Author: John Shirley
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Publisher: Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins
Event organized by: Literati Author Services, Inc.
From award-winning author John Shirley comes an inventive whodunit featuring the master of mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
When Nicholas Fogg, an unsuccessful private investigator, dies on the job, he learns that the afterlife is not what he expected. Disappointed—but not too surprised—to find himself in the very dead town of Garden Rest, he befriends the famous Arthur Conan Doyle to crack a case from beyond the grave and solve the ultimate riddle: Is it possible to be murdered if you are already dead?
The Beauty of Dark Writing
Have you ever watched an approaching storm, and felt awe and admiration? Have you ever admired the slowly churning dark clouds, lightning flickering in and out of view like the storm’s crawling limbs; the particular duskiness, the temporary evening a storm can bring to a day, draping it in a sullen blue light; rainy wind sweeping ahead of it the scents of all the places the storm was before, perhaps a smell of mesquite or brine; the charge of electricity in the air; the crash of breakers, driven by a squall, against a black stone cliff…the dark beauty of a storm?
Have you ever taken a moonlit walk toward the end of October, with Halloween waiting in the wings? Some people already have plump orange pumpkins on their porches; crisp fallen leaves are caught in small whirlwinds, spinning, releasing spicy scents mixing decay with an essence of organic life. The light of a full moon—once sunlight, it was transformed, altered in reflecting from the surface of the moon so that when moonlight reaches us it’s bright yet pearlescent, clinging, collaborating with deep shadows, illuminating the dark beauty of an autumn night.
A gleaming dragon, with eyes like goldstone, ripples toward us, hissing flame, in a movie; a scared but resolute hero raises a small blade. Dragonfire gleams on the blade and the monstrous great reptilian is frightening…A dark scene. But somehow beautiful.
Some people are a little more receptive to such moments; some are more likely to perceive dark beauty…
When I was a boy, not yet even having reached puberty, I became big eyed and weirdly ecstatic watching Disney’s animated film Fantasia. I enjoyed all of it, even the rather dreary remarks by the orchestra conductor Stokowski, but the two parts that most enchanted me involved dinosaurs thundering along to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and the animation of Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky. In the Night on Bald Mountain segment the devil Chernabog summons evil spirits and ghosts, magically choreographing their mad dance whirling about his mountaintop to Mussorgsky’s score. The diabolic Chernabog’s wicked delight in dominating his minions, the swelling power of the music–all this delighted me. Devils creating beauty? That was breaking rules! It was the glory of unrestrained selfness! What child doesn’t sometimes delight in that? But what really excited me was the skillfully wrought beauty the artists had brought to dark imagery.
The segment was graceful yet it played out on a gigantic scale; it was mysteriously magical yet precisely organized; it was chaotic but strangely orderly; it was artful yet terrible—terrible in the old sense of the word: “exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.”
It may be that the appeal of dark beauty is that it bridges these fearful gaps in existence: it brings symmetry to the asymmetrical; it brings liveliness to the symbols of death. In some paradoxical way it shows us how death isn’t the end. The scent of leaves decaying is not unpleasant—yet it’s a smell of decomposition. The glow from a jack-o-lantern is cheerful, though the carved face on the pumpkin may leer wickedly. A moonlit landscape seems to brood, to hint of dark secrets—yet it’s a glorious sight. What’s prettier, really, than an old graveyard with ornate headstones and mossy tombs? We weep at a funeral but we’re celebrating someone’s life.
It seems to me that dark beauty, in art, wherever it’s found, helps us appreciate the hope that lies hidden away just behind the shadows; the warming possibilities that we sense wait for us beyond fear.
Darkness provides contrast, and the energy of clashing tones. What vista is beautiful without contrast, without conflict, without the energies of life meeting and overcoming resistance? Even in the afterlife, there must be darkness, so that we can make out the light by contrast.
I’m drawn to writing about the beauty of dark places, dark artistry—as Goya and Breughel painted them, as Edgar Allan Poe soliloquized about them. I discovered Poe (and later, Lovecraft and Machen) not long after viewing Fantasia’s glorious darkness on Bald Mountain: For example in his poem Dreamland.
