Carnacki is an investigator of hauntings. He is methodical in his techniques to confirm or disprove paranormal activity. He routinely attempts to photograph ghosts, gathers facts on the case, and even uses scientific tricks to confirm the veracity of certain phenomena, such as if doors really opened during activity. He is often called when owners of a home cannot deal with a haunting any longer. This sounds pretty conventional for today, which is why it is impressive that Carnacki, The Ghost Finder was published over a century ago in 1913.
Written by William Hope Hodgson as short stories for magazines between 1910 and 1920, Carnacki, The Ghost Finder collects six cases of the ghost hunter. Each case is written by a friend of Carnacki who recounts the ghost hunter retelling everything that happened through the course of the investigation, giving it an air of armchair reminiscence and a slight nod to Watson's retellings of the Sherlock Holmes adventures.
Carnacki is neither a Christian crusader nor a disbelieving scientist. He is methodical in his investigations, often using hairs or wax to tell if doors have actually opened while an area was locked and setting up unique tools like a camera triggered by a string. Some of his knowledge and ghost classification comes from the mysterious Sigsand Manuscript which he mentions, but Carnacki is hardly an occultist like you might see in Lovecraft or more modern works. Other than drawing circles or pentacles, he has no actual magical ability. He just uses what he has learned for defense and investigation. That is not to say that he is not without his innovations. One of the most intriguing ideas is Carnacki's Electric Pentacle. After noting that electricity appeared to enhance barriers against the paranormal, he merged it with the occult pentacle. Using vacuum tubes, the Electric Pentacle sends electricity continuously in the occult shape and is plugged into a battery within the protected area.
Carnacki himself is an interesting character. He isn't some Lovecraftian scholar, lost in his fear of the unknown, his brain locking up in the darkness. Carnacki is brave, but he is not full of bravado either - he clearly gets scared in the middle of the dark night, fearing things in the unknown and trying to stay immobile in his pentacle. The most dominant part of Carnacki's personality seems to be his can-do attitude. He always has a next thing to try, a new way to continue the investigation. Even when scared, he does not dwell, he merely rests and begins again.
Why haven't you heard of Carnacki before? The name comes up here and there, but mostly in more literary accounts that are usually talking of the history of the horror or supernatural genres. Rarely do you hear him mentioned as a recommendation for reading. William Hope Hodgson died at the age of 40 in World War I and his works fell into obscurity since then. Every decade or so there is a resurgence, and his works capture a few new readers. Though it seems obvious to suggest Hodgson influenced Lovecraft, the latter did not discover Hodgson's works until 1934, late into his career. Carnacki has only been adapted to the screen once, in an episode the 1970s TV series Rivals of Sherlock Holmes where Carnacki was played by Donald Pleasence.
It is impressive that the Carnacki stories are still quite readable for modern readers. Some works of that age come off stilted, slow, or lacking in bite due to all the things we've read in more modern works. But the Carnacki stories are still quite interesting and creepy. While there might be a few words that may be confusing or antiquated, the narrative voice is quite comfortable to read. The biggest drawback is that since this is Carnacki's account to a friend, every paragraph begins with a quotation mark and actual things said appear in nested quotes, which can be confusing at times. But outside of this small annoyance, the stories are still enjoyable to read without them feeling an uphill struggle.
Carnacki has passed into public domain at this point. You can find his stories free as an ebook. This also means that other authors are free to use him in their own works, as they have. Besides cameos in other works as varied as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Doctor Who novels, you can find the further adventures of Carnacki written by a variety of authors. I can speak only for the original works, but if you have an ebook reader, there's no reason not to check him out, if not for the amazement value of a type of story so commonplace now occurring over a century ago.
Free ebook and for those who prefer a hard copy.