This idea came to me, as many have, just after a big hill on my running route, when my brain was starved of oxygen and therefore failing to censor out good ideas on grounds of mere absurdity. Over the last month or two I watched the whole run of Criminal Minds1, so the classification and categorization of criminals and crimes has been on my mind4. I came to think about ‘Acts of God’, and wondered to myself if there was a way to spin that term that would be less tragic. So did the scene above spring into existence: in short, a light-hearted undead un- or re-murder mystery romp in a Victorian-era world where the dead walk the streets of a city lifted from the seas off England’s south coast by foul necromantic rituals in darkest Transylvania.
I’m not sure if this world will end up being The Curious Adventures of Sergeant Shambles and Constable Lurch, or whether it’ll have different viewpoint characters entirely. I do like Shambles and Lurch as names for zombies, and I don’t think more than one named zombie beat copper is a thing that has been done to date. I’m going to spend the rest of this post copying and pasting things from my notes thus far5, and elaborating on them where I feel like it.
Inspector Horstadt von Druselstein Freyburg auf Randeck
Another character, of whom I know nothing but his name. There are two intentional references in said name, one of which is obvious given the things I’ve posted about. The other is a bit trickier, and identifying it is worth points.
This includes things like werewolves as well as your classic zombies, vampires, shades, ghosts, and miscellaneous Halloween monsters. I’m of a mind to work out some broad categories that the undead fit into, because, even if fantasies don’t need solid rules, murder mysteries do. It’s probably important that the undead don’t remember their histories.
Vivification and mortification
Of course, murder is a misnomer when speaking of creatures that are already dead, so I needed some suitably Victorian-sounding names for crimes. To vivify some creature undead is to return him to life, something probably done against his will (since he doesn’t know about his life). To mortify a creature undead is to re-kill him; Inspector Freyburg auf Randeck could, for instance, be mortified by a stake through the heart.
The city I mentioned that rose from the seas south of Britain. It’s something of a London expy. It’s divided into two parts by the River Lethe. This being a fantastical tale, I feel comfortable in describing the mechanics of its flow as ‘magic’. Neither Elysia nor the Lethe are the literal mythological ones; they just bear the same name.
The undead are Elysia’s major inhabitants. The Lethe may tie into the way the undead come to be, but I haven’t worked out those mechanics yet. The West End is, of course, the high-class bit, and the East End is more blue-collar. The living who do call Elysia home are mainly West Enders; being alive and poor is a good way to be accused of whatever vivifications should chance to happen near your place of residence.
A list of potential street names:
The rest of the world
It probably exists much as it did in real-world 1885 or so, but Elysia is the focus, and the outside world understandably keeps its distance.
As a final note, this glimpse into my process has been at least as enlightening for me as it has for you. My stories begin in different ways: with We Sail Off To War, I came up with the ships Retribution, Reprisal, and Vengeance, then I figured out how to put them in a story. Nathaniel Cannon tales (including the three I have queued up for planning) start, oddly enough, with the title.
As a postscript, I want to start the next story one week from today. It’ll be a Samuel A. Hill6 mystery entitled ‘A Jump to Conclusions’.
1. They’re on Youtube, not that I condone2 such flagrant violations of copyright.
2. For definitions of ‘I do not condone’ not including ‘watching seven seasons of an obviously copyrighted television show under its actual title on Youtube’. That speaks to a content creator that doesn’t care3.
3. Or perhaps one that realizes that allowing an archive to exist and streaming episodes is a great way to get new eyeballs on ads.
4. To a disturbing degree, it might uncharitably be said.
5. I shouldn’t need to add that anything I post here is subject to change at any time, but I will anyway.
6. You haven’t met him yet.