyone who may need it. Unfortunately, being a Guardian doesn’t pay what it used to, so Tregarde keeps up on her bills by writing romance novels, which allows her to write off the expenses of her many trips as “research” for the settings of her books. But when she commits to a case, she follows it through to the end – even if that means taking on anything from poltergeists to ancient gods.
8) Felix Castor, The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
?Trying to make a living as an exorcist, even in a London that faces an ever-increasing supernatural population, isn’t always easy. In fact, Felix sometimes supplements his income by performing magic tricks at birthday parties, though that doesn’t always end well. Felix’s greatest weapon against occult entities is a small tin whistle. He creates a cantrip by trapping the spirits (or whatever) in a tune, and they disappear as soon as he stops playing. But when he’s hired to exorcise a ghost in a private library, he begins to question both his methods and his motivation. Instead of getting rid of the ghost, as he’s being paid to do, he starts investigating the ghost herself. Unfortunately, the things he begins to uncover put him on the radar of some very unsavory characters – human and otherwise.
7) Harry Dresden, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
He’s in the phone book if you need him, listed under “Wizards.” He specializes in finding lost items and investigating the paranormal. He doesn’t do parties, but he does a lot of consulting with the Special Investigations department of the Chicago police, which is a catch-all for any of the strange and irrational cases that might come up. Harry had a rough childhood – his mother was killed when he was very young. He was raised by his father, a traveling magician, until he died as well. This, coupled with his emerging magical powers, made growing up hard. On the bright side, what Harry lacks in magical finesse and technique he makes up for in raw power – which is a huge advantage when you have to deal with the supernatural side of urban living.
6) Johannes Cabal, Johannes Cabal: The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard
?Though Johannes Cabal is primarily a necromancer and only incidentally a detective, both titles are the result of having a shrewd, scientific mind and a nonexistent moral compass. His interest in the art of re-animating the dead is explored more thoroughly in his first adventure, Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer. Having sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for a greater understanding of necromancy, Cabal paid a visit to Hell and proposed a wager to get it back – his research had hit a wall, one that he couldn’t overcome without his soul. Later, Cabal flexes his detective muscles while travelling incognito on an airship. In his effort to evade capture by a militant would-be dictator, the necromancer finds himself caught up in a series of murders taking place on the airship, and is drawn into the intrigue despite his better judgment. Working with a previous acquaintance, Cabal uses his skill at necromancy to gather information about the murders, and to punish the person responsible.
5) Anita Blake, Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter by Laurell K. Hamilton
?Anita Blake has an impressive resume. She works as a necromancer and a consultant for the Regional Preternatural Investigation Taskforce. She has a degree in preternatural biology and has studied comparative religion. She’s also a well-known licensed Vampire Executioner and can kick your ass six ways from Sunday. Her ability to control and communicate with the dead in many of their various forms is extremely useful in her investigations, even though her quick temper and lack of fine inter-personal skills make it hard for some people to work with her. As she progresses in her supernatural crime-fighting career, however, she begins to learn some things about herself that cause her to wonder if she isn’t turning into the things that she hunts.
4) Thomas Carnacki, Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
?A literary contemporary of Sherlock Holmes, Thomas Carnacki focused his deductive powers on stranger cases than the dude from Baker Street. Rather than conduct his investigations with a parner, Carnacki prefers to go it alone for the most part, choosing to relate his adventures over dinner with his friends (he does like an audience). Carnacki is a self-taught occultist, who bases his technique on his studies and experiments rather than strictly on the lore, and he always keeps an open mind. Just because he’s called in to investigate the supernatural, that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to tell when there’s a human culprit to blame. Carnacki’s presence spreads further than Hodgson’s stories – he was also a member of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
3) Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Dirk Gently (born Svlad Cjelli) believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. While this gives him ample excuse to include all kinds of unrelated expenses on his clients’ bills, even Dirk can’t deny that his philosophy of interconnectedness happens to be true – or is at least the result of an enormous cosmic joke being played on him by the universe. When he was in college, he made money off his fellow students by selling them the exams he claimed to produce “under hypnosis”. This little side venture ended when he had re-produced a set of exams comma for comma, which led to everyone thinking he was psychic when in fact he’d merely studied previous exams and made his best guess. Despite his protestations, however, Dirk manages to be accidentally psychic all the time – when he told fortunes in drag to earn a little extra money in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, he was right on all counts. Armed with nothing but a red hat, an I Ching calculator and an eye for the peculiar, Dirk still tends to be in all the right places at the right times.
2) John Constantine, Hellblazer
?This grouchy Liverpudlian detective usually sports an old trench coat and chain-smokes his way through every single case he works. If you were to hang around Constantine for any length of time, however, any adverse health effects due to second-hand smoke would be the least of your worries. Constantine doesn’t have many friends, and if he does he doesn’t keep them long – partly because he’s in a dangerous line of work, partly because he’s a bastard and partly because his methods give new meaning to the phrase “by any means necessary.” His chaotic and cavalier personality means that he spends at least half his time trying to clean up his own messes, but he does actually manage to do some pretty amazing things as well. Just keep your eye on him – John is known for playing the long game, and the tricky son of a bitch has out-devioused some pretty powerful demons throughout his career.
1) Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula by Bram Stoker
Easily one of the most famous occult detectives, Van Helsing has been all over the place after making his debut in Stoker’s signature novel. Being such an awesome character, portrayals of him have ranged from the good (Anthony Hopkins, Peter Cushing) to the bad (Hugh Jackman. Now let us never speak of it again). His role as badass occult detective begins when he is contacted by a former student of his to help diagnose the mysterious illness of Lucy Westenra. He wasn’t called in particularly for his knowledge of the occult, rather his knowledge of everything. When it comes to philosophy and metaphysics Van Helsing is at the head of the class – not to mention having an extremely open mind. Initially baffled by Lucy’s sickness and lack of improvement after numerous blood transfusions, Van Helsing keeps his suspicions about the cause to himself until after she dies. Van Helsing, his former student and Lucy’s finace enter her crypt at night and catch her in the act of drinking the blood of a young child, confirming Van Helsing’s fear that she had become a vampire. They make short work of her, and continue their vampire hunt to Transylvania to take out the one who’d infected Lucy – Count Dracula.