By the grey woods,- by the swamp/ Where the toad and the newt encamp-/ By the dismal tarns and pools/ Where dwell the Ghouls,-/ By each spot the most unholy-
In each nook most melancholy-/There the traveller meets aghast/ Sheeted Memories of the Past-Shrouded forms that start and sigh/ As they pass the wanderer by-/ White-robed forms of friends long given,/In agony, to the Earth- and Heaven.
In my novel Doyle After Death the embodied spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle and the equally embodied ghost of his Watson-like sidekick, Nicholas Fogg, solve a mystery—one that takes place only in the world of the afterlife. While it’s not a horror story, it has its ravenous shadows. I tried to evoke the dark beauty, but also the glimmering hints of light, found in that world.
Because that’s what still makes the boy in me become big eyed and weirdly ecstatic…
4 Star Review (mild spoilers) by David Doyle
“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror”- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Doyle After Death is a supernatural mystery by accomplished writer John Shirley. Shirley is a well known writer of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, and science fiction. His body of work includes Demons, Crawlers, Black Glass, and Spider Moon. He is also known for writing the original screenplay for The Crow, which over the years has attracted a strong cult following (We still miss you Brandon). Among many fans of horror and supernatural fiction, Shirley is often cited as being a major influence on the genre of splatterpunk.
In Doyle After Death, the reader is introduced to the character of Nicholas Fogg. Fogg is a down on his luck American private detective. That luck really goes down quite a bit when he ends up dying as he lay on the floor of a Las Vegas hotel Fogg finds himself in another realm of existence called the “After”. The After is not quite what most living people would describe as Heaven. It actually is very similar to the mortal, physical world with some peculiar differences. It is in the After, that Fogg meets the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, that Doyle , the one who created the greatest detective who ever lived; Sherlock Holmes.
It is very interesting that John Shirley would feature Doyle as a prominent character in a novel involving the supernatural. Doyle himself was a man of contrasts. He created a famous character who used logic, reason, and science to solve mysteries during a time when many people were heavily immersed in superstition. Yet, Doyle himself, engaged in séances, and dabbled heavily in spiritualism. It was very enjoyable to have the character of Doyle featured in a novel about the afterlife.
Doyle After Death is a supernatural fiction with many elements of a good mystery and detective novel. There is also a great deal of Victorian style comic relief. This is a book that fans of the supernatural fiction and Victorian England aficionados should not miss. It is also a book that the reader should read carefully and not rush to finish. I feel it is one of those special novels that the reader will return to time and again and find something new they did not discover in previous readings. Shirley’s version of the afterlife is too fantastic that you want to make sure you get the environment in your head just right.
The world that he builds is quite unique to any afterlife stories that one may have read about in the past. He goes into lengthy detail about the events in Garden Rest (one of the many places in the After), the people that live there, and the odd things that happen on a day to day basis. There are psychic storms, a beautiful woman that greets the newly arrived dead, the ability to formulate a building, and many more oddities that occur in the After that were all ingeniously written. The After is not always grim, it’s not final, and it’s not in the least boring. The pace of the book is enjoyable and again my advice is not to rush through it. There are many things that you’ll want your brain to absorb and imagine; and if you were an artist, it may inspire you to draw this world. I can even see this book extending and succeeding as a graphic novel.
Arthur Conan Doyle (drop the Sir, as he’s not quite into being so formal) was a very likable character. Although a bit stuffy in the beginning he does warm to Nicholas Fogg eventually, to the point of confiding personal information. They love Cricket in the After and it’s a habit for all new entrants to be asked if they have tobacco. Apparently there is a love and a shortage of it in this strange world. I should also mention that in Garden Rest, death is not necessarily a final mode of existence.
When reading this novel I could not help but compare and contrast it with other works such as The Divine Comedy, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Alice in Wonderland. Like Doyle After Death, these stories also present worlds that are strange, different, and dangerous, and the author certainly displays masterful skills at writing about these worlds with his most current novel.
John Shirley is the author of numerous books and many, many short stories. His novels include Bleak History, Crawlers, Demons, In Darkness Waiting, and seminal cyberpunk works City Come A-Walkin’, and the A Song Called Youth trilogy of Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. His collections include the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild award-winning Black Butterflies, Living Shadows: Stories: New & Pre-owned, and In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley. He also writes for screen (The Crow) and television. As a musicianShirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others.
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