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Mysterious Ways

Now You See It/Him/Them…  (Joe Karns, volume 1)

By Robert Coulson & Gene DeWeese 

2 Jun, 2024

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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1975’s Now You See It/Him/Them… is the first book in a series by Robert Coulson and Gene DeWeese, the Joe Karns SF mysteries.

Summoned by a vaguely worded letter to the hotel room of professional debunker Silas Tucker, Joe Karns arrives just in time to hear Silas being murdered. Breaking in, Joe catches a glimpse of … something? A shimmering image Joe is hard-pressed to describe.

The police aren’t surprised to learn that Joe has somehow gotten entangled in a murder or that his eyewitness account borders on the unbelievable. Joe’s life has been a series of peculiar and alarming events.

Silas Tucker died in a hotel full of SF writers and fans. His decision to hang out at a con isn’t so very odd. Before he pivoted to the lucrative field of pseudoscience debunking, Tucker was a moderately successful SF writer. Although he no longer writes SF, Tucker still maintains his ties to fandom.

SF fans love exposition and info-dumping. Joe soon collects ample background information on Tucker. This does not serve to narrow down who might have wanted Tucker dead, as the list of suspects includes members of every cult he exposed … and many other people.

Out-of-town sheriff Walter Hensley seeks Joe out. Hensley accepts Joe’s dubious-sounding account at face value because something very similar happened to Hensley. Hensley cornered a killer, only to have the killer somehow escape from an escape-proof room. Hensley is certain that Tucker’s murder is connected to his case.

Others share Hensley’s conviction. Two goons working for mobster Bart Trimble accost Joe and drag him off for an interview. Unsatisfied with Joe’s responses, the mooks prepare an injection of some kind. Once again circumstances are in Joe’s favor and he is able to escape before he can be injected.

To Joe’s surprise, filksinger Kay Clark facilitates his escape. Kay knows far more about what’s going on than she previously admitted. Tucker had, it seems, discovered that ESP is very real. Tucker had a list of people he believed had ESP powers. Joe and Kay were on that list. So was a third party, a hardened killer with a very special ability, a man determined to silence everyone who might know about his curious knack.

Thanks to Kay, Joe is now someone who knows too much.


I too am astounded that the first Coulson I should review isn’t by Juanita Coulson (fourth woman to win a Hugo Award, for Yandro) but rather her husband, Mr. Juanita Coulson. Robert Buck” Coulson shared the Yandro win. All those husbands coasting on their looks might do well to up their game.

Even the most minor of books should have its surprises. Now You See It/Him/Them has at least three1.

  • First is a passage early in the book in which the author interrupts the narrative to explain to readers what Star Trek was. This seems a little odd, as the animated Star Trek was airing at the time of the novel.
  • Isaac Asimov is singled out as handsy, although not as creepy as other handsy fans and authors.
  • Finally, the issue of men stealing women’s research is highlighted. Stealing women’s research is how Tucker got his start. There’s a reason the suspect list is so long.

On the subject of women, not only is Kay a woman who rescues Joe as often as he rescues her2, she’s African American. Olden timey SF’s portrayal of black people often bordered on what one might diplomatically call horrifying racist. Kay would seem to be an exception.

Now You See It/Him/Them also raises some important questions. For example, how badly did SF pay that Fads and Fallacies knock-offs paid better? Historical context matters: Tucker would have made his career change about the time the magazine trade in general and SF in particular suffered a calamitous set-back. Want to know more? Ask me in comments. Be prepared to regret asking.

It’s no surprise that debunker Tucker is revealed as a not very nice guy — debunkers are such killjoys, plus Tucker is a thief — or that it turned out he was wrong about ESP. SF fans, of which Coulson and DeWeese were two, did so love their psionics3. But Tucker is also shown to be the sort of debunker who can accept evidence and modify his beliefs accordingly. Too bad for him it was that very virtue that got him killed.

Given DeWeese and Coulson’s involvement in fandom, no doubt that this book has references to olden timey fandom that passed me by. Olden timey fans may amuse us all by pointing them out.

There are mysteries in which the lead carefully uncovers secrets and applies cold logic to reveal the culprit. This is not one of those books. Joe’s special power is weirdness magnet4.” SF fans love expository dialogue. Both magnet” and exposition are very convenient as far as solving mysteries goes. Even more convenient, the antagonist is a supervillain in at least two respects: they have an honest-to-god superpower and they love monologuing even when shooting would be far more productive.

The plot avoids anticlimax by making it clear that just as clues and information find their way to Joe, so do excessively muscular gangsters. Assassin’s bullets might as well. There’s no question that all the information Joe needs will eventually fall into his lap. Whether he will survive to the end of the book is less assured5.

Now You See It/Him/Them… isn’t a lost classic. It’s no surprise that it’s been out of print longer than the median human has been alive. Nevertheless, it held my interest for its full 157 pages, which is all one can ask. Now You See It/Him/Them… pleased enough readers to get a sequel, which as it happens, I also possess. Perhaps another review there….

Now You See It/Him/Them… is very much out of print.

1: Perhaps there’s a fourth surprise. It is pertinent to the plot that Hensley is operating out of his proper jurisdiction, as hard as that is for the sheriff to accept. You want to pistol-whip a witness, suspect, or passerby in New York, you’d better be a member of the NYPD.

2: Joe does, however, make a passing snarky comment about women’s lib.

3: ESP is shown as very real to a large number of cops over the course of the novel. Will the military industrial complex take an interest?

4: Weirdness magnet” is a term that would not be coined until the mid-1980s in DC Comics’ Blue Devil.

5: For purposes of suspense, please ignore the existence of a sequel.