Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Working out the mystery

For 2014, work continues on my new mystery, A Hangman for Ghosts. A mystery is really two stories: the story of a crime, its consequences and the discovery of the truth of that crime, and the concealed story of what led to the crime, its causes, motives, who is guilty, and why. The investigator leads in the first story to discover the second.

A mystery writer guesses the end, but I for one don't always know what lies between the discovery of the crime and the finding of the criminal. In a sense, I'm writing to work out what happens, and what has happened. And so A Hangman for Ghosts has sometimes intrigued and baffled me, and taken me in unexpected directions as much as the difficult and secretive protagonist. But I'm halfway there, or more, and begin to see it emerging.

In the meantime, here's what I know:

A Hangman for Ghosts

“To escape this place entirely we would need to destroy our memories – we would require a slaughter-man for memory, a hangman for ghosts.”

Sydney, New South Wales, 1829
When a series of brutal murders shake even the penal colony, officials look to the hated executioner, Gabriel Carver, a felon who purchased his own reprieve by turning against his fellow prisoners, for answers. But the sardonic Carver has an aptitude for brutal truths – if not self-preservation – and his dogged search for the truth will lead back to the prison hulks, his own dark path, and into the corrupt heart of the Empire and a shocking reversal.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Slow reading The Lord of the Rings, Part 3

It's been more than a year since I began my project of slowly rereading The Lord of the Rings. These have been some of my most-read posts; though why, I'm not sure (comments are welcome). Slow-reading, closer to the pace at which Tolkien wrote and rewrote, produces some interesting effects of perspective. Passages I hadn't remember stand out, others I had once raced through drag (Fangorn forest, fine; but on this read through, the business of the Ents simply took too long. I felt my patience fraying like Merry and Pippin's).

So here is an update for my entry into the last part of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King.

Picking up The Return of the King (after a break to plough through The Night Land), I'm interested in how Tolkien seems to take a pause, to slow the action before the great final battles. Normally, one reads rapidly through this part of the epic, anticipating the battle for Minas Tirith and the final journey of the Ring, but this time the preparation for war is invested with an ominous calm and a subtle humanity.

Pippin arrives in Minas Tirith, is presented at the citadel to a proud and brooding Denethor, but he takes meals, looks at the view, walks in the streets, talks with soldiers and boys, watches more companies of armed men arrive. There is a sense of fragility about Minas Tirith, of a culture that is strong but has also atrophied, clinging to its history while losing territory to the Shadow. These early scenes, particularly with Beregond and his son, show us ordinary people preparing for war and disaster. They cheer for reinforcements, although the numbers are too few. They watch the gates and wonder where Faramir is. They touchingly mistake a common Hobbit for a Halfling prince; in other words, they are ordinary as well as heroic. Little happens, but then in war nothing ever really happens until the enemy arrives and the arrows, or the bombs, start falling.

The language of the narrative also changes, shifting from the brisk, sometimes idiomatic language of adventure in The Fellowship of the Ring to the archaic grammar and anachronistic phrasing that suggests Anglo-Saxon and Medieval sources. To my mind, this models the shift from the peripheral, near-eighteenth century Shire to the fulcrum of the conflict, a world remote from us in language and time. More on this as I draw closer to the end.