Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor and Blogger Scott Butki
“I felt like I could isolate the characteristics of the three general types of modern monsters – Undead, Parasite, Psychotic – and trace them back to three novels, namely Frankenstein, Dracula and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From there, I asked myself: What if one figure combined all three of these characteristics, and directly, personally influenced the authors of those books?” – Andrew Pyper
Andrew Pyper has written a fascinating, disturbing, horrifying, engaging novel, The Only Child. For me, at least, horrifying and engaging rarely go together but they do in this book.
The brilliance of the novel (and the reason I agreed to an interview even before I started the book) stems from this premise: The female lead character is a forensic psychiatrist who often interviews violent psychotic criminals. Then she meets a man who tells her he is more than 200 years old, and was the inspiration behind Frankenstein, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula. Oh, and he lets her know that he is her father who can answer questions about why her mom was murdered when she was a child.
Now THAT is a hook. And the book lives up to that great premise.
Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?
Andrew Pyper: By reading. I was following a curious thread in my mind about where our idea of monsters come from and working my way through some of the early gothic tradition, when I had this Eureka! moment. I felt like I could isolate the characteristics of the three general types of modern monsters – Undead, Parasite, Psychotic – and trace them back to three novels, namely Frankenstein, Dracula and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From there, I asked myself: What if one figure combined all three of these characteristics, and directly, personally influenced the authors of those books? What if he was alive today? What would he want? How would he live? And to me, most interesting of all: What would it be like to be truly unique, truly alone, yet move among humanity as if you belonged?
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Horror and mystery – they’re just two sides of the same tarnished, dented coin. Ever since Edgar Allen Poe first brought together Gothic horror and tales of criminality, thus creating the modern detective story, horror and crime fiction have gone together like low-grade peanut butter with seedy jelly sold by a grinning vendor with far too many teeth. To celebrate the complimentary nature of these two genres, here are a few spooky suggestions to help us survive the long Halloween night. Stay inside reading these, and you just might make it till morning…
Scott’s Top Supernatural Thrillers
Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
Harry Angel, a postwar New York private eye, works the case of a missing crooner Johnny Favorite. The trail leads to voodoo, devil worship, and Satan himself. Told in a hard-boiled style, this is one of the first examples of blending both genres, with one of the best reveals in either.
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Post by Molly Odintz
Our Pick of the Month for March, A Man Lies Dreaming, by Lavie Tidhar, seamlessly melds alternative history with the private detective novel, for a unique, chilling, and highly relevant take on the events of WWII. Tidhar is not the first, however, to combine these two genres, nor is A Man Lies Dreaming his first work to combine scifi, alternative history, and the PI novel.
Beyond my own personal enthusiasm for such works, science fiction and the detective novel have long shared an affinity. Each explores our greatest fears through our darkest imaginings; each, when good, is as likely to explode the genre as to adhere to its conventions; each, whether good or bad, has a fascinating tendency to represent left-wing or right-wing politics better than any centrist viewpoint.
Science fiction and detective fiction both exhibited the same spare, linguistic dexterity that catapulted modernist writers to fame, yet each spent decades condemned as pulp. Each has since been embraced as a serious topic of analysis, with a set of writing conventions and classic works, yet each seeks to widen its scope to the point at which the idea of overarching “genre” becomes somewhat meaningless, in the face of brilliant sub-genre and cross-genre works.
In celebration of the death of the canon, the rise of genre fiction, the waning of genre fiction, and its replacement with the post-modern categories of sub-genre and cross-genre fiction, I’ve collected a few of those works that refuse to pick a side, firmly in multiple genre camps. Below, you’ll find a few of my favorite mystery/scifi genre-benders.
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A Man Lies Dreaming, our March Pick of the Month, is released today. The novel follows two protagonists, one in our universe, and one in an alternative history universe, as they navigate the pitfalls of two very different visions of World War II. Below, you’ll find an interview with British-Israeli writer Lavie Tidhar, author of the genre-bending literary scifi novels A Man Lies Dreaming, Osama, The Violent Century and The Bookman Histories, and the first author whose work I’ve felt truly deserves comparisons to Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle.
