Diogenes Club

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A series of short stories by Kim Newman.

First, a paragraph of historical context and disambiguation: The Diogenes Club was created by Arthur Conan Doyle for a Sherlock Holmes story, in which it was an eccentric gentleman's club catering to gentlemen who wanted access to the facilities of a club but didn't get on well with other people; Holmes's brother Mycroft was a member. The movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes proposed that the Diogenes was a front for, and Mycroft Holmes a senior official of, the British secret service. Kim Newman used this interpretation in his novel Anno Dracula, in which an agent of the Diogenes Club investigates Jack the Ripper and discovers a conspiracy leading to the highest levels of government.

In these short stories, Newman presents a somewhat different Diogenes Club: not the British secret service, but a British secret service, devoted to investigating the weird and improbable, from the return of Zombie Hitler to an insane murderer who devotes his kills to the goblins Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

The main sequence of stories range from Victorian Britain, when Mycroft Holmes presided over the Club in its familiar form, to The Eighties, when dark behind-the-scenes forces used the British government's enthusiasm for privatisation to have the Club officially dismantled and replaced by a tame band of paranormal investigators with electronic detectors and a silly acronym. Each story is a stylistic pastiche of the investigator of the unknown and/or secret agent fiction of the period in which it's set, with much Lampshade Hanging and other playing with tropes. (And then there's the story set on the set of a Show Within a Show soap opera, which explicitly lampshades a whole new set of genre tropes.)

The period that gets the most attention is The Seventies, when Richard Jeperson, psychic detective and glam fashion enthusiast, was the Club's best agent, ably assisted by the elegant Vanessa and the down-to-earth Fred Regent. These stories homage British TV series such as The Avengers, Adam Adamant Lives, and Jason King (to whom Richard is explicitly compared at least once).

Other featured periods include Victorian Britain, with Charles Beauregard and Kate Reed (alternate versions of whom featured in Anno Dracula); and The Twenties, Thirties, and Forties, with Edwin Winthrop and Catriona Kaye (who had previously appeared as supporting characters in the nominally standalone novel Jago, which also introduced the paranormal investigators with the silly acronym).

If the Richard Jeperson stories are episodes of a 1970s TV show, "Swellhead" is the inevitable 21st-century backdoor-pilot revival telemovie, in which Richard is called out of retirement to face a problem only he can solve, picks up a new able assistant, and decides it's past time he resumed his adventures.

...and that's where the series ends. For now.[when?]

Originally published in a wide variety of places, most of the stories have been collected in a series of books: The Man from the Diogenes Club, Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, and Mysteries of the Diogenes Club. New stories still occasionally appear.

