#256: Catastrophic Protagonist Failure in Too Many Ghosts (1959) and The Hand of Mary Constable (1964) by Paul Gallico

Gallico

A little while ago, while secondhand bookshop haunting as is my wont, I stumbled upon a copy of Paul Gallico’s The Hand of Mary Constable (1964) — a book I have recommended here before for the brilliant way it shows up the tricks of the séance through a combination of perspicuous writing and trusting its readers’ intelligence.  My copy was a rat-eared, much-abused paperback and this was a lovely hardcover for a very reasonable price…and yet I vacillated for some time (like, a few weeks) before buying it.

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#253: Beauty and the Beast – The Sublime and the Ridiculous in Devil’s Planet (1951) by Manly Wade Wellman

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Like a latter-day Edgar Rice Burroughs, Manly Wade Wellman’s Earthman-out-of-his-element story casts the protagonist as a near-superhuman saviour who is hated by the powerful, championed by the underdog, and treated to sweet, sweet lovin’ by an appreciative female who’s clearly never experienced this sort of hunkiness before.  Think Jack Reacher of Mars for best (?) results.

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#199: A Quantum Murder (1994) by Peter F. Hamilton

a-quantum-murderRespected, iconoclastic patriarch of an isolated group found murdered in his bedroom one night when no-one else could have entered the house?  Check.  All members of the household cleared from complicity in his murder?  Check.  Amateur detective-cum-paladin called in against his will to investigate?  Check.  Cantankerous police riled by this effrontery in spite of the obvious specialised knowledge this amateur brings?  Check.  Honestly, Peter F. Hamilton wrote such a classic detective yarn with A Quantum Murder, it’s almost a surprise to find it on the SF shelves.  But when your genius amateur is also a fully-functioning enhanced psychic empath I suppose you’re not really in Agatha Christie territory any more…

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#188: Five to Try – Debunked Séances in Detective Fiction

seance

Flying lute?  Check.  Ghostly disembodied hand?  Check.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let’s call this meeting to order…

Following a recent post on John Dickson Carr’s The Lost Gallows over at The Green Capsule, I was reminded of just how much I love a séance in fiction.  Now, to be clear, I’m with Charlie Brooker on psychics and other such manipulative awfulness, but have a real love of sleight of hand and up-close magic (as perhaps evinced in my enthusiasm for fair play detective fiction and impossible crimes therein) and a debunked séance is often a great way to explore the little ways a set of circumstances can be misrepresented, and often some fascinating insights come out of it.

So, here are five great séances from detective fiction, alpabetically by author.

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#169: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Man and Superman: Refining the Protagonist in John Dickson Carr’s Historical Mysteries

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With the great man’s 110th birthday looming tomorrow — I hope everyone has got their suits dry-cleaned (I’m not the only one who blogs while in full formal dress, right?) — I thought I’d look at an aspect of John Dickson Carr’s writing that came to my attention recently upon reading The Devil in Velvet, namely his use of a modern-day protagonist thrown back into the past.

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#161: Hawk & Fisher (1990) by Simon R. Green

hawk-fisherAs a parody of the detective novel, the maverick cop genre, and the low Fantasy genre, Simon R. Green’s Hawk & Fisher takes quite some beating — it is an honestly hilarious take on the tropes of three.  I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since reading…well, possibly anything; almost every page contains some wonderful joke or savage undercutting of the false sincerity of the situations encountered, not unlike William Goldman’s timeless The Princess Bride.  For instance, Hawk is supposedly an expert in hand-to-hand combat with an axe, but he has only one functioning eye and therefore must lack any depth perception; it’s an absolutely genius piece of subversion, and such examples are rife.  The only problem is that I have a sneaking suspicion — only a sneaking one, mind — that this book is in fact supposed to be taken seriously.  Very Seriously Indeed.

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#118: Jack Glass (2012) by Adam Roberts

Jack Glass“The impulse for this novel,” says Adam Roberts “was a desire to collide together some of the conventions of ‘Golden Age’ science fiction and ‘Golden Age’ detective fiction, with the emphasis more on the latter than the former.”  Well, count me in!  Sure, the authors he then cites (Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Michael Innes) don’t all fill me with delight, but this is a collision of my two favourite genres plus impossible crimes — how could I pass it up?!  And it would have passed me by entirely had not blog-commenter ravenking81 brought it to my attention, so my most genuine thanks for that; at its best it’s a fascinatingly successful attempt at merging the two genres in a way that recalls both Isaac Asimov and John Dickson Carr, who, y’know, are the two finest authors to have worked in their respective genres.  So that’s a good thing.  By definition, however, it is not always at its best. Continue reading