Hunters of Humans was released on the fall equinox. This is the third novel written by Dion Fortune under the pen name V.M. Steele that Twin Eagles Publishing has saved from obscurity.
I have to say the very best part of this one is Fortune’s sharp insight into the human mind. I quite enjoy her rapid portraits of each character, painted up in a few brush strokes that bring the person’s deepest thoughts and feelings to the fore. Her prose rapidly brings us into the situation describing how even readers of crime novels assume a death in the neighborhood is natural. Then we see Ann reading about a death in her neighborhood which she compares to her own family’s history of heart trouble. We meet her, her father, and then the detectives, and within two pages, we’re off. It’s almost dizzying how quickly and skillfully Fortune brings this complex world to life.
The story both a romance and a mystery. Scotland Yard is called in to determine if the death of a local man was natural or a murder. The two detectives, two types aptly described by Fortune, lodge with a young woman, Ann, and her father. The book is a study of how the younger detective, Austen, and Ann find each other through class barriers that are rapidly falling and in spite of the crimes of her drunken father.
Ann is a reader of mysteries and Austen is the new detective, bringing science to solve the crime along with the older detective who is a master of his trade, although not educated in the new public school. But Ann is an aristocrat, a fallen one, but still. We watch post-war England break down social obstacles. We watch Ann gradually realize that not only is her father responsible for this death, but most likely killed her grandmother and mother, and has Ann in his sights as well.
The book is really about Ann and Austen managing each other’s temperaments.
“He had never paid much attention to women, having joined the police when he was only twenty and being extremely keen on his work . . . . Consequently, when the flood-gates went down, the tide carried all away, never having spent its strength in backwaters.” (30)
The older detective fears this baby aristocrat will toy with his young apprentice and he shepherds the two through the dangerous psychological waters of both their budding relationship and the trial of Ann’s father for murder. So you see, I haven’t really given the mystery away, because the story is Ann’s realization and her struggle with familial ties and a new relationship outside the bounds of her class. But she doesn’t view it that way. She doesn’t want to disgrace Austen’s career by marrying her, a murderer’s daughter.
The novel is the least esoteric of the three published so far, but it is fascinating watching the psychologist that Fortune was at work. I enjoyed her deep insights and even the look at gender relationships that have changed a great deal. And yet some of those same forces still run through us, so there is always something to learn from reading Dion Fortune.