Joyce Carol Oates: Mysteries of Winterthurn
The title either makes you think that it is one of those English Gothic novels of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries or, alternatively, a Sherlock Holmes type of mystery. It is, in fact, a bit of both. Not particularly being a devotee of either, I didn’t particularly enjoy this book and rather feel that Oates went somewhat over the top. Blood and gore abound, the detective novel is somewhat parodied and, of course, the philosophical element is there with the mysteries also referring to life’s great mystery. The novel tells the tale of three of the most famous cases by the detective, Xavier Kilgarvan. They include his first case, when he is only sixteen and in love with his twelve year old cousin, Perdita, and his last case, aged forty, when he ends up marrying Perdita and giving up detective work which, he maintains, is only for bachelors. The second case occurs, of course, half way between the two when he is twenty-eight years old.
The first case, involving dead babies, dead animals and dead adults, the second dead factory girls and the third merely a few dead adults. In short, blood and gore are the nature of the game, not to mention the usual lunatics, devil worshippers and the like. We have an anonymous, Watson-like narrator, whose identity we should be able to guess. Indeed, identity, as in many detective novels, is key. Who is guilty and who is innocent? It isn’t always obvious. It may be great fun but I think I’ll stick to Sherlock Holmes.
First published 1984 by Dutton