I love picking up books for a one pound coin in Bristol charity shops. I read books that normally would never come my way. One such book: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House was particularly fascinating.
Here’s what I learned about the origin of fictional and real life detectives and detective stories:
A Detective was a recent invention (in the 1840’s). The first fictional sleuth, Ausguste Dupin, appeared in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841, and the first real detectives in the English-speaking world were appointed by the London Metropolitan Police the next year. The officer who investigated the murder at Road Hill House – Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher of Scotland Yard – was one of the eight men who formed this fledging force.
The Road Hill case riveted all of England. It was a classic “country house” murder. Someone viciously killed a small child, took him from his bed, and stuffed the body down the privy (outhouse). Logistically, only someone inside the house could have committed the crime. No one else had the access to the necessary locations. The (very public) unfolding of the investigation shaped the detective fiction of the era and beyond. Whicher’s personality inspired the first English detective novel, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and its police inspector Sergeant Cuff. Cuff has inspired nearly every detective in fiction since.
The Emotional Toolbox categorizes the stories we normally think of as detective stories as Power of Truth stories.
These stories are defined by the secrets, lies, conspiracies, and truths that are hidden or concealed from or by the characters. Power of Truth stories explore the most profound and personal of betrayals.
In The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher there are secrets, lies, and layers of betrayal at the heart of the Victorian home, a place considered irreproachable and sacred at the time of the murder. The case tore the roof off what was a deeply private place. It exposed rot and malice in place of what was assumed to wholesome and pure.
Power of Truth stories feature twists, treachery, and reversals, each of which can suddenly change everything the character believes is true. They conceal and reveal larger underlying issues or covert agendas that secretly manipulate the characters or the story world itself.
The cruelty, hatred, and abuse seething beneath the violent explosion in the Road Hill Murder case revealed the twisted dark side in seeming respectable middle class Victorian family life. This was a shock to the public and to Whicher himself.
Power of Truth stories are complex tales that usually deal with darker side of human emotion. Plotting is key to triggering the detective’s fear and loathing and maintaining it at full force through the story.
The Power of Truth story world is rich and multi-layered. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. The protagonist can’t fully trust anyone. In some cases, the protagonist can’t even trust him or her self! The case broke Whicher professionally, personally, and emotionally.
A Power of Truth story is fundamentally about how others deceive a character and how that character deceives him or her self. Plot development typically investigates or uncovers the truth about one thing and, as a result, uncovers the truth about larger secrets, crimes, or conspiracies lurking below the surface.
Ultimately, these stories explore the essential nature of truth and whether it is ever possible to fully know or understand the complex mysteries of the human heart— our own or anyone else’s.
Power of Truth novels and films are rich, complex stories filled with profound questions about the nature of illusion vs. reality; guilt, innocence and culpability; the elusive boundaries of loyalty and betrayal; the corrosiveness of secrets and lies; and, certainty vs. the unknowability of some things.
These stories slowly un-peel multi-layered deceptions, forbidden truths, and deep self-delusion, exposing the most agonizing and dangerous human emotions.
For more information on creating these rich complex stories see: The Power of Truth eBook