Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hard-Boiled Roman Detective
One cannot love stories without loving to read, for that is where stories are at their best. Not on the movie or TV screen, but only on the printed page where dialogue and description are there as the writer intended, but still allow for the individual reader to interpret the words as they see fit. One must read, and read a wide variety of subjects and authors, for each one has something to offer, if nothing else to help the reader decide what subject or author they do NOT like.
As a young man I loved to read; everything from comic books to short stories, poems and novels. Though I grew up in the TV age – I enjoyed watching television, and still do– both my parents were avid readers and I suppose I inherited my love of reading from them. It was not unusual for me, however, to discover great detective stories through the medium of television.
In the early 1970s I was watching TVOs Saturday Night at the Movies - with no commercials - and they showed ‘Murder My Sweet’, 1944, starring Dick Powell, based on a hard-boiled detective novel by Raymond Chandler. It was a good movie and I never forgot it. Years later I would come to appreciate Humphry Bogart in Chandler’s ‘The Big Sleep’, published 1932, the film 1946 and Bogart again in Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’, published 1930, the film 1941. Eventually I would come to read these novels that were first introduced to me through the movies.
There was something about the hard-boiled detective that appealed to me. Maybe it was his moodiness–I have been told I can be moody– maybe it was his unconventional attitude and rough edges– I have been told... let’s just say I felt an affinity for these characters and could appreciate their nature.
I was sitting in church one Easter Sunday listening to the Passion, and as I heard the familiar story I started to imagine if, after Christ’s Resurrection, had the Romans- who were occupying Jerusalem at the time - heard the story circulating about the city of a crucified Jew who had risen from his tomb? And if the Roman authorities did hear these accounts, would they send someone to look into it? And if they sent someone, who would they send, and how would he go about it? And most importantly; what would he be like?
This was the germ of an idea that culminated into a ‘The Case of the Empty Tomb’.
As I began to work out the main character, I saw him as the hard-boiled detective of the 1930s and 40s.
To write this story I would, naturally, try to keep it as accurate as possible. I used numerous sources for my research, including The Bible. As I read Sacred Scripture, some of it for the first time - something I am not proud to admit as a Catholic - I saw how there was a ready-made detective story with conspiracies, mysterious women, plots, counterplots, suspicious characters, political intrigue and religious mysticism.
Many of the characters in The Case of the Empty Tomb are real and it did not seem to take much effort to bring them life. Indeed, there were times when it felt as if someone else was assisting me in writing this book.
I chose to tell the story in the first person which is in keeping with the hard-boiled detective genre. By having the main character, Claudius Maximus, tell the story we learn something of his character from his narration. The book begins with a very strong Chandleresque monologue:
"I hated the desert. I hated the heat, and the sand, and the dust. I hated everything about it."
This was not the original opening paragraph I had written. This opening was written when I had almost completed the second or third draft. It was only then did I get a feel for my main character, and I wanted the reader to see immediately what type of person was telling the story.
I wanted my central character, Claudius Maximus, to resemble the typical hard-boiled detective, tough and unsentimental. He drinks too much and barely has a friend in all Jerusalem, a city which he abhors almost as much as it inhabitants.
To make Maximus as miserable as possible I located him in a place where he did not wish to be, and longing for home where he was not longer welcome.
With a character such as Claudius Maximus it is important to know something of his background, but I do not like to give too much all at once. I like to keep certain elements of his background a secret. This was quite easy since I myself did not know much of his background. Very seldom do I bother to write character outlines or backstories. Most of my characters develop as I write. During the story the reader will see that I drop subtle hints about his past. Early on Maximus relates the rumours circulated about the city regarding why he was banished from Rome and sent to Jerusalem.
"I cannot say that I truly objected to any of these stories. None of them was as bad as the truth."
In The Case of the Empty Tomb, Maximus is given the duty of looking into a rumour circulating about Jerusalem regarding a recently crucified Jew who is missing from the tomb where he was interred.
In his search for the truth regarding the missing messiah, Maximus encounters hostility from his fellow Romans, (he is even badly beaten while in the state of inebriation), he endures threats from high officials such as Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. He even has to endure insults from Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest.
Despite all this, Maximus presses on out of a sense of duty, and a strong desire for the truth. These are the very reasons why we will always appreciate the hard-boiled detective.