By Martha Reed
Everyone I talk to who’s a mystery writer has come to it from one of two ways: either through true crime stories or because of the mystery stories they read and at some point decided to write. We all know that Truman Capote blurred the line between true crime and fiction with IN COLD BLOOD and I can promise you that I had a couple of sleepless nights after reading about the Manson Family in HELTER SKELTER but what I wondered about for today’s blog is: who is your favorite sleuth?
Did you start out with Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? Stumble across a massive old volume of A. Conan Doyle on your grandfather’s bookshelf as I did and disappear for so long your mother had to come looking for you? The Hound of the Baskervilles changed the way I viewed storytelling forever and to be honest there was a serious period of adolescence when I considered Sherlock Holmes a close personal friend; forget the fact that he was fictional. Mere existence was irrelevant.
To honor my favorite sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey (and his creator Dorothy L. Sayers) I’d like to insert a little bit of the writing here from one of my favorite short stories The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention. Lord Peter’s horse has picked up an engine bolt in her shoe and he has had to stop and dismount to remove it. He's about to meet the Death Coach of the Burdocks:
“The nut resisted his efforts, and the mare, touched in a tender spot, pulled away, trying to get her foot down. He soothed her with his voice and patted her neck. The torch slipped from his arm. He cursed it impatiently, set down the hoof, and picked up the torch from the edge of the grass, into which it had rolled. As he straightened himself again, he looked along the road and saw.
Up from under the dripping dark of the trees is came, shining with a thin, moony radiance. There was no clatter of hoofs, no rumble of wheels, no ringing of bit or bridle. He saw the white, sleek, shining shoulders with the collar that lay on each, like a faint fiery ring, enclosing nothing. He saw the gleaming reins, their cut ends slipping back and forward unsupported through the ring of the hames. The feet, that never touched the earth, ran swiftly – four times four noiseless hoofs, bearing the pale bodies by like smoke. The driver leaned forward, brandishing his whip. He was faceless and headless, but his whole attitude bespoke desperate haste. The coach was barely visible through the driving rain, but Wimsey saw the dimly spinning wheels and a faint whiteness, still and stiff, at the window. It went past at a gallop – headless driver and headless horse and silent coach. Its passing left a stir, a sound that was less a sound than a vibration – and the wind roared suddenly after it, with a great sheet of water blown up out of the south.
“Good God!” said Wimsey. And then: “How many whiskies did we have?”
To really see how good this writing is, read it aloud and see how melodically it trips across your lips and over your tongue. I swear I can even hear the cadence from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in it but that could be my over-imagination.
To finish up, I’m curious to hear your story. What led you to a life of crime and/or who is your favorite sleuth? And Why?