Monday, November 23, 2009

The Lordly Detective


An illustration by Clarence F. Underwood

for a 1907 edition of Beau Brocade

by the Baroness Orczy.



Of course, the prolific Baroness is most famous for her novel featuring the inane public fop and clever secret agent and adventurer, Sir Percy Blakeney, aka The Scarlet Pimpernel.


I'm not sure that Orczy began the tradition of the lordly detective; but certainly, Allingham's Albert Campion and Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey follow it in fine and socially nuanced style.

These idle connections made me wonder if there are current mystery novels out there with a modern aristrocrat or prince of the blood with a clandestine interest in solving murders and such.

Prince Charles's public personna would make a fine foil for this kind of furtive hobby, don't you think? (Of course, by mentioning him at all - considering certain public attitudes -- I risk derailing any discussion into comments about his character, Diana, etc.!)

However, there are enough other lords and ladies out there not so closely contained by the paparazzi to give credence to the basic plot. Unfortunately, class-levelling has removed much of the deliciously voyeuristic charm of this sort of novel and made the writer's job much more difficult because they can't as easily depend on the reader's perception of attitudes and motivations based on class structure. Pity.

I want to thank Vesper (http://chickwithaquill.blogspot.com/) for her encouragement to get back at it.

While my wellspring of creativity is still dry, I did haul up a short story from my files and managed to edit and expand the story to a length that might make it acceptable to some unsuspecting and uncritical publisher.

As you must know, one of my writing faults is brevity. I am too curt with my characters and too terse with my inferences.

33 comments:

Whirlochre said...

I like the idea that Lord Lucan, driven mad by guilt, now spends his days as Lord Sir Baron Quentin Thrumpentwazzle, aristocrat ubertramp of some Pacific island's desolate streets, hunting among the banana trees for the evil English upper class rogue who committed murder most foul in 1974...

StarvingWriteNow said...

I haven't come across any contemporaries; but I do like reading the 'gentleman sleuth' (or lady, for that matter) mysteries. Am currently in the midst of a trio by Charles Finch, set in the mid-1800s.

If you feel the need for a giggle, I'm still posting bad romance covers on the blog!

Bernita said...

The Lucan mystery is a twisted, tragic story, Whirl.
I remember reading something about Lord Lucan's piper on D Day.

"I'm still posting bad romance covers on the blog!"
Oh, Starving, I missed those! Will be over soon.

BernardL said...

There have been many plots featuring a well off detective solving cases for police, but none as intricately wound as the 'Scarlet Pimpernel'. I've always believed the old writer's axiom 'Brevity is the soul of wit'.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I first read The Scarlet Pimpernel when I was sixteen. It's one of the books I seek and re-read every decade or so.

I like to think my accountant dad is really an international spy, considering all the exotic places he goes and the upheaval after he leaves!

Bernita said...

Bernard, I sometimes think editors expect fat!

Sandra, you never know! He could be an "asset."

raine said...

I suppose modern royalty might be replaced by something else. A reality star who's come to believe his own press? A politician, covertly fighting crime and corruption? (ok, that's a stretch...) ;)

Glad to hear you're writing in ANY form, yay!

Charles Gramlich said...

FOr an aristrocratic detective, look no further than C. S. Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr series. There's a link to her on my blog under the Louisiana collection. She rights very atomsphereic mysteries set in historical England.

Natasha Fondren said...

What a great idea! Your voice rocks, by the way. I don't think it's "too" anything. It's you, and that's great.

ORION said...

Aloha!!!!!!
I don't have your email anymore...
patricia@patriciawoodauthor.com
It was so nice to see your comment!
Much aloha,
Pat/ORION

Bernita said...

I guess it has been, Raine. Lords just don't have the status they once had.

Thank you, Charles. I find period detectives most enjoyable.

Bless your kind heart, Natasha!

Pat, it's so nice to be able to cruise blogs again.

Steve Malley said...

Brevity need not be a shortcoming. I know John Connolly is an additive writer, turning out an impossibly brief first draft and returning to it pass after pass to add layers of nuance and meaning, etc. :)

archer said...

It's very nice to visit here again!

