Baine City, a city based on the brass industry, with almost everything under control of the Baine family. The Baine family prospers while those who might stand against them fall. Whatever secrets they might hold stay secret forever.
But then a young woman was murdered. There was no link between her and the Baines. There seemed to be little motive at all. Most of the strange behaviour seems to be taking place at the local university, with one scientist in particular taking a close interest in the girl’s death – or at least her dead body.
Enter Simon Ark, the possibly-2000 year old Coptic priest, just in time for events to take a very strange turn.
One of Edward D Hoch’s first characters, Simon Ark claimed to be an immortal who has been wandering the earth hunting for Satan himself. The inspiration is the legend of the Wandering Jew, who also inspired Paul Doherty’s Nicholas Segalla. The early stories – of which this novella, along with the two short stories included in this book are some of the earliest – leans more heavily into this than the later ones. And it’s a really odd choice to put in a collection as it’s really not very good.
City Of Brass takes an age to get into Simon Ark territory. There are several attempts to get Simon and his associate to Baine City just because something it “wrong” and even after he gets there, the murder is a simple shooting. The interesting bit, the matriarch of the Baine family suffering from stigmata, turns up very late and doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot at all. The over-riding plot also contains the number one annoying trope, in my book anyway. So given this novella takes up most of the book, it’s not a great start.
The other two stories are actually from 1956, three years earlier than City Of Brass – and, given some detail in them, they’re also in the wrong order. The Vicar Of Hell is really dull, basically involving a recreation of the Hellfire Club. There’s no real surprise here, just a question as to where a valuable manuscript is. The Hoofs Of Satan is better, with Ark heading to Devon to investigate strange footprints in the snow, but it’s still mid-level Hoch.
All in all, this is a really poor collection. It’s one of the earliest Hoch collections, but there are many better ones out there. It’s not a good place to start.