Thorp McClusky (1906-1975) was of that breed of Weird Tales writer who gained a small audience during the time of the magazine’s publication, but fell into obscurity after 1954. Like Carl Jacobi, Grey La Spina and Dorothy Quick, McClusky was anthologized after the Pulps were gone but remains little known except by a cult following. This is probably largely due to McClusky not writing novels that could cement his works in the age of the paperback.
Thorp McClusky was a Pulpster who wrote for the Westerns, Mystery and primarily is remembered as a Horror writer. He worked as the editor of Motor, as well as writing books for children and about chiropractics. He studied music at Syracuse University. After his Pulp career, he lived and died in New Jersey. That he is remembered at all today is partly due to his straight forward storytelling. Though he never created a memorable horror icon, he told his stories economically and in a way horror fans enjoy.
Of McClusky’s two dozen fantastic stories, all but seven appearing in “The Unique Magazine”. Amongst the weird appearances there is one series, five stories revolving around two investigators, Commissioner Etheridge and Police Detective Peters, two city crime fighters who have no reason to come face-to-face with terror. They do so, and with pluck and the occasional drink of whiskey to calm their nerves, they meet it head-on.
“The Loot of the Vampire” was a two-parter (June and July 1936) in Weird Tales and perhaps is McClusky’s closest attempt at a novel. A jeweler named Eichelmann is murdered and a precious pearl necklace is stolen. At first the cops think it was Eichelmann’s assistant, Segel, but when the dead man’s body disappears from the morgue then turns up quite alive, Eichelmann kicks the police out of his shop. Later the dead-alive man is found again, quite dead with a silver knife in his heart. The coroner is stumped because the body clearly shows that the man had been dead for thirty-six hours.
“The Woman in Room 607” (Weird Tales, January 1937) begins with Etheridge walking down the street when he is met by a beautiful woman, Marilyn Des Lys. She takes him to the seedy Northrup Hotel and the Room 607 of the title. There, under a weird spell that makes him forget Mary Roberts, the woman tries to seduce him. Etheridge breaks free of the spell and flees. The next day he hears about a drug ring working out of Room 607 and that Marilyn Des Lys has been dead for a week. Later, Etheridge goes to the room, following a weird mist that eventually becomes a strange slime. This ectoplasm is the spirit of Marilyn, who has been feeding on men and becoming more substantial. Etheridge fails to stop her from leaving, falling under her depredations.
“Monstrosity of Evolution” is the odd-man-out here, appearing not in the Weird Tales but in Ray Palmer’s Amazing Stories, November 1938. The story takes place after the Etheridges are married. The couple meet an old friend, Dr. Raymond Trafforn at the train. Dr. Ray, as he is called, seems distant after their two years apart. He has with him an old woman in a wheelchair, who he calls his Aunt Hermione. When Etheridge tries to help the workers lower her from the train he sees her eyes, which do not look human, and then feels a mental blast of utter hate.
The one theme that ties all five stories together is mind control. Whether by a vampire, a ghost, a hypnotist, an evolved psychic human or an alien fungus, all the baddies have the ability to control those around them. This is often Mary Roberts, but in the case of “The Woman in Room 607”, it is Etheridge himself. McClusky is using the threat of mind control to build the tension between Mary and Charles. In each story, one or the other is controlled and the other must fight to save them. (Though oddly, there is never any mention of previous mind control in later stories. Peters never says anything like: “Mind control? Just like that pesty vampire used on Mary!” Each story stands alone.) The bond is strong enough to pull Etheridge from Marilyn de Lys’s control but it takes bullets and bravery to rescue Mary from repeated enemies. He let the series lapse after 1940, probably because it was beginning to wear thin if “The Monstrosity of Evolution” is any example. It is too bad he didn’t try to use Peters and Etheridge in another kind of story, perhaps one without mind control elements. They were a great ghostbreaking team that were uniquely positioned to face the outré.
There is so much more to this topic and G. W Thomas’ article in the second issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly goes much further in depth. You can read the entire article and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the download button below!