Bad girl, bad boy and a question for readers
Carlo Lucarelli was a scholar, too, working on a thesis with the mid-1960s-Dylanesque title "The Vision of the Police in the Memories of Anti-Fascists" when he "ran across a strange character who in a certain sense changed my life." He abandoned his thesis, and that character became the inspiration for Commissario De Luca, protagonist of Carte Blanche, That Damned Season and Via delle Oche. It's easy to read the dizzying administrative mess of De Luca's Fascist and post-Fascist Italy as commentary on a more current version of the country. And then there is David Liss' stunning The Coffee Trader, the most thorough and convincing work of historical illusionism I have ever read.
But erudition, social criticism and coffee are not the only inspirations for historical fiction. Another is good, old-fashioned dirty fun. I received a note on an unrelated topic this week from Mary Reed, who, with Eric Mayer, writes a series about John the Eunuch, a high official in the Byzantine court of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. Why, I asked her, had she and Mayer chosen this particular period?
"What happened," she replied, "was Mike Ashley asked us to write a short story for one of his early Mammoth Book historical-mystery collections, but the snag was we had only about three weeks to deadline. As it happened, Eric was interested in the Byzantine period and had a number of books about it, so we thought ... hmmm ... research material to hand, and nobody is working in that field (now, of course, it is beginning to get rather crowded in there), lots of colour and scandal, and so we wrote the first story about John."Readers, I can tell you that if you ever have a deadline to meet and a desperate need for dirt, you cannot do better than sixth-century Constantinople. Procopius, the great early-Byzantine historian and scandal-monger, inspired several of Reed and Mayer's books, and it's no wonder. The avowed subject of his Secret History is "the folly of Belisarius, and the depravity of Justinian and Theodora."
I'll leave you to read the salacious details yourself. Suffice it for now to note that Reed and Mayer have had "a lot of fun with reference to the business with the geese and Theodora."
And now, readers, it's your turn. What makes a historical period ripe for treatment in crime-fiction form?
© Peter Rozovsky 2008
historical crime fiction