For those of us who grew up obsessed with books, taking trips to the library every chance we got and memorizing the check-out limit, books have always been our safe spaces.
They’re where we go when we have too much to do, or we’re going through something, or just need to escape for a while. I’ve spent many an hour with my head tilted sideways, reading every title on the shelves of the library or hunched on the floor, flipping through a book before buying it at my favorite bookstore.
Libraries, bookstores, they’re my favorite places in the world!
With all of that time spent in the quiet of a library or lost in the shelves on a darkening afternoon, I realize just how quickly that setting can turn sinister. A scream in the silence, eyes peering from the other side of the spines. The quiet is only comforting until you want — no, need — someone around to help you.
I am a lifelong lover and obsessive consumer of all kinds of genre fiction in many mediums, from the original Star Trek series to yakuza and samurai films, from JG Ballard’s sci-fi nightmares to PG Wodehouse’s sparkling farces.
But if there is one genre form that attains a kind of Platonic perfection, the genre of genres, I believe it has to be the mystery, specifically the detective story.
In The Wild Life, the newest novel in my Bouncer series, Joe Brody, a strip-club bouncer who sidelines as a fixer for New York’s mob bosses, is given a new kind of assignment: detective. Sort of. A number of the city’s most sought after sex workers have disappeared and the bosses fear the worst – a serial killer in their midst. They ask Joe to investigate, forcing him to become a strange new hybrid, professional criminal turned amateur private eye, in a book that attempts to cross the heist novel with a detective story.
This is actually my third try at a detective narrative of sorts and each time I’ve taken a different approach. In The Serialist, a pulp writer is hired to ghost the memoir of a death row killer. In Mystery Girl, a desperate husband, hoping to win back his wife, takes the only job he can get – “assistant” to a possibly deranged amateur detective. Nevertheless, these variations on the form are mere crumbs at the feast, drops in the overflowing well that is detective fiction.
Despite remaining in many ways essentially the same since Dupin and Holmes, I believe that a large part of the mystery’s continued relevance, eternal popularity and seemingly limitless expansion is its ideal malleability as a form, retaining its essential nature while being twisted into new shapes over the decades.
Lawrence Osborne has written an official – and good – sequel to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novel, ‘Only to Sleep.’ The British novelist lives off the beaten track in Thailand, where journalist Ross Davies joined him for sake.