A detective and his demons
If the detective battling his demons is a cliché of crime fiction, it’s one that I’ve eagerly embraced. I mean, who wants a protagonist who is happy with life and generally well balanced?
You can trace the origin of the motif all the way back to Oedipus, who, as far as I know, was the first detective in literature. As troubled detectives go, Oedipus is the gold standard, even to the extent that he discovered (SPOILER ALERT) he himself was the perpetrator of the crime he was investigating. And then there was the whole business of sleeping with his mother. That’s quite dark when you think about it.
My thinking was, if it’s good enough for Sophocles, it’s good enough for me. (Not the sleeping with his mother – just the detective with demons thing.)
Like Oedipus, my hero, Silas Quinn, has father problems. His back story is that his father died when Silas was a young man studying medicine. The official verdict was that his father committed suicide, but Quinn’s inability to accept this precipitated a mental breakdown. He had to abandon his studies and was admitted to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum.
Fast forward to the summer of 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War, when my novel, The Red Hand of Fury, is set. The world is about to go mad. Slaughter on a scale that trivialises the crimes Quinn investigates is about to be unleashed. And Quinn – now a Detective Inspector with the Special Crimes Department in the Met – is still obsessed with the circumstances of his father’s death. (Incidentally, it was this obsession which brought him into policing into the first place. He was convinced that his father had been murdered.)
Naturally, being a crime writer, I thought it would be fun to push the poor guy to the limit, give him the hardest case of his career, reunite him with an old nemesis (or two), and put him back inside Colney Hatch asylum as a patient. And also, at long last, make him confront the truth about his father’s death – well, almost.
If you’re going to do this demon business, you may as well do it properly.
To some extent, Quinn is so absorbed in his own obsessions that he doesn’t notice the outbreak of the war, which happens towards the end of the book. In fact, Quinn appears to suffer a second mental breakdown, which mirrors the insanity of the world as it begins to tear itself apart. I say ‘appears to’ because there is a deliberate ambiguity over whether this new breakdown is genuine or is feigned for the purposes of the case he’s investigating. Of course, if it is feigned, that’s a dangerous game for a man like Quinn to play. And if it’s genuine, and Quinn really is a madman, can we believe anything that he is represented as experiencing?
The Red Hand of Fury by R. N. Morris is published by Severn House.