Jean Ray, the creator of the American Sherlock Holmes
From fantasy literature to illustrated books, not forgetting Malpertuis and Harry Dickson, Jean Ray was one of the major writers of fantasy literature of the first half of the 20th century. This bilingual Belgian author was born in Ghent on 8 July 1887 and died in the same city on 17 September 1964.
In 1910, he joined Ghent municipal administration, where he held a number of different jobs until 1919. At the same time, from 1909, he composed French songs for various Flemish theatrical reviews and then started writing song lyrics in 1910. It was in this context that the name Jean Ray first appeared, in 1912, with the score for "Tarif d'amour". In 1920, he joined the 'Journal de Gand', then in 1923 he took over 'L'Ami du Livre'. It was during this period that he published most of the short stories that would make up his first collection, "Les Contes du whisky" (The Tales of Whiskey), edited by La Renaissance du Livre in 1925.
On 8 March 1926, Raymond de Kremer (his real name) was arrested and charged with fraud. He was declared bankrupt and sentenced to six and a half years in prison, although he was finally released on 1 February 1929. He then began a more or less anonymous collaboration with several newspapers and magazines. In 1928, he used the pseudonym John Flanders in the Dutch-language magazine 'Ons Land'. In 1932, he embarked on the popular "Harry Dickson" series of stories. But Jean Ray often considered Harry Dickson as merely an excuse to write one of the dark, anguish-laden stories he was so good at. Of the 178 instalments published, 103 adventures were entirely written by Ray. In 1936, he published 96 original stories and almost 300 articles, and in 1937 he published 108 original stories and again around 300 articles. He was part of a group of writers who joined forces to create "Les auteurs associés" and it was during this period that he published his most famous novel, "Malpertuis" (1943), as well as "Le Grand Nocturne" (The Great Darkness) (1942), "Les Cercles de l'épouvante" (The Circles of Terror) (1943), "La Cité de l'indicible peur" (The City Of The Unspeakable Fear) (1943) and "Les Derniers Contes de Canterbury" (The Last Tales Of Canterbury) (1944).
He wrote a large number of stories as well as the scenarios for the "Edmund Bell" series, which was illustrated by the great Expressionist painter Frits Van den Berghe. His work fascinated a number of film-makers and was adapted for the screen by Harry Kümel ("Malpertuis", 1971) and Jean-Pierre Mocky ("La Grande frousse" (The Big Scare), 1964).
He said of his major work that, "Malpertuis was the first time that a name flowed so heavily from my terrified pen. I still repel the image of this house, the end point of so many human destinies through terrible desires; I withdraw, I prevaricate, before bringing it to the forefront of my memory. What's more, the characters are less patient than the house, no doubt in a hurry due to the brevity of their time on earth. Once they are gone, things remain, such as the stone from which the wretched houses are made."