Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Kim Newman is a strange flavor of brilliant

 I decided that I needed to read more of Kim Newman’s Diogenes Club stories. I’m not going to try and read them all since I’m not sure what books and stories by Newman count and which don’t  :D (I also have to note that only Moriarty and Irene Adler get pinched from the Holmes cannon more often than the Diogenes Club)

Kim Newman’s version of the Diogenes Club has them be the semi-official paranormal investigators of the British government in a slightly quirky alternative history. The first stories I read long ago were about Richard Jeperson, a mod psychic in the 70s with a wardrobe that cannot be believed. However, my interest was renewed when I learned that Newman lovingly deconstructed other eras.

And that’s what makes these stories so fascinating. Newman either clearly loves the genres he’s exploring and skewering or fakes loving them very well. At the same time, he’s deconstructing them, peeling back the edges to show some of the dark implications.




And, man, the most extreme example that I’ve read so far is ‘Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in “The Case of the French Spy” ‘. It’s a sendup of Enid Blyton’s works, only the free range kid adventurers stumble across a deep one straight out of Lovecraft.

I have a morbid fascination with Blyton. Her work is beloved in England but it’s also mindless dribble that is xenophobic, sexist, classist and obsessed with food. Between Richard Riddle and Five Go Mad in Dorset (thank you, Dawn French), I sometimes think the best side effect of her work is the parodies. (To be fair, I think Chuck Jones’ Dover Boys cartoon is the best thing that came out of of the Rover Boys books)

Admittedly, what makes the Richard Riddle story work (and, as far I know, Newman only wrote this one story in this style, although Richard appears in other works) is that it’s just on the edge of absurdity. That said, the kids are seriously dedicated to being genre savy about the wrong genre, still acting like they’re in a jolly romp while the deep one they freed tears some admittedly naughty men apart.

Although Violet calmly deciding to burn the priory down to prevent any unfortunate questions about the dead people also indicates that these are some pretty cold-blooded kids.

Newman’s use of genre and tropes is fascinating. He doesn’t fully deconstructs them. The rules still apply. But we see enough of the backstage to turn those tropes disturbing. I may be wrong but I am left thinking that he is both a brilliant fan and a brilliant writer. 

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