What are your favorite literary references in crime fiction?
One example concerns co-protagonist Frederick Troy's search for murder suspects amid a group of British bluebloods early in the Second World War, one of whom is identified as a descendant of Frederick, fifth earl of Ickenham.
Readers of P.G. Wodehouse will recognize the allusion to Uncle Freddy, bane of poor Pongo Twistleton's existence in "Uncle Freddy Flits By," a figure in several other stories, and just possibly Wodehouse's funniest creation.
Lawton picks up the Wodehouse theme in Troy's interrogation of the next blueblood on the list:
"`The evening [diary] entry is blank.'
"`I stayed on. A rare opportunity for a quiet evening with a good book. Uncle Fred in the Springtime. Ask me anything you like about the plot.'"
The light, Wodehouse-like tone of his banter with Troy is a deliberate contrast to Troy's previous encounter. The tone is almost enough to persuade the reader that this second figure, one Geoffrey Trench, M.P., is not the devil Lawton has led us to expect – almost, that is, until he lets slip a remark reasonable in its tone, evil in its implication, and goes on to suggest that his poisonous attitude is common among Conservative members of parliament and even prime ministers.
The juxtaposition of light (or low) comedy and dark tragedy is characteristic of Lawton's satirical method, effective in its shock value. In this instance, it might also be a reference to Wodehouse's own complicated war.
Now, tell me about your favorite literary references in crime fiction. Let me know, if you like, how and why these references work.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008