My first post for a few months – have been working hard finalizing the outline for my new book. I’m pleased to say that I have now signed a contract with Palgrave Macmillan with a view to publishing later next year. I have already alluded to some of the ideas in previous posts but now the format is decided. As I work through the chapters I shall be posting regularly on the contents, both expected, and unexpected, throughout the coming months. I say unexpected because all writing is a journey full of unforeseen contingency and sudden changes of mind brought about by research. I liken it to a voyage into the heart of a Borgesian labyrinth; the outcome is never what one expects.
The title of the book is Detective Fiction and The Ghost Story: The Haunted Text and the narrative is centred around themes in the works of Conan Doyle and M R James. I have always been interested in the relationship between the two genres which have a common origin in the Gothic tales of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century. Both, too, have a common thematic approach; a central mystery, investigation building to a clear denouement. But there are differences too, most obviously rationality v. the supernatural, and even plots where the distinction between the two is blurred. I also take the broadest view of spectral characteristics, not merely the subject of conventional hauntings, in that I think it is quite possible for texts themselves to be haunted, haunted by texts which have gone before and by places and locations which as settings exert a powerful influence over an author’s writing. These themes invariably give the impression of a wider canvas than the superficial narrative may represent.
The contents of Detective Fiction and The Ghost Story: The Haunted Text include the part played by the past in present narratives, the notion of The Hound of the Baskervilles as a ghost story, The Locked Room as a supernatural event, The incidence of academe in both genres, the appearance of Magical Realism in some recent detective fiction and the loss of childhood, especially in the works of Susan Hill. All of these subjects I have introduced in previous posts but one which I have hitherto not mentioned concerns the works of Ian Rankin. In the book I will examine the relationship between the Rebus novels and the city of Edinburgh, the works of Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson both sons of the Scottish capital and the figure of Rebus himself haunted by his past and outlawed by the present. I have the highest regard for Rankin’s work, one of the true tests of writing is that it can transcend the boundaries of genre in which it may pigeonholed – anyone reading the Rebus novels is transported far beyond the boundaries of conventional detective fiction.
I will talk more about the Rebus series and the intriguing novels of Tony Hillerman and their association with mystical native Indian beliefs, in future posts.