Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

He’s Not The Messiah, He’s A Very Naughty Boy

I was emailing someone today about what constitutes a crime novel, as you do, and I offered up my theory, which runneth thusly: If you can take out the criminality and the story still works, then it’s not a crime novel. And vice versa, obviously. Which means, as I’ve said before, that the likes of Hamlet, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, Oedipus, THE UNTOUCHABLE, and – if you want to piss off Declan Hughes – THE GREAT GATSBY are all crime novels. THE TRIAL is an exception to this rule, having no crime but being a superb crime novel all the same.
  Anyway, that got me thinking – who’s the most famous criminal of all time? I’m guessing Jesus, from a story point of view at least, given that he was crucified for being found guilty on a charge of sedition, although whether you believe the sedition was of the secular or religious variety is up to you. Crucifixion, as you probably already know, was the form of execution the Romans reserved for common criminals, although that does beg the question of why, if he was considered important enough to try and execute for sedition, Jesus would have been considered a common criminal.
  Either way, crucifixion was / is a horrible way to die, and might be an interesting place to start a novel. Also, Jerusalem at the time was a city of political and religious intrigue, a city fermenting in the kind of passions that would see catastrophe visited on it in the very near future. And it’s true that if you take the crime out of the New Testament the story collapses – without a crime to be arrested for, Jesus cannot be tried and executed.
  I think the legal aspect of it is interesting. If the authorities wanted Jesus done away with, they could have had him bumped off quietly, and the body disposed of, as Nikos Kazantstakis suggests early on in THE LAST TEMPTATION, when Judas visits Jesus in the desert with the intention of slitting his throat. But the authorities, secular or religious, were so keen to go by the book that Jesus found himself shuttled back and forth between various institutions, each one hoping that another would be the one to find him guilty of a crime.
  Anyway, Jesus was killed. Shortly afterwards, his body went missing from a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers. At this point – and this is where the novel I’m thinking about gets interesting, to me anyway – all of those responsible, directly or indirectly, start worrying about who has stolen away the body, and why. Concerned about the propaganda value of the corpse, and particularly that of a vanished corpse, the various authorities need to discover (a) the whereabouts of the body and (b) who stole it from the tomb. They need to do so quickly and discreetly. Who better to call upon than an impartial observer, for example an Ephesian Greek leading a diplomatic trade mission to Jerusalem, to make discreet enquiries among his contacts in Jerusalem as to the whys and wherefores of Jesus’ disappearance?
  There is no mystery here for Christians, of course, given that they believe that Jesus, being man and god, was resurrected, or resurrected himself, in order to redeem mankind. But Jesus, according to the Acts of the Apostles, did not ascend into heaven until 40 days after his body vanished from the tomb, which gives our Ephesian Greek plenty of time to play with.
  So: the most famous criminal of all time, a political cover-up, a missing corpse, a city fermenting in violent passions, and a reluctant private eye who is heir to the Socratic tradition of questioning logic – sounds like a story to me. Has it been done before? And if not, are there any takers?


Gerard Brennan said...

Don't think it's been done before, but Paul Charles kicked of the The Dust of Death with a crucifixion. In a chuch, no less. Your idea would be totally different, though.

You should take it.

You could call it a cruci-crime-fiction!


Corey Wilde said...

Sounds good to me. I've not read it anywhere else.

Tony Bailie said...

Robert Graves wrote a political intrique novel called King Jesus in which he 'proved' that through his mother Mary Jesus was the true King of the Jews. The whole messiah saga is sidelines as a bit of a misunderstanding that got blown out of all proportions. If you've read the Claudius novels you will know that Graves is very good at recreating the ambience of the Roman world and firing in loads of detail that makes the society he is writing about come to life. The Ephisian Greek on a trade mission is just the sort of realisitic touch your story would need to give it credibility. Go for it you could be on a winner there. Being branded a heretic and blasphemer could only boost your sales.

Dana King said...

It's your idea, you should run with it. (I've not seen it before, either.) If you don't want it, it sounds like the kind of thing Umberto Eco could use to dash off a 900-page frivolity.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Heh, that sounds intriguing. If I wrote it, I'd probably write it with a different character than Jesus at the center of it. Not because of my faith (disclaimer, I'm a Christian) but because it'd be fun to play with the "what if" factor. What if he really can do miracles? What if he can't, but everyone believes he can? What if the whole thing is a hoax formulated by the folks who stand to gain the biggest payout - his Disciples? What if Jesus was the wrong guy--the whole thing's a blind for the real Messiah? Or, for the SF nuts, what if this all happened in a parallel universe to a guy who is most Un-Christ-like?

Good springboard for thought, Declan.

Declan Burke said...

Gerard - Brian McGilloway kicked one off with a crucifixion recently too ... I think I'd be a bit more graphic than they, though. Hell, why not do it in the first person, from the POV of the crucified man himself?

Tony - Robert Graves is probably beyond my grasp. I have the Claudius novels, and I've read the Greek myths, and I've promised myself The White Goddess on some future holiday, and I tried to read The Golden Fleece, but found it very dry going. As for heretic and blasphemer, I think you'd have to be awfully lucky to get that kind of press.

Dana - Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose was excruciating. I'd be hoping for something a bit livelier than that.

Ms Sex-Scenes - Nice suggestions, and I'm currently working on a novel that blends parallel universes, so that wouldn't be too much of a stretch. And even if I'm not much by way of a believing Christian, I wouldn't set out to be irreverent for the sake of it - I've been fascinated by the biblical and historical Jesus for as long as I can remember. Has anyone read Jim Crace's Quarantine? Now that's a hell of a book.

Cheers, Dec

adrian mckinty said...

King Jesus is pretty good. Not quite up there with I Claudius but not bad. You could also look at Gore Vidal's Live From Golgotha which I thought was ok.

How about a story where Jesus survives the crucifixion and his bloodline gets carried to France. Years later a semiotics professor from Harvard is in Paris and the head of the Louvre gets murdered but before he dies he strips naked and leaves elaborate clues all over the gallery about the bloodline? Just an idea.

Declan Burke said...

Adrian - I've a feeling you might be on to something there, squire. Although you might want to give your Louvre head enough time before he dies to scatter all his clues, but not so much time he could just ring the cops or an ambulance crew. Could be tricky.

I've read Vidal's Golgotha, and I've read Mailer's Jesus novel, and Moorcock's, and Kazantzakis, and Saramago, and even Anne Rice ... You know what they're all missing? Jokes.

Cheers, Dec

Back in a tracksuit said...

Let me help with the opening of the book-
Day 1: Sleep
Day 2: Sleep
Day 3: Wake up, its dark ...

... now away you go. :-)
Sounds like a good idea though.