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Re: [GAdetection] Settings

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  • Nicholas Fuller
    My favourite settings in a detective story: Academic: The university or school. Often very witty, full of eccentric dons or schoolmasters (and, judging from
    Message 1 of 3 , Sep 4, 2001

      My favourite settings in a detective story:

      Academic: The university or school.  Often very witty, full of eccentric dons or schoolmasters (and, judging from my own experience, I can say that several of my teachers seem to have crept out of the pages of a Michael Innes novel, as they are given to quoting at the drop of a hat, and airing decidedly unorthodox opinions...--still, who am I to speak?).  Still being at school myself, before plunging into the university sphere next year, I can relate to these settings.

      Prime examples: "The Greek Play" (H.C. Bailey); A Question of Proof (Nicholas Blake); The Case of the Gilded Fly, Love Lies Bleeding (Edmund Crispin); Death at the President's Lodging, The Weight of the Evidence (Michael Innes); An Oxford Tragedy (J.C. Masterman); Death at the Opera, Laurels are Poison, Tom Brown's Body (Gladys Mitchell).


      Historic Buildings: This includes the haunted house, the castle, church, or prison.  The atmosphere is often an integral part of these stories, with ghosts and goblins menacing the characters, family curses, archaeological threats, and everything smacking of M.R. James.  Highly entertaining.

      Prime examples: Hag's Nook, The Mad Hatter Mystery, The Plague Court Murders, The Red Widow Murders (John Dickson Carr / Carter Dickson); most of the Father Brown stories, although perhaps "The Doom of the Darnaways" in particular (G.K. Chesterton, of curse [sic]); The Name of the Rose (Eco--yes, it's a historical novel, but many of the key elements are there); When Last I Died (Gladys Mitchell).


      Closely related to this genre is the Archaeological genre, which includes ruins, excavations, and prehistoric curiosities.  Again, the atmosphere is often thick and bizarre, with more ghosts flitting around--the sense of the past impinging on the present is often particularly vivid.

      Prime examples: "The Long Barrow" (H.C. Bailey); "The Curse of the Golden Cross" (G.K. Chesterton); Murder in Mesopotamia, Death Comes as the End (Agatha Christie--yes, Death Comes as the End isn't strictly "archaeological", being set in Ancient Egypt when it was the modern day, but then neither is the next book--which still has a fascinating Egyptian background); The Eye of Osiris (R. Austin Freeman); Come Away, Death, The Dancing Druids (Gladys Mitchell).


      This may be conventional, but I also like the Village setting.  There is often a nice contrast between the idyllic vision of rural life forever gone, contrasted with the horrible disembowelment of the vicar on the lilac-hued carpet; and if the author can work in village legends or folklore, so much the better.

      Prime examples: "The Case of the Late Pig" (Margery Allingham--perhaps her masterpiece?); Black Land, White Land (H.C. Bailey); Head of a Traveller (Nicholas Blake); Heads You Lose (Christianna Brand); Till Death Do Us Part (John Dickson Carr); The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Murder at the Vicarage, Murder is Easy, A Murder is Announced (Agatha "Murder in the Title" Christie); The Long Divorce (Edmund Crispin); Overture to Death (Ngaio Marsh); The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop, The Saltmarsh Murders, The Devil at Saxon Wall (decidedly not your typical village!), Dead Men's Morris (Gladys Mitchell); The Nine Tailors (Dorothy L. Sayers); Murder M.D., Devil's Reckoning (Major Street writing as Miles Burton).

      My favourite genre, though, is the Mock (Or sometimes not, for several authors leave ambiguities at the end) Supernatural--often pastiche M.R. James, but nearly always adding that frisson of terror.

      Prime examples: "The Profiteers", "The Pink Macaw" (H.C. Bailey); The Burning Court, The Devil in Velvet, Fire, Burn! are all "pure" although many others of Carr's works such as The Plague Court Murders or The Crooked Hinge are "possessed" of a fine atmosphere; the Father Brown stories of G.K. Chesterton; The Mysterious Mr. Quin, The 13 Problems (Agatha Christie); the gloriously irrelevant ghost story in The Case of the Gilded Fly, one of the many things marking this book as Edmund Crispin's masterpiece; Stop Press! (Michael Innes--a metaphysical detective story); The Devil at Saxon Wall, Come Away Death, Death and the Maiden, The Dancing Druids, Tom Brown's Body, Merlin's Furlong (Gladys Mitchell); and some of Sayers' short stories.


      Nick Fuller

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