A human eyeball shoots out of its socket, and rolls into a gutter. A child returns from the dead and tears the beating heart from his tormentor’s chest. A young man has horrifying visions of his mother’s decomposing corpse. A baby is ripped from its living mother’s womb. A mother tears her son to pieces, and parades around with his head on a stick.
When I published Murder at Mansfield Park in 2010 I did an interview about it on BBC radio, and I remember the almost breathless awe in the interviewer’s voice as she said, “This is your first novel, and you’re trying to write like Jane Austen?” Amazing though it may sound, that was the first time that it really came home to me what a mountainous task I’d set myself. Though I’d been under no illusions about how some readers might react to the idea of turning an Austen masterpiece into a murder mystery – there will always be some people who regard classic texts as sacred cows, never to be touched, let alone re-imagined as comprehensively as I had done. I can see where they’re coming from, of course, and there are things I would draw the line against myself (including alien invasions of Regency rectories). But if you draw the line too strictly, you restrict literature rather than protect it – a creative engagement with previous works has given us Virgil’s Aeneid, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, to name but three examples, and we’d probably have only about two and a half Shakespeare plays without it. So I make no apology for taking previous novels as my inspiration, and hope – in my own small way – that in doing so I bring to them something new.
Today marks the occasion of the centenary of the death of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914), the author of several volumes of fantasies and ghost stories, notable for their perfervid vigour and swashbuckling invention. For a while a friend of Baron Corvo, his writing has some of the Corvine style and personal ardour, while for wild imagination and world-shattering vision, he is in the same range as M.P. Shiel.
Ever since we realized that catching a malefactor wasn't as simple as throwing them in the water to see if they floated, we had to turn to science. And over the years, there have been some homicide cases that really changed things. Here are ten people whose killings paved the way to a new era in crime-solving.
From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein's monster, there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction - the Vampire - a creation of Lord Byron's personal physician John Polidiri. Andrew McConnell Stott explores how a fractious relationship between Polidiri and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Lord Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure of the legend we are familiar with today.
Cruickshank seems unable to speak in anything other than an urgent whisper while Graham-Dixon has the kind of face that looks particularly good rounding the top of a stone spiral staircase on a cold March morning.
It's one of those so-called facts that everyone knows: Bram Stoker's character Count Dracula was loosely based on Vlad the Impaler. But while there's no doubt that Stoker took the name from Vlad III's patronymic, it's doubtful that the Impaler was actually the basis for the famous vampire.
Autumn ushers in chill winds, falling leaves and lengthening shadows. Mornings and evenings are darker, mists become heavier, spiders scuttle from dark corners and carved pumpkins appear in windows as Halloween looms. All of which makes it the perfect time of year to talk about ghosts and vampires and things...