Stories in this series with their own trope pages include:
Other stories in this series provide examples of:
  • Alternate Universe: To the Anno Dracula series, with which it shares quite a few characters (particularly among the members of the Diogenes Club), with subtle and sometimes less-subtle differences.
  • Blitz Evacuees: An unpleasant childhood experience of being a Blitz evacuee comes back to haunt one of the characters in "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train".
  • Broad Strokes: Newman's typical attitude to continuity. For instance, "Seven Stars" was apparently written with the continuity of "The Original Dr Shade" in mind, in which Shade is a pulp fiction character owned by Leech. Later Diogenes stories have him as a real person. So by the end of "Seven Stars", Genevieve has apparently forgotten meeting his sister (in "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch") and son (in "Cold Snap") and thinks of him as entirely fictional.
  • Canon Welding:
    • While Kim Newman has seeded connections between his books since the beginning, "Cold Snap" seems to be a concentrated effort to tie them all together. Apart from featuring characters whose Alternate Universe selves appear in the Anno Dracula novels, it adds characters from his early work such as Jago, and even features the villain from his Doctor Who novella Time and Relative.
    • One of the bidders at the Auction of Evil in "The Serial Murders" is the villain of Newman's non-series novel Bad Dreams.
  • Cool Car: The Rolls Royce ShadowShark, only six of which were ever made. Sinister vigilante Dr Shade has one. Corrupt Corporate Executive Derek Leech has one. Richard Jeperson has three.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Derek Leech, physical embodiment of global consumerism -- think Richard Branson's evil twin. In the Diogenes Club stories, he appears mostly as a lurking presence, The Man Behind the Man behind some of the threats the Club faces; his big starring moments mostly come in other Kim Newman stories set in The Eighties, after the Club disbandment (which he is implied to have engineered).
  • Cross Through: Seven Stars, a sequence of novellas in which various generations of the Diogenes Club one after the other have to deal with the same cursed artifact.
  • Deconstruction: The stories are more-or-less loving homages to the various styles of popular fiction from the eras that they are set in (Victorian 'boy's own' adventures, 1930s and 1940s pulp adventure novels, 1970s 'glam' detective TV shows, etc), but generally tend to feature a bit more social commentary and focus on the darker side of things around the time. The genres themselves also tend to be deconstructed, either through judicious use of Expys or, when an original character shows up, exposing their rougher edges.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Sometimes hinted at in the author's notes; one mentions that a particular detail has been withheld at the request of the current head of the Diogenes Club, implied to be Vanessa.
  • Enemy Mine: "Cold Snap" has Derek Leech and the Diogenes Club joining forces to save the world.
  • The Fair Folk: The antagonists in "The Gypsies in the Wood".
  • Footnote Fever: All the more recent stories include footnotes or endnotes explaining obscure historical or cultural details that might not be familiar to foreign readers. The cultural notes are pretty reliable, but the historical notes are written from an In-Universe perspective and have a habit of not distinguishing between genuine history and Shout Outs to other works of fiction.
  • Framing Device: In "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", Richard Jeperson tells Fred Regent the story of his first major mission for the Diogenes Club, and his first meeting with Vanessa, on the eve of what turns out to be Vanessa's departure.
  • Kid Detective: Richard Riddle, Boy Detective, who assists the Diogenes Club in "The Gypsies in the Wood", and in whose honour Richard Jeperson was named.
    • A darker version appears in "Clubland Heroes" with Richard "Clever Dick" Cleaver; he's an off-the-scale genius who, unlike the more pleasant and engaging Richard Riddle, is also a snide, stuck-up and humourless little snot. And then when he appears in "Cold Snap" following the ignominious end of his child-detecting career, he's let bitterness warp him into a genocidal maniac.
  • Legacy Character: "Cold Snap", set in the 1970s, introduces Jamie Chambers, son of 1930s vigilante Jonathan "Dr Shade" Chambers. By the end of the story, he's considering going into the family business as Jamie Shade. An author's note adds that the current holder of the Shade Legacy is Christine Chambers, aka Lady Shade.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Referenced not only in regard to Newman himself and Arthur Conan Doyle, but the other fictional characters that cameo; for instance in "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch" Winthrop bumps into the Earl of Emsworth unleashing a Cluster F-Bomb and reflects how much PG Wodehouse has to clean up the Earl's language.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: The Great Edmondo in "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch".
  • Meaningful Name: The psychiatrist in "You Don't Have to Be Mad..." is Dr. Ballance, which sounds like a good name for a psychiatrist -- but a slightly fuller rendition of his name reveals him as Dr. I. M. Ballance -- imbalance.
  • The Men in Black: "The Undertaking", an Edwardian British group of MIBs, who are a rival organisation to the heroes (the Diogenes is, essentially, UNIT to the Undertaking's Torchwood). They have Code Names like Mr. Hay, Mr. Bee and Mr. Sea, which is probably a Shout-Out to the names in Men in Black.
  • Mister Strangenoun: The Undertakers.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: In "The Serial Murders", it's mentioned that as a schoolboy Richard Jeperson was horrified by how many of his teachers fantasized about massacring their students; after a while, he realised that the fantasies were a form of stress release and that the really dangerous ones were among who didn't.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • One of the stories mentions that the Diogenes Club was aware of Dracula's activities but correctly concluded that Dr Van Helsing could handle it without their assistance. Anno Dracula shows what might have happened if they were wrong.
    • In "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch", Charles Beauregard is going through the Club's collection of contingency plans created by the late great Mycroft Holmes, and finds one labelled "In the event of the marriage of the sovereign to an evil consort with supernatural powers". In the Anno Dracula series, an alternate version of the Diogenes Club faced just such a contingency, and Charles Beauregard was a key player in Mycroft Holmes's plan for dealing with it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • "You Don't Have To Be Mad..." features a Bedlam House where inmates are taught to focus their insanity in specific ways, the Big Bad believing that madness will be a way of life in The Eighties, and his patients will be the leaders. In the asylum they're known by nicknames based on their real names and their particular insanities, including the sociopathic Mrs Empty (M.T. - Margaret Thatcher); the egomaniac Rumour (Ru-Mur - Rupert Murdoch) and the quiet killer Peace (P.S. - Peter Sutcliffe).
    • "The Serial Murders" parodies the concept with thinly disguised versions of celebrities appearing in a soap opera that is actually a voodoo ritual. When the soap kills the characters, the celebrities are harmed.
  • Occult Detective: A role commonly taken by members of the Diogenes Club.
  • Only One Name: Vanessa. "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train" reveals that she was a foundling child, who knew her given name but not her surname or anything about her family; in the same story, she goes looking for her past, and doesn't find it, but settles the surname question by falling in love and getting married.
  • Phantasy Spelling: Mocked in "The Gypsies in the Wood", featuring a series of children's stories about faeries (including The Aerie Faerie Annual). One character rhetorically asks what's wrong with the word "fairy".
  • Phony Psychic: Played for laughs in "Angel Down, Sussex"; a young woman, Catriona, visits a psychic after World War I, and the psychic divines that she is seeking contact with a soldier, Edwin; the psychic assures her that her soldier felt no pain when he died and that he sends his love to her from the afterlife, and a ghostly, indistinct image appears. After a moment, Catriona points out that there's one problem with the psychic's reading: Edwin, the soldier who the psychic has made such direct contact with? Isn't actually dead. Turns out Catriona's a particularly savvy paranormal investigator, and proceeds to deconstruct the psychic's act with devastating accuracy and reveal to her other patrons that she's a sham.
  • Public Domain Character: Several are named as past members or allies of the Diogenes Club, including Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder and Dr John Silence. And then there's the Club's founder, who is more or less explicitly identified as Mycroft Holmes depending on the copyright situation in the time and place each story was first published.
  • Shout-Out: The villains in two of the earliest stories (by publication date) are named after two of Newman's fellow British dark-fantasy authors, Michael Marshall Smith and Iain Banks.
  • Two-Fisted Tales: "Clubland Heroes" is a deconstruction.