On the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series

Showing the Scars

By Jacob Clifton

Every mystery story contains within it a secret that, when it is revealed, solves the equation of the story and puts the world right again. All the toys go back in their boxes until next time: Jessica Fletcher goes home to her Metamucil and six dozen cats; Phillip Marlowe goes out looking for a good-time girl and a bottle of rye; Sherlock and Watson have some tea. In its Modernist mode, the mystery story is set in a Rousseauist milieu, in which the world is naturally good, and the detective must assume the role of antibody: identifying the disrupting element and bringing it to justice, thus rebooting the world to its essential well-meaning roots.

Mystery, in its noir form, adds an existential twist, blurring this sense of good and evil and presenting a Hobbesian view of the world (“all against all”) in which the detective is less antibody than victim of the Fates. Subsequent evolutions of the genre apply this uncertainty to the character of the hero himself: The Shield’s Vic Mackey is drawn into offenses against morality and legality Sherlock would find horrifying, and the protagonist of postmodern mysteries like Memento or Phillip Dick’s novels finds that in fact he himself is the criminal.

In the new noir shape of mystery, from Twin Peaks to The X-Files, we find the presumptive antibody, the detective, implicated in the mysteries of the world rather than their modernist conqueror. The metaphor has transformed itself, from the personal drama of protagonist/reader as observer/problem-solver, returning the  …

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