The trouble with aristocrats who spy, figure stuff out etc.,is that spying and figuring stuff out is hard work, which it seems to me is the business of aristocracy to avoid. The best modern solution is James Bond, an apparent aristocrat who has so many toys and women that all the hard work looks like fun. But Bond himself is pretty much a bore, not nearly as much fun as Bucket, the detective in Bleak House, because Bucket is so working-class and crafty--much more like Mike Hammer or my favorite modern detective, Scott Turow's Det. Lipranzer.

laughingwolf said...

i loved listening to the scarlet pimpernel serials on the radio, eons ago... and others

cbc-radio-1 is currently broadcasting 'afghanada', a piece of trash i have no interest in, despite the acclaim it receives...

your dry spell will soon end, hard to keep a good writer down! :)

Bernita said...

"an additive writer" - Steve, that sounds much better!(Makes me feel better about my habit, anyway...)

Thank you, Archer.
"hard work, which it seems to me is the business of aristocracy to avoid." - part of their charm, they gave the lie to the concept of the "idle rich/ aristrocrat."

Afghanada? I think I'm happy not to have heard it, Laughing Wolf!
Thank you. Being with you people again may well put me on the path to recovering a little inspiration.

December/Stacia said...

I feel awful that I didn't see you were back to blogging. You're never a stranger, Bernita. Thrilled to hear from you again.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I am always pleased to hear of additive writers as I too write short and to the point. I try to go back and add more, but seldom think it's necessary. It does remain a problem.

Michele Lee said...

I just want to add that it's very good to see you "out" and about Bernita. *back to lurking*

laughingwolf said...

it's a totally fictional account, bernita... and WHY do we need it?

certainly NO entertainment level in my book :(

i got turned off after the first few minutes...

laughingwolf said...

'value', not 'level'... sheeeeeesh!

Vesper said...

Your post made me think of Arsene Lupin, the gentleman-cambrioleur - I love him! :-)

As for writing, Bernita, any (re)start is good.

I have recently rediscovered this from the German poet Rilke. I apologise, but I must quote it here:

No one can advise or help you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926)
Letters to a Young Poet
Letter One (17 February 1903)

This is how I feel...

I also know that, shorter or longer, you write beautifully, that you have an exceptional talent. Editors already know, and will know that.

Bernita said...

Stacia, my lovely girl, I am just back.

You,too, Suzanne?
Makes hitting word count parameters difficult, doesn't it?

So nice of you, Michelle. Thank you.

Having had two of mine deployed there, Laughing Wolf,from your description am glad I never encountered it.

Oh, Vesper...
~cries~

Shauna Roberts said...

So glad to see you back in the blogosphere, Bernita.

writtenwyrdd said...

In the Miles Vorkosigan stories by Lois McMaster Bujold, he is in line for the throne and he manages to create his own private army, solve mysteries and have all sorts of adventures. Pure space opera stuff, though, and great fun. You might enjoy the books next time you have a yen for science fiction.

writtenwyrdd said...

And you write beautifully, so I think saying you are terse is a bit unfair on yourself.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Shauna.

~slaps hands for not thinking outside the mystery box~
You're absolutely right, Written.Miles certainly fits.
Though I have only two of the series, he is one of my favourite heroes.
(I ALWAYS have a yen for SF)

Thank you, Written, but you KNOW I write too tight!

Rick said...

Wonderful to be back here!

I think something could be done with an aristo detective, forced by circumstances to live on the fringes of the celebrity-verse, and so unavoidably drawn into its affairs.

But probably now only a Brit could do it, because there's not really a 'living' aristo stereotype anymore - only the fossilized stereotype of an earlier era. (At least not one familiar enough to have crossed the pond and registered on Hollywood.)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick. You have put your finger on the problem.
I seems to remember - and losing - a series novel about a young Lady detective type who lived in New York but visited England on occasion and was involved in mystery and mayhem, but her name is gone.

writtenwyrdd said...

You don't WRITE too tight, Bernita, you are just a bit too stingy with the telling of certain pertinent details. There IS a difference.

jason evans said...

Bernita, I just wanted to say that I'm very happy to see you back!

Bernita said...

Written, it's a bad case of chickenshit!

Thank you, Jason. I have a lot of catching up to do on your blog.I missed reading your contest entries.

Ello said...

Bernita! It is wonderful to see you again! I didn't realize you were blogging but am so glad you stopped by. I've waited impatiently for your wonderful words. And I'm a writer of sparse words also - but I've been told I need to learn to expand on the emotional depth of my characters. It has been a learning experience for me this year but I'm getting there.

Welcome back!

Bernita said...

Ello! It took me a while to find your new blog or I'd have been by sooner.