Genre is essentially the formalisation of deja vu. Those of us who return to — or avoid — particular genres do so because of the essential ingredients that recur there, whether through implicit rules or otherwise.
If I asked you to name the debut novel of a hugely influential detective fiction author that was originally written in 1916, published four years later, featured a character called Hastings, and had its ending rewritten at the publisher’s request to remove a courtroom/trial sequence…you’d no doubt be surprised just how much The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie and The Cask (1920) by Freeman Wills Crofts had in common. The intervening century has been kinder to Christie than to Crofts in both literary reputation and availability, and their divergence from these surface-level similarities is no doubt a part of that.
When might a self-published novel not be a self-published novel? That’s the quandary I face with J.R. Ellis’ third book, Murder at Redmire Hall (2018). See, it’s technically published by Thomas & Mercer, but they’re simply an imprint of Amazon Publishing and the line between what’s different about this and simply uploading it to Amazon oneself gets blurrier the more you look at it.
John Wilkins has never quite fitted in anywhere: not in his father’s affections, not in the Army, not at his tennis club, not even in his marriage. Even when he feels as if he acquits himself well at something, there’s still a part of his mind he closes off for fear that he’ll realise “that the whole thing is a daydream and you’re just being stupid”. And so when a chance encounter with librarian Sheila Morton stirs in Wilkins something he’s not experienced for quite some time — “I’m not attractive to women” he tells us on more than one occasion — it’s also the first step along a road that ends with murder. The question is, whose murder?
I started 2019 on The Invisible Event by sharing the wonderful news that Goodnight Irene (2018) by James Scott Byrnside was a modern impossible crime novel we had legitimate reason to get excited about. And, excitingly, the end of that book promised a follow-up — titled Nemesis at the time — in 2019. And, one title-change later, no doubt on account of some has-been getting there first, here we are.