Today is the Tuesday Night Bloggers final look at costumes and disguises in crime fiction and what a month it has been! To catch up on the previous weeks’ posts click here:
And here are this weeks’ posts:
Bev at My Readers’ Block: Tuesday Night Bloggers: Hallowe’en
Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery Blog: Curiouser and Curiouser: The Best Short Adventure of Ellery Queen
Helen Szamuely at Your Freedom and Ours: Tuesday Night Bloggers: Multiple Mask Murderers
JJ at The Invisible Event: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Five to Try… But What’s the Theme?
Moira at Clothes in Books: Tuesday Night Club: Holmes and Costumes
For my own piece this week I decided to return to an author I haven’t read in a while, Edgar Allan Poe. Masques and carnivals crop up a lot in Poe’s short stories, such as in ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ (1846), ‘William Wilson’ (1839) and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (1842). In all of these stories the usual positive festival atmosphere is overturned and used as a vehicle for death – either as its own character or by human hand. Costume events are used as smoke screens and camouflage for dark deeds and even the choice of costume can induce paralysing fear on others. Additionally in William Wilson Poe uses characters in duplicate costumes to explore the conflict between self vs. alter ego.
However it is ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ which I plan to look at in more detail, seeing it as the locked room/impossible crime mystery which Poe never wrote. The story is set in an unspecific medieval setting and Prince Prospero’s kingdom is being ravished by the Red Death, a plague decimating his population. However Prospero is far from concerned and instead invites his friends to one of his abbeys, which he then seals to prevent any ingress or egress, so they can have a permanent masquerade. Yet 6 months in to this party, at the stroke of midnight, a new fearful figure enters the proceedings, seemingly dressed as the Red Death. Infuriated the Prince pursues this new reveller only to mysteriously die. His friends come to his aid, only to find the red death costume untenanted and their own demises follow shortly afterwards.
Now it would be fair to say that despite an eventually very high body count, this story lacks a crime and any detection – we know who and why people have died, the allegory is fairly evident, with a clear message against ignoring those in need and the folly of trying to evade death. It would seem Poe, although credited as a grandfather of crime fiction, had different goals in this story. Yet it might just be me but when reading this story I was thinking what a great full length locked room/impossible crime novel this could be. The setting and atmosphere are engaging and the deaths macabre. The abbey is fitted so no one can get in or out, yet the new reveller disguised as the red death clearly suggests otherwise. This figure is also able to kill the less than likeable prince a few feet away from him and also manages to exit his costume before the prince’s friends come to his aid. Of course Poe has a more supernatural explanation for all of this, but what a task it would be to find a human based solution! I also think there would be extra tension if the prince’s friends did not die straight away, but one by one and if one of these guests could also be the sleuth, a sleuth who cannot call on outside help due to the plague rampaging outside the abbey and the fact the abbey is closed up. How to close such a mystery would also pose quite a conundrum.
So if you have any suggestions for a human based solution let me know or which favourite author you think could write such a book? (My money is on Paul Halter personally).