My first book, Goodnight Irene, was dedicated to Christianna Brand. It’s an odd dedication because the book bears little resemblance to Brand’s writing aside from the armor reference from Death of Jezebel. There are many things I admire about her writing, but I’ll list three that are missing from my debut.
- Sympathetic and complex characters. She’s well known for making you understand the people involved in her murder plots. The reader is often baffled not only how they did it but, more importantly, how they could have done it. Despite their flaws, they are likable. Most of my characters are stock—I call it pic-a-tic writing. You choose one characteristic and go with it. Jack Tellum and Robert Lasciva are villains without deeper personalities. As Irene was my first novel, I concentrated on plot.
- Prose. My writing is terse. I love snappy dialogue. Narration is something I use only as a last resort. It’s dragged out of me. Brand’s prose is elegant. I think of her sentences like serpents that coil back on themselves, forcing you to read them again just to admire the beauty. My writing is nothing like Brand, and I don’t think it ever will be. That’s not who I am.
- Shattering conclusions. I tried. I really did. If I were woken from a dead sleep, I could recite Tedward’s final words to “Rosie” in London Particular. It’s a haunting scene, full of the desperation that led to the two murders. Goodnight Irene‘s conclusion can’t hope to match it or any of her other novels.
So, why dedicate it to her? After I read The Red House Mystery by AA Milne, impossible crime novels became a bit of an obsession. I happened upon a webpage by John Pugmire that listed locked room mysteries.
Go down and read the paragraph about Death of Jezebel. Tell me that’s not intriguing enough to find the book and read it this very moment! I think I began the book a little before noon and finished it around midnight. It was a life-changing experience. Terrifying, jaw-dropping, giggle-inducing, you name it, I felt it. After that, I knew I had to write a book and, more importantly, I knew it had to be bat-shit insane. Her book gave me the courage to go for it. Nothing would be off the table.
I soon devoured her other books. I think Green for Danger and London Particular are better. But Jezebel was the impetus to begin. (Funnily enough, my new book is far more Brand-like. Both in style and plot, especially plot – at times it may read like Christianna Brand’s greatest hits). My goal as a writer is to make at least one reader feel like I felt when I experienced Death of Jezebel. Perhaps I’ll get there someday.