- Interview by Molly Odintz
Molly Odintz: In A Man Lies Dreaming, you include references to the work of Ka-Tzetnik 135633, a concentration camp survivor and Israeli writer who used pulp fiction as a medium to process the traumas of the Holocaust. You reference, in your footnotes, an article published in Tablet that profiles Ka-Tzetnik’s work as lurid, pornographic, and profound; his novel House of Dolls, although out of print in English, is required reading in Israeli schools, despite its concentration camp bordello setting. Can you tell me a bit about how Ka-Tzetnik’s work influenced you? How has Ka-Tzetnik 135633 and his work fallen into such obscurity in the United States?
Lavie Tidhar: I’ll be honest – I was never really able to read Ka-Tzetnik! (I think it’s Samalandra that’s been on the school curriculum, incidentally, not House of Dolls. But I’m not entirely sure). My interest was more in the argument that he represents, and the effect that he’s had on the way the War was then explored in the Hebrew pulps following the Eichmann Trial. Watching the video of him testifying during the trial is a powerful experience, it’s almost the defining moment of the trial, in many ways (you can find it on Youtube). Weirdly, I don’t even know that much about him.
I realise this is a terrible answer! But I often find myself corresponding with cultural artefacts that I may only really know second or third hand, by a sort of cultural osmosis, really. Or, to put it another way, I just try to make sure I sound smarter than I actually am!
“I grew up on a lot of those weird, experimental, very non-commercial forms of US 60s science fiction, European crime fiction, and so I always had the (possibly quaint!) notion that genre could very powerfully act as a countercultural literature, a radical literature. There’s something very powerful in serving up a sort of crazy funhouse mirror on reality, and there is something very liberating when you can consider humanity – just as a for instance! – not as central to the narrative but as a sort of cosmic speck of dust in a vastly enormous universe… it’s the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night!”
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Review by bookseller and blogger Molly Odintz
W hen a coworker passed along an advanced review copy of Lavie Tidhar’s latest genre bending novel, A Man Lies Dreaming, a few months ago, I immediately took it home and devoured it. I then ordered in his previous mixture of scifi and noir, Osama, set in an alternative reality where 9/11 never happened and Osama bin Laden is a fictional character. In A Man Lies Dreaming, as in his previous novel Osama, Tidhar combines science fiction, alternative history, and the private eye novel; Tidhar brings together so many of my preferred genres, I feel amazed such a thing exists.
A Man Lies Dreaming splits its narrative between Shomer, a writer of Yiddish pulp fiction, or shund, imprisoned in Auschwitz, and Wolf, a German refugee living in London upon the eve of the Second World War. The reader slowly realizes that Shomer’s perspective is told from within our own historical reality, while Wolf occupies an alternative reality (possibly existing only in Shomer’s dreams).
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True crime books may be a hop and a step away from their mystery and thriller cousins, but every once in a while, just as readers jump from fact to fiction, a crime writer will step across the bounds from fiction to non-fiction. The origins of detective fiction lie in the lurid pulp of yellow journalism, and crime fiction based on fact remains perennially popular. Here are five non-fiction crime reads by authors who started off writing fiction. The picks below range from recent releases to true crime classics.
LAPD ’53 by James Ellroy
Ellroy’s stunning collaboration with the Los Angeles Police Museum showcases the weird, wild and less-than-wonderful world of LA in 1953. The collection highlights a society marked by the dissonance and blurred lines between appearance and reality, cops and criminals, vagabonds and victims, and starlets and sociopaths. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this slim volume is a perfect shortcut to enjoying the work of America’s most violent and verbose writer (although Don Winslow and Greg Isles, with their recent work, have both been racking up a competitively high body count and even higher page count). You can find copies of LAPD ’53 